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.
Seongsan Ilchulbong is never far away on Olle 1. The photo above is taken from the top of Meolmial Oreum, soon after the start of the trail as it makes a large northwards loop before turning back southwards again, following the coast. The peak gets larger and larger before the trail passes beneath it to finish a couple of kilometres further down the coast.
There are a couple of Haenyo restaurants along the way; the photo below shows their floats and nets hung up in a Haenyo house in Seongsan village.
It’s common to see opercula on the shore but not in the concentrations shown in these photos. I saw these outside a seafood restaurant, discarded as the creature is extracted from its shell.
An operculum is attached to the body of the shellfish and is used to seal it inside the shell. Wikipedia suggests that the purpose is either as protection from predators or to prevent shellfish that live in the intertidal zone from drying out. They’re no match for the Haenyo, the women divers of Jeju.
We’ve just completed Olle 21, as far from Global Education City as you can get on Jeju, right in the north east corner of the island. It’s a relatively short trail, joining the end of Olle 20 to a point part way through Olle 1. Given that we started on Olle 5 a year ago, we’ve just got four to go to complete the circuit.
The village in the first two photos is the small port of Hado, a couple of kilometers after the start of the trail. It’s surrounded by a substantial and partly rebuilt wall, defence against the Japanese during the Joeson Dynasty. I assume the rebuilding is cosmetic rather than anything else.
And there are plenty of reminders that the Haenyo, women divers, are a feature of this part of the island. The trail starts at the Haenyo museum and there are several statues on the rocks along the shoreline. We even saw some real ones working in the water in the bay as we ate lunch – noodles with seafood.
This part of Jeju also seems to be carrot country. The soil appears to be sufficiently light and clear of rock for carrot to be a common crop, along with radish and potatoes. The ladies below are packing the harvested carrots into boxes; there also seems to be a real waste, with lots of misshapen and split ones being left behind in the field.
This isn’t the first time I’ve posted photos of Haenyo, Jeju’s women divers, and I don’t suppose it’ll be the last. The first time was when I saw them over on the east of the island, going out at a preset time with a commentary for the tourists, and doing a little performance.
There was nothing fake or put-on about the divers at Songaksan yesterday. These were women trying to make a living. You could see them out at sea with their floats, occasionally upending and disappearing below the surface with their flippers the last thing to remain visible.
They slowly made their way around the coast. Once they reached the rocky shore, it was apparent that they were pulling nets full of the shellfish they had caught.
It was also apparent that they were not young; no, they were genuinely old. At an age when many people couldn’t do this even if they wanted to (and were probably enjoying retirement), these women are still going into the sea, in December and with the simplest of equipment; they were then dragging their catch out of the sea and over the rocks. Let me guess that they’ll do it all again tomorrow, and have probably been doing it all their lives. Remarkable.
It doesn’t come much fresher than this. You point to the thing you’d like to eat, from the array of squirming, wriggling shellfish and octopus on display; the lady scoops it out of its shell with her knife, slices it up and hands it to you on a plate. I’m sure it tastes delicious but there’s no way I’m going to try anything quite so squidgy.
Jeju is said to have three things in abundance – wind, women and rocks. The women in question are the divers, who put on wetsuits and gather food from the water around the island. The story goes that they were forced into this way of life because the men of Jeju Island were so lazy. People have told me it’s still true, but I’m not in a position to comment.
The women divers are a dying breed these days. Young women don’t take it up, unsurprisingly, and the ones we saw were doing a demonstration for visitors rather than for the economic value of the catch. Judging from the deep lines on their faces, they’ve lived a tough, outdoor, life.