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)