Friday, May 25, 2012

The other side of Tinian

HAVE you ever seen or wondered what the other end of Tinian looks like from up in the skies?
Airplanes plying the Saipan-Tinian routes only fly above the North Field and into the airstrip, and if you search, you can find aerial images of these areas online posted by thousands of passengers who have flown to and from Tinian for decades.
Some weeks back a rare chance to fly above and around the whole island came up and I did not waste a single minute to grab the chance.
We flew from Saipan toward Tinian late in the afternoon, and since we took off, my finger never stopped pressing the shutter. I’ve taken hundreds of photos from the plane window in this route countless times before, that flight was different. Instead of landing at the Tinian International Airport, my pilot flew over and made circular route around Tinian. We talked to each other though the headsets from time to time, but most of the time I was
It was a totally new experience for me. For the first time, I saw the beauty of the southern end of the island with its lush green vegetation creating a wonderful contrast to the pristine cerulean waters of the sea. The access road snaking across the deep jungles toward the Suicide Cliffs was completely deserted. We flew directly above the cliffs and I couldn’t help stop a slight shiver that ran up my spine. If the Suicide cliffs look menacing when you stand on the view deck, looking down on it from the skies increased the tremor at the pit of my stomach tenfold.
From up there, the cliffs look ten times as dangerous and the waves crashing on the rocks seem to scream of death. Maybe it was because of the tragic history connected to the Suicide Cliffs where thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths, but still, I couldn’t stop but gape at the postcard-perfect scenery below.
It was also my first time to see what the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino looks like from up there, and the coastal areas.
The sun was slowly making its way down to its resting place for the day and the golden reddish skies added more drama to the images I was capturing—both with my camera and with my memory.
We circled Tinian several times before we headed toward the direction of Managaha Island where another stunning wonder awaited us. I watched the sun setting behind the fiery skies with Managaha in the foreground. I had to remind myself to keep shooting and stop gaping at the amazing streaks of colors the sunset left along the Beach Road and all over Saipan. Sometimes you have to see the place you’ve always taken for granted from different perspectives. You just don’t know what surprises await you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Exploring a Japanese bunker at Laolao Bay

NESTLED amid thick foliage and tangan-tangan trees at Laolao Bay is one historical site that not a lot of people know about—a Japanese bunker with its canon aimed straight to the bay.
I’ve been to Laolao Bay countless times before and heard about the numerous cultural and heritage sites but I never knew where they exactly are. Until one afternoon a couple of weeks back when I went on a quick tour with Herman Tudela of the CNMI Historic Preservation Office.
Driving along the Laolao road and several meters past a cave where the last phase of the ongoing construction work is located, we took a left turn and followed a rough road until we came to a small clearing where we parked. Following a small footpath, we passed by several blockhouses made of latte stones—blockhouses which was covered by thick shrubs yet still remained intact and withstood the long years of exposure to the elements of nature.
Going further down, we came to a thick cemented archway that houses on of the Japanese canons used during the World War 11.
I stooped and entered the arch and emerged into the humid chamber of the bunker. It was clean inside and the only structure there was a rusty Japanese canon with its tip protruding from a rectangular outlet and aiming straight toward the Bay. The bunker was made of thick cement, so strong that shows promise of staying around for a long time.
If you are not familiar with Laolao Bay, you will not find the place easily. The area outside the bunker is clean but the top is covered in vines and shrubbery, and if you are not trained on detecting bits and pieces of historical artifacts, what would appear as regular stones to the ordinary eye would tell an expert volumes of stories about the past.
Going down a few meters from the bunker, one gets a superb view of the Laolao Bay. It is hard to imagine that back in the 1940s at the height of the World War 11, the place teemed with activity.
The Japanese canon at the Laolao Bay is just one of the many historical sites that get a fair share of tourists each year. All over the area are remnants of pillars of latte stone houses, and other signs of ancient villages. Centuries ago, the place that is now thickly populated with tangan-tangan used to be a habitat for the early Chamorro settlers.
The OurLaolao Campaign organizers are stepping up efforts urging the community to be aware that these historical and cultural heritage treasures exist, and there is a need to preserve them for the future generation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hidden Village in the Jungle

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol
I’ve seen that area  several times before but I thought it led to a private residence. It turned out that there was a crucial piece of NMI history there.

UP a rugged pathway almost obscured by thick foliage just off the road going to Laolao Bay in San Vicente is a secret that only a few know about.
Driving up the rough and bumpy road  was a thrilling and pleasant experience. Vines hung over the road it was like driving through thick curtains, and birds flew ahead like they were hired to guide us. It almost felt like a scene from “The Sleeping Beauty.”
The road ended on the portal of a big crumbling structure resembling a conference hall, or what’s left of it. Only a few roof beams were left, with huge holes supported by sturdy cement pillars. Vines and shrubs clung to one end of the structure, completely covering its former glory. Bare tangan-tangan twigs served as natural curtains to the huge windows facing the ocean.
Somehow, I found beauty amid the ruins and devastation. It was easy to imagine that a long long time ago, the place throbbed with life and people in what was then an important Chamorro village.
My guide, Herman Tudela, from the Historic Preservation Office, said the place was used for various cultural events and activities by the ancient Chamorros.
villageOne more surprise awaited me. The dilapidated structure stood on a very strategic location on top of the hill. Not prepared for a hike in the jungle, I picked my way to the edge of the weed-covered cliff in two-inch heels but I soon forgot my discomfort when I parted the tangan-tangan trees that bordered the cliff.
A breathtaking panorama of  Laolao Bay spread out below me — an endless stretch of blue sky, a verdant jungle and pristine waters with the waves gently lapping on the shores below. I thought I had explored almost all the nooks and crannies of this island, but I found out I was wrong. There is still so much  to be explore: postcard-perfect scenes that all of us should take good care of.