Updated: Apr 22, 2020
You hop off a bus into an immediate hot, shimmering sunlight and wander along the high-curbed, red brick of the country-roadside pavement. The 702 screeches loudly as it speeds past, a thick cloud of gas trailing behind it.
Next, a dusty dry mud road with a yelping puppy tied to a kennel too big for it. The cliff that you’re aiming for can be seen high up to the north, and the climb is gradual at first – but then the path turns sharply to the right and you begin to ascend the ridge, between the wooden fence on the edge and a forest of fir trees to your left. Your ankles are stroked by grasses and wildflowers and scratched by occasional thorns as you walk. Occasionally you pass ancient graves, mounds of earth under great black stones marked with Chinese writing. It is 26 degrees and 80 percent humidity, in mid-October.
Behind you is the steep path of worn earth between fence, forest and flowers. Above and far, kilometers to the East, rises Hallasan, a long-dormant volcano and the largest mountain in South Korea. Before it stand many Oremus; small steep hills that are themselves miniature volcanic cones. They were originally volcanic vents of the main mountain, markers of the island’s active geological past. They increase in height and number the closer they get to the mountain. In the foreground there are roughly-shaped fields and clusters of orange trees. Above there isn’t a single cloud, but the whole landscape is overlaid by a thin, translucent haze in which the distant mountain appears like a grey shadow.
Following the path along the ridge takes you east towards the sea and a soft breeze which touches the patches of sweat on your t-shirt. The pine forest falls away behind you as you enter an opening on the clear, treeless side of the hill where two thin, long-haired horses graze. Below you is a thinner stretch of tidier patchwork fields, the village of Shi-heung-ri and the road from where you started. Beyond that are the angular concrete arms of the piers of several small docks for fishing boats, breaking through the black rocks of the coast and out into the restless tides of the open sea. The flat plains of the coast are interrupted only by the gigantic straight cliffs of Seongsan Ilchulbong oreum (Sunrise Peak) to the south, which stands tall like a castle above the port-village which shares its name.
Your panting companion finally rejoins you and passes you a warm can of cheap beer with which to enjoy the view. You drink warm lager while leaning against a wooden fence. Out into the ocean you can see Udo - a small island that is mostly flat except at its southern end, where it rises up into a small cauldron-shaped oreum, crowned with the tower of a lighthouse at its highest point.
It isn’t totally still up there on your ridge; the horses snort while they lazily graze, and there’s a constant buzz from the industrious insects that crawl through the grass and flutter between the bushes; but still, the peacefulness of the hillside and the open view of the landscape allow your mind to wander... Memories of volleyball tournaments and bicycle-rides, beaches and barbecues: of a long, hot summer which – looking at the gentle shimmer of the ocean and the open limitlessness of the clear sky - hasn’t come to an end quite yet..
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