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Travel Image: Jejudo South Korea
Photo: Matthew Antonino
Travel Image: Jejudo South Korea

Jejudo, South Korea: The Furious Pursuit of Relaxation
By Jon Nix

"Won't you be lonely?"

"No," I replied. "I travel alone all the time. Why? Do you ladies want to come with me?"

The travel agents began talking to each other in rapid-fire Korean, leaving me in the dust after the first sentence. I looked at the brochure of Jeju, the sub-tropical island I was hoping to visit for a quick, weekend jaunt from Seoul.

I had used the travel agency several times before. Apparently, I the travel agents liked me because just then Ms. Huang, the motherly boss, cleared her throat.

"We have decided to come with you, Jon."

That is how it came to pass that Ms. Huang, Ms. Pak and I roared into Jeju International Airport. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend on the beach, sipping margaritas or whatever it is Jeju people sip.

If I had known then what it was like to travel Korean-style, I would have had no such illusions. The moment we touched the ground, we set off to find Jeju Man and our adventure began.

Travel is difficult once you leave Jeju City. A road wraps around the coastline of the island, but public buses are scarce. In order to see the lava-rock caves, the deceased volcano of Mt. Halla, the temples and the famous elderly female divers of Udo, you need a hero like Jeju Man.

He has a car.

Ms. Huang calls him Jeju Man because he is a Jeju native. His deep gold complexion contrasted sharply with the delicate, porcelain white faces of my travel agents. He is a cheery fellow, and the ladies teased him that his disposition was derived from living on an island not only famous for wind and rock, but women.

We were bound for Seogwipo City, on the southern coast. Yellow grain blanketed the wide fields to our left and the sea sprawled out to the right. Ms. Huang turned to me in the back seat and asked what I would like to do for the weekend.

"Well, I'd like to see Udo and find a beach."

"What will you do on the beach?" she asked with great curiosity.

"Well. I, well...nothing."

"Nothing?" My three companions cried and had a great laugh, which was followed by several minutes of unintelligible Korean humor.

"Well, what do you do here?" I asked defensively.

We were doing it. Ms. Huang's question was nothing more than a polite inquiry. Everything was planned. “Nothing” was not an option.

First up: some sort of world architecture theme park where the wonders of the world lay before us in miniature scale. “Look! There's me with the Pyramids! There's Ms. Huang with the Forbidden Palace! There's Ms. Pak with the Taj Mahal!”

And zoom! We are off again. I stare longingly at the sea. Although there is no beach below us, the craggy lava formations beg me to stop.

But we plunged ahead to Yakcheon-sa, an enormous Buddhist temple with lanterns poking out in all directions.

We only had time for Ms. Huang to bow a few times to the Buddha and take a few photos because we had a dolphin and monkey show to attend.

“And why should that be so bizarre?” I thought. After all, dolphins and monkeys are the smartest animals next to humans.

Well, it becomes bizarre when the dolphins are jumping over monkeys who are walking a tightrope wearing little red suits. As the auditorium packed with Korean children cheered the dancing monkeys, I daydreamed of a sunny beach with crystal blue water rushing up to exotic rock formations. I could be there. Right now. But no, I had to watch this mammalian phenomenon.

“Hey! Where's Jeju Man?” I thought.

Jeju Man was outside having a smoke, with the car running.

"Can you ride a horse?" Ms. Huang asked as we drove away a few minutes later.

I am from Kentucky. I had many opportunities to ride horses, if I had wanted to. And no, I cannot ride a horse.

We arrived at a "ranch" and a couple of grinning Korean men guided us to get our gear: red-striped cowboy hats with matching red vests and boots.

I could show you the pictures, but then I would have to kill you. Promptly.

Again, Jeju Man quietly slipped away.

Our horses were indigenous Jorang ponies, which were not quite pygmy, but certainly not Kentucky thoroughbred. They are prized for being manageable and easy to ride. They operate on voice command, so depending on the Korean men's verbal orders, they trot, gallop or stop.

During the ride, they were supposed to trot through a brief wooded area and then gallop around a small dirt track and then stop.

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