A visit to Lourdes Shrine on Tinian

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TINIAN—Just a few meters down the road past the Northern Marianas College campus on Tinian and just beyond rows of pine trees is a turn with a sign pointing to one of the very special and considered holy places in the island—the Lourdes Shrine.

If you see the wooden signboard and a small altar made from a pile of stones, with two smaller statues on both sides of the altar, you have come to the right place.

Take the grassy right turn and the scenic short drive flanked by coconut trees on both sides leading to the Korean Memorial, and the Japanese Crematory a few meters away and going straight all the way to the end of the road will lead you to the Lourdes Shrine.

I had been to this place for a quick stop about four years ago but IMG_2597I never had the chance to go in and explore the area, until some weeks ago when friend Susan took me to another quick drive around the island.

The Shrine for Santa Lourdes is considered a holy place to many especially the devotees, Susan said. She said she often visits the place to pray and meditate.

The Shrine is located inside the huge gaping stone cave with vines hanging from the ceiling. If you go in, you will feel dwarfed like the whole cave is going to swallow you. I followed a small enclosure at the side of the huge cave thinking it was leading to an exit, but it was a dead end. The cave has lost its natural feel because of the electric bulbs installed in the ceiling around the statue of the Blessed Virgin, and the wide tarpaulin erected just outside the mouth of the cave to provide shelter for those who want to visit the place, but despite the modern touches, you can still feel the sacredness of the place.

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The Lourdes Shrine is just a few meters away from the main road and you don’t need to wear hiking shoes or anything. You can bring your car right up to the mouth of the cave which we did. Somewhere near the Lourdes Shrine and the Korean Memorial is the Japanese Crematory which was just pointed out to me to be behind tall bushes. I didn’t have a chance to go near it for the two times that I have been to the place, but there is always a next time.IMG_2602

If you divert away from the popular tourist attractions like beaches and historical sites, where every visitor usually goes to, you can discover that there is still so much more to see, discover and rediscover of this small island that has played a big role in one of the bloodiest wars of the Pacific during World War 11. For more adventures on Tinian and the CNMI please visit www.studiof6.com or https://wanderlustontheraks.wordpress.com/

Remains of a World War 11 jail

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TINIAN—I have passed by this particular spot on Tinian so many times in the past years thinking that it was just an ordinary abandoned structure left by the owners from years ago. I had always been intrigued by the grills and bars and the small rectangular slits for windows but never got to ask anyone about it, until a couple of weeks ago when I had an unplanned drive around the island with friend Susan Cruz from there.

She drove me to this site in San Jose village and asked if I had visited it before. I was surprised. The area was cleared of the thick brambles which covered the whole block and the remains of the structure, which I learned was a jail used during the World War 11 was revealed.

IMG_2409 Delighted, I ran out of the car and proceeded to the ruins. It was like seeing something you have always seen with new eyes. Some of the walls were still standing sturdy, and some of the grills, despite the rust eating at it, remained intact barring some of the doors.

I picked my way on the rocks and debris covered by newly trimmed bushes gingerly, scared I might step into some hole. I’ve heard stories that there used to be an underground somewhere where prisoners were kept and I tried looking for the entrance to no avail. It was kind spooky, even in broad daylight.

There was no one else around and it was not hard to imagine prisoners peeking from the small rectangular holes and through the grills. If the walls could talk, the stories they have to tell would surely fill volumes.

IMG_2395Unlike the old Japanese Jail on Saipan where it’s located right in a residential area, clean and well-maintained, this old jail on Tinian had been left covered in brambles and abandoned for so long.

Susan warned me to be extra careful and asked me thrice if I was really sure I wanted to explore the place. She said she has heard so many stories circulating that many of those who stepped on the old jail ruins have gotten sick or possessed by the spirits of the old occupants of the jail.

Although a part of me was hesitant, a bigger part was more curious to explore, and off I went, with Susan staying a safe distance away. I knew it was a chance I wouldn’t let slip by because if I did, I would regret it later.

IMG_2442The leaves crunched under my feet as I ventured further into the ruins, tentatively peeking through old broken doors and peepholes, snapping photos as I went.

When I almost stepped on something that looked like a hole covered with leaves, I hurried out of the ruins and ran back to the road, trying to shrug off the scary thought of stepping into the hole and falling into a tunnel.

If I was with someone equally daring, I guess I would have stayed longer and explored the nooks and crannies of this abandoned structure that has played a big role in the history of the island during the bloody World War 11 almost 70 years ago.

This old jail ruins is just one of the many relics and scars of the war that contribute to the significant pieces of history left lying all over Tinian. When on the island, take time to drive around especially with someone who is from the island and you will discover more of the rich historical treasures that not everyone knows.

For more adventures, please visit http://www.studiof6.com or https://wanderlustontheraks.wordpress.com.

First published at the Marianas Variety.

Close call on Tinian’s cliff side

IMG_2644  I thought I have already explored every nook and cranny in this tiny island and have already written about all that it has to offer, but a quick, unplanned drive into roads that are almost non-existent last week proved me wrong.

For the past years, I’ve been driving around Tinian from a tourists’ point of view. That means renting a car and driving to the most popular historical and scenic spots and taking photos of abandoned structures and sites that have been posted online thousands of times before, and you think you have seen everything and been everywhere. Just wait until you go out with someone who is from the island.IMG_2634

My friend Susan Cruz took me on an unplanned drive to sites not in the maps for a couple of hours on Thursday, taking the coastal road by the dumpsite instead of the usual road to the North Field. I have driven by the place before but never ventured on the rough side roads that were almost totally obscured by thick shrubbery. If you are not from there, you would not even know there is a road somewhere beneath the tall grasses but Susan’s car seemed to have a mind of its own, skillfully navigating through the jungles.

After a few minutes, Susan turned left to a small clearing where several white crosses were erected on the ground and on tombs. We were not on a cemetery but the crosses were erected in memory of those who perished from the seas, she said.

I walked some meters away from the tombstones and peeked through the thick bushes and trees and discovered a spectacular paradise view below.

Parting the thick shrubs, I tried to find a way to get a closer to take photos, not minding the sharp brambles that pricked me. The effort and scratches to get there was worth it. The view was worth it, postcard perfect and a photographer’s dream. It was clearly one of the sites on the island that only a few knows about.

Rocks detached from the cliff and forming small islets added to the attraction of the whole place. The water was crystal clear and you could see all the way to the bottom. It was a paradise, all your own.

I kept shooting as I edged closer to the cliff, my stomach churning as I looked below. It was just about 10 feet or so but it will be one agonizing dangerous drop if someone takes a wrong step. Sharp rocks jutted out from everywhere.IMG_2650

Suddenly, I heard a crack. The branch I was holding on to broke off and the next thing I knew, I was losing my balance and desperately grabbing everything with my left hand while hugging my camera with my right hand. Everything I stepped on collapsed or slid under my feet and all I thought at that moment was the safety of my camera, not mine.

Just when I thought it was the end, my foot landed on something solid hidden beneath fallen leaves—a flat rock that broke my fall and saved my life and my camera, and just a few inches away from the cliff. I released a giant breath of relief and heard Susan shouting from above checking if I was alright.

Too shocked at the close call, I did not tell her what happened but carefully crawled my way back up through the brambles, thankful that I was still intact except for a few scratches.

Oh the things that people would go through just to get a photo, but through these images those who are not so daring can still get a chance to see the hidden treasures that these islands have to offer. We would have visited a few more of those practically ‘unknown’ spots for most people, but my time was limited and I had to fly back to Saipan. Next time, she said, and we’re going to bring a pick-up truck next time. For more Tinian, Saipan and Rota adventures, visit http://www.studiof6.com and follow the links.

Stopover on Tinian’s Overlook

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THE first thing that you will think of when you land on Tinian is that there’s nothing in the small island that can entertain you.

From above, the island is just a short stretch of trees and forests bounded by, dotted by a few dilapidated structures.

Looking out from the plane window, the beaches and the giant waves sending huge sprays on the cliffs bordering the island provide a spectacular view from above, but    aside from that, you may think Tinian is devoid of life and activities.IMG_9098

And no one will blame you for thinking that way, until you go out and dare to explore.

Only then will you discover that the island houses a hundred and one scenic spots and a treasure of historical sites that continues to draw visitors from all over the world, the remembrance of a bloody war that took place 70 years ago.

A few miles up from Taga and Tachogna Beach, Tinian’s most popular beaches is a certain spot that you will find refreshingly attractive if you care to go beyond your comfort zones and explore.

IMG_9094Just before reaching Tachogna Beach, take the paved road going left and follow it until you reach the first intersection and follow the paved road to the right. There used to be a sign somewhere on the roadside telling you it leads to the Suicide Cliff but sometimes it is covered with tall grasses and sometimes, you could be busy deciding which way to go you will miss it.

About a couple of miles from the intersection, you will come to a small clearing with a row of empty hollow drums lined up like a fence on the roadside. Walk over to the small clearing protected by a wooden fence and be prepared to take in your fill of a spectacular panorama.

IMG_9097Far below the valley the village of San Jose spread out gracefully. You can even see the old tower of the San Jose Church. The blue skies merged with the blue waters and the gently rolling waves on the far beaches present a very idyllic paradise, contrary to the angry waves you can see from the other side of the island.

The last time I was there was over a couple of months ago when the trees and grass were dry and withered, and the farms were brown waiting for the next planting season. What would have completed the overlook would be a small cottage with benches so people can sit there and watch the sunset, or where runners/joggers and bikers can take a short break to enjoy the panorama.

The overlook is just the beginning of your exploration in that part of the island. Go further and you will discover more breathtaking hiking trails, shrines, World War 11 remnants, historical sites like the Korean and Japanese monuments at the Suicide Cliff.IMG_9073

Tinian has more to offer than you would expect. The island holds its share of more adventures waiting to be tapped. There are more to the jungles, underwater wonders and historic sites and you only need to go out to change your perspective of this island.

For more adventures about Tinian, Saipan and Rota, visit https://wanderlustontheraks.wordpress.com/.

War Remnants on Tinian

TINIAN — Right across from the famous Taga House is an old structure that had often caught my attention, but I never got the chance to explore it when I visited this island previously. It is a bullet-riddled concrete structure that still stands as one of the many mute witnesses to the bloody battles of almost 70 years ago.

Whenever I’m here, I usually head to North Field or to the other end of the island and the Suicide Cliffs to shoot photos.

Some weeks back, I finally got the chance to explore the small structure.

It’s very accessible, especially to those who are not daring enough to explore the bunkers and pillboxes scattered all over North Field and the rest of the island. You don’t need to walk far or drive through thick bushes. The structure is right beside the road and has well-maintained and clean surroundings. There are spiders inside though.

Unlike the other bunkers and pillboxes where you are in constant fear that something will crumble and fall on you, or that creatures bigger than spiders are about to jump on you, this structure is much safer.

Despite the huge holes left by bullets in the walls and the exposed steel bars, the structure is still intact and will remain standing for years to come.

It was fascinating yet scary to look at the different patterns of the holes in the walls. It was terrifying to imagine the horror of those inside it as bullets and artillery shells pounded the island.

Outside the bunker are the remains of an American plane engine which some have tentatively identified as belonging to a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp.

Anyone who visits the House of Taga and the nearby Korean monuments only needs to cross the street to check out this structure.

 

Revisiting Star Sand Beach

TINIAN — An afternoon of aimless driving at North Field a couple of weeks a go took me and two companions to a fork in the road leading to Unai Chulu, or Star Sand, Beach, a popular destination known for its star-shaped grains of sand.

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I’ve been to this beach over four years ago but didn’t get another chance to revisit until that afternoon.We were exploring nooks unfrequented by tourists at North Field and heading to the beach was not in our plan, but we went there anyway.

It was a fun trip because we followed unfaaltmiliar roads and ended up in more dead ends than we could count, but we also got to see more of the island.

We saw a family that included a teenage boy arranging young coconuts opened at the top on a table. The price was $3 for each coconut and I wondered how they expected to sell a lot.

But the boy convinced us to buy at least one coconut and told us a busload of tourists was coming. The boy then ran to the beach and motioned us to follow. He scooped a handful of sand and started sifting through it on his palm, looking very closely until he found what he was looking for and showed it to us — a tiny grain of sand shaped like a star. I’ve seen it before but not my two companions.alt

 

Unai Chulu is not your ideal beach if you want to lie in the sand to soak up the sun or even to swim. The beach is bordered by sharp rocky cliffs and huge angry waves splashing against them. Thick shrubs cover the shoreline but its star-shaped bits of sand are unique. It may, however, take you forever and too much eye straining before you finally see a star-shaped grain of sand. I tried it before and almost gave up before I was able to identify one. But our new friend, the teenage boy, found a couple of star-shaped grains of sand in no time at all.Susan Manuel, a local businesswoman, picks up sand from this beach along with colored rocks and puts them in tiny customized bottles as island souvenirs. This means that the star sand of Tinian has already made its way to different parts of the world.

Unai Chulu was also an invasion site during the war. A Japanese pillbox on the beach gets a fair share of visitors each day.alt

Moreover, MyBirdMaps.com website classified Unai Chulu as one of the top locations for bird watching in the CNMI.

If you are on Tinian, visit this beach and check out its star-shaped sand.

First published at the Marianas Variety

A Visit to the White Cross Memorial

TINIAN — Driving around in circles on a hot Monday afternoon proved fruitless as we searched for a particular site which I haven’t been to or even heard of before. My companion was looking for a cliff line with a couple of white crosses which he saw through his telescope on Saipan but we couldn’t locate it. We followed one road that we felt might lead to the area, but it ended in a jungle.

Leaving the comfort of our rented car, we explored the jungle, brushing away spiders and other creatures only to discover we were lost. We got back on the trail again and decided to check out Chulu Beach or Star Sands Beach. A couple selling coconut juice gave us directions to the White Cross Memorial (so that was the name of the place we were looking for) and we left after buying a coconut for $3.

We made our way past the bomb pits and reached the intersection of the Blow Hole then took the straight road leading to somewhere I hadn’t explored before.

Pretty soon the path widened, bordered by tangan-tangan on altboth sides. The place looked like somaltebody was maintaining the area. We drove several miles down the tree-lined road and saw a white cross several meters away from the cliff line.

Another white cross was erected a few feet away from the first one, near a small white chapel. Names were written on a marker and I learned the memorial was erected in memory of Tinian residents who had been lost at sea.

The bigger cross at the White Cross Memorial or the Tinian People Lost at Sea Memorial bore the names of four people who were lost at sea on Jan. 5, 1997 — Clifford M. Manglona, Ignacio Joey San Aquiningoc, George A. Manglona and Isaac P. Palacios.

Beside the White Cross, another marker bore the names of eight people who met a tragic death at sea in March 1974 —Soledad C. Ayuyu, Evelyn C. Pangelinan, Maria C. Barcinas, Catalina B. Barcinas, Maxima P. Manglona, Ray M. Blas, Juan T. San Nicolas and Soledad DLC Santos. The marker was installed by Sen. Jose P. Mafnas and Rep. Francisco T. Cabrera and their staff on November 1, 1984.

Flowers and candles adorned the markers and the two white crosses, indicating somebody had been to the place recently.

We picked our way through the sharp rocks and coral and headed to the edge of the cliff where a spectacular view awaited us — in fact more stunning and more dangerous than at the Blow Hole. The waves were rolling in from the sea, exploding up into a powerful, fascinating geyser spray along the rocky coastline.

I had been to Tinian several times in the past four and a half years, but I hadn’t ever ventured beyond the Blow Hole although I had always been curious where that road led.

Staring at the deep blue angry waters, I knew no one who had not lived here could really understand how dangerous the channel between Saipan and Tinian was. The excitement of watching the spray coupled with the eerie feeling of seeing the white crosses was beyond description. I wanted to stay longer, but we had to catch a flight back to Saipan.

To get to the White Cross Memorial, follow the road all the way to North Field and just go straight up through the intersection to the Blow Hole and the Bomb Pits.

This was first published at the Marianas Variety

Few minutes at a deserted runway

THE early morning air was still and silent and we coasted along the rough roads going to one of Tinian’s historic landmarks some weeks back. The day has just began for the people in the island as we headed for one of the long deserted airstrips at the northernmost part of the island.

Rubbing my sleep-deprived eyes and trying to fight off a wave of drowsiness, I fished out my camera from my sling bag and started clicking away, capturing landscape and views along the way.

I’ve been to the North Field of Tinian several times before, but it was different this time because first, it was very early in the morning (which means practically midnight for a nocturnal being like me), and second, I was with a professional photographer who knows the place with deeper understanding about history than what our lenses could capture.

The sun was slowly making its way up the horizon when we glided smoothly into the Runway A (Able) and my companion Dirk Spennemann started went right to business, capturing the neglected airstrip with his cameras from all angles. He was collecting photos for an upcoming exhibit about places in that played roles in the bloody World War 2 battles all over the Pacific.

The lonely airstrip constructed of crushed coral and asphalt stretched emptily before us, with weeds and bushes growing in several parts a silent testimony of its state of neglect.

I stood still for a few moments, closing my eyes against the glare of the sun and trying to imagine what the place looked like 66 years ago.

Runway Able was just one of the six airstrips the Seabees and Marines constructed in 1945. They named the four airstrips at the North Field ABCD for Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog. Runway Able is the extra-long runway which was used for the B-29 bomber or the ‘Enola Gay’ that dropped the world’s first Atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

We didn’t go to the three other runways anymore as Dirk has more places on his list to check out and photograph. We drove out of the Runway Able and proceeded to another historical place nearby- the bomb pits where Japanese soldiers used to store their bombs and fuel.

Those few minutes we spent at Runway Able gave me a new perspective about a place many people in the island may have taken for granted. It played a big role in the World War 2. It was where Hiroshima started.

 

Inside a World War II-era blockhouse

DRIVING on the rough path along the lush golf courses of Coral Ocean Point one day last week, I had no idea that one of the island’s historical treasures lies along the coastal area beyond the thick shrubbery that made the road almost impossible to see.

Photo by Raquel C. BagnolRiding in two golf cars, I and two officemates parked along the side of the path and followed a trail some meters down to the beach and I saw one of those Japanese pillboxes almost obscured by the tall weeds.

The structure, which turned out to be one of the three Japanese blockhouses constructed on island, stood as strong and proud as ever like it was constructed just recently. The blockhouse was perched in a location that provided a commanding view of the beach.

It usually takes a lot to convince me to go inside any of these old structures like bunkers but unexpectedly, an inner battle was taking place as I fought my fear of enclosed spaces and tried to curb my curiosity as I made the few steps down to the door of the structure.

Finally, my curiosity won and for the first time, I stepped inside a Japanese bunker. Ducking to avoid the spider’s web along the way, I took tentative steps inside. Contrary to what I thought, it was well lighted inside, with the rays of the afternoon sun streaming through the small rectangular windows on each of the internal partitions.

Although the walls of the blockhouse were over one yard thick and the ceiling was low, I forgot my being claustrophobic  for a moment as I stood still and surveyed my surroundings for a few minutes, trying to imagine that almost 70 years ago this place housed canons and the walls were the only mute witnesses to the bullets ricocheting from the enemy’s firing line.

The sting of mosquitoes on my arms and face brought me back to the present and I hurried out from the confines of the thick walls and into the fresh and salty air outside.

According to the interpretive sign posted by the CNMI Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. National Park Service, the 20mm blockhouse, which is also referred to as the German blockhouse, was of Japanese design and construction. The other two are at Obyan Beach and Laolao Beach. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Inside a World War II-era blockhouse | around-the-island.

Exploring a burned out fuel bunker | around-the-island

MY conviction that I had explored and written short pieces about every nook and cranny that Tinian had to offer was proven wrong a few weeks back when I went on a photography jaunt with Australian professor and photographer Dirk Spennemann.

Photo by Raquel C. BagnolAfter taking photos of the Atomic Bomb Pits, airstrip and the Air Communications building, Spennemann parked our rented car in a grassy portion at the roadside a few meters away from and hauled his giant camera from the backseat. Although I had driven around several times in that area before, the place we were heading to was unfamiliar. Asking no questions, I followed him, pausing now and then to take photos of things that caught my interest.

We hiked through a tree-lined path cut into a coral hill for a few minutes before I saw where we were heading for. A massive concrete building dug into the bedrock and protected with heavy steel plate doors was at the end of the trail, sharp pieces of steel sticking out of its thick concrete roof and walls. The building, although obviously sturdily built, was broken and shattered.

We went just inside the door of the structure. I couldn’t see a thing and Spennemann told me to wait until my eyes get adjusted to the darkness. Very soon, objects like drums and huge pillars began to take shape. I trained my camera at half-shutter in different directions for some seconds before pressing it and looked at the viewfinder. I saw hundreds of burned out drums and pieces of steel inside the bunker, all in disarray at the floor. After taking a few more photos, my being a claustrophobic started to take over and I found it hard to breath. With no exit, it was humid inside. I groped my way outside, thankful for the breath of fresh air when I emerged from the structure.

A marker at the side of the building tells the story that one of the fuel storage structures was ignited sometime during the first days of American invasion and the fire got so intense that Marine battalions nearby were prompted to move to a different position. Because of the heat, huge concrete slabs stripped from the ceiling and in exploded fuel drums.

Picking our way slowly to avoid the slippery and muddy patches on the road, we went around to the other side of the canyon and saw the cement slabs that were the remaining pieces of the fuel drum storage. The Japanese bomb storage and fuel drum storage are among the most remarkable Japanese military structures on Tinian.

We left the place with more gigabytes of photos in our memory cards and an additional piece of history on a relic on Tinian that played a big role during the World War II. If you think that one day is enough to visit Tinian and explore its cultural and historical wealth, you can think again. The island has so much to offer.

Exploring a burned out fuel bunker | around-the-island.