Yesterday was a blast. A BLAST. I could meet Santa Claus tomorrow and I'm not sure it'd top yesterday. (Actually, that's not true. I'd be stoked to meet Santa. I'd like to have a word or two. There's the matter regarding Christmas of '92 I'd like to settle with him.)
Yesterday I joined Ben and Matthias, a fellow traveler Ben met in Busan
and they hopped a plane to Jeju-do together at the last minute. We were going to take a bus east and check out a volcano and some lava tubes and hopefully catch the haenyeo
in action and perhaps dine on fresh seafood. Haenyeo
are the traditional seafood and seaweed collectors of Jeju-do.
Matthias and Ben
They are middle aged women (there is an age minimum
, not a maximum -- I believe it is 45 to qualify) who snorkel and free dive to collect tasty tidbits. No official machinery or equipment like scuba gear or the such, only nets and fins and snorkels and spears. Apparently they suit up and head out around 9am every morning, would have been cool to watch. Yesterday went nothing at all like we planned. Well, that's not entirely true. We still made it east.
After breakfast I came up to my room for sunscreen and to collect my belongings, and when I made it back downstairs Ben is beaming and is all "we've come up with a Plan B, and we think you'll like it." Scooters. They wanted to rent scooters.
Word on the street was there was a scooter shop around the corner that rented scooters on the sly to foreigners, no international drivers license required. So we head over and are sitting down filling out the requisite paperwork, and me, being the attorney's daughter and all, is sitting there scrutinizing the contract for all it's worth. The signature next to agreeing to pay for the ever ambiguous "additional fees or charges as may arise" had me somewhat uneasy as it was, but when I asked about insurance the guy pulled up a chair and leveled with us. Seeing as we did not have international driver's licenses we were not legally permitted to rent scooters (nor was he legally permitted to rent them to
us), and as such any hope for insurance was dead on the spot.
So I festered over that for a bit, chewed it over, went back and forth with the boys. We decided not to sign the contract, and figured if even if we had it couldn't be legally binding anyway seeing as the whole lack of international driver's licenses kind of made it moot to begin with. (That's Grade A legal savvy right there. Pops may have a bone or two to pick with that thought process.)
Oh yes. I should have prefaced all that by saying I've never driven a scooter before. Not once. Ridden on back of motorcycles? Sure. Commandeered my own? Not a chance. Of course this is the first thing I reply to Ben's proposal about the scooters to begin with, and both Ben and Matthias are all WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT TELL THE DUDE YOU'VE NEVER DRIVEN ONE BEFORE.
WE REPEAT: ZIP IT. I think the guy sensed I was a bit uneasy about the whole thing, and so of the three scooters I was given the "smoother" of the lot, which also ended up being the slowest (but only by about 5 kilometers per hour or so, which I found not to be an issue while zooming past slowpokes). I was given a brief show and tell and sent off into the world of busy city traffic in downtown Jeju-si. How's that for sink or swim?
The boys babysat me for most of the trip, particularly at the beginning. I'd have one in front of me and the other behind. We were good about turn signals and wide berths (where possible -- Koreans drive like MANIACS) and took more red lights than my mom needs to know about. In our defense, one would go through at green, I'd see it change to yellow, hesitate, and then the back half of us would have to carry on through or be dead meat.
We got loads better at the red light thing after the first twenty minutes or so; got the hang of driving closer together, and there weren't any lights to be had once we were on the freeway. That's another matter altogether -- we were told to avoid the freeway at all costs. Why? Well big mack trucks and buses are barreling down at 80+ kilometers per hour. That, and it's illegal to drive scooters on the expressways here. Yeah well push comes to shove and we were on that freeway quite a bit. Explanation pending.
I'd like to take a moment and gloat if I may. I took to that scooter like a fish to water. By the second red light we were sitting at the boys were besides themselves with how good I was. (And no, they weren't trying to get in my pants.
) Within the hour I'd be zipping around curves with the best of them, one-handing it as I waved to and squealed at all the locals. And by the end of the day I was overtaking giant trucks in the pitch black. It was more fun than is probably respectable to derive from a scooter.
So we spent the day cruising along the coastal road all along the north shore. It was fantastic. Volcanic rocks, ocean, waves, fishermen, gorgeous blue sea, windmills, patchwork farm plots, dumpy looking seafood restaurants, you name it. Supposedly you can get from Jeju-si, which is situated in the center of the northern end, to the east coast of Jeju-do island in about two hours at scooter speed. Supposedly. When those scooters are toting tourists who stop every kilometer to ooh and ahh and take photos, it takes a bit longer.
Quite a bit longer. So whereas we thought we'd clear the east coast, pop up Seongsan Ilchulbung (which we thought was a mere walk overlooking the ocean but is actually a volcano demanding a full-blown hike and associated wheezing efforts and the such), scout out a lava tube or two and catch the MILF divers, all with plenty of time to have some fresh seafood for lunch and make it back well before sunset -- let's just say we barely made it to Seongsan Ilchulbung (aka Sunrise Peak) during daylight. We pulled up right around 4pm, walked around the base musing "oh fuck, it looks like an actual hike -- this is quite larger than we imagined," hiked it, and made it back to the scooters a bit after 5 o'clock.
At this point we vow not to stop for scenic sunset photo ops on the way home and fly straight back along the freeway, as opposed to the lengthier coastal road that winds along the shoreline.
We made pretty good time, pulling into the garage a few minutes past 7pm. That being said, the sun sets just before 6pm, and until the final ten kilometers into Jeju-si, there were no street lamps lighting the way. Sure we had little tinker toy headlights, but they only do so much. That, and I'm not sure if you've ever been on a scooter going 70+ kilometers per hour, but it's quite brisk. It's plenty chilly when the sun is up and it's 70 degrees outside. After sundown with the temps in the upper 50s, that translates to HOLY FUCK THAT'S COLD. I kept telling myself to imagine myself roasting on the beach. No, that's crap. I kept telling myself not to dwell on just how much it was going to hurt if I crashed and burned.
Because it would HURT. We're flying alongside the ocean, on an island known for its wind gusts. It was INSANE. The boys tried to tuck down to minimize wind resistance and maintain some semblance of body heat, but it was far too unstable. The chassis was quivering enough beneath me as it was; the frequent gusts sent us jerking. We were in long pants and fleeces, but it was FREEZING. May as well have been wearing string bikinis. About ten minutes in I became pretty numb, and counted that as a good thing. When I finally tore my frozen limbs from the scooter and attempted to walk away, I was as stiff as a board. It was like that scene in Dumb and Dumber
where they freeze solid to a scooter in the Rockies.
I felt (and looked) exactly like that. (Minus the peeing on myself.) We crossed the street directly from the scooter shop and walked into a restaurant recommended to me by one of the Korean girls, and it took me a full minute to unfold the wet washcloth they handed me to clean my hands -- my fingers literally would not work. They were completely numb, I couldn't feel them. And it was SO WORTH IT. Those scooters are AMAZING!
The food was pretty good, but not out of this world, and after such rave reviews (and a long day buzzing along on scooters without eating) we were a bit disappointed. Good, not great. Standard. We asked -- pleaded, really, and I was full out begging -- for hot tea, but they claimed not to have any.
They served use ice cold water in ceramic tea mugs which was just cruel. That, and rather than plying us with the assorted feast of side dishes while we waited for the main course to appear, they made us sit there and fester (me in particular the grumpiest and loudest of us three) and wait for them to bring everything out together. Then finally we got big steaming bowls of hot miso soup, which I promptly drained, but even as we left the restaurant (after no fewer than four refills of literally EVERYTHING on the table, we were FAMISHED, and normally, we don't ask for refills on many items, there's just too much) we were still shivering and couldn't warm up. I vowed to take a looooong hot shower, and I believe I successfully redefined both "long" and "hot" last night.
I made the water so hot that it was scalding, promptly turned myself into a bright pink lobster, and then made it hotter still. And it took every ounce of willpower to convince myself to turn off the water and dry off after a good twenty minutes of self poaching.
Yesterday was an absolute blast. The scooters made my day. Who knew they could be so fun? Zooming up and down the coast, the scenery, the laughs, the waving to locals and creating a language of our own of gestures, losing Matthias at one point and finding him after twenty minutes (and some serious worrying, heightened by an ambulance passing us and us shitting ourselves), the volcano, the ridiculous antics that come with traveling with two dudes -- an absolute blast. One of my best days yet, and certainly the best I've had in Korea thus far.