Friday, December 31, 2010

Welcoming the New Year with fireworks

AS early as 8 p.m. tonight, the countdown begins for a lot of people and the anticipation builds up as the night goes deeper. When the clock strikes 11:30 p.m., the skies start to brighten as firecrackers start to explode in a glorious splendor from home and buildings all over the island.
Nothing beats those few minutes of magic and excitement in hearing those loud whistling sounds as firecrackers shoot up into the air and explode into a thousand explosions, booms and fizzes amid bright lights, displaying spectacular shapes and colors that you would want them to stay up there forever.
For the past two New Year’s evenings I’ve watched the splendid firework displays from the parking lot of Hard Rock CafĂ© in Garapan, but I learned that one of the best places to watch the skies lit up in wondrous colors is at the Navy Hill.
Fireworks are popularly associated with Independence Day celebrations, but its original use was during New Year’s celebrations. Fireworks are said to originate in China over 2,000 years ago. One legend has it that a Chinese cook accidentally spilled saltpeter, an ingredient used in gunpowder, into a cooking fire which produced an interesting flame.
Exploding firecrackers were believed to be produced during the Song dynasty by a Chinese monk who placed gunpowder inside bamboo shoots and exploded them on New Year’s eve to scare away the evil spirits. By the15th century, fireworks have become a traditional part of celebrations.
Across the world, many countries spend millions of dollars in lavish firework displays.
In the CNMI, the thinner wallets and meager household budgets brought by the economic downturn is not a hindrance for the people to welcome the New Year with fireworks. Thankfully, firecrackers come in different sizes and shapes and price range, making it affordable for everybody. There are available firecrackers for as low as a dollar and as expensive as hundreds of dollars, but no matter what kind of firecrackers you can afford, it is the spirit of the celebration that counts.
New Year’s Eve just would not be complete without fireworks. If you don’t want to light fireworks, you can go out before the clock strikes midnight tonight and bask in the glorious experience of watching multi-color fountains of light, flashing stars, cracking strobes and willow-bursts light up the dark skies.
Warning: A reminder to state the obvious, fireworks can be very dangerous if not handled correctly. Use fireworks with proper caution. Kids should have adult supervision when lighting fireworks because you would not want to spend the first day of the New Year swathed in bandages, minus a finger or two and writhing in pain at the hospital.
Have a blazingly spectacular firework-filled New Year to one and all!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lost in a Disneyland dream

VISITING Tokyo would never be complete if you can’t make it to Disneyland, and a day is never enough to go around the vast place with its spectacular collection of different attractions and shows in several themed lands.
A day at Tokyo Disneyland starts with the long lines that stretch from the ticket booths to forever but once you get through the entrance, it felt like being let loose in a huge room filled with goodies you don’t know which one to pick up first.
The sun was getting high as I followed the Saipan Awaodori team toward the Big Thunder Mountain and fell in line with the thousands of others who didn’t mind the scorching heat of the sun in exchange for a few minutes of roller coaster ride that takes you into the belly of the mountain through improvised mining fields.
We cruised to Tom Sawyer’s Island where I got left by the group after I went exploring Indian settlement camp and caught up with them lining up at the Splash Mountain, a ride which is every child’s dream. The experience cruising through the cool fantasy tunnel being entertained by colorful characters we only see on TV brought out the kids in us and left us wanting for more. A final plunge had me frantically hugging my two cameras for protection as we approached a waterfall but we did not get wet at all.
It was hard to keep track of all the rides that we sampled until the Space Mountain ride which tested my guts almost beyond endurance.  As you go down the basement to ride the coaster that will take you into space, cubicles are available for those who change their minds but I was not about to change my mind. Until the time we were strapped on to our seats and the coaster just whirled out of nowhere into a dark abyss lighted only with dots that resemble galaxies and constellations.
The gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, and seemingly never-ending ride elicited screams which I was surprised to discover came from my own throat but it was over soon and I alighted pale and weak-kneed from the coaster, just like almost everybody else.
Visitors are drawn to an afternoon parade of the world’s favorite cartoon characters, followed by another more spectacular show at 8 p.m. where an electrical dream lights parade will transport you into a whole new world as your favorite cartoon characters parade before you adorned with over a million colorful blinking lights.
Dinner was forgotten as a magical fireworks show lighted the skies in front of the castle. The day passed by in a fantastic blur of memories to be sorted out and preserved later. We browsed the shops and bought souvenir items before going to the arranged meeting place to go home.
Tokyo Disneyland closes at 11 p.m. every day and we trooped out the gate with everybody else, tired but happy with the enchanting experience.
I left with one big regret—the Haunted Mansion which I was so looking forward to explore was closed for renovation but there’s always a next time.
For more information about the Tokyo Disneyland, visit

A drive around Tinian

DRIVING around Tinian is always a pleasant and refreshing experience for anyone who wants to escape from the noise of other car engines and traffic lights and changing lanes.
With four hours to spare on Sunday afternoon, I and a buddy rented a Toyota Yaris from Avis for $35. Armed with SLR and point and shoot cameras, tripods, videocam, bottles of cold water, some snacks and a map of Tinian, we proceeded to drive around Tinian’s long and secluded roads.
Once you get on the road, you can very seldom meet any other vehicle on the way so you can even drive with your eyes closed or go at top speed without looking back to see the flashing red and blue lights of a police car but we didn’t do that, not with a rented car anyway.
My buddy drove toward the north direction first, taking asking “right or left?” whenever the road forked, but he soon grew tired of my “whatever” answers and started following roads to wherever it leads, backing up when it’s a dead end.
I was too busy snapping photos of anything and everything to give him any direction and I was confident that whichever road we take will always get us back to where we started. It was actually my third time to drive around Tinian but my first with a pro who knows where and when to make the right stops when something interesting catches my lens.
Soon, we were navigating the rough and bumpy road toward Tinian’s famous Blue Hole. For the next few minutes, the world ceased to exist as we both concentrated taking photos and videos of this place that continues to attract thousands of people from all over the world. We proceeded to the other tourist sites including the famed Chulu or starsands beach, the bomb pits, the airstrip, dilapidated buildings, Japanese bunkers and other historical sites, recording each in our memory cards. We then proceeded to the other end of the island where the Suicide Cliff yawned emptily and threateningly below us, where the white-painted memorials of those who have died in the bloody World War 2 stood helpless as mute witnesses to our interruption.
We still had one hour to consume but drowsiness and fatigue from a late night overcame us and we decided to go back to our rooms to rest.
Tinian may be a small island, and we have practically poked all the areas where we were allowed to, but one never gets tired of exploring its rich historical nooks and crannies. My buddy and I made a pact to repeat the experience but next time on rented scooters.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Moonlight escapade at the Bird Island

HOW far have you ventured in Marpi in the dead of the night? During the day time things are different, with buses and vans from different tour companies unloading tourists into the different attractions such as the Grotto, Suicide Cliff, Banzai Cliff, the Last Command Post, and Bird Island sanctuary.
The farthest place I’ve been to is the Banzai Cliff a couple of times — the first time at 9 p.m. and the second time at 12 midnight. I got my fair share of goose bumps as I and some friends stood listening to the angry crashing of the waves in the cliffs below. It was eerie looking at the Suicide Cliffs from a distance and on both times, I almost imagined the thousands of Japanese soldiers screaming and they plunged to their deaths from those cliffs.
Tourists and locals visiting the Banzai Cliffs at night is very common, but it was still eerie. I never thought I would have the courage to go as far as the Bird Island and stay until after dark until a couple of weeks ago.
The sun had set behind the horizon and the bus load of tourists had gone, along with the guard assigned to the area yet we stayed on, lured by the surreal sight of the moon slowly rising in the sky casting shadows in the shimmering waters.
Every now and then, a patch of cloud dimmed the moonlight but after a few minutes, brightness again would envelop the area.
We stood holding on to the railing at the observation deck, sharing a companionable silence and enjoying the view of the Bird Island as the night stretched on forever. The cool ocean breeze gently whipping on our faces was so refreshing. The gentle lapping of the waves below seemed to beckon anyone to go wading in the shores.
There was not another soul in sight but just me and my buddy, the tiny islet below us, and the ocean stretching into infinity. Time seemed to stand still and it felt like sin to breathe and break the spell.
The ringing of my buddy’s cell phone from somewhere broke the silence and jarred us back to the present, a reminder that it was time to go albeit we were reluctant to leave. It was past 9 o’clock.
I’ve been to the place countless of times before, but seeing the Bird Island bathed in moonlight gave me a different perspective of the place.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Bird Island sanctuary each year, taking home pictures of the place and sharing it with the rest of the world.
Having been to the Bird Island sanctuary and in all other tourist attractions in the island many times is not an excuse not to make another visit, but for a change, pick an uncommon time to be there such as on one dark night, or during a full moon and prepare to bring home a wealth of new experiences.