Anyone who thinks Jeju is too mainstream and cosmopolitan may find Chuja-do to be just what they’re looking for. This small island (rather, four inhabited islands and lots of uninhabited islands and rocks) lies half way between Jeju and the mainland. There are just a few villages dotted around the coast and the population has a high proportion of elderly folk. It’s served by one boat which makes the round trip from Jeju to the mainland and back, stopping on Chuja-do each way.
You can walk around the island in one day – that’s what Olle 18-1 does. The guide book describes the trail as hard and I can vouch for that; it’s no longer than the trails on Jeju but there are a lot of hills to climb.
We met the island’s only English teacher near the top of Mt Dondae-san yesterday evening. Come and visit my school, she said, and this morning we did. We arrived as she was teaching English to eight middle-school students. In Chuja-do’s only middle school, there are only 18 students altogether and around 10 teachers. Anyone wanting to go to high school must go to the mainland.
These photos don’t give an accurate impression of Olle 14-1. Long sections of this trail pass through the gotjawal, Jeju’s forested landscape. Due to the well drained, volcanic soils the vegetation is somewhat scrubby, not able to reach any great height. Still, it’s good to know that extensive areas remain in the face of Jeju’s ongoing development. The trail is narrow and winding and rocky in places and the dappled sunlight make it necessary to watch carefully where you put your feet.
It’s also the trail that passes closest to Global Education City, the closest point being the O’Sulloc tea plantation at around halfway. This attracts huge numbers of visitors, who probably have no idea why less-than-immaculate hikers are passing through their midst.
It’s been far too long since we walked an Olle trail so, yesterday being the first day of the half-term break, we headed off to Olle 3 on the south-east side of the island. We started to realise that something was going on as we approached the start and arrived to find hundreds of other walkers celebrating the opening of Olle 3-B. Just when we thought we had almost completed the full set of trails, we had stumbled on the opening of a new one.
Olle 3-B is just a variant of Olle 3, having the same start and end point but keeping closer to the coast in the first half. Early on, we met two other walkers and spent the rest of the day sharing the trail with them – not to mention their food and hospitality. The people of the village of Sinsan provided noodles as walkers passed through and our new friends ensured we were given some, even though we should have booked in advance. We were also offered makkoli by fellow walkers along the trail (a Korean rice-based alcoholic drink – no picnic is complete without it) and rice cake. Korean people are very hospitable.
We stopped at one point and watched a group of Haenyo, Jeju women divers, emerge from the sea with their catch. This is a tradition that can’t last indefinitely; it’s a hard life and the Haenyo are getting older. It’s good to be able to see them while they’re still active.
On the side of Gonaebong, close to Jeju’s north-west coast, is a large rock, several metres high and home to ivy, moss and grass. The surprise comes if you walk around to the side of the rock away from the path, the side looking out through the trees and over the farmland below. There’s a tree growing close to the rock with cloths tied to its branches. Some are tattered, some more recent.
This is one of Jeju’s shamanic shrines. A description of shrines, their meaning and history, is given on the Culture & Nature pages of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province website. That page talks about historical attempts to eradicate shamanism; the challenge today is to preserve this part of the island’s heritage in the face of declining interest in shamanism.