The 14th Annual Tinian Hot Pepper Festival held last weekend shows the event continues to grow in activities and participation.
The festival highlighted Tinian’s famously potent donni sali pepper and was held at Tachogna Beach. With inter-island transportation provided by added commuter flights, a ferry, and traditional sailing canoe, along with a shuttle from the ports to the festival grounds, visitors found it easier than ever to participate in the event.
“Through the continued strong partnership of the Marianas Visitors Authority, Tinian Mayor’s Office, Tinian Municipal Council, and the community, this year’s festival was better than ever,” said MVA managing director Christopher A. Concepcion. “In particular, we thank this year’s Extreme Pika sponsors, Bridge Investment Group and IT&E, for providing the financial and in-kind support that allowed us to expand the event, offer great cash and phone prizes, and share the festival worldwide via on-site WiFi access.”
Cory San Nicholas and Tina San Nicholas were crowned Hot Pepper Eating Contest king and queen for the men and women contests, respectively. Each were the first to polish off three pieces of mild peppers, followed by two pieces of hot donni sali, and topped by a bowl of soba with two tablespoons of ground donni sali mixed in.
In the JC Café Burger Eating Contest, Byron Dela Cruz was the first to finish a one-pound hamburger pasted with ground donni and a side of fries sprinkled with donni powder.
Tina San Nicholas served up the best kadun pika (spicy stew) in beating last year’s champion, Luis Mundu and Mikicia Castro, all Tinian residents.
For the first time, arm-wrestling was introduced to the festival lineup of contests. Alex Harris of Georgia good-naturedly agreed to use his left arm against southpaw Tinian native Dennis Borja. The title ultimately went to Benjamin Borja, who towered over both his opponents.
An outrigger canoe race pitted four teams against each other in the warm, turquoise water of Tachogna Beach. Pika Punket Pie was making good time until the canoe capsized when rounding the turn buoy. With the Department of Public Safety Boating Safety Division also nearby, Tinian Sen. Jude Hofschneider mounted a rescue party in a spare canoe when Pika Punket Pie filled with water due to a faulty plug and could not be flipped upright to finish the race. Despite this unfortunate “turn” of events, the Pika Punket Pie crew cheered on the other teams from shore, with last year’s winner JC Café Team eventually recapturing their title.
The shade of pine trees framed Pika Pika in their beach volleyball win over High Flyers, while JM Pika House presented the best entry in the Booth Decorating Contest.
For the children, a large but late-starting crab won Anita Cameron top place in the umang (hermit crab) race for girls, while Branden Cepeda’s entry won the boys’ race. A co-ed sack race saw boys and girls jumping—in one case, tumbling—their way to the finish line.
Tug-of-war provided to be a crowd favorite for the weekend. As grounds crew watered down the dirt turned dusty by the tropical heat, three teams of boys prepared themselves. The first team of obviously younger boys put up a brave effort against their stronger opponent. In round two, another group of boys put up an unexpectedly strong fight before eventually succumbing to the champions. Later, the men took the rope for a strength struggle.
The road/off road 65K Pika Bike Race at 6am on Saturday morning attracted 26 riders, many of who brought their bikes over via ferry the prior day.
“By all accounts, this year’s Tinian Hot Pepper Festival was a success. Even the weather was perfect!” said MVA Community Projects manager Martin Duenas. “We look forward to welcoming even more visitors in 2019.”
The Tinian Hot Pepper Festival is held every President’s Day weekend on the island of Tinian, accessible from Saipan in 10 minutes via commuter flight. (MVA)