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

Goat Island from a distance

TINIAN — If there is one place in the CNMI that I really wanted to visit, it is this little strip of an island about five miles southwest of Tinian.

Photo by Raquel C. BagnolYou get a glimpse of Goat Island or Aguigan when the plane makes a turn and prepares for landing at the Tinian airport.

Months back, some friends from Tinian who had been to the island made tentative plans and invited me to camp overnight on Goat Island, an invitation that I knew I could and would never refuse despite the impossible challenges that came with the invitation: swimming against the strong ocean currents or waiting for the right moment when the boat tilts toward the steep cliffside which is the only access to the island then making a jump for it.

None of the options were appealing but I knew that I was willing to brave that jump if I had to since swimming was out of the question. My friend said sharks abound around the island — and they were not the shy type.

On a clear afternoon last week, I got a good view of Goat Island from Tachogna Beach. Using my zoom lens, I saw nothing but incredible steep cliffs extending from one end of the island to the other. My lens were not powerful enough to see the feral goats and birds that are the sole inhabitants of the island.

The 2.7 mile Goat Island is reported to the site of the last of the ancient Chamorro resistance to Spanish colonial rule in 1695. My friend said remains of war shelters and other relics from World War II like bombs and shells still litter the island

Dive operators say  some of the best dive spots in the CNMI can be found around Goat Island, but only a few are willing to venture that far because the currents are just too strong and too dangerous even for seasoned swimmers.

A couple of years back, lawmakers on Tinian offered  Goat Island as alternative site for the planned buildup in the Marianas in the wake of increasing opposition on Guam. Then-Tinian Rep. Edwin Aldan also suggested the need to propose a plan to relocate the wild animals and birds to Goat Island so they would be safe when the military buildup started on Tinian.

Our tentative plans went down the drain when one of my buddies went home to the Philippines for good. The plan will now remain a plan, but someday I hope to be able to write another article after I’ve actually set foot on Goat Island.

Goat Island from a distance | around-the-island.