Friday, November 26, 2010

Driving through the back roads

IF you say Saipan is a small island and you can go around it in an hour and visit every place there is to explore, you’re right. You can drive from Marpi to Kagman to the Naftan Point and say that you’ve been around and everywhere on Saipan.
I thought I had explored every nook and cranny of the island and there is not a single spot that I can’t say “I’ve been there” already but a buddy proved me wrong last week.
Unhindered by a flat front tire and an hour’s wait for rescue as we didn’t have any tools or spare tire, we drove up to As Matuis Road past the La Fiesta Mall and all the way to the old Radar Station where we spent a few minutes taking photos of this historical structure that still stands proudly and survived the harsh elements of nature. Enjoying the utter silence broken only by the occasional chirping of birds was a real treat — no car engines, no radios blaring, no cellphones ringing, no other people around.
Driving down from the Radar Station, my buddy took a left turn and followed the rough road past the water reservoir. The road was unfamiliar and my senses immediately reeled with anticipation in exploring a new destination.
The road, which I learned is often used by bikers, looked like a dried up riverbed on most parts but my buddy drove his van real slowly, giving me the chance to enjoy the view and snap photos of anything and everything that caught my lens.
I bit my tongue to stop asking for the nth time where the road leads to. After what seemed like an eternity of humps and bumps on the road, we emerged from thicket and found that we were at the main road leading to the Suicide Cliffs.
We went down and made a quick stopover at the Grotto and took more photos of the busload of tourists who ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the spectacular view of this wonderful dive spot from the observation deck above – a spot that most people who have been living here for a long time take for granted – before driving back to Susupe to watch the sunset from the beach.
When life on the main road seems too boring and you’re following the same routine day in and day out, try to take the back road for a change and see what it has to offer. You’ll be surprised to know there is more to this little gem of an island than you think. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your camera.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tribute to the Court of Honor

ON any ordinary day, this certain area at American Memorial Park is usually deserted except for a few passersby who jog around, but once a year, this place hogs the spotlight as the community members troop there to pay honor to the veterans and soldiers who have sacrificed  so much for today’s generation.
From afar, the Court of Honor and Flag Circle looks just like any oval area with several steps leading to a platform with five flagpoles. You can see five flags waving in the wind amid colorful blooms especially during the summer, but there is more that concrete steps and flags in this oval than you would think.
Jog around the area on an ordinary morning or afternoon and all you will see is the circle, with the U.S. flag in the center flanked by the Service Flags of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force (Army Air Corps). But join the other guests in November 11 each year and you will notice a change — the place adopts a whole new atmosphere and becomes the site where the veterans are honored and the fallen heroes are remembered for their heroic deeds.
The Court of Honor and Flag Circle is actually a memorial to the Americans and people of the Marianas who died in the battles for Saipan and Tinian, or the “Operation Forager” and the battle of the Philippine Sea during the World War 11.
If you look closely, there are 26 granite plates at the Court of Honor where the names of over 5,000 Marines, Army and Navy personnel who were killed or listed as missing-in-action were inscribed. Records showed that over 150 World War 11 veterans and their families returned to Saipan from the mainland for a reunion on June 15, 1994, or 50 years later to the battles for Saipan and Tinian to dedicate the Court of Honor and Flag Circle at American Memorial Park. Veterans and Saipan residents who endured the war also gathered at the Court of Honor after a parade along Beach Road in Garapan for the dedication which ended with fireworks and concerts in the evening.
The next time you jog or stroll around the Court of Honor and Flag Circle, think beyond the cemented steps and flagpoles and thank the over 5,000 heroes who sacrificed their lives for the freedom you are enjoying today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spectacular views from above

HOW long have you been in the island? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? If you have lived here all your life and performed your daily routine all these time, have you ever paused for a moment to wonder what the island looks from up above?
If you love swimming or diving, you may have already seen the underwater wonders of the island, and if you are an explorer, you may have already explored all the nooks and crannies and followed all the roads — paved, rough and even the rarely used jungle roads at one time or another. But have you seen what the island looks like from up above?
If you are one of those individuals who doesn’t care what seat is assigned to you whenever you fly in an airplane, or go to sleep immediately even before the seatbelt on sign is turned off, you may have missed a lot.
Even short flights like going to Tinian, Rota or Guam can offer you spectacular views you wouldn’t have thought about.
As much as possible, I always ask for a window seat upon checking in, and my first glimpse of the islands when I arrived here over a couple of years ago was a long strip of unpopulated jungle areas with a few roads going around and through it, bordered by pristine aquatic blue waters from all sides. My first thought was that the pilot made a mistake and we were going to make an emergency landing in a jungle but we flew on over the blue oceans for a few minutes before I finally spotted another island — this time occasional buildings and roads. My seatmate told me the first island I saw was Tinian.
In highly urbanized cities where the airports are located right within the city limits, you may even consider pilots as geniuses for finding the exact spot where to land, but in the CNMI, it’s an entirely different story. You can enjoy the view of this tropical paradise from your window seat — an island wrapped in lush greenery, pristinely blue waters and white shores marred only by a few touches of modernization.
You don’t have to necessarily board an aircraft to view the islands from above. You can drive up to elevated places such as Navy Hill or Mt. Tapochao to get a 360-degree view of the whole island, but on board an aircraft will give you a more thrilling view from a higher angle.
I haven’t had the chance to go around the island onboard an aircraft to take aerial shots yet, and I bet most haven’t done so too but if you browse the internet, you will find various Web sites with spectacular aerial photos showing the beauty of the islands.
An aerial view of the islands at night is another totally different wonder — one you should not miss when you have a chance.