Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hidden Beach revealed

Driving all the way up to Capitol Hill and going to the very end of Talafofo Road will lead you to the portal of one of Saipan’s pleasant secrets.

Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol

Last weekend’s wandering brought me and my buddy to this spectacular cove which I had been targeting for quite sometime. A photographer friend recommended the place, telling me we don’t have to walk far as the beach can be seen from the parking area.
But the sea was nowhere to be seen or heard from the area where we parked. An unpaved road under the trees stretched to infinity before us, and we agreed going back was out of the question.
The wet road led us down, past several turns and yet I can not hear the sea. Walking was not easy with my 2-inch heeled slippers. I was about to give up when I heard the unmistakable rumbling- like the rolling of thunder from a distance.
With renewed courage, we plodded on. A few meters away, we came upon a small clearing behind a thicket. Suddenly, we were looking at a post-card perfect vista from our perch.
Going down 31 cemented steps and ambling over knee-high shrubs, we were finally at the Hidden Beach.
To describe the place as awesome is an understatement! Huge waves slapping on the flat table stones issue a silent yet dangerous challenge for the daring, although personally, I think the place is not ideal for swimming. Those waves are so huge they could sweep you off to the Pacific Ocean and into nothingness in a few seconds.
Hidden Beach is protected by huge boulders of stones that resemble many figures, depending on how creative you are in interpreting them. Here is one secret paradise perfected by nature which provides total relaxation.

This article was originally published HERE
For more PHOTOS press HERE

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mysterious cairns of the Suicide Cliffs

FOR a casual passerby, they look like small, ordinary stones piled atop each other but for the discerning eye of an adventurer they could mean a lot of things, depending on the angle where you look at them from, or how the sun casts its shadow on the stones.

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

But these stones did not happen to accidentally pile on top of each other to create a spectacular view. Somebody exerted effort and creativity to pile the stones into attractive shapes to make driving, jogging or cycling up to the Suicide Cliff lookout a more pleasant experience.
For some, the cairns scattered along the road especially in the last two miles toward the Suicide Cliff stirs the imagination.
“Some thought that they are part of a local culture, some thought the stones have something to do with religious rites while others thought the stones bring good luck,” the person behind the artistry who opted to remain behind the limelight to maintain the aura of mystery to the cairns said.

He said he gets a lot of satisfaction knowing that the stone piles he started to create some months back have begun to stir intrigue among the visitors.
“Each individual has different interpretations of the stones, and that adds up to the mystery,” he said.
The cairns captured my interest when I first saw them sometime in June. From a distance, some of them look like dwarfs gregariously perched on top of the cairns. I couldn’t help but snap some photos while thinking it had some historical significance.
There are more cairns that you see along the way. Some of them are mysteriously hidden between trees a little distance from the road that you really have to look for them to find them.
If you haven’t seen the cairns yet, go for a drive or jog up Suicide Cliff looko
ut in Marpi and you will see them along the road. Just be careful not to break the piles, or better yet you can add to the cairns.
I wonder what they look like in the moonlight. That is something I will have to discover for myself, and soon!

This article was originally published HERE

Want to see more photos? PRESS ME

Friday, November 7, 2008

Atop Saipan’s highest mountain

IF there is one place that offers you a perfect view of the whole island from a 360 degree angle, it is Mount Tapochao, the highest point of Saipan.

A view of Garapan seen from Mt. Tapochao. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol

A view of Garapan seen from Mt. Tapochao.

Last weekend’s gallivanting saw me and a buddy slowly urging the small car we took to navigate the rough and bumpy roads snaking its way up the mountain. We knew the roads were fitted for an ATV or a 4x4 vehicle but we still took the chance, hoping our car won’t give up on us and leave us in the middle of nowhere.
After a nerve-wracking climb, we finally reach the top. I took in huge gulps of the cold, early morning air while trying to catch my breath. Mt. Tapochao is indeed a perfect place to meditate and get in tune with nature.
My first visit to this mountain was during Good Friday this year when the roads and the whole place littered with people, tents and cars. We had to walk all the way to the top as the roads were barely passable.
Last Saturday, it was totally different because my buddy and I had the whole place to ourselves. It was eerily quiet, save for the howling of the winds. I felt like we were intruders but it was wonderful to be standing at 1,545 feet above sea level and marvel at the amazing panoramic view of Saipan and the island of Tinian.
Mt. Tapochao carries both historical and religious significance for the people of CNMI. Several markers are planted at the top of Mt. Tapochao to serve as constant reminders that Japanese spotters positioned themselves on this mountain to direct cannon fire to the advancing American forces during the bloody World War 11.
A slight drizzle started to fall, interrupting the peace and soliloquy I was enjoying for a moment. I am still looking forward for a chance to watch the sunset from this point. I know words would be inadequate to describe its splendor.

(this article is originally published HERE)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tinian’s WW11 monuments

IF you are in the dark about Tinian’s history, the two cemented structures protruding from the ground which looked like crypts would mean nothing, but these are no ordinary structures.

These are the two atomic bomb loading pits that played a significant part in the history of the island.
From the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino, we took the north-bound road which gradually degenerated until it looked just a deserted trail. I lost direction of the twists and turns my tour guide took before we emerged into a clearing beyond forest growth and thick foliage, into the airport taxiway.

There, at the northwest end of the runway were the two triangular-shaped structures that stood for lornly as a monument of the World War 11.
Mindless of the scorching heat of the noonday sun, I went near the pits and peered through the Plexiglas. There was nothing to see in the 27-and-a-half-foot long, 18-foot-wide pits save for a small hole in the ground and faded photographs of the planes that carried the bombs to Japan.
The pits looked innocent and harmless, but if you go back years before, you will learn that from these loading pits the “Fat Man and Little Boy”— the atomic bombs dropped on Japan — were launched from this very site.

The area was deserted, save for a group of tourists in a rented van. There is something about the place that evokes an eerie silence and makes you wish to leave everything without disturbing the ghosts of the past.
This site has always drawn visits not only from tourists every year but WW11 veterans, too whose poignant memories of the war live within them. I left the place in a pensive mood, thinking myself lucky to be able to visit a place that is important to the island’s history.

This article was originally published HERE.

Unwinding at Taga Beach

JUST a stone’s throw away from the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino is a famous beach which never fails to lure locals and tourists alike even under the sweltering heat of the sun.

Taga Beach is just a pocket beach bordered by small limestone cliffs on its sides. To take a dip, you have the option of going down a flight of cemented stairs or jumping or diving from the small cliffs into the amazingly clear, blue green waters. This has become a favorite challenge for kids and adults as they tried to outdo each other in how high they can jump, or how many flips they can do.

The waves from the small lagoon roll into a pristine shore protected by cliffs and cave-like rocks. From the beach, the ocean stretches out to forever. The beach has picnic facilities, an outdoor shower, ample parking spaces and even a place to rent scooters if you want to take an island tour.
If you don’t fancy swimming, you could still enjoy walking on the concrete path which leads into Tachogna Beach a few meters away. Sunsets at Taga Beach are just superb! Here is one place where you can watch the sun bidding goodbye to another day amidst a glorious sky splashed with different hues of reds, oranges and vermilions.
For photo enthusiasts, Taga Beach is one perfect place for you to snap away and capture views of the local color.
Breathing in the cool salty air from the ocean, I wished I could stay at the beach forever and take in the sights and smells that create a bond to nature. However, darkness had fallen. The happy shouts of kids ceased and the swimmers were heading home. It was time to go back to the hotel.

This article was originally published HERE.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Enjoying Micro Beach at your leisure

DO you want to spend precious moments each day in total relaxation yet find it hard to snatch time from your busy schedule? On Saipan, you don’t need to go far.

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

Just a few steps away from the Saipan’s commercial district in Garapan near American Memorial Park is Micro Beach, a popular spot which many of us may have taken for granted.
Micro Beach is an ideal place to spend your leisure time. Whether you have a full free day to spend, or just a few minutes to breath in the salty tang of the ocean breeze, this is the place for you.
In the late afternoons, you can catch one of Saipan’s glorious sunsets from Micro Beach with the fascinating Managaha Island at the backdrop.
On Sundays and holidays, Micro beach is the island’s most populated beach. It is a favorite picnic spot to hold local fiestas, barbeques, parties, and just gatherings with friends and family members.
The beach area provides kids a fantastic playground. The beach has tables and benches, swing sets and the tall trees provide shade for the picnickers.
Micro Beach is also an ideal venue for popular sporting events like XTerra Saipan Championship.
On some days, strong winds would gust to the delight of surfers. Micro Beach is a popular windsurfing spot. In 1972, Micro Beach became the competition site as windsurfers from six countries gathered for a three-day race.
The natural beauty of the island with its pristine beaches and natural landscape makes it a perfect destination for tourists.
If you want to break the monotony of your routine, take a few minutes out and head off to Micro Beach. You’ll come back refreshed and renewed.
(This article was originally published HERE)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the shores of Wing Beach

DESERTED’ is the first word that would come to your mind as soon as you emerge from the thicket that shelters the entrance to Wing Beach, one of Saipan’s seashore treasures.

Darkness was about an hour away and yet I insisted on making a stop to this spot which I just heard about from others. The long fingers of dusk began to claim dominance over the skies, casting a somewhat eerie yet fascinating atmosphere.
The shore was practically isolated, the silence broken only by the slapping of the waves in the distant reef and by our presence. The long stretch of soft white sand seemed to defy our existence.
There is something about Wing Beach that lures you to come back again and again. Turning off from the main road in Marpi, the dirt road that curbs its way around and amidst thick foliage will lead you deeper that you would feel you were already in the jungle, but you are just a few minutes away from your destination.
Running on the shores and leaving deep footprints on the sand is an exhilarating experience you must not miss. It is as if you have the whole place to yourself, and nothing else matter except you, the sea, the skies and the sand on the shores.
Various shells scattered on the beach adds to its attraction. Swinging by Wing Beach during the day would be an entirely exciting and different experience, without the long shadows and the eerie stillness of the place. It is one of the spectacular places to hold picnics or get together with friends. You can visit the place just to pass time, take a dip in the ocean, commune with nature, draw figures or write you name on the sand, or go diving.
Wing Beach, located on the northwest part of Saipan is one place you must not miss. Swing by for a view of some fantastic geographical features like breathtaking drop-offs and large, spectacular crevasses. Chances are you will come back to the place.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rendezvous at the Suicide Cliff Lookout

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

The word SPECTACULAR or any other synonym in the dictionary is inadequate to describe the view from the top whereI was leaning against the steel railings on Saturday noon. It was exhilarating to stand on top of a 250-meter tall rock face and revel in the excellent views of the north end of Saipan.

From miles away, the ocean stretched far out with its different shades of blue glistening in the heat. If you look up at the cliffs from down below, they look menacing but when you’re up there, you’ll be telling a different story.

The Suicide Cliff lookout was a somber yet almost romantic place to be. I ignored the butterflies that seemed to flutter in my stomach as I looked down at the Banzai Cliff which resembled a miniature park way below from where I was, a spot which beckons one to come and explore what it has to offer .

The Suicide Cliff Lookout provokes a sense of being lost in time, surrounded by the natural beauty of the cliffs which some almighty power seemed to have carved centuries ago.

If you didn’t have an inkling of the tragic past of the place, if you have no idea that hundreds of Japanese have chosen to end their lives by jumping down the cliffs to their deaths than being captured by the American army after they lost the battle, the place is a perfect getaway.

Except that the place is marred by painful memories of the bloody WW11 events. Each nook and crevice in the cliffs is a mute witness of the unspeakable past.

Half the fun and adventure in going up to the Suicide Cliff Lookout and in going down lies on the picturesque road which snakes its way up the cliff, offering you a fantastic view of Garapan, the sea and nature. It’s one place where you get the feeling of being far from civilization and from everybody.

If you have fear of heights, you may opt to stay far from the railings but then, you will miss much!

You won’t get lost in going to the Lookout. Just follow the road signs toward the north and you’ll be there in no time.

(This article originally appeared HERE.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reunion with nature at the Tank Beach

CHARTERING unfamiliar grounds by following signs has always been a challenge I find hard to resist and last Sunday’s wanderings rewarded me with one more attractive spot in these islands.

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

Driving all the way past Kagman High School toward a dirt road last Sunday brought me and a buddy to a sign standing amidst thick bushes which says “Tank Beach”. As I haven’t heard of the name before, I knew I had to find the place. As there was no other sign on the road, our first turn ended in a private residence and we had to go back to the main road. Our second try brought us to the right place.
The place was deserted, and we found that it was one of the protected areas on Saipan where you can only feast your eyes in the beauty of nature but not disturb anything.

The white sandy beach stretched far on both sides, making us feel small and insignificant in the noonday heat. The rolling waves and the clear waters issued a silent invitation for a refreshing dip.
Tank Beach is a perfect place to bond with nature. This is a spot where it feels like sin to step on the sand and leave footprints in the deserted beach, where you will feel guilty by merely taking pictures of multitudes of butterflies in the flowering patches near the shore.
Tank Beach is one spot where you can delight on the wonders of nature, yet you get a feeling that you shouldn’t be there. You feel like an intruder that unlike other beaches which entices you to shout and run and play on the sand, you would feel guilty just by treading on the pristine shores.
For the beach fanatics, Tank Beach is a haven, great for snorkeling and hanging with friends.
Just be careful not to remove any corals from the waters off the entire reef at Tank beach as it is prohibited. Fishing regulations exist, and disruption of habitat is prohibited.
At this spot, the lines “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, and kill nothing but time” applies.
See you on our next adventure!

(This article was originally published here)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chulu Beach: Tinian’s hidden cove

DRIVING over rock-paved roads about a mile or two away from the famous bomb pits on Tinian will lead you to one of the tropical spectacles the island can boast of — Chulu Beach.
Tourists pose for a souvenir photo at Chulu Beach. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol
From the main road, you couldn’t see the water as the place is cloaked with thick foliage and green shrubbery but the minute you step out into the clearing, a stretch of pristine beach that is ideal for a movie set in the Pacific awaits you.
Chulu Beach is a beach bum’s dream: white sandy shores, crystal clear waters, and ideally placed palms swaying to the breeze. The sound of the rolling waves breaking a few meters away from the shore and the sense of privacy creates an instant lure to anybody who steps on its shores.
Overlooking the Philippine Sea to the west side of the island, you will know you have come to the right place when you see a Japanese pillbox at the end of the road.
Japanese Pillbox
My guide told me Chulu beach is also known as Star Beach to the locals. Here is a
beach whose history stretches past beyond the footsteps on the sands created by visitors. It carries ghosts of the past and has been a mute witness to the bloody events of the World War 11 more than 60 years ago.
Ah, how tempting to sprawl on the beach and allow yourself to be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves and the gentle slap of the ocean breeze on your skin.
I hated to leave but time was a harsh enemy. I had 12 minutes to grab a quick lunch and catch the 1 p.m. ferry for Saipan.
Come with me next time on yet another trip and let’s scour famous as well as hidden beaches and explore nooks and crannies of this paradise called the CNMI.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A quick shower at the Blow Hole

From a distance, nothing seems extra-ordinary about the long stretch of rocky limestone cliffs and the long wire fence that went all the way near the water’s edge, but if you stay a minute longer, you will witness one of the spectacular wonders that nature has bestowed on Tinian.
Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

I was in the northeast part of the island on the Pacific Ocean side, picking my way among the sharp rocks going down to the famous Blow Hole, a spot which has drawn thousands of visitors from all over the world through all these years.

I stopped a few meters away from the Blow Hole when a real big wave rolled in, unprepared for the sudden spray of water which spewed out like a geyser that gave me an instant shower.
The Blow Hole is just actually a little bigger than a basketball, but my tour guide said the water that squirts from it could go as high as 200 feet when the waves are really huge.
If you visit Tinian, it would be a shame to miss the chance to go as near to the Blow Hole as you can and take a delightful shower. Just be careful or else you might be swept out to the sea when the wave rolls back.
It felt strange yet exhilarating to be alone with the vast stretch of sea, wide expanse of blue skies, rugged limestone and green grasslands all around me, under the sweltering heat of the sun.
The Blow Hole is one of Tinian’s natural tourist spots, and getting there is half the fun. You get to pass by vast stretches of isolated grasslands, with relics and memories of the World War 11 scattered all over the place.

I had wanted to visit the place even before I set foot in the CNMI last February. I grabbed the chance Kiri Jackson, Tinian Dynasty’s casino marketing and promotions manager gave me even though I had but a few minutes left to catch the Ferry back to Saipan. I give much for a quick noonday shower at the Blow Hole!

Click HERE for more photos.
Click HERE for a video

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tinian blow hole

I finally had the chance to visit the famous Blow Hole located at the Northeast part of Tinian, on the Pacific Ocean side last Sunday. This is one place I had always wanted to visit but never got the chance to do so, and i have Kiri Jackson, Tinian Dynasty’s casino marketing and promotions to thank for arranging a quick tour for me.
The noonday heat did not deter me from going down to the limestone cliff that ran the full length of the side of the island (I won’t mention that I was wearing 2-inch heels) just to snap photos and catch an amateur video using my ever-handy Sony point and shoot. From the Blow Hole, you can see Saipan at the back drop. I felt so alone in the vast stretch of sea, limestone and grasslands, a solitary being snapping fotos under the sweltering heat of the sun.
The vertical hole, a little bigger than a basketball is something that mother nature has carved in the rocks, spews out a geyser when waves roll in. I stood at a distance of about 8 meters away and got wet when a particularly huge wave rolled in. If I was only wearing slippers and prepared to get wet, I wouldn’t have missed the chance to really go as near as I can to the hole but alas, I had to think of the ferry trip back to Saipan ( ughhh thinking of it is starting to make me dizzy) and I had to go straight to the office to file my stories. The one hour tour was not enough and I had to really hurry to grab some lunch from One Broadway before boarding the ferry. I had to put something in my stomach just in case the waves decided to get any bigger and I wouldn’t want to vomit my intestines out.
ANyways, luck was with me and the ferry trip back was bearable. More about my solo trip to Tinian later. Enjoy the amateur video!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Saipan’s sunken pool

Any trip or stay on Saipan would never be complete without visiting the Grotto, a sunken pool of amazingly azure waters that is connected to the ocean by passages underwater. For divers, the Grotto is one of Saipan’s best spots but non-divers too can enjoy the spectacular views the place has to offer.
Come with me as we visit yet another one of the unique spots this island has to offer.
The first time I visited the Grotto, I was not able to resist the urge to go down the 100 steep steps. A slight rain had made the stairs slippery and I was wearing sandals with heels but I was not about to let the opportunity pass.
Going down takes real effort as you have to hold on to the cement handrails and watch your footing if you have no wish to crash in a heap at the sharp rocks below.
Once you reach the bottom of the staircase, you will be facing yawning caverns that promise worlds of wonder under the water’s surface. Non-divers can enjoy listening to the thunderous crashing of the waves on the rocks, or watch snorkelers having a grand time in the pool.
If it requires effort on your way down, going up requires double effort. I had to rest every five or so steps and listen to my deafening heartbeat while trying to catch my breath.
Above the pool, a view deck provides a perfect setting where you can gaze for hours at the endless blue of the ocean stretched out before you. The view deck has tables and benches where guests can sit, relax and breathe in the salty tang of the ocean breeze.
The Grotto, located north of Saipan is easily accessible. Just drive past the “last command post” and “Banzai Cliff” memorial parks, and watch out for the sign on the road.
The Grotto is one place you must not miss. All you need is a healthy pair of legs (for non-divers), guts and a pair of itchy feet, and some exercise if you don’t mind.
I will leave the divers to describe the underwater wonders of the Grotto, or wait until I will have the chance to dive someday. Maybe that would be when I learn how to swim. Ahhhh, maybe in the next 50 years…
CLICK HERE for more photos
(Article originally published HERE

Friday, August 15, 2008

Last Command Post remembered

DRIVING all the way to Marpi on the north end of Saipan will lead you to several areas that have been mute witnesses to the poignant events of the Second World War, and one of these areas is the Last Command Post.
If you had been on Saipan long enough, you may have taken this spot for granted but everyday, this spot gets a fair share of visitors from all over the world.
Tourists wander around the Last Command Post. At the backdrop is the Suicide Cliff.Tourists wander around the Last Command Post. At the backdrop is the Suicide Cliff.
Located just along the road, the Last Command Post would have been another ordinary park with the colossal 800-foot Suicide Cliffs towering above and flame trees flowering from April to July each year.
Were it not for the markers and memorials scattered all over the park, visitors wouldn’t know that behind the World War II relics, a light Japanese tank and several guns that had been silenced forever is a tragic past that will forever be a part of the islands.
Records would tell you that the Last Command Post, a rock slab is where the Japanese command held out to the very end.
I and my explorer buddies Mark, Moneth, Junhan and Raymond went up the stairs and in to the inner chamber of the cave. I couldn’t help but shiver as I thought of the people who took shelter in it more than 60 years ago. If the rocks could talk, how interesting their stories would be. They had witnessed the unfolding of the fierce battle and sad events that made up a chapter of the world’s history.
Going into the inner chamber of the cave.Going into the inner chamber of the cave.
A drizzle started and we had to hurry because we were not planning to get wet.
It was a relief to leave the place which holds so many bitter memories. Just as we were driving away, a busload of tourists arrived, excitedly snapping photos from their cameras despite the drizzle.
Generations have come and gone, but like the rest of the war memorials on Saipan, the relics of the Last Command Post will stay as a reminder of the island’s tragic past.
Article originally published HERE

Friday, August 8, 2008

Paradise amidst cliffs and bushes

NESTLED amidst cliffs, sharp rocks and bushes just off the eastern side of Saipan is an isolated nook which is perfect for a day out with family or friends.Ladder beach, hidden in a cove between rugged cliffs is one of Saipan’s beautiful albeit hidden beaches.
Last Saturday’s adventure brought me and companions Mark, Junhan, Moneth and Ed to several turns on rough roads before reaching a grassy parking space way off the back of Saipan International Airport.
From the parking space, Ladder beach looked less inviting, with cliffs and huge slabs of rocks jutting out.
We descended a flight of stairs and when we emerged into a clearing, I immediately changed my mind. It’s a different word down there!
Ladder beach is a paradise, with spacious caves ideal for holding camp outs or bonfires where you can swap stories and while away the time.
If the urge to feel alone hits you, Ladder beach is the place to be. You could sit for hours and watch and listen to the sound of the huge waves crashing on rocky shores from the Pacific Ocean.
Compared to other beaches on Saipan, the waves at Ladder Beach are a little larger, adding to its charm.
Ladder beach is kind of hidden away, a place where you can be free to meditate, to wade in the water, to enjoy moments of peace or to shout and hear the wind and the waves answer you back in their own wild voices.
If you feel adventurous, you may jump on your bike and sped off toward the place. It is a place where you can discover that even among the crags and bushes, nature’s beauty flourishes.
This article was first published HERE

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bird Island revisited

A BREATHTAKING view awaits anyone who drives all the way to Marpi at the north east coast of Saipan. As soon as you reach the end of the paved road, prepare to see one of the most spectacular views Saipan has to offer, the Bird Island.
I wasted no time in going down the cemented stairs to the lookout last Saturday with four officemates, not minding the droplets of rain that threatened to develop into a downpour anytime. It was my second time to visit the Bird Island. The difference was this time, I was not in a hurry.
From the view deck, the Bird Island, also called Isleta Maigo Fahang or “island of sleeping seabirds” by the locals, is a small rocky islet standing in the middle of a coral reef that looks so near yet so far.
The Bird Island is one place where you can feast your senses on the scenic spot which nature seemed to carve so perfectly years ago. The island serves as a sanctuary for thousands of birds, and that’s how it got its name.
Here is one place where you can sit and gaze for hours at the endless stretch of ocean before you. It is an idyllic spot where you can commune with nature and hear nothing but the crashing of the waves on the rocks below. This is a place where you can forget the daily pressures of work and the deadlines breathing down your neck, a glorious panorama I would exchange for the glare of the computer monitor anytime.
Gazing down, the temptation to go and wade in the waters toward the islet is very strong. I was told there is a steep hiking trail that leads down to the beach and you can head out to the Bird Island when the tide is low.
Maybe, one of these days, I will have the chance to roll up my jeans and wade in the water and hope that the tide stays out until I get back, or else that would be another story.
When you are at the lookout, just be careful to stay within the fenced area. One wrong step beyond could send you hurtling down the cliff toward the rocks below.
If you have been on Saipan for years and you haven’t been to the Bird Island yet, it’s time you check the place which has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world. It doesn’t pay to be a stranger in your own paradise.
Article first published HERE
For more photos PRESS ME

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

falling in love with Cateel

Three things happened the moment I laid eyes on the majestic stairways of cascading waters of Aliwagwag falls for the first time. I was dumbfounded, entranced and promptly fell in love.

Aliwagwag falls was an absolutely refreshing sight after being literally jampacked in a bus for over four hours, suffering the heat and mixed odor of more than a hundred enthusiastic mountaineers and spelunkers who responded to the invitation of the Department of Tourism 11 late last year.
We were alI quite unprepared for the sight of one the most beautiful waterfalls in the country which Cateel, one of the oldest towns in Region XI can boast of.
Located amidst thick forests some 25 kilometers away from Cateel proper, Aliwagwag Falls towers from a total of 1110 feet or 338 meters, cascading over 186 stairways of varying heights and appearing like a stairway to the sky, the tallest single drop of which is 100 feet (30 meters) with an average width of 30 feet.

Considered as the highest and one the most beautiful waterfalls in the country, Aliwagwag Falls flows into the pristine waters of Cateel river which was a successive awardee for two years as the Cleanest Inland Bodies of Water in Region XI and finalist in the national level.

Words are inadequate to describe the glory of Aliwagwag falls. The best way is to keep silent and let the wonders of its natural beauty engulf you. Bathing in Aliwagwag's clear and cool waters is an experience one will find hard to forget.

After a hasty lunch, we started picking our way through shrubs and thick foliage, clawing and conquering slippery 70-80 degree slopes to get to another feature of Cateel which occupies a place in history, the burial site of long-dead lumads.

Located in the midst of a thick forest just near Aliwagwag Falls is a big stone resembling a cave. From outside, no one would think that beneath the cavernous rock lies several bodies of long-dead members of the Mandaya tribe, or Lumads.

Legend has it that years and years ago, a member of the tribe chanced upon a piece of woven Mandaya cloth called "dagmay" and he kept it for himself.
After that, misfortune one after another fell on him until he died and was buried inside the big stone wrapped in the "dagmay" cloth. Since then, the members of the Mandaya tribe followed suit in wrapping their dead members in dagmay cloth and burying them inside the stone.

The Mandayas' unadulterated culture and traditions are still very evident in the remnants of partially buried "dagmay" we saw on the stone floor. Skeletal remains were scattered all over as well as the remains of a wooden casket. It was eery inside and I could almost feel the spirits of the long-dead people, as though their spirits were still trapped inside.

Then its time for the two-kilometer walk back to Barangay Maglahus for the night and be with the other spelunkers. We had to pass by a long stretch of swaying, stomach-churning footbridge to get to the campsite.

The next day took us into the dark depths of the Kasambunutanan or the Pagbuwaan caves. We washed off the cave's mud later by following a river trail up into the majestic Mabuyong falls.

Breathtaking waterfalls, caves and caverns represent some of the most unique, fascinating features of Davao Oriental. From the comfort of your keyboards, browse through the natural wonders of Cateel or much better, leave your daily routines to take an actual trek into the province of Davao Oriental with and see, feel and experience what it has to offer. You just can't help but fall in love as I did!

How to get there:
Cateel, which is some 360 kilometers from Davao City is accessible by buses and L300 vans in various terminals in Davao city.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sunset at a Japanese lighthouse

THERE is something about lighthouses that always sets my adrenaline level to ultra high and I just can’t resist the temptation to explore one. When friend Brad (not Pitt) invited me to see a Japanese lighthouse and said that it was a perfect place to view the sunset, I wasted no time and away we went up to the highest point of Navy Hill one afternoon. A slight drizzle started as soon as we were on Middle Road but I kept my fingers crossed, hoping the unpredictable Saipan weather would do me a favor for once.
The lighthouse is located a few meters away from Brilliant Star School Saipan. A bend in the road behind overgrown bushes revealed a white concrete three-storey tower rising approximately 50 feet, looking neglected and abandoned in the gathering dusk. I mouted 45 steps of the circular staircase going up, counting beneath my breath. To get to the very top of the tower, you have to climb up eight more rungs of a steep ladder. I looked doubtfully at the rusty-looking steel but Brad assured me it wouldn’t collapse under my weight. A fantastic view awaited me. The whole area of Garapan spread out serenely below, the sea in the distance bathed in a red-orange glow as the sun finally decided to peep out of the clouds after the slight drizzle to show its splendor.
Delving a little into history, I learned that the lighthouse was built in 1934 to guide Japanese ships arriving in the harbor. It was abandoned long after the U.S. Navy pulled out of Saipan in 1947. In 1990 the lighthouse was renovated into a restaurant but it closed four years later. The lighthouse was among one of three CNMI sites that were accepted to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
If walls could talk, what stories they have to tell! These walls had been the mute witnesses of everything that happened years and years ago.Here is one structure that suffered only a slight destruction during the World War 11, withstood the test of time and resisted the harsh elements of nature yet powerless against heartless individuals who seemed to have held a competition on wall writing. The whole structure was covered in graffiti. Beautify CNMI! and other groups exerted efforts in repainting the lighthouse last year, but now no traces of their efforts are visible. If you close your eyes and pretend the screaming marks on the walls were not there, you can see the lighthouse as a gold mine waiting to be rediscovered, a must-visit site for tourists and locals. (Marianas Variety, July 16, 2008)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Under the deep blue sea

FOR a non-diver or non-swimmer, the surface of the ocean may seem nothing but a long expanse of water with a terrifying mystery in its depths but here is a chance to prove that underneath those rolling and crashing waves, there’s a whole world down there.
Diving into the blue depths of the Saipan Lagoon does not necessarily require you to be a certified diver, or an expert swimmer. You can explore the depths and stay dry aboard the “Deepstar”, Saipan’s newest and only submarine tour.
A motor boat transported us to the submarine moored a few miles off Managaha Island on Saturday. From a distance, we could see the Deepstar bobbing on the water, looking seemingly small and I had doubts about going down in it.
I braced myself and descended 12 steep rungs through the main hatch into the interior of the submarine. I was in for a surprise.
The belly of the Deepstar was comfortably spacious and air-conditioned. Plush seats lined both sides of the submarine and we quickly filed in.
With hatches closed and cleared to dive, we descended to the bottom of the blue lagoon, the flashing numbers on the monitor telling us we were already from 16-20 meters deep.
Gone was my initial fear of the water as I peered through the large viewing portholes into an amazing aquamarine world filled with coral formations, schools of colorful, tropical reef fish and diversified marine life.
The view down is something I only saw in the movies. The tour gave us a chance to view the sunken wreck of a Japanese warship and the remnants of an airplane from the World War 11.
Diving into the deep sea aboard Deepstar submarine is the perfect way for those who don’t want to get wet yet curious of the underwater. Indeed, it’s a memorable experience especially for those who have no idea of the spectacular beauty that lies at the bottom of the ocean.Going down the steep ladder to the belly of the submarine
An audio narration translated in
different languages gave us an idea where of where we where and what we were seeing during the tour.
Deepstar is fully certified and inspected by the American Bureau of Shipping, and United States Coast Guard, says Pacific Subsea Saipan Inc. vice president/general manager, John (Jack) McClure.
Pacific Subsea Saipan is the largest marine tour operator on Saipan. Over 17 years providing marine tours, Subsea has served over one million passengers aboard their various vessels.
Any trip to Saipan won’t be complete without going on a submarine tour that is recognized through out Asia as a “must-not-miss” tour
Pacific Subsea has 30 reliable people behind its force, sharing the same goal of providing guests an experience of a lifetime.
Deepstar has a capacity of 48 passengers and makes several dives a day on an hourly schedule, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. McClure said they also offer services like providing Managaha transfer vessels.
This article was first published HERE

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Hike to Old Man by the Sea

The spectacular rock formation resembles the figure of an old man crouching on the seashore, and this is the first thing that catches your attention the moment you emerge from the thicket and step into the grassy clearing. We were at the Old Man by the Sea, drenched with sweat and our lazy bodies a little bit shocked by the unexpected hike.
The trail is a little bit challenging because we presumed that the Old Man by the Sea is that accessible anytime that when you stop your car, you’re there but we were wrong. A short hike is necessary (that is if you call 30-45 minutes jungle trek a short hike).
The trail involves going up steep slopes and going down cliffs which could get muddy and slippery if it rains. There are portions where you have to hold on to ropes or hang on to the roots of the trees for support, and you have to duck to avoid having your hair or your head get entangled with the low twigs. If you don’t pay much attention to where you’re going, you may get confused and lose your way in the thicket but you will find the trek well worth it when you get there.
The beachside is spectacular with unusual rock formations and huge waves washing over the rocks, a perfect place to commune with the sun, sea and sky, indeed. Here is one haven where you can sit for hours, forget time as you relax and listen to the sound of the waves breaking on over the reefs, or wade in the cold, knee-deep waters near the shore.
Legend has it that an old man was fishing at this beach one day, and he cursed the ocean for not giving him any fish. The ocean reached up and plucked the old man away, but his image was left on this rock as a reminder for everyone to respect the sea.
For those of you who have only seen pictures of the Old Man by the Sea, get up and visit the place because the lens could not exactly describe the breathtaking splendor of the beach. Take some drinking water, snacks, sunscreen or a hat. A set of and extra clothes could come in handy so you’ll be free to go for a dip.
The Old Man by the Sea is accessible by following the Talafofo Road toward Kingfisher Golf Course in Capital Hill. The trail begins just after the Egigi Road intersection and before the San Igancio Road intersection. There is a parking space on the side of the road.
Marianas Variety
( June 11, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A living memorial on Saipan

ONE of the must-visit sites on Saipan is American Memorial Park in Garapan, a huge park which serves as a bank of World War 11 memorabilia and a recreation park rolled into one.
National Park Service Ranger Nancy Kelchner said AMP gets a fair share of about 10,000 tourists and about 50 field trips a year.
“Majority of the tourists who drop in are from Japan, Korea, China, Mainlanders (U.S.), Russia and other countries, while the field trips are from the different schools in the CNMI and Guam,” Kelchner said. She said the AMP is designed to be a living memorial for all those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the island.
The AMP Visitors Center and WW11 Exhibit Hall just turned three years old on May 28 but already, it is gaining a steady stream of visits from locals and tourists.
A brief tour of the Exhibit Hall brings poignant memories of what transpired during the bloodiest battles fought in the island during the World War 11. You can’t help but feel goose bumps as you go through the pictures, recordings and artifacts on display, remnants of the bloody war that claimed thousands of lives years ago.
The Exhibit area has three sections–the Pre-war life, At War on Saipan and After the Battle section. Here is one hall where the chronology of the battle was recorded with artifacts that were mute witnesses of the actual events. Exiting the exhibit hall brings you to an atrium where you can reflect on the war and its impact on the islands. Opposite the reflection wall where you can see the Court of Honor and the Marianas Memorial is the Recovery Wall where colorful pictures are depicted indicating the “recovery from the ashes of the war”. This is indicative that there is life after the war.
A small library is available to help researchers and scholars, a bookshop containing English and Japanese books, videos and other merchandise related to the WW11 and the National Park Service, a 120-seater auditorium which is available for meetings, conferences, film showings, lectures and presentations.
Within American Memorial Park are amenities that the community finds useful like the Amphitheater, Micro beach pavilion, a jogging bike path under the shades of the ironwood trees, Marina and Microbeach restrooms, tennis courts, the Carillon Bell Tower where you can sit for meditation or relaxation, and the whole park which is also home to mangrove forests, native birds and other species.
The Visitors Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Admission is free for everybody. For more information, please call (670) 234-7207, fax 234-6698, or email