Scary afternoon at As Matmos Fishing Cliff

Panic gripped me. I had made sure that I stood on dry rocks not reached by the water and that one single wave got me.

IMG_0182 (2)       ROTA, Northern Mariana Islands—There was no debate when I saw that sign by the roadside, a temptation too strong to resist, and I knew I was not going to have peace of mind until I get to the As Matmos Cliff. “As Matmos Fishing Cliff, 4 miles.”

With the sun beating relentlessly down from the skies, I turned the car aircon on and started following the road that resembled like a dried up river bed, driving deep into the jungle and emerging again into a hot open area, assured that the ocean was not far and it was still high noon.

The path I was following ended in a fork—one with a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign on it, one that I had no plans of violating no matter how tempting it was, and one leading to more rocks and rough road ahead. Still I drove on, seeing no other car in the road or anywhere around.IMG_0329

Another fork in the road showed a sign that the As Matmos Fishing Cliff was 1.8 miles away and I drove with renewed spirits. The thicket thinned out and I was heading into rocky plains and a looming cliff up ahead. Every 50 meters or so, a huge splash of water sprayed the air and I was prompted to stop and snap photos.IMG_0254

From behind some bushes, I saw the final sign loom into view and the rocky road ended in more rocks and crevices. Tuning in to my surroundings for a few minutes, I opened the car and tentatively took a step toward the menacing cliffs, snapping photos and taking video clips like I was on a race with time.

Everything was so overwhelming. It was as if I stepped at the edge of the world and I felt so small and alone with the giant stone mountains behind me, the sharp steep cliffs before me. Waves were furiously crashing against the cliffs every few seconds, and it was a nightmare watching from the cliff lines. I stayed as far away as I can from the edge but close enough to capture the terrifying yet magnetic whirl of water in the rocks below.IMG_0194

The giant splashes that goes up like a hundred feet or so way above the cliff lines was mesmerizing to watch, as if luring one to step on to the very the edge and go with its flow to the ocean. I didn’t realize I had been staring mesmerized at the water from my nervous perch about a dozen feet or so away from the edge, until one exceptionally huge foaming wave landed at my feet, pulling back with a magnetic force so strong I was almost tempted to go with it.IMG_0249

Panic gripped me. I had made sure that I stood on dry rocks not reached by the water and that one single wave got me. Hugging my camera to my chest, I made a mad dash toward the car and leaned on the door to catch my breath, not minding the droplets of blood in my foot when I stepped on a sharp rock.IMG_0192 (2)

Warnings came flooding back when I was able to breathe normally again. Stories and warnings to be careful because As Matmos Cliffs cliffs claim lives of people who come close to the edge, especially if you are alone. I guess I never believed in the stories before, until that one scary moment.IMG_0337

As Matmos Fishing Cliff is one of the must-never-miss attractions on Rota, but go with a group if you want peace of mind and want to enjoy the enchanting view. You can also explore other popular fishing sites on Rota are Malilok and and Pona Point.

‘Forbidden’ angles

IMG_5983The Forbidden Island is just one spectacular plateau that looks like it was sliced it off from the main island and pushed a bit off the shore but there is more to this slab of a rock than meets the eye.

I have seen the Forbidden Island from the overview and close from the base of the island before. The chance to see it from above and from the other side came last month when I was invited to an aerial tour of the island, and that was the first time I saw the top of the island from above. It was looking at this landscape from a whole new perspective.IMG_4028

I asked our pilot if he can maneuver the four-seater plane above the Forbidden Island as low and as close as we can get while I took photos of this popular piece of rock that jutted out like a crouching reptile.

The top of the plateau is rocky but some portions are flat and covered with green and it looks like you could spend a night camping there, but getting up to the top of this island is a whole new difficult story. It is almost next to impossible, especially if you are not that daring and you don’t have the right equipment.

The Forbidden Island is one of Saipan’s must-not-miss sites if you want to say you’ve been to Saipan. A trek down to the island itself requires at least 45 minutes, a sturdy pair of shoes, comfortable clothing and lots of guts. The jungle trail going down is easy, the trees providing shade from the heat and the only challenge you meet are the pine needles that make the pathway slippery. IF

When you emerge into the clearing where the jungle ends, that’s when the real challenge begins and it’s already too late and too far to go back. If you are scared of heights, just proceed with caution and focus on the road. If you can avoid it, try not to look the sides of the path where you will see yawning cliffs or you’ll get dizzy and give the adventure up.

Don’t underestimate this small slab of rock. It isn’t named Forbidden for nothing. It has claimed numerous lives in the past.

I’ve tried climbing halfway around the island and had to go back minus the soles of my shoes with numerous cuts and scratches in my arms and legs. I didn’t take the option of climbing straight up aided by a rope because it looked so hard and steep but the group I was with had to come back when our trek ended in a dead end. Fighting the strong currents of water when the tide is coming in is another challenge you have to consider when you go to the island.IMG_5989

The challenge actually starts when the paved road in Kagman ends and you take the rough road that answers more to the description of a river bed gone dry. The road is only ideal for four wheel drive vehicles and most parts of the road are like giant potholes, with elbow-sharp turns that could send you hurtling down deep ravines if you’re not careful but it’s worth the trip.

This article was also printed at the Marianas Variety


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.

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