Jeju Redux, Still No Pics

Something I rarely do when traveling is take a guided tour. Usually I prefer to use public transport or to rent a car or motorcycle, which allows me to linger as long as I please at places that intrigue me, and to quickly bail out of sites that prove to hold little interest. When I first came to Jeju a few days back, I was a man without a plan, or at most, an exceptionally loose one. I thought to rent a scooter, then to take a slow and leisurely clockwise spin around the sun-drenched subtropical island, making no reservations, and counting on the winds of fortune to steer me true. Two things conspired to put paid to that notion: 1) Jeju was indeed drenched, but not by the sun (it is quite jarring to the sensibilities to see palm trees bending under the unaccustomed weight of freshly fallen snow!); and 2) even if the weather had cooperated, Korean drivers make it problematic, nay impossible, to proceed along the byways at anything less than NASCAR speeds. It is as if native cars have two modes, warp speed and stop, punctuated by neck-wrenching transitions between the two. So, in deference to my fears of grievous bodily harm, I opted instead for the comfort and relative safety of a silver minivan operated by Yeha Tours, and piloted by the multilingual and irrepressible Uno Park. My traveling companions were a couple from Singapore and their teenaged son, to all appearances relishing the break from the year-round perfect weather of Southeast Asia. The layout of the minivan was three rows of two seats each; I was paired with the son, Wei Liang, fourteen-going-on-thirty, and gifted with a mischievous sense of humor and a pretty amazing camera. By the time we arrived at Seongsan-Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), we had traded “my life in travel” stories (mine took longer, but his were equally varied, and included some destinations I still long to visit); the two of us opted for the steep and precipitous climb up slippery and uneven steps to the edge of the seaside volcanic crater while his parents elected to wait below in the relative warmth, comfort (and safety) of the hillside café. On the way back down Wei Liang and I decided to have a bit of fun at his parents’ expense. When we met up with them again, we showed them our pictures and told them they really should have made the ascent. “Besides,” we continued, “no more than twenty meters past the café there was an elevator to the top.” Two faces dropped, followed immediately by two others erupting into merriment at the well-told untruth. A “gotcha!” moment if ever there was one…

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