First of a five-part series
Whether you've traveled many or a few miles to arrive on Guam shores, you will be treated to a Hafa Adai welcome that's as warm as the tropical weather. Guam, “Where America's day begins,” is an unincorporated U.S. territory and is the only Micronesian island dotted in most world maps.
Even at only 212 square miles, Guam is packed with offerings of monochromatic blue waters, swaying palm trees, white sand beaches, lush vegetation, striking landscapes, hidden waterfalls, fortresses from different eras, a hodgepodge of cultures, and just enough urban jungle.
This is not an exhaustive list, but just a sampling of fun things to see and do in Guam, and only from the viewpoint of someone who has stayed on its neighbor island of Saipan for quite a number of years.
1. Chamorro Village along Hagatna Bay. You know you've come to the right place when you start smelling the aroma of barbecued chicken and pork, made more inviting by large doses of island music, Chamorro cultural dances, local arts and crafts, a hodgepodge of cultural and commercial servings, and the evening ocean breeze. This is “the” place to be especially on Wednesday nights. It could become too crowded, though, and you'd have difficulty finding parking space.
Partake in good servings of Chamorro, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Jamaican, Greek, Mexican and American cuisine at inexpensive prices. Since you're in Guam, try to get the flavor of local Chamorro shrimp and chicken kelaguen and barbecue with red rice. It's also a good place to shop for souvenirs and gifts.
2. Two Lovers Point north of Tumon Bay. A scenic coastal lookout with an intriguing legend, Two Lovers Point or Puntan Dos Amantes is at the top of a 410-foot limestone cliff just north of Tumon Bay. This is an attraction you don't want to miss because it is one of the best places to really see Guam's beauty.
Legends have it that this jagged cliff was where two young Chamorro lovers entwined their hair and leapt to their deaths to be “together forever.” The woman's wealthy family objected to her romance with a lowly Chamorro warrior, as the woman was promised by her family to marry a Spanish captain.
Today, the site offers a breathtaking view of Tumon Bay. To access the cliff-top point, you must pay a few dollars at a nearby snack bar. Romantic-and sometimes superstitious-couples could also write messages on tags and padlocks or “love-locks,” attach them to the fence, and throw away the key. The same practice is done in many parts of the world, in reverence to couple's love and devotion. Two Lovers Point has also become a popular spot for weddings.
3. Sella Bay and Overlook. This tranquil and remote bay was the site of a leper colony in Spanish times. Located near the coast are a Spanish bridge and oven built in the 19th century. The Sella Bay Overlook, high above Guam's southern end, offers breathtaking views of Mt. Lamlam to the east, Sella Bay to the west, and Cocos Island to the south. The area between Sella Bay and Cetti Bay is a popular destination for hikers and campers.
4. Carabao statues. If you haven't seen one alive, at least you could see carabao or water buffalo statues in Guam's main tourist areas.
5. Boonie stomping every Saturday morning. Joining the Boonie Stompers has got to be one of the best ways to explore and rediscover Guam. Boonie Stompers, a non-profit group committed to protecting Guam's unique heritage, offers guided hikes to a variety of destinations such as waterfalls, mountains, caves, beaches, snorkeling sites, latte sites, historic sites, and World War II spots.
Boonie stomping is one of my favorite Saturday morning activities in Guam regardless of the amount of partying the night before. Hiking the way locals do not only puts your stamina to the test but does not fail to amaze that adventurous spirit in you. Immersing yourself in the great outdoors and reveling in nature's beauty might just be what the doctor ordered after a stressful workweek.
The hikes are classified into the following categories: Easy, medium, difficult and very difficult.
The meet-up time is 9am on Saturdays in the Center Court of Chamorro Village in Hagatna. The last time I joined, the fee was $2. But there's no reservation required. Just put on your hiking shoes, show up, and you'll be part of the team.
6. Merizo massacre sites and cooling off at Priest's Pool. The very first time I joined Guam Boonie Stompers, the scheduled hike was categorized as “easy,” involving a 1.5-mile hike that lasted some three hours.
It started with a hike to Tinta and Faha and ended up at Priest's Pool. Tinta and Faha are two somber historic sites of importance to the local people because these were where Japanese troops stationed in Merizo massacred two groups of Chamorros during the tail end of the Japanese occupation of the island. When the atrocities were over, 46 Chamorros “were slaughtered with grenades, bayonets, and sabers.” Some escaped death by fleeing or lying still under the corpses of their relatives and friends.
According to written accounts, when word of the massacres got to villagers, seven Merizo men killed 10 Japanese soldiers and drove the rest from the village. This made Merizo “the first village on Guam to be liberated, and the only one to be liberated by the Chamorros themselves.”
It was raining that Saturday when the Boonie Stompers took us on a hike to Tinta and Faha, so the trails were muddy and slippery. We were walking in the rain, and we had to cross a few streams, including one that was almost waist-deep and the current strong.
Just like that scene in the movie Forrest Gump when it felt like somebody just switched off the faucet to stop the rain, we started walking under the sun after walking in the rain for too long. The reward was the freshwater pools of the Pigua River. The particular spot we went to is called Priest's Pool. Mostly U.S. military personnel dove into the pool to cool off, while others were content watching their stunts and marveling at the natural beauty.
Even though it wasn't an “easy” hike as advertised, it was all worth it-learning about a piece of Guam history and being taken to the island's hidden gems.
7. Bear Rock. From afar, this natural rock formation at Agfayan Point in Inarajan resembles a giant bear sitting and looking toward the horizon. It surely is the most obvious animal-like formation in Guam. We didn't go anywhere near Bear Rock, but it sure was a nice backdrop for souvenir photos.
8. Ypao Beach Park. This is one of Guam's most popular recreational beach and park for picnics and barbecues, sporting activities, concerts and other community events. Located at the southern end of Tumon Bay, this sprawling beach park boasts of great spots for snorkeling.
9. Plaza de Espana in Hagatna. Travel back in time as you visit these spacious grounds and Spanish ruins that used to serve as the Governor's Palace from 1969 until the invasion of World War II. Most of Plaza de Espana was destroyed during the shelling of Hagatna during the retaking of Guam but three structures are still standing, including the three-arch gate to Almacen, the Azotea or back porch, and the Chocolate House.
10. Guam Slingshot. Though I've visited it and seen people's reactions to it, I never had the courage to try it myself. If you're not afraid of vertical exhilaration-talk about heights of 230 feet and speeds of up to 100 mph-then it may be your match.
11. Merizo Bell Tower. Although no longer in use today, the Merizo Bell tower has been well maintained and remains an enduring landmark in the southern part of Guam. Built in 1910 with stone and cement, the bell was used to announce religious events, town meetings, and Masses.
12. Talofofo Beach. This spot is popular among locals for surfing, bodyboarding, picnics, and soaking up the sun, but not an ideal place for snorkeling and swimming. It also boasts of black sandy shores. Located within Talofofo Bay along Guam’s southeastern shoreline in the village of Talofofo, this beach provides visitors with picnic shelter, barbecue pits, showers, and restroom facilities.
13. Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica. The Dulce Nombre de Maria or Sweet Name of Mary Cathedral-Basilica is not only the first Catholic Church in Guam but is also one of the centerpieces of the island's religious culture. The structure was built in 1669 and survived until World War II when it was destroyed during the shelling of Hagatna in preparation for the American invasion. The present church was constructed on the original site in 1955-1959 and is worth a visit for its architectural and historical significance.
14. Gun Beach. A very secluded beach past the Nikko Hotel, Gun Beach is named for the anti-aircraft military gun found next to the cliff wall where the stairs to get to Faifai Beach starts.
15. Wild Bill's in Tamuning. Unlike Wild Bill's on Saipan, which serves superb Thai food, Wild Bill's in Guam is just a bar. Some Guam friends love to hang out in this Tamuning spot, and that's how I became familiar with it.
16. San Vitores Martyrdom Shrine. Just off the beach near the Guam Reef Hotel is a striking monument that marks the spot where Chamorro Chief Matapang killed the leader of the first Spanish Jesuit mission-Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores-for baptizing his daughter without his consent in April 1672.
17. UnderWater World. If you're in Tumon, you won't miss the sign. UnderWater World Guam, one of the longest tunnel-aquariums in the world, gives you that thrill of being submerged beneath 800,000 gallons of saltwater without getting wet.
Opened in 1999, the aquarium has more than 2,000 animals representing more than 80 different species, including more than two dozen sharks, stingrays, turtles, giant groupers, garden eels, giant spider crabs, and jellyfish.
If you show your CNMI driver's license or other CNMI IDs, you could get a discount on your entrance fee.
In the evening, UnderWater World Guam is transformed into the Kaitei Lounge, offering exotic cocktails, rare ambiance of music and beautiful colors amidst the scenic vistas found in the sea.
18. Statue of Liberty in Hagatna. Unknown to many, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty at Paseo de Susana at the entrance of Hagatna harbor. It is visible to boats approaching the island as with its New York counterpart. The Boy Scouts of America built the statue in 1950 in observance of their 40th anniversary. Although it is less impressive than the original, the State of Liberty in Guam-just like its inspiration-was a gift, and represents the same ideals of truth, liberty and freedom.
To be continued.