A refreshing stop at a famous swimming hole

ROTA — Come on in, the water’s cool. This unspoken and unwritten invitation is too hard to resist if you are at the Swimming Hole, one of the most popular and must-not miss destinations on this island.

Standing on a huge rock with my camera, I would have given anything for a dip instead of just a short stop at this place which I had already seen in hundreds of spectacular photographs and glowing remarks from different blogs and websites of visitors who had been there.

Surrounded by natural rock formations that fenced off the area from the huge wild waves rolling noisily to the shore a few yards away, the Swimming Hole is a pocket of crystal-clear body of blue water that promises worlds of refreshing satisfaction when you step into the warm waters.

The Swimming Hole was deserted when we arrived there. Under the sweltering heat of the 12 o’clock sun, the temptation to take a dip was too irresistible, even for a non-swimmer like me. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the heat of the sun is not so harsh, you can float lazily around, let stress flow out of your body and enjoy a relaxing time.

Unfortunately, when you step on Rota for the first time and want to see as many places and attractions as you can in one day, you can’t stay long in one area. I had to content myself with dipping my toes to test the water, take photos and off we went to explore more of this island’s tranquility.

The Swimming Hole is just one of the numerous unspoiled beaches of Rota. It serves as a perfect getaway, and with fewer tourists, you can have the pool to yourself like one giant Jacuzzi.

My hosts Ali and Doc Manny from Guam whisked me off for a quick visit to the Rota Latte Stone Quarry before proceeding to the Bird Sanctuary, a fast drive around Sinapalo and a faster drive toward Songsong. With so many beautiful places to visit and so little time, I longed to get behind the wheel and explore the island at my own pace, something which I did the next day.

The island of Rota has lots to offer, and the Swimming Hole is just one attraction. This article was originally published here:

A refreshing stop at a famous swimming hole | around-the-island.


The ‘secret’ behind Long Beach’s rocky ledges

TINIAN — Long Beach located south of Blow Hole  is one of the prime destinations here, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Photos by Raquel C. BagnolEasily accessible, Long Beach, or Unai Dankulo, is true to its name and is long stretch of white, sandy beach and crystal clear waters gently lapping on the shore.

But there is a “secret” behind the huge rocks and cliffs that border one end of the beach. My buddies Barnard, Susan and Edwin guided me to this secret spot on a leisurely tour one Sunday some weeks back. Picking our way gingerly among the rocks and avoiding getting wet from the splashing of the waves was no easy feat. Soon, we arrived at a huge cliff and I raised my eyebrows as we were obviously facing a dead end. Barnard then squatted and pointed to a very small opening at the bottom of the cliff.

We followed him as he started crawling through the very tight crevice. It was not big enough so we really had to crawl on our stomachs for a distance of about eight feet or so.  Fighting my fear of enclosed places, I crawled on, hugging my camera with one arm and groping my way with the other.

Soon, we emerged into the open. I caught my breath and gaped at the scenic hideaway that met my eyes.

Nestled amid pockets of sand between rocky cliffs and coral shelves was a private cove with fine white sand. Just perfect   if you want to get away from it all.

Crawling to the specific spot is the only way to get there, unless you want to brave the rough and treacherous waves and the sharp and slippery stones at the coral edge.

A huge hollow space with soft, fine sand beneath a large rock formation provides shelter for anyone who wants to just sit there and while the time away.

Tinian is not only rich in history. For the adventurous, the island has a hundred and one more special spots just waiting to be discovered.

The ‘secret’ behind Long Beach’s rocky ledges | around-the-island.

Intruders at Tinian’s ‘secret ’ lagoon

We had been driving on the long stretch of deserted road north of the dilapidated Japanese communications building when we came across a turn just beside the fenced military area on Tinian last Sunday afternoon.

Photos by Raquel C. BagnolThe road was almost impossible to find behind thick weeds as high as four feet, but my buddies Susan, Ed and Barnard insisted that was what we were looking for — the road to Unai Chiget.

I got my first clear view of this majestic lagoon closeted amid lush vegetation and rocky cliffs from a thousand feet above when I went flying with Dr. Nathan to and from Tinian some weeks back, and I knew I would not rest until I step into that very spot. Facebook friends gave the lagoon a name when I posted the aerial photo I took.

Susan drove through the tall weeds when we could not find any “Don’t Enter” sign anywhere. The road curved and twisted menacingly and we could see no obvious signs of recent use. We had to get out of the vehicle several times to assess the situation if we could still go on, but I was determined to reach my destination, even if I had to crawl my way through.

The weeds thinned out when we reached the last portion of the seemingly impossible to find road and miraculously, there was a small clearing. With my cameras dangling from my neck, I followed Barnard who suddenly stopped short when he noticed that a new cyclone wire fence had been erected, and a big sign stating “DANGER, Unexploded Ordinance”  met our eyes.

I peered through the  fence and my jaw dropped, for there I was, staring at the very lagoon  that I had seen from the air. Giant waves crashed mightily on the huge rocky cliffs facing the ocean. The view was just stunningly beautiful, and I had to fight the urge to violate the big sign, roll up my jeans and wade into the clear blue waters.

Time stood still and only the clicking of shutters were heard after we found strategic spots to capture one of Tinian’s most beautiful treasures through our lenses — the hidden cove of Unai Chiget.

As tempted as you may be to visit the place, the area is restricted. For now, take a look at some of the photos I posted at http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?fbid=10150113615129858&id=596639857&aid=286092.

This article first appeared HERE

Lazy afternoon at Micro Beach

HOW many times have you taken off your shoes and walked barefoot on the beach? When was the last time that you picked up a stick and wrote messages in the pristine white sands? Or just sat on a grassy patch or on top of a rock as you watch the waves splashing on the seashore, or be an observer to a hive of activities all around you?

I admit I often do these things whenever I can, squeezing a few minutes to start up my day before going to work, or steal a few minutes from the office to refresh my system. I found that it always helps.

If you have a few hours to spare especially during the late afternoon, one of the best places to visit is the Micro Beach in Garapan. Located next to American Memorial Park, the Micro beach is one of Saipan’s most accessible beaches with picnic facilities, spacious parking areas, picnic tables under the shade of the trees, a playground for kids and child-friendly white shores where kids can frolic and have fun.

The Micro Beach is one great hangout to watch one of Saipan’s glorious sunsets, with Managaha Island in the backdrop.

I could sit for hours on end on the seaside and listen to the jovial shouts of kids, watch couples and families bond together, stare dreamily from a distant as boats head to Managaha, or watch tourists floating above the clouds in the colorful parasails.

A very popular windsurfing spot, the Micro Beach hosts hundreds of windsurfers from all other parts of the world each year. When the winds are strong and you think the ideal thing to do is stay inside the house, I find my way to Micro Beach and enjoy watching windsurfers taking advantage of the strong winds to take them to the sea.

When you feel stressed and needs to unwind, try visiting some of Saipan’s pristine beaches such as Micro Beach, and you’ll come back feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. A few hours of relaxation is right within your reach, and it’s free.

Exploring historical treasures at Obyan Beach

I’VE seen these piles of old stones in Obyan Beach several times before and have always thought of them as ordinary stones, until a few months ago.

Those rocks may look just like ordinary piles of rocks, but as I watched a tourist who was so absorbed in trying to capture the whole site on his lens, taking photos of the stone formations from all angles, I finally saw the stones with new eyes.

Those piles of moss-covered stones are actually latte stones listed that play a big role in the history of the islands and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Just like all the other latte stones that remained and weathered the harsh elements of nature in the islands, the ones in Obyan Beach were ancient stones used by the Chamorro people to build their houses and shelter for their canoes.

As one of the most popular beaches on Saipan among locals and tourists alike, Obyan Beach gets a fair share of visitors each day despite the distance and the rough roads but not every one of these guests are aware of the Latte Site that sits just within the beach.

With its wide stretch of white, sandy beach and shaded trees, one tends to miss this significant historical feature which is just actually one of the many scattered all over the place.

From Obyan Beach and all the way to Naftan Point, historical features such as WWII Japanese bunkers, secret tunnels, machine gun nests, pottery shards and more relics litter the area.

These historical features make your visit much more enjoyable and interesting in addition to spending the day at the beach. For the more daring, you can try exploring the hiking trails that lead to the jungle or to more remote beaches in the area and you will be rewarded with a wealth of historical experiences and spectacular views.

The next time you go for a swim or picnic at Obyan Beach, explore through these historical remains a few meters down from the parking lot to your left and you will see a clearing with the latte stones in the center.

You may be interested to learn that a lot of people from other parts of the world would give anything just to visit these sites that you may have always taken for granted.

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.



Full moon at the Ladder beach

THE scene that greeted me when I emerged into the clearing of the Ladder Beach was like something out of fairytale book. Moonlight flooded the whole secluded cove below, the huge stones casting sinister shadows on the rocky sand as though they were creatures under some spell.

Mesmerized, I walked slowly down the flight of stairs passing the cave-like stone structures and flopped down into the shore, dangling my feet as near to the water’s edge as I dared.

Closing my eyes, I breathed in the comforting, salty tang of the ocean breeze and allowed the pleasant sounds of the giant waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean to engulf me.

I had been to the Ladder Beach for several times, but being there during a full moon was a totally different experience. I wished to stay there for as long as I can but soon my buddies joined me and we trooped back to the camp fire to be with the rest of the group.

Darkness had set in for over half an hour when we earlier assembled at one corner of Obyan Beach for a full moon hike on Saturday evening. It was my first time to venture into that part of the island at night

We listened to the last minute instructions of the group leader and prepared to rough it out and venture into the darkness to a destination which we had no idea yet.

The silence as we waited for the final countdown before we kicked off was broken only by the splashing of the waves on the shore and the chirping of insects from the bushes.

At the given signal, off we went, looking for the signs along the trail that will lead us to “we don’t know where” yet.

Looking for the small mounds of white flour and white strips of tissue tied to tree branches to guide us was not that easy in the dark, and we got lost and had to retrace our steps several times.

We followed a trail along the beach for a few minutes, but soon the trail forked and led us deeper and deeper into the thick tangan-tangan jungle where we had to crawl under or climb over branches to get through.

My muscle pains from the previous weekend hike did not make things any easier, although the trail we followed was not that challenging.  We emerged from the thicket and followed the road going to Naftan Point for a long time, only to find three mounds of flour on the road which indicated we were following a false trail.

Retracing our steps, and walking for eternity in the moonlit road, we emerged into a clearing and discovered we were already at the Ladder Beach.

For individuals like me whose only form of exercise is climbing up and down the 10 steps of stairs to the office twice a day, walking from Obyan Beach to the Ladder Beach is unthinkable, unless you’re the athletic type who would not hesitate running or cycling around the island anytime.

You may have explored all the nooks and crannies of this small island, but sometimes, you’ve got to rough it out, take the road less taken and make a change from your usual hours to experience a totally different perspective of this island’s beautiful spots.

One night on Forbidden Island

THE word “forbidden” kept ringing in my ears as I frantically grabbed footholds and handholds among the sharp, jutting rocks. It was getting dark and I was trying to stop the uncontrollable shaking of my knees and the rising fear that one false step could send me hurtling down the steep cliffs resulting in serious injury, or even my end.

We were on Forbidden Island on the east coast of Saipan, shoes and jeans dripping from the knee-high water we had to wade through to reach it.

I had thought about  visiting the area for the past two years and so there I was, finally. Our group split into two, the more daring ones going up to follow the eagle trail while the others followed the almost equally hard turtle trail set by hashers Dan and Eric.

After an eternity of hardship, the leader who was ahead of us shouted “dead end” and we started the more agonizing trek back.

Forbidden Island provides the daring with a stunning view, great snorkeling nooks, pristine hidden pools and a cave.

But in the falling darkness, it looked eerie, devoid of any form of life save for the bird and a few plants that were able to tough it out.

I looked at Forbidden Island with a new perspective. It’s different when you just look at it from the view deck above than when you explore it and come back with blue, red and violet bruises on your hands, arms and legs, and knowing panic when you see your buddies fall on the sharp rocks and get up with huge bloody gashes on their legs.
The trek to  Forbidden Island is quite challenging and is not for everyone, especially those who are afraid to fall or who have fear of heights.

Going down, you have to hold on to pieces of ropes tied on tree branches or stumps, or grab stones for footholds and handholds which could roll down any minute. You have to find the trail amid tall tangan-tangan and thick bushes.

The dying embers from our bonfire cast an eerie glow as we gathered our things to leave the  area at past 9 p.m.

We still had to survive the upward trail, with only flashlights to guide us back to the parking lot. We left the site with the waves in their seemingly endless race against each other, crashing into the rocky shores.

It’s been six days since then and I still feel the muscle pains, but it was worth it. If you haven’t been to Forbidden Island yet, you’re missing a lot. (This article was first published HERE.

Excitement from the ledge

HE stood at the edge of the rocky limestone ledge, swinging his arms in a circular motion while I stood unmoving a few meters across the railings, my camera propped on top of a Taga stone-shaped cement, forefinger poised ready to press the shutter.

I swatted a flying insect near the lens when I heard the inevitable splash. I missed my target. The diver surfaced, treading water as he swam toward the shore. Luckily, he went up the stairs again, as well as some boys and a couple of girls. This time I vowed not be diverted by flying insects or anything else.

Watching the swimmers who never seem to get tired of jumping from the ledge, do summersaults and flip flops, and going up the cemented steps and diving again is exhilarating.

A couple of years back, I had the luxury of time to watch the swimmers trying to outdo each other in how high they can jump, how many flips they can do and how fast they can swim back to shore. I got the chance to watch the kids again only last Saturday.

Taga Beach is actually just a small cove of white sandy beach with amazingly clear, blue green waters tucked between limestone cliffs, but the cemented stone paths and the limestone cliff provide kids and adults the perfect site to jump off.

Taga Beach, a popular destination for tourists and a frequent hangout for locals is almost never vacant any time of the day – even under the scorching heat of the noonday sun.

With available facilities including chairs and tables, an outdoor shower, ample parking spaces and cottages, the place is a favorite not only for swimmers but for families and organizations to hold gatherings and events so if you hear music, the clink of glasses, and laughter from afar, you will know a party is in progress.

Oh, and one thing you should not miss at Taga Beach— the superb sunsets. Just don’t go there without a camera or you’ll regret it.

Going underwater at Managaha Island

Managaha Island
Photos by Kotaro Tsujino

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale, exhale! C’mon you can do it. Practice breathing through your mouth!
This was the first time I was given breathing lessons and I was finding it hard with the mask on my face, over two pounds weight tied to my waist and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

Two dive instructors from the Aquaconnections dive shop checked our progress as they gave me and my three office mates Jeanette, Arnold and Andrew a crash course in scuba diving. I had wanted to try diving for a long time but always backed out at the thought that I would be required to learn how to swim first.

There I was, drowsy after a leisurely lunch and dragging my heavy body into the pristine waters of Managaha Island one Saturday afternoon, asking myself if I could really do it.

I had visions of taking Scuba Diving 101 and undergo hours of classroom instruction where we will be introduced into the different diving gear and their uses and be given time to practice wearing them on dry land before being launched into the water. I had tried snorkeling a couple of times in Davao and in Palau but snorkeling was different.

But there we were, doing a few minutes of underwater breathing exercises and before we knew it, our instructors were guiding us deeper beneath the huge waves, holding onto the ropes to stay together.

For first timers, we sure picked up a windy day where strong currents make diving difficult but we didn’t know that yet. We held on to the ropes as lifelines as we edged our way down into the deep. (well, not that deep at 8 feet, but for a non-swimmer like me, it sure was deep!)

Our instructors monitored us, checking if we were doing okay and gauging our breathing by the bubbles we made. We had to give them the “ok” signal with our hands from time to time.

I was exhilarated thinking I was actually scuba diving when suddenly, everything went dark and all I saw were strands of dark floating things covering my mask. I forgot to breathe through my mouth and I then remembered that I was a non-swimmer. What was I doing underwater when I can’t even float a meter’s distance? Panicking, I flailed my arms and tried to surface. A dive instructor immediately assisted me and pushed me to the surface where huge waves tossed me around. He told me to relax and turned me face up on the water as I took in huge gulps of air. I realized my hair had gone loose and covered my mask but after I fixed my hair, I assured my instructor I was definitely going down again.

I forgot all kinds of fear when we reached our destination. Multi-colored fishes swam toward us and around a bed of corals we couldn’t help but reach out to touch them. Everything was just


We stayed down for about 25 minutes before our dive instructors signaled us to go back. It was a first experience which just spurred my interest to go diving again.

Completing our scuba diving experience was photographer and diving instructor Kotaro Tsujino of Underwater Adventures who documented our first attempts at diving. Tsujino said he had been photographing and taking underwater video of divers for several years, including events like underwater weddings. He can be contacted at 670-322-0599 or email him at otanog@pticom.com.

Our dive instructors from the Aquaconnections were Youme Sharry and Takehiro Fukuya but they have two other instructors—Tohru Narita and Donato Beside. You can visit http://www.saipan-aquaconnections.com or email them at aquainc@pticom.com for more information.

Diving at Managaha Island is indeed an experience you would like to do again and again!

To get to Managaha Island, call Tasi Tours & Transportation Inc. at (670) 234-7148, fax (670) 235-7141 or email managahatasi@tasitours.com.

This article was first published HERE