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.

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‘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.
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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

Peace memorial on a mountaintop

IMG_7286At the island’s highest elevation stands a stone structure that few people visit: a World War II peace memorial.
I made attempts to see Sabana Peace Memorial Park on my first visits but failed. On my first try, I and a companion drove the rocky and dusty road and stopped when we reached a rusty gate. A huge board by the roadside announced “Welcome to Sabana,” but on the other side of the board obscured by tall bushes was a notice stating that the gate would be closed at 5 p.m. It was already 4 p.m. and we dared not risk getting locked in.On my second try, I decided I couldn’t do it alone so I drove back to the village.During my most recent visit to Rota I finally got the chance to reach the mountaintop because I was with two companions, and I was not doing the driving.The road past the huge billboard became narrower and the wind picked up as we passed acres of fields and vegetable gardens. We seemed to be driving on and on until suddenly, there was no more mountain to be seen, which meant we had reached its peak.IMG_7314IMG_7289The road was barely visible and was covered with thick bushes as we drove on until we reached a clearing with a well-manicured lawn leading to two man-made stone walls on Mt. Sabana.

Everything was so quiet and peaceful as we got out of the car and headed toward two jutting rocks that provided some kind of shelter. They were remnants of the rock wall which Japanese soldiers used as a shield during the war.

A marker with the paint peeling off stated that the Sabana Peace Memorial was erected on Sept. 16, 1973 by the Peace Memorial EreIMG_7241ction Committee headed by Rota Mayor Antonio Atalig and Rota Rep. Prudencio T. Manglona to honor Japanese nationals who lost their lives during World War II on Rota.

According to the marker, “May this gesture promote friendship between the people of Japan and the people of Rota.”

A Japanese translation was engraved on the marker beside the English text.

There was nobody around but we could see the place was well-maintained. We took photos and went around the rock walls to see gently rolling hillsides covered with green vegetation.

A concrete shelter with tables and benches was erected on the left side of the area, providing visitors with a place to relax and enjoy the fresh mountain breeze.

I was glad I wasn’t alone. It would be weird and scary to be the only person in that place, and if you had a car problem you would have to wait a long time before another vehicle showed up, if at all. But the long drive was worth it. It’s exhilarating standing on top of the island’s highest peak at 1,627 feet.

We didn’t stay at the peace memorial for long. We decided to try our luck in finding another road that would take us down to the other side of the island. We plowed through bushes taller than our car hoping a road existed beneath them. We had to go back several times after hitting dead ends, and had to finally give up when we saw that what used to be a road was covered with thick foliage and there was no way we could go through even if we had been using a four-wheel drive vehicle, which we were not.IMG_7211

We drove down the same road going to Sinapalo and headed for the nearest store to quench our thirst with cold water, a necessity which we failed to bring on our Sabana trip.

If you’re on Rota, you must visit the Sabana Peace Memorial.For more articles about Saipan, Tinian and Rota go to https://wanderlustontheraks.wordpress.com.

First published at Marianas Variety

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.

 

An afternoon at Tinian’s Shinto Shrine

TINIAN — A huge old gate standing in front of two old flame trees caught my attention when we went driving on the north field of this island one Sunday afternoon a few weeks back.

Photo by Edwin Sta. TheresaMy companion, Tinian’s hot pepper entrepreneur Susan, drove fast on the rough and dusty road but willingly backed up the car when I asked if we could check the place out.

I’ve driven around Tinian’s North Field several in the past in a rented car and  visited the more popular spots, but that Sunday was different because I was with buddies who are Tinian residents. Gone was the usual apprehension and hesitancy to explore new and strange nooks that I always experienced in the past because I felt that I was with people who knew the place well.

Entering the clearance from the main gate, we came upon another torii Shinto gate and several other smaller shrines on both sides of the inner gate.

The Shinto Shrine gets a fair share of tourists, especially Japanese, every day. We passed by a couple of cars parked earlier but they had already left when we arrived and we had the place to ourselves.

We gingerly approached the place and felt that it was almost a sin to intrude and step on the hallowed grounds. Save for the chirping of some birds and other insects and the clicking of our shutters, the place was silent.

According to the barely readable information printed on a marker, the NKK Shinto Shrine was built next to a spur of the sugar railroad and its name suggests that it was built by the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha or NKK of the South Seas Development company in 1941.

From the marker, we also learned that the Japanese development on Tinian started sometime in 1926 when the NKK expanded its operations from Saipan. In 10 years time, about 80 percent of the island of Tinian was cultivating sugarcane. Tinian also embraced Japanese citizens and Japanese culture that time.

It was hard to imagine that once upon a time seven decades ago, ceremonial rites were regularly held on the very grounds where we were standing.

We were reluctant to leave but the sun was already dipping low on the horizon. I didn’t fancy staying after dark in the place.

We left the area with a certain connection to the past, rich with experiences. If you haven’t explored Tinian yet, you’re missing a lot. The island is filled with historical sites and scenic spots worth visiting.

Stargazing from the cliffs

FOR the daring, one ideal spot on Saipan where you can hang out on a star-filled night to commune with nature and gaze at stars to your heart’s content is the Banzai Cliff in Marpi.

Although majority would immediately cross out such choice of location and opt instead to spread a mat on any of the beaches to stargaze, you will find the thrill of the experience more rewarding than what you expect.
Driving to the Banzai Cliffs at night requires a double dose of courage because for one, the place has no signal. If your car breaks down, good luck because you will have to wait until somebody drives over to help you. Two, visiting Banzai Cliff at night is a totally different thing when you go there at night. The figures look eerie especially with no lights.
The first time I went there at 11 in the evening I lost courage and immediately asked my companion to make a U-turn and drive back to the main road. It was so dark windy. My imagination played havoc during the few minutes we were there so that the howling winds resembled like agonized cries from individuals in pain. You could not stop your hair from rising up. I waited for another chance to go back and it came a couple of weeks ago.
This time, I was with three companions. It was just 10 p.m. and a zillion stars lit up the sky. Gone was the eerie feeling and the cries I heard on my first night visit to the place. The statues and cement structures look less ominous.
Every now and then, a car drives up filled with tourists who stay for a few minutes before leaving.
Reclining on the hood of the car, I spent a very relaxing hour or two swapping horror stories with my companions, recalling lessons from my Girl Scout days and trying to identify starts and constellations.
From the distance, the Suicide Cliffs loomed in the semi-darkness, the trees forming gruesome figures trying to extend their claws. The cool wind added mystique to the night but it was one experience where I left totally refreshed and relaxed.
Midnight struck and we had to leave the statues, the huge rolling waves below the cliffs, the cement structures and the whole place which had been the mute witness to the grim deaths of thousands of Japanese soldiers over six decades ago.
On a starlit night, try gazing at the stars from the Banzai Cliff. It’s one experience of a lifetime.

(Originally published HERE)