Saturday, October 30, 2010

Remains of an old church

SOME old structures, when repaired, come out beautiful and vibrating with a new life, but some, especially those that carry historical significance and bear witness to a glorious past, should be preserved or restored to its original form as much as possible.
In the center of San Jose village on Tinian stands one of those structures — an old bell tower — the remains of an old Catholic church.
The bell tower may look out of place in the modern and developing surroundings, but the contrast adds to the mystic of this pre-war structure despite its dilapidated and crumbling state.
The Tinian bell tower, a central landmark on the island, was the only portion of the historic San Jose church that survived the fury of the war. Over the years, this piece of history continues to attract thousands of tourists and has been one of the most photographed places in the CNMI.
Photos posted on various Web sites showed that a small plaza was built around the tower a few years back.
The old church was built by Father Pellet and parishioners in 1936.
The old bell tower in San Jose is just one of Tinian’s many historical attractions.
The island is  littered with history — latte stones, World War II relics, crumbling architecture, shrines, old abandoned Japanese buildings and the two pits where the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan were loaded.
During the few times I visited the island, I always experienced the same eerie feeling of intruding into a sacred part of history —knowing that every brick and mortar, every piece of nail and bar in the abandoned buildings were mute witnesses to a bloody war that shook the entire Pacific over six decades ago.
It always felt like a sin to leave footprints on the grounds and your mere presence in the historical sites seemed to be an “incursion.”
Aside from its historical wealth, the island is a paradise surrounded with spectacular vistas, secluded beaches, clear waters for scuba diving and snorkeling, and friendly people.
To get to Tinian, you can fly via Freedom Air for $69 per person, or charter a flight with Star Marianas Air. On Tinian, you can rent a car or a scooter to visit the historical and natural sites, and take you around the island.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Celebrating Saipan’s Katori Shrine

AN altar perched on top a flight of cemented stairs at the foot of a jungle area at the far end of Sugar King Park in Garapan caught my attention the first time I visited the place a couple of years ago. I was with a couple of friends who had been on Saipan for several years and they were eager to show me around.
It was almost dark and the park was deserted. I could not stop the goose bumps that crawled up my spine as I ventured farther beyond the altar.
Out of habit, I fished out my camera from my bag and started taking photos without thinking if it was allowed or not. I knew the place was sacred and held some piece of significant history.  I returned later in broad daylight to get brighter photos.
My friends just told me that the place was Sugar King Park, but it was not until much later that I learned its name: Katori Shrine.
Information from the Internet showed that the original Katori Jinja or shrine was built on Saipan in 1911 during the Japanese era.  Fire destroyed the shrine in 1944 during World War 11 but 40 years later, the then-Marianas Visitors Bureau and the Katori Federation joined hands in re-establishing the site.
Tomorrow morning, the spotlights will be focused on the Katori Shrine as it hosts dozens of religious followers and visitors from Japan for the annual memorial ceremony.
If you have been around for a long time and have not visited the Katori Shrine, think about taking some time off tomorrow to join the rest of the visitors in celebrating the shrine’s 25th anniversary.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apparition at Santa Lourdes Grotto

THE date was December 26, 1995, and it was his visit to Saipan. Manny Duenas, born on Guam but whose family moved to the mainland in the early 1970s, was touring the island with a friend following a business meeting.
Duenas told the Variety that his friend suggested visiting the Santa Lourdes Shrine on Capitol Hill to which he immediately agreed.
“We arrived at the grotto about 1:30 in the afternoon, and I felt the very peaceful and calming nature there,” Duenas said.
He said that he immediately felt the presence of the Virgin Mary so he began his prayers with her at the altar.
As he was praying, he said a busload of tourists arrived at the grotto and everybody wanted to have souvenir photos at the altar. Duenas said he waited until the tourists left the area, before he asked his friend to have his picture taken at the altar, too.
“We took several pictures at the grotto before our journey home.  It wasn’t until I had those pictures developed, that I realized how “special and sacred” that grotto is,” Duenas said.
He said that each picture came out with fine color and detail, but when he came across his picture at the altar, he felt truly blessed and deeply amazed.
“The Virgin Mary was there with me, it wasn’t just a feeling,” Duenas said.
“I believed the Santa Lourdes Grotto and my spiritual experience is a sign that the Virgin Mary is still calling us to gather and pray for peace and to remember our Faith in God and the Holy Trinity,” Duenas said.
One of Duenas’ spiritual revelations was aired on Fox40 news back in March 9, 2008. In the interview, Duenas told Sacramento reporter Jamie Soriano that he found the image of the holy virgin in a palm branch in his backyard in Citrus Heights, California.
Duenas said that he was doing some yardwork when he saw what he believed was the image of the holy virgin with the baby Jesus cradled in her arms.
“I was just doing my work but for some reason, when I got to the second branch, I had the goose bumps when I saw the image, so I shared what I saw with my family,” Duenas said.
The interview, viewed by almost 10,000 people and which can be viewed at got a fair share of comments and reactions from people who believe and those who don’t believe in him.
Duenas said he is planning to come back to Santa Lourdes shrine on December 26 and offer a mass or rosary to commemorate the 15th year anniversary when he saw the apparition there.
Duenas was born in Dededo Village on Guam with 12 siblings. He had been to Guam only on four occasions since his family moved to California in 1972 and his last visit on Guam was in 2004. He now resides in northern California East of Sacramento. Duenas is married with seven children and three grandchildren.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Discovering a secret cove

IF you are looking for a long stretch of soft, sandy beach with gentle waves lapping on the shores, it is not the place you are looking for, but this beach located at the very tip of the southern part of Saipan is one of the island’s attractions that continue to draw in both locals and tourists each day.
The remoteness could be one of its added attractions because unlike the other beaches in the island, you have to drive it rough for a minutes past the landfill in Marpi and walk the last few meters down before you can get to the beach, or take the more scenic route and walk for an hour or so through the jungles in Banzai Cliff. If you go hiking through the jungle, seeing World War 2 relics scattered along the way, hundreds of butterflies fluttering among the flowers and hordes of other insects is a pleasant diversion.
Cow Town beach is not your ideal place for a day of fun in the sand. The shores are literally covered with sharp rocks and bushes. It is not a where you can run around or chase its other because you have to carefully pick your way with each step you take.
Huge waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean produce a thunder-like rumbling each time they slap on the jutting rocks but I find the sound pleasant.
I got the chance to visit Cow Town beach one noontime a few weeks back with a couple of friends. Finding some shade for shelter was a mission impossible in the area. The tide was low so I braved the sharp rocks and ventured into the rocky ledge and discovered a cave-like structure behind some huge rocks.
The secret cove provided us some sort of shelter from the scorching heat and we rested for a few minutes before making our way out of the rocky ledge.
Unmarred by commercialization and the advances of modernization, you can enjoy nature’s best at Cow Town beach.
For years, the beach has made it to the headlines with reports of fishermen drowning or going missing, but the lure of the place is just irresistible. Visit Cow Town beach and see for yourself what this place has to offer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Beyond Banzai Cliff

IF you have driven all the way to Banzai Cliff in Marpi, marveled at  Suicide Cliff from a distance, got fascinated by the huge waves crashing against the rocks below, and enjoyed the quiet yet eerie atmosphere and think that you have seen everything, you’re wrong.
At the far end of the parking lot obscured beneath tall bushes is a narrow but worn trail that will not only give you a chance to stretch your legs but open more doors of excitement.
I’ve seen this narrow trail many times in the last two years as the exit point of bikers and runners in several marathon events, but I never got a chance to check out where it led until a couple of weeks ago when we had to make a trail for the company’s adventure hike the following day.
Hiking on a Friday noon with the scorching heat burning my face and shoulders, the unforgiving bites of mosquitoes on my arms and legs, and my frequent yelps of fright every time my buddies Andrew and Eric disturbed a nest of insects ahead of me was not exactly my idea of fun but it was adventure just the same.
The trail, which I learned was an old Japanese railroad now frequently used for off-road rides,  is a paradise for nature lovers — a coral forest with colorful butterflies fluttering on plants and flowers, not afraid of strangers, spiders, snails, worms, and other occupants of the jungle.
Going off the main trail a few meters into the jungle will lead you into some caves littered with remnants and relics of World War II. Half the fun is in going down the caves — or mouth of the caves as we did not explore further inside. You have to find handholds and footholds and take extra care not to slip on the sharp rocks.
We had to clear off the bushes to find a way out before we emerged back to the main trail. Further down the trail, I finally found what I had wanted to see — the late multimillionaire Larry Hillblom’s boat, or what was left of it. Near the boat was an old building which housed huge cows.
Our trek took us around the Cow Town Ranch, and down to Cow Town Beach. The tide was out and we took shelter under a huge stone crevice before heading back to where we started off at Banzai Cliff.
For seasoned hikers, the trail from Banzai Cliff to Cow Town Beach will take less than an hour, but for those who want to take it slow and easy to enjoy the sights along the way, it will take about an hour and a half.
What are you waiting for? Get some time off and prepare to be stunned by the historical treasures that lies beyond the parking lot of Banzai Cliff.