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The unkown

Rendezvous with the freediving Haenyeo grand mothers of the sea. 

The locals call Jeju-do the "Hawaii of the Orient" as they are attracted to the natural treasures of the island.


Jeju Island as a whole is a UNESCO Geopark, which was added to UNESCO's list in 2007. Five locations are worthy of preservation: the Hallasan Nature Reserve including the large volcano, several lava-tube formations, which are caves formed during previous eruptions, and the Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff-ring volcano. This particular volcanic type occurs when a volcano builds up during an eruption in shallow water, a so-called hydro-volcano.


In addition to the world heritage list, there is UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage, which covers cultural traditions and cultural knowledge. Jeju's Haenyeo culture of diving grandmothers is worthy of preservation and was included in UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage in 2016.


So, obviously, as island enthusiasts, we had to spend a week here exploring the island. The nature is admittedly a big draw, howver we think that the real treasure is the people and odd culture characterized by the Haenyeos.


Location: off the coast of South Korea 


J​eju Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true gem in South Korea. As we stepped off the plane we're immediately captivated by the island's unique beauty and the warm welcome of the locals. With a week ahead of us, we're excited to embark on an adventure that will take us through lush landscapes, ancient volcanoes and vibrant cultural traditions. T


For hundreds of years, women in Jeju Island have been engaged in harvesting shellfish, abalone. conch shells, and echinoderms such as starfish, sea sausage and sea urchin from the bottom of the sea. The women, who are often elderly and both 70 and 80 years old, are called haenyeo – or sea women translated from Korean – and they do not use oxygen tanks or diving equipment, but hold their breath while they free dive down to a depth of 10 meters for two minutes at a time. Their only support underwater is a pair of homemade diving goggles and a wetsuit to keep warm. Their working day consists of many hours in and under the water. Before the wet suit came about fifty years ago, they just wore cotton clothes in the cold water that flows around Jeju Island in the Yellow Sea between China, Korea and Japan. Heavy lead belts around their body help them hit the bottom quickly, while they collect their sea harvest with a knife and a net.

It is a dangerous occupation, which is performed by approximately 3,000 women today, the vast majority of whom are over 60 years old. The number of practicing sea women has been reduced drastically from over 20,000 active haenyeos in the 1960s, and the fear is that the tradition is dying out. The oldest descriptions of this tradition are from the 4th century, so the tradition has lasted for many centuries and survived both world wars and occupations. With long and challenging days in the water in all seasons, the haenyeo women have become a national example of women's strength, dedication and courage in South Korea.


During our time on Jeju Island, we drive around the entire island in a rental car and visit many beaches, waterfalls, and wild rock formations. The Koreans call the island the 'Hawaii of the Orient' because of the many volcanoes, dramatic landscapes and exotic vegetation such as palm trees, cherry blossoms and yellow rape, which adorn the blue-black background of rocks and sea. A memorable place is the spectacular tuff-ring volcano named Seongsan Ibul-chong: it is a green mountain that rises from the sea, where the sun first rises on Jeju, with steep sides and an adventurous appearance. A small sandbar connects the volcanic island with Jeju Island. The view from the top is breathtaking and around the small island there are many active haenyeos who jump into the sea and sell their catch on the beach.


We also get to walk a lot through beautiful landscapes along the ocean and in large caves formed by liquid lava. It is striking that small, somewhat creepy and goblin-like statues carved out of lava peek out everywhere on the island, somewhat randomly placed in this black and green landscape. It's like Easter Island in the Pacific, where there are also statues carved in lava rock. For the Korean visitor in particular, this adds to the underlying sense of the mythology of Jeju Island, where nature and its spirits are exuberantly alive. For thousands of years, Jeju has been isolated and developed its own religious customs, with shamans playing a major role. Only a few places we've experienced the local spirituality crawl under our skin like this. Perhaps only in Bali or in North India have I felt it to be so strong.


In fact, Jeju Island is a huge volcano that rises two kilometers above the deep blue sea. The peak is called Mount Hallansan and is the highest point in South Korea. The trek to the top is very beautiful, through forests, over flower meadows, and with a view of a beautiful lake at the bottom of the crater. In winter and in the earlier spring there is snow on the summit.


During our time on the island, we based ourselves in the beautiful town of Segwipo, located on the south coast close to the main attractions. We love food experiences, especially Japanese and Korean, which are so fantastically beautifully arranged and optimized in taste and texture over generations - and Segwipo is known for its large food market Maeil Olle Market. It allowed us to eat our way through the island's delicacies every night: braised oxtails, abalone harvested by haenyeos, and black pig from Jeju – topped of course with plenty of kimchi. 


Selected pics during our visit here:

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