Friday, November 20, 2009

Eerie twilight at a radar tower

IN a small island like Saipan, an individual with a pair of itchy feet must have to double the effort and sharpen his or her to wanderlust senses to scout for new crannies to explore.
As a newcomer to Saipan last year, I was eager and thirsty to explore everything, turning deaf ears to the friendly advice of ‘taking things slowly because you will run out of places to go very soon.’
A buddy who volunteered to give me a tour of the northern part of the island a few months back drove me in his convertible past the abandoned La Fiesta Mall. Dusk was falling when we turned right and went up to the road in As Matuis. Tight-lipped, my guide would not say where we were going but just drove on and up the paved winding roads, crushing several land crabs on the way.
After several more twists and turns in the road, we came to a stop on top of a hill. I stayed in the car for a few minutes, observing the surroundings and enjoying the silence of nature disrupted only by the chirping of crickets. Suddenly, I saw the structure – an imposing tower standing tall and proud in the deepening darkness. It felt eerie and I half-expected a soldier from the World War 11 to emerge from the bushes.
My companion then told me that the radar tower is the former Pacific Barrier Radar (PACBAR 111) Facility which was originally installed on the Space Tracking ship USNS General H.H. Arnold.
Information from the internet told me that the radar was constructed to provide coverage for space surveillance for a blind area between two other radar stations — the PACBAR I (ALPhoto by Raquel C. BagnolTAIR) at Kwajalein, and PACBAR II (GPS-10) located in the Philippine Islands. It was designed to detect and track foreign missile launches.
We did not stay long in the area but I vowed to come back. And I did, a few weeks ago but this time, in broad daylight.
It feels exhilarating to drive up during the day and see everything clearly — the scenic view below, and finally the radar tower. Gone was the eerie feeling I felt when I went up the first time. In daylight, the tower was just an old structure that has fallen prey to decay and rust from abandonment, but it is one place which carries part of the island’s rich history. Try visiting the place one time, and if you’re daring, do it at twilight.
This article was first published HERE

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stargazing from the cliffs

FOR the daring, one ideal spot on Saipan where you can hang out on a star-filled night to commune with nature and gaze at stars to your heart’s content is the Banzai Cliff in Marpi.
Although majority would immediately cross out such choice of location and opt instead to spread a mat on any of the beaches to stargaze, you will find the thrill of the experience more rewarding than what you expect.
Driving to the Banzai Cliffs at night requires a double dose of courage because for one, the place has no signal. If your car breaks down, good luck because you will have to wait until somebody drives over to help you. Two, visiting Banzai Cliff at night is a totally different thing when you go there at night. The figures look eerie especially with no lights.
The first time I went there at 11 in the evening I lost courage and immediately asked my companion to make a U-turn and drive back to the main road. It was so dark windy. My imagination played havoc during the few minutes we were there so that the howling winds resembled like agonized cries from individuals in pain. You could not stop your hair from rising up. I waited for another chance to go back and it came a couple of weeks ago.
This time, I was with three companions. It was just 10 p.m. and a zillion stars lit up the sky. Gone was the eerie feeling and the cries I heard on my first night visit to the place. The statues and cement structures look less ominous.
Every now and then, a car drives up filled with tourists who stay for a few minutes before leaving.
Reclining on the hood of the car, I spent a very relaxing hour or two swapping horror stories with my companions, recalling lessons from my Girl Scout days and trying to identify starts and constellations.
From the distance, the Suicide Cliffs loomed in the semi-darkness, the trees forming gruesome figures trying to extend their claws. The cool wind added mystique to the night but it was one experience where I left totally refreshed and relaxed.
Midnight struck and we had to leave the statues, the huge rolling waves below the cliffs, the cement structures and the whole place which had been the mute witness to the grim deaths of thousands of Japanese soldiers over six decades ago.
On a starlit night, try gazing at the stars from the Banzai Cliff. It’s one experience of a lifetime.
(Originally published HERE)