▲ Jeju Olle Course #13 starts at the west coast harbor of Yongsu port, and wends its way inland through forests and villages which reveal the heart of Jeju life. Photos courtesy Jeju Olle
Jeju Island is home to hundreds of attractions, enticing busloads of both national and international tourists to its shores each year. The flood is especially acute in the summertime, when Hallasan’s routes thaw and Jeju’s famous beaches begin to fill with eager surfers, swimmers and other holidaymakers. But even on a small island, there is a place to escape the crowds.
Granting relief from the crowds and the noise, the Jeju Olle courses are a unique way to experience the sub-tropical beauty of the island. The latest offering, Route 13, is no exception.
The 15.4 kilometer trek from Yongsu port to Geoji-ri differs from the 12 previous Olle routes, bypassing the coastal paths and venturing instead into the lush wooded areas of western Jeju. Snaking its way through five different hamlets, Hangyong, Dumo-ri, Nakcheon-ri, Geoji-ri, Route 13 is diverse.
In rhythm with the meaning of the Jeju word olle, “a narrow pathway that connects the street to the front gate of a home,” Route 13 starts on the dusty streets of Yongsu-ri. Rife with the smell of freshly picked onion and garlic that the hamlet is famous for, the path crosses fields where farmers prune, till and gather their goods. Yongsu-ri’s dirt road concludes at the mouth of the Yongsu Resevoir.
Here begins the heart of the voyage.
▲ Many stops along the trail offer spectacular views across the landscape and out to sea. Photo Courtesy Jeju Olle
“If you go inside the forest route you can’t see beside you – like a secret garden,” said Ahn Eun Joo, Olle’s planning department manager. Olle’s secret garden does not disappoint. Awash with butterflies and accompanied by a cacophony of birdcalls that transform the walk into a solitary pilgrimage, the forest paths of Route 13 present an entirely different perspective of Jeju island. The new trail includes “Geoji Oreum Forest Road,” an Eco-learning center that has been designated by the Office of Forestry as the nation’s most beautiful forest.
A strip of natural rock formations and small forest swamps amid developed farmland, Route 13 is home to rare Jeju flora and fauna. Great White herons and pheasants dot the lush and solitary landscapes that are for the most part vacant of other travelers.
Blue and yellow ribbons discretely mark the trail, allowing the traveler free reign to discover the surrounding areas. Throughout the wooded paths stand the crumbling foundations of previous fortifications; these stacked sparse walls that begin and end abruptly lend an indisputable mystery to Route 13.
The second to last hamlet on Route 13, Nakcheon-ri, is a tourist destination in its own right. Tucked away in the fields of western Jeju is “Chair Country,” according to a local man who, along with the other townspeople, was responsible for the creation of the 1,000 chair sculptures which haphazardly fill a small park mid-way through the area. The sculptures are based upon the design of a “famous Jeju artist who loved chairs,” he said. The chairs range in size and style from a few feet to a behemoth chair that towers above the surrounding areas at more than four stories high.
Nakcheon-ri’s whimsical outsized chairs are an ideal place to rest and survey the first 12 kilometers of Route 13 before continuing on to the celebrated Geoji Oreum Forest Road. Here, the journey goes deeper into the secret garden. The forest paths of Geoji Oreum Forest Road are denser than any other on Jeju and light filters rarely.
It is no surprise that founder Suh Myungsook arrived at the idea for the Olle trails while hiking alone through the Spanish countryside, as Route 13 provides one of the few private and peaceful pilgrimages possible on Korea’s honeymoon island.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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