From my last experience with the Jeju Olle trail, I remembered feeling overwhelmed by the stunning natural beauty of Jeju Island. Of course I’m always up for another adventure every time I set foot onto this natural wonder but this time round I was a volunteer for the Jeju Olle Walking Festival. I thought I would lend my amateur photography skills and capture some of the Olle Trail’s most memorable moments.
First up~ why didn’t I think of dressing up as a zombie to walk the entire course? Halloween may already be over but it doesn’t stop this group of dress up enthusiasts to give this walk a little apocalyptic atmosphere. Ok, maybe there was more walking rather than biting, but it was fun seeing them scaring children or pretending they were eating people when people asked for a photo. Apparently these people are regulars and participate every year with a different theme. I can’t wait to see what they have in mind for next year’s festival. Whilst I was prancing from group to group, my eyes can’t help but stalk the Jeju Olle pony mascot and his carrot (do horses really eat carrots??). United with the Volunteer Youth workers they both provide a cheerful, bright, and energetic mood-making atmosphere which really gives strength to the walkers. What was especially encouraging to see was the number of foreigners who travelled from around the world just to take part in this festival….dayamm~
What’s great about Olle course number 16 is that you really get a balance of sea and land. However if I was to be honest I really much preferred the land part of this course. Although you get the cliffs, sea, and volcanic rocks…there wasn’t anything that really stood out or iconic. It was just a ‘nice’ stroll along the coast, but nothing more…OH WAIT…keep a look out for an O-ddeng truck. Seriously, one of the best ones I’ve ever tasted…and it is a good chance to take a cheeky break for some food and coffee.
Once you hit the agricultural land things start to get more interesting. You get to see the true rural culture of Jeju, something which is usually forgotten if you are a visitor. Sure the amazing iconic mountains, beaches, and museums are definitely on the ‘to do’ list. Yet people seem to ignore the lifestyle of Jejulites (can I call them that?) and focus more on the touristy, overly marketed areas…nope, not looking at you, Hello Kitty Café. One charming farm patch after another you get to walk pass forests, fortresses, flower fields, and Sarabong Oreum!
One might think: “how is this festival any different to a ‘normal’ walk during any other day?” Firstly during ‘any other day’ you will probably be walking the Olle course either alone, a partner, or with a small group of friends. However at the festival there are hundreds of people walking together. You get to meet many people from different walks of life and because you all have something in common (Olle…duh) strangers will be very intrigued and interested in knowing you. While you walk, meet new friends, a new hiking buddy, or even your future spouse! You never know…
Another point is that usually you would walk from start to finish for about 4 or 5 hours and in between you need to take breaks right? You might end up sitting alone eating some snacks or a leftover Shin Ramyun cup noodle. But NO MORE! In this festival there are break intervals where everybody gets to rest and eat together. Also, the Jeju Olle Organization has prepared special performances such as singing, dancing, Korean traditional classical music e.t.c. so that the walkers can enjoy and forget about the aching soles of their feet. Food and snacks are also provided generously…don’t forget your lunch and dinner coupons! Use this time to rest up, chill, and have a conversation with your new found friend while soaking up the buzzing atmosphere.
The final point is meeting the ever so hard working staff of the Jeju Olle Organization. Aren’t you curious as to who are the brains behind the intricate routes of the trails? Throughout my experiences of Korea so far, I can say the staff members of the organization are one of the most helpful, kind, and passionate people I’ve ever met…I genuinely feel honoured to be able to be a part of this major event with them. Don’t speak Korean? I was really surprised to find out the number of members who can speak English at a very good level. But if you really struggle to communicate then there is a very reliable and passionate foreign member of the Jeju Olle Organization who can help you and answer all your questions.
Even though I was a volunteer at this event, I didn’t really feel like I was a volunteer, but I felt as though I was part of a united community who just enjoyed walking and observing what Jeju Island had to offer. Not only did I take pictures of amazing landscapes, but I made really good friends along the way and got to hear interesting stories from different types of people from around the world. All I can say is I cannot wait for what next year’s Jeju Olle Walking festival has to offer…though this time round…I might end up wearing a yellow hoody with makeup on my face and a hat which screams ‘I’m an elementary school student’…. Hint hint 😉