▲ After four and half years traveling the globe, the most recent stop for Cam and Arnold Highfield and their two young daughters was Jeju Island. A several week stay in Gimnyeong harbor hasallowed the yachting family to explore the wonderful locations that Jeju has to offer, including the Gimnyeong Maze Park, Manjangu caves and Seongsan’s tuff-cone Sunrise Peak.Photos courtesy Cam Highfield
In May 2005, when we started sailing from Florida, on our 42-foot long catamaran, Jade, we never thought we would come to Korea. Like many cruisers, we sail from east to west, taking advantage of the trade wind, and spend a lot of time enjoying the turquoise sea and the exotic people and cultures in the South Pacific.
It was in Bora Bora, French Polynesia, where we were first introduced to Jeju- through a set of “Daechanggeum” (enormous hit drama on woman royal chef) DVDs my sister bought us. With rain beating down outside for a week, we stayed snuggly onboard, watching all 70 episodes in Mandarin, with my daughters Molly and Nancy, and visiting sister, all enthusiastically translating for my English husband, Arni. We all fell in love with Jeju.
As cruisers, we lead a very flexible life and plans change at anytime depending firstly on the weather and secondly on our mood. It was 2 years after we watched “Daechanggeun” that we decided to go to Japan instead of the Philippines. Still, we hadn’t thought about Korea. After waving goodbye to a few long-term cruising friends in Vanuatu, we sailed up to Guam, then Micronesia, and entered Japan through Chichijima. Being a Hong Kong SAR passport holder, I get only a 3-month visa, but we really needed at least 7, to avoid the cyclone season to sail back to Hong Kong. So, Korea came into our plans.
Originally, we only thought of stopping in Busan for a month; as a way to renew our visa for Japan. However, after 3 months of tiring officialdom in Japan, we were quite happy to leave the country. We left Izuhara in Tsushima and sailed 12 hours to Busan, where we were welcomed by a brilliant Korean couple, Windy and Soo, who have been helping foreign yachts for years. With their help, the equally troublesome officialdom in Korea was made easy for us. We found the people more open, the history and culture more varied and interesting, prices much more affordable, and that we could anchor anywhere in Korea- which is something foreign yachts are forbidden to do in Japan. All this makes Korea a better place to travel despite the language barrier.
We stayed in Busan for around 5 weeks, from where we took KTX to visit Seoul. We then sailed along the south coast and found ourselves enjoying the tranquility of many lovely anchorages. In Goseong, we anchored near a great Dinosaur Park. In Yeondo, south of Yeosu, we spent a couple of days mixing with the lovely villagers. The south coast is stunningly beautiful. It looks like, but is better than, the Seto Naikai in Japan. By the time we reached Cheongsando, it had taken us too long already. We therefore abandoned plans to go to Mokpo, and sailed down directly to Jeju, which has proven to be a great decision.
Our friend Windy calls Jeju his second home, and he had already contacted his friend Mr. Pyo- who helped to arrange us a berth in the tiny marina of Gimnyeong, which could not be located on our charts. It didn’t help that the coordinates given to us were wrong as well! Avoiding the black lava outcrops, we were wondering where the harbor entrance was when we saw the windmills and a ‘turned-over bowl’ shaped oreum. Then a speedboat came to lead our way. We entered the sheltered harbor and were surprised to see a crowd of people waiting for us, including Mr. Pyo and his children and students. Mr. Fred Dustin and Lucas from the Gimnyeong Maze, and Mr. Kim, who runs the Gimnyeong Yacht Tour were also awaiting our arrival.
Molly and Nancy were soon playing happily with the children. We enjoyed the Jeju mandarin chocolates, whilst learning about the island through issues of the Jeju Weekly given to us by Fred. I was surprised by the number of people who can speak English here. We thought to ourselves how much we liked Jeju there and then, and decided to stay for two weeks- but we have now been here for more than five.
Based in Gimnyeong marina, we traveled by bus to see Sunrise Peak and the Folk Village Museum in Pyongsen/ Pyoseon?. We were happy to see Daechanggeum (?) there again, and enjoyed the lovely ‘lumpy’ scenery characterized by the oreums, and also Jeju’s low, stone walls and rocks everywhere.
Fred let us go to his maze for free twice, which was really fun. We liked the Manjangu caves too, which were a cool and dark experience as well as being educational. We saw the fabulous night concert in Yongdam and the shaman gut in Tapdong; and learnt about how the Chinese escaped here. A friend, Hyummi, even lent us her car. We drove round the island, visited the Peace Museum, and also drove down to Seogwipo. From there we acquired 3 bicycles and had a family cycling trip to Hamdeok the next day, where we enjoyed nice hamburgers in the Sea Blue restaurant.
The list of nice places can go on forever, and we haven’t seen that much as we’ve been too busy being with friends. The place is blessed with an unusual landscape and many UNESCO heritage sites. However, it’s the people here that make the island a definite choice for us to come back. We are privileged to be able to know, and be able to stay with, Korean families. A coffee shop owner in Gimnyeong, Changmo, even arranged for his granddaughter from Seoul to take a week off school to come and play with our girls. We learnt about the history of the island and local gossip from interesting people like Fred, Father Jerry, ‘Aussie haenyeo’ Sherrin, and dive operator Ralf; not mention the generous marina operator Mr. Kim, who has let us stay there for free all this time. All this friendship and local knowledge has given us a view of Jeju that a normal visitor wouldn’t necessarily have.
We’ve been to more than 20 countries in our four and a half year voyage. The wild animals in Galapagos, the people in the Cook Islands and Guam, and the culture in Vanuatu are some of the most fascinating. How do we think of Jeju? For this foreign yacht that’s on its way home to Hong Kong, Jeju has been like unwrapping a very interesting present- we didn’t expect it to be so good.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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