Sometimes you just have to strip down and do something you know you probably shouldn’t.
It’s mid-afternoon in the weekend-of-a-thousand-activities on Jeju Island. That damned hangover is finally passing. The bus pulls up to our next stop: the Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls. The area is swarming with Chinese tourists, and our bus manages to cram in among their fleet of vehicles. There’s a good reason the parking lot is full and a thousand Nikon lenses are firing in all directions; the views are stunning.
Cheonjiyeon translates as “God’s Pond”. Legend has it that seven fairies who served the creator himself descended from heaven on stairs of clouds and bathed in the crystalline waters.
As we walk along the series of pools and cascading waterfalls, I learn something enlightening: a group of 30 or so western travellers can be far louder than a few hundred Chinese tourists. I’m not proud of verifying the stereotypes against my corner of the world, and I’m sure if any of the Chinese had asked, they wouldn’t have believed that a good portion of the group was made up of “polite and apologetic” Canadians. We are a happy lot, singing songs and dancing our way along the water’s path, much to the amusement of our Eastern friends.
And then it all comes to a head: our tour guide, a fellow Canadian, brings us to an azure pool of water, surrounded by volcanic rock, easily one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. “Okay, guys, if we’re going to go in, let’s do it” he says, or something to that effect. I nervously glance over at the bright yellow sign which reads OFF LIMITS in Korean, Chinese and English.
There is a pause. Who wil go first? Anyone? Anyone?
And there’s a splash.
Someone has breached the perimeter and jumped in. And then another. And another. There is a flurry of commotion as a hundred Chinese tourists suddenly turn their cameras toward the westerners, invading the sanctity of the pool. For a moment, I’m hesitant. I’m not one to break rules, and generally try to be as Canadian as possible. But bathing fairies? As I gaze into the blueness, the pillars of ancient, magma forged rock that surrounds this breathtaking oasis, two words float across my mind.
I strip down to my shorts, and wade in. It is frigid, and I can still hear the torrent of clicking sounds from the newly created Chinese paparazzi, curiously documenting our transgression. One family is even cheering for our obviously insane group of English teachers and US soldiers.
Treading water in the middle of the icy, kyanite-shaded water, I reflect on two profound things. First, that this is perhaps the most beautiful place I will ever swim. And secondly, that if I don’t get out of the water soon, I’m going to go completely numb and drown.
At least, for a few brief moments, I caught a glimmer of something profound.