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

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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.