Thursday, September 20, 2007

20 Grand Days Out - Guam

This summer we took an amazing vacation. We were gone for 20 days, hence the title. We traveled to Hawaii, Guam and Yap. This is part II of the tale of our journey.

After a wonderful time on Hawaii we flew to Guam for a five night stay. Guam is very interesting. It's part of the US, but not many people know that. It is a tourist destination for Japanese, one that is marketed as a place to go for a less expensive vacation. Guam is a long way from the US (7.5 hour or so flight from Hawaii) but pretty close to Japan. To make matters worse, it's across the international dateline, so it seems further than it really is. The flight times all look like they will be 30 hours or something ridiculous like that.

Guam is primarily thought of as a military base, because it is. But there is a lot to do there, and we had a great time. Our friends Fred & Helen Nisihira met us at the airport, which was really sweet. It's nice to arrive to a friendly face after a long plane flight. We checked in to the Marriot and agreed to meet them the next morning.

The Marriot. Wow. The hotel was very nice, and the view was stunning. The one big problem was that the kids did not have a bed. We thought we would have a pullout couch, but there was only a small chair in our room. We were able to make it work by asking for some bedding, and the kids were good sports about sleeping on the floor.

The view from our balcony overlooking Tumon Bay, Guam. Click on the pictures for a larger view.

Fred and Helen took us on an Island tour, which was really helpful to get a sense of what Guam is like. There are a lot of military bases, they take up about 30% of the Island, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a visit to Guam. We drove around a good bit of the Island and had lunch at a really neat place called "Jeff's Pirate Cove" which is located near the cave of Sergeant Yokoi, the Japanese soldier who hid until 1972, still believing we were at war with Japan. After a break and a swim in the hotel pool, we went to a birthday party with our friends.

One of the things that really struck me about Guam was how alive everything was. There was stuff growing everywhere. Virtually every structure had mold growing on the walls, on the roof, out of the concrete, everywhere. I really noticed it at the birthday party, when I looked at the jungle right next to the house. There is plenty of oxygen with all that greenery. I guess living in the desert where life has to work hard to survive really made Guam stand out to me. It seems to me that God had places like Guam in mind when he created life. The fact that we try to live in a desert is our own fault...

We went to church with the Nishihira's on Sunday, and then had lunch at a Benihana type place called "Join Us" that was quite good and owned by a friend of Fred's dad. We had another delightful day with our friends, and then had their family over for a barbeque at their house. I was really struck by how much better it was being on Guam with friends than being by ourselves on Hawaii. Hawaii is a great place, but being with people is really what life is about. Guam offered us Island beauty coupled with good friends to share the experiences with.

After the weekend, our friends lent us a car to drive while they were at work. This was a huge blessing as it let us see the island rather than just staying at the hotel, and it allowed us to eat somewhere other than the Marriot for breakfast. While it was a tasty breakfast, spending $60 every day for our family to eat breakfast was a bit much. The first day we went to Shirley's for breakfast, which was ok but nothing that we would fly to Guam for. At least it was a lot cheaper!

We visited a lot of neat sites. One site was latte stone park. The latte stone is kind of a symbol of guam. It is part of the ancient chammoro construction techniques, and the architecture of the island pays homage to the latte stone. The park was small, but it had a nice display of latte stones and a cave the Japanese had built (with chammoro labor) as part of their defense of Guam in WWII. At one point someone declared this cave a fallout shelter, which is laughable as it was very small. The sign is still there, but someone has scratched the number "1" in the sign under the word "capacity" which is probably more accurate than whatever number was originally there...

After the latte stone park, we went to the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. This park is very spread out, preserving beaches and other sites that were significant battlegrounds as the US retook Japan in 1944. I only have one memory of Guam from when I was there in 1979/1980, and this park (specifically the hill overlooking Asan Beach) was it. One of the neatest things we did was climbed the hill behind the town of Piti and looked at the Japanese gun installations. These guns were never operational, the US invaded before they could be completed.

We had an elegant lunch on our balcony that we catered by going through the drive through at McDonalds. I hated to fly halfway around the world to eat McDonalds, but I guess you have to make concessions to the kids every once in a while. At least the view was great. After an afternoon in the pool, we had dinner at a really cool Japanese Restaurant called Watabe, and that was excellent. It was a little bit of a cross cultural experience, as they offered us things to eat like raw eggs that our American palates aren't exactly used to.

Our last day on Guam we spent visiting the war in the pacific park again, a really cool beach on the northern part of the island, and two lover's point. Two Lover's Point is probably the most well known tourist destination, and it was awful. The popularity of this site has created a kitsch location that is overcommercialized and ruined. It was quite a shock after tooling around the island enjoying it's natural beauty. We gave the kids one last western meal at Friday's for dinner, and then prepared for the main focus of our trip: going to Yap.

We saw everything we wanted to see on Guam except Yokoi's cave. I think that is the perfect amount of time to be somewhere, when you wish you could stay one more day. But the highlight of Guam was definitely visiting with Fred and Helen, and their family. I would not go back to Guam to see the sights again, but I would go to be with them again.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Joel,

The pictures you took are fantastic. They remind me of when my parents sent my wife and myself to Kauai for our honeymoon. (I know, tough life, huh?) At any rate, though the beauty of it all is astounding, and though I agree that we're the morons who try to live in a desert, the wonder of these places is sort of meaningless unless it's part of your story with someone (or many someones) else. You're right that the people are always the best part. Well, unless the people you're with are cannibals. That's not so good...

Thanks for posting these pics and comments.

Yours,
Justin