▲ Late summer scenes from Olle Trail 14-1. Photo by Daniel Kojetin
When people find that I like hiking on Jeju, they often ask me my preferred Olle trail. It’s a natural thing to wonder, and in my interviews, I’ve often asked the same question. When I met Jeju Olle founder, Suh Myung Sook, she cleverly told me that her favorite Olle trail is the one that she hiked “yesterday.”
I met a couple from Seoul who had hiked every Olle trail in Jeju, and they told me that they had a clear favorite; 14-1, the Gotjawal Olle. So I thought I’d check it out.
Trail 14-1 is an alternative 17.5 kilometer route that takes an inland path connecting the start of Trail 14 at Jeoji to the end of trail 11 at Mureung 2-ri. Most Olle trails head in a clockwise direction and touch a bit of the ocean.
However this heads in the opposite direction and instead of touching the ocean, goes through the Gotjawal Forest, a kind of forest found only in Jeju.
I accidentally started hiking in Mureung, so instead of looking for the characteristic and common blue arrows, we were going the opposite direction and had to follow the deceptively difficult to find yellow arrows. We lost the trail more than once.
Mureung is a farming town, and the Olle trail stays on the village road for a few kilometers, passing through farms. It was the beginning of autumn and the smell of garlic was in the air as it was the planting season. All of the young men and women who have left the rural towns for a more convenient life in Jeju City are called back to the farm by their mothers to help out at this time. The mothers will also call their friends and everyone gets together in line planting the garlic cloves one by one. It looks tedious, but they share the work, laughing and joking as they plant the cloves. Jeju is still hot at the beginning of September, but despite the heat, they were all very friendly and helped us when we lost our way.
▲ Photo by Daniel Kojetin
The Gotjawal Forest has been described in previous articles in The Jeju Weekly as “The Forest of Life” or “The Lungs of Jeju.” As we walked, it was hard to imagine that this kind of forest, which is unique only to Jeju, even exists at all. The path itself is black because you’re walking on volcanic rocks. The forest is unbelievably dense.
The day was hot, but it was cool in the forest. We had to take our sunglasses off or we couldn’t see where we were walking. Under your feet and all around the forest floor, there seems to only be about an inch of soil supporting these deep, dark, woods.
In between the Mureung and Jeoji Gotjawal forests, the trail winds through the extremely popular O’sulloc Green Tea Museum. I’ve been here a few times and it's beautiful every time I visit but especially on this day, as the clear fall weather offered a beautiful backdrop of Mt. Halla behind the tea fields. The unique green tea ice cream is surprisingly delicious and refreshing on a hot day.
As I walked through the Jeoji Gotjawal, I marveled at how different this forest looks from any other I’ve seen. The trees don’t grow straight, but seem to wiggle their way towards the light. The trail is mostly flat, but there’s sinkholes on either side that seems to give a sense of walking on a mountain ridge.
I’m an avid oreum [secondary volcanic cones] hiker, so I naturally loved the top of Mundoji Oreum. It’s a small hill, but it has a beautiful grassy top where I met a group of teachers. They were having a wonderful hike and shared some of their giant grapes and a small cup of coffee. I didn’t think to ask them which Olle trail they prefer, but as I finished the hike at the Jeoji Artist’s Village, I had to wonder if they thought this was the best place to be today.
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