Video

Saipan Smiling Cove Marina

One more reason to love this island…

Advertisements

Coconut Kingdom by the Sea in Rota

DSC_5306ROTA — One of my favorite spots here is the abandoned Coconut Village, a row of wooden cottages facing the Pacific Ocean. Driving from Sinapalo to Songsong, you can see a signboard by the road side directing you to the Rota Coconut Village Hotel about a third of a mile away.
If you are new to the island and not that daring, you might think twice before taking the right turn past the signboard. It’s one of those rough and rugged side roads that looks rarely, if ever, used. I took that right turn during my first trip to the island a couple of years back. I was a bit scared, not knowing what to expect. I drove my rented car slowly, trying to avoid tricky potholes that were covered with fallen leaves.

But the spot just before the Coconut Village was stunning. It was a little forest of moss-covered trees and a carpet of orange and red fallen leaves. It was like stepping into a fairy tale and I was scared to breathe lest the magic spell be broken.

A few feet away, the rolling waves of the blue ocean crashed onto the rocky shores. It was in March, the perfect time to shoot photos or videos of gigantic waves from a cliff if that’s what you’re after.

I drove on and saw the Coconut Village sign in front of a cluster of wooden cottages. The place lived up to its name, with tall coconut trees lined up along the shoreline and adding a spectacular touch to the whole view.

I took a couple of steps away from the car and took dozens of images of the resort that had seen better times. The cottages facing the sea had individual balconies where guests could sit and relax, enjoy the view and breathe in the ocean breeze.DSC_5300

I passed by a huge wooden umbrella installed on top of a pile of stones, a perfect spot to have a drink or pass the time away. Although it’s no longer in business, it’s obviously maintained.

The second time I visited the place, I saw somebody cutting and raking the grass. The lawns were maintained and there were blooming flowers all around. The cottages were not falling apart, unlike most of the abandoned resorts and structures on the island.DSC_5281

If you dare to continue driving along the rough road, you will arrive at another popular spot —the Swimming Hole Beach Park.

I dared to take that drive, comforted by the thought that I could hear the ocean so I couldn’t became lost.

DSC_5311Rota has more treasures waiting to be discovered, undeveloped sites that contribute to its name as an untouched gem in the Pacific.

First published at the Marianas Variety here DSC_5294

http://www.mvariety.com/special-features/around-the-island/60514-coconut-kingdom-by-the-sea

I stepped on a ‘wedding cake’

The first time I saw the flat-top mountain everybody referred to as the Wedding Cake, it did not look like a layer of cake to me at all. It was just like any other elevated piece of land.
I later learned that it got the name because it resembled a tiered cake. When I drove up to the Songsong overlook, I saw a different angle to the mountain. This time, it resembled a cake whose top had been sliced.But I still couldn’t see the “wedding cake” — until a couple of months ago when I drove to the other side of the mountain where the Japanese cannon is located.There, you will see that the “cake” is almost perfectly shaped, with several elaborate tiers.IMG_7463The Wedding Cake is actually the nickname for Mt. Taipingot and is one of the post-card attractions of this island which is often referred to as a pocket-sized paradise in the Pacific.I tried all the existing roads at the foot of the Wedding Cake, hoping I could find access to the top, but there was none. All roads ended up at the foot of the mountain.According to those who have tried it, the Wedding Cake is 470 feet above sea level and is an ideal place for hiking. However, crawling up through a dense jungle and rocky mountainside with my cameras dangling from my neck wasn’t for me. I preferred to admire the mountain from a distance.IMG_7015

At the foot of the Wedding Cake, just past the commercial seaport in Songsong is the Coconut Plantation, a beachside resort more popular for its shady coconut trees than the beach itself which is so rocky no one should wade into the waters.

Parking our rented car under a coconut tree, my photographer buddy Pat and I took advantage of the coolness of an open cottage by the seaside. We had about four hours to spare before our flight back to Saipan and we spent the time watching several episodes of Dr. Who on his laptop until the batteries ran out. We also enjoyed the sweet potato chips and venison given to us by our friend, Rota entrepreneur Ali Badilles, and the cool breeze from the ocean.Songsong

When it was time to go, we drove onto a rugged trail leading into the preservation area which was bordered with a high cliff wall on one side, and the sea on the other. Cargo ships and other boats were docked near the cliff. The trail going up to the top of the Wedding Cake could have been somewhere around but we didn’t bother to search for it. Maybe some other time when we had more leisure to do so.

Please check http://www.studiof6.com and follow the links for more articles about the beautiful islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota.20130517_125844

First Published in the Marianas Variety

‘Shooting’ a Japanese cannon

IMG_4657THE first time I saw this Japanese cannon at Naftan Point, Saipan’s southernmost tip, was in 2009 when I went for an early morning hike with my co-workers, and I vowed never to return to that place. For someone whose only form of exercise was going up and down the stairs at the office, another hike from Dandan to the very edge of Naftan was a nightmarish proposition.
That vow was broken some months back when an unplanned drive around the island with three photographer buddies took us to the rough road beyond the airport where we ended at Hawaiian Rock.
IMG_4680
Luckily, this time we were in a Rav-4 and Donna at the wheel was courageous enough to drive in the area. I broke my promise because I was not hiking and I was not driving either.The road in the jungle heading to Naftan Point was like a dried-up river with portions so deep and some so rocky we had to hold our breath wondering if the car could make it. But Donna navigated through the potholes with grim determination. And that was how I found myself again at the cliff overlooking Tinian on the right side, and Forbidden Island on the far left. And unlike the first time I was there, I got the chance to enjoy taking photos because I was not panting and trying to regain my breath. Soon we all got so busy clicking away we almost forgot each other.

From the Naftan Point ledge, the tip of the Japanese cannon emerged from behind the bushes so we all trooped toward the World War II relic, slowly picking our way through the grass and sharp rocks. There was really no path that led to the cannon. We had to create one. When we got to it, we all went to work immediately. Pat took video footage with his steady cam while Ems, Donna and I used our Canon cameras to take photos of the cannon.IMG_4644

There were no visible changes to the Japanese cannon, except for the rust that was eating at the entire structure. According to historical accounts on the internet, the roof of the bunkhouse that housed the Japanese cannon was blown off during the battle of Saipan.

The cannon was strategically placed, hidden in the thick undergrowth but with its tip facing the ocean.

Naftan Point remains a perfect site for hikers and bikers as well as for World War II buff and daring explorers. There are numerous trails and forks in the road that lead to caves, more war relics, bunkers, and anti-aircraft enclosures which are scattered all over the jungle.

Except for a biker every now and then, you rarely see anyone at Naftan IMG_1446Point. It is so out of the way and the almost impassable road for small cars is enough to discourage anyone from going there.

But the Naftan peninsula is a photographer’s dream, with its enchanting jungles, rugged terrain, steep cliffs and plateaus.

No matter how many times you’ve been there, there is always so much to see and explore at Naftan Point.

First published at the Marianas Variety

The Shadow at the Bell Marker

IMG_9219IT started with a red arrow on a rusty sign beside the path that proclaimed: “The Bell of Peace and Love…anyone who rings this bell will return to this special place someday again.”
It was the red arrow pointing to a wooded area some 80 meters ahead that kept me going despite the knot of fear that was forming in me. It was almost dark and I never feel comfortable being alone at Sugar King Park but I couldn’t resist the sign. I kept going with hesitant steps, looking furtively behind me as I did so.I followed the stony pathway strewn with orange blossoms from the flame trees that snaked around the grassy areas and came upon a structure in the midst of a mini-forest that I hadn’t seen before — a hexagonal building of sturdy wood on a concrete platform.
*?
IMG_9258
No one was around and there was silence except for the chirping of the birds in the trees and the crunching of the leaves on the ground I was stepping on. I tentatively moved toward the structure and tried to peer through the windows barred with steel but I couldn’t see a thing inside. The roof was covered with fallen leaves. Three big padlocks hung from the door so there was no way to check what was inside.Then I remembered what I was there for — the bell, and there it was, on the left side as you face the prayer house.I saw a marker with the inscription: “The Bell of Peace, The Bell of Love. Anyone who rings this bell will vow the eternal peace and love. Anyone who rings this bell will be blessed with great joy and happiness. The sound of the bell filled with peace and love will lead them to this special place someday again.” The sign was translated into Japanese.I was about to press the shutter and take a photo of the marker but I freaked out when a shadow fell on it. I felt my hair stand on end and was poised to run when I realized it was my own shadow, complete with the camera hanging from my neck.

IMG_9196

I dared not ring the bell. I had no wish to hear a prolonged ringing echoing through the woods. My imagination was playing havoc on my mind and I had visions of waking up the souls of the dead. A mossy trail ran up the hill just behind the house of prayer, but I dared not follow it. It was almost dark and I felt weird trying to fight off the feeling that I was being watched. I left the place, vowing to return soon in broad daylight and with companions.

According to information on a board near the prayer house, the construction of the hexagonal hall of prayer or the Saipan International House of Prayer (Nanmeido) was made possible by Reverend Shinryu Akita of Shizuoka, Japan and the families, relatives and friends of the Japanese soldiers who died here during the war as well as the Marianas Visitors Bureau (now known as the Marianas Visitors Authority).

A completion ceremony was held on October 4,1990. Built of fine Japanese cypress, the prayer house was dedicated to Jibo Kannon, Goddess of Mercy who has the power to draw near all the deceased spirits in hopes of eternal peace and prosperity for Saipan. The prayer house was designed by Kameyama Construction Company of Seki, Gifu Prefecture in Japan. Professor Naito Akira of Nagoya Technical College, an authority on traditional Japanese wooden structures, supervised the construction work.

IMG_9229

If you haven’t been to this part of the Sugar King Park before, just follow the path of the Pai Pai Hill Nature Trail that runs to the right of the Saipan Katori Jinja temple and you will get there.

First published at the Marianas Variety

Ladder Beach gazebo: Your new wedding venue

??????????????)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photos by Patrick Horton

AN unplanned drive to the southern part of the island one afternoon led me and photographer buddy Donna to Ladder Beach where we got a pleasant surprise.

We had not visited the place since her wedding in September last year, when we all had to find our way through the tall brambles and bushes that covered the stairs going down to the beach and blanketing the parking area.

This time, we found the parking area and the concrete stairs clean and free of vines and bushes. But there were more surprises.??????????????)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We saw a brand new pavilion and perched atop the cliff just above the cave at the beach was a brand new white gazebo overlooking the azure blue waters and the island of Tinian — the perfect venue for early morning or sunset weddings, or for any special occasion.

Donna and I did not stay too long that time but I went back a couple of weeks ago with another photographer, Patrick, who happens to be a friend of the gazebo owner, Jack Atalig.

Atalig said after they constructed the gazebo, a couple of weddings were held there, as well as other events such as family get-togethers, birthdays and Christenings. Atalig wants to make the place an ideal destination not only for tourists but locals too.

Under the noonday sun, Pat and I went to see how Ladder Beach looked from the other side. We picked our way through the tree stumps and parted overhanging branches to get to the rocky part that jutted above the water on the left side of the beach. From where we were, Ladder Beach with the gazebo and the pavilion looked ready for visitors.??????????????)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ladder Beach has always attracted locals and tourists because of its pristine waters that are perfect for snorkeling. The caves by the beach also provide a perfect shelter, ideal for picnics.

With his new facilities, Atalig hopes to welcome more visitors to Ladder Beach.

Sunrise Hotel

If you’re on Rota, you should check out the Sunrise Hotel which is also owned by Atalig and managed by Jackie. It is located at the foot of Mt. Sabana and some distance away from the sea — a feature that makes it unique.

It’s not your usual commercial hotel where you take elevators and run into other guests in the lobby or hallway. It’s a row of rooms that face the gardens and open straight to the parking lot. You go to sleep listening to the chirping of the birds and wake up to the same sound. While there, I had a moment of panic when I heard a flapping sound at the window while I was in the shower. I did not move for a long time but eventually I discovered that it was just a bird outside. It’s an incident that you can experience only at a Rota hotel.

I stumbled upon the Sunrise Hotel on a recent trip to Rota when I emerged from driving through the deep jungles of Sabana Mountain. The hotel is fenced by a row of gracefully swaying palm trees and a low stone wall that resembles a fortress of some kind, one that makes you want to go in and explore. Behind the hotel are Japanese guns and other World War II relics worth exploring.

Among the other bonuses you get at Sunrise Hotel — in addition to meeting and chatting with host Jackie — is the hot water which is perfect after a day of exploring the island. You can also flop into bed to watch TV or a movie on your laptop, or just drift off to dreamland in the cold blast of the A/C unit. All this at very affordable rates that you can find only on Rota.

First published at the Marianas Variety

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.

alt

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

Moonlit sailing in Saipan lagoon

THERE are sunset, sunrise, and daylight cruises. I’ve tried them all at one time or another, but a moonlit cruise in the Saipan lagoon was something I didn’t plan for.

I had heard moonlight cruises were being offered by some cruise companies here by special arrangement through some organizations for fundraisers, meetings and gatherings in the past, but I hadn’t been on one yet. That is until last Saturday when a text message from friend Donna to go sunset sailing pulled me away from my computer. I decided to go straight to Smiling Cove Marina. I was feeling kind of lazy but could not allow a chance to go sailing slip through my fingers. It would be different if you had a sailboat of your own and could go off anytime you wanted to.

The sky was overcast but the waves were gentle when we pushed off from the dock and into the lagoon aboard Matt’s sailboat. With four photographers on board, conversation was not necessary. An overcast sky is a challenge to photographers, but we all gloried in it, shooting cloud formations and everybody wishing we all had giant spades to scoop the clouds away for a view of the dazzling sunset. We had no such luck but on our way back a couple of hours later, we got a bonus. The moon made its way up in the sky, casting a luminous glow on the water.

From afar, we could hear the laughter and singing from one of the sunset cruise boats full of tourists. From where we were, we could see billows of smoke rising from the CUC building in Lower Base, but aside from that, Saipan looked like one sleepy island with no one else up and about.

We slowly sailed back toward the dock. Matt got busy rolling up the sails when we entered the Cove. With the sails neatly rolled in place and the engine still off, the sailboat glided ever so slowly as we entered the marina. I was lost in thought and my imagination started to get wild as I gazed at the silhouettes of trees across from the cement walkway.

There was a momentary silence broken only by the soft lapping of the gentle waves along the sides of the boat, or the occasional slapping sound as a mosquito tried to feast on an exposed arm or leg.

I realized all of us had drifted into a sleepy state. Everyone was busy gazing at the moon rising above the tree tops or at the shimmering reflection in the water and fighting a bout of drowsiness lulled by the slow and lazy swaying of the sailboat. Everyone, that is, except for Matt who was trying to catch some fish with a pole but with no luck.

It was already dark when we pulled into the dock and walked to American Memorial Park where we had left our cars, refreshed from the moonlight sailing experience. If you have been here all your life and have not yet tried sailing in the moonlit lagoon, you are missing a lot!