Friday, December 01, 2006

Northern Marianas: More fun under the Saipan sun

A trip to Saipan would never be complete if you do not set foot on Managaha Island, which most tourists consider as the most beautiful spot in Saipan. Surrounded by a pristine white sand beach and cobalt blue water, the view of the island and the surrounding ocean was nothing but stunning!

Before visiting the island, we boarded the Submarine Sirena owned by Pacific Subsea. As they say, you can dive into Saipan's beautiful aquamarine lagoon without ever getting your feet wet and explore the wonders of this spectacular tropical underwater paradise from the large viewing ports of the big yellow sub. Indeed, this was another way of exploring the world under the ocean, and in style since you were in an air-conditioned submarine!

It was funny that the color of the submarine was yellow and our group was thus singing, “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…” while going on board. Sirena is the only genuine U.S. Coast Guard approved submarine in the Northern Mariana Islands. Under the water, you'll see coral formations, colorful reef fish, sea turtles, and manta rays. We also got to view the sunken wreck of a Japanese warship from World War II.

After one round in the sub, we boarded a ferry which took us to the island. Excitement levels were high as we neared the island since the view of the water and the islands, and the nearby reefs was so picturesque and postcard perfect. No matter which side of the boat you were on, the panorama was stunning for all 360 degrees.

When we got on the island, we first proceeded to the Tasi Tours area to get our snorkeling gear. The water around the island was shallow and the nearby reefs provide some really great opportunities to meet the marine life. Before we got in the water, we too a short walk on the white sand beach in front of the activity area and took some photos.

It was then time to jump in the water to snorkel. The guys on the island gave us fish food so that we could meet the fish up close. We were swarmed by schools of colorful fish when we released the small pellets. But ooops! I found out it was illegal to feed the fish in CNMI. I wonder why they encourage tourists.

You’ll never go hungry on the island since there is a Managaha Lunch Buffet to keep your stomachs filled. In the afternoon, while waiting for our ferry back to Saipan, we got some lounge chairs and took a quick nap under the shade of coconut trees.

We had dinner at Café at the Park where world cuisine meets the Pacific. Their food is a fusion of world-class recipes made with local ingredients. Our meal consisted of hanger steak and blackened parrot fish fillet with potato crouguet and salsa. And the mango sorbet they served for dessert was simply divine! Again, they had WiFi Internet access. Hehe!

We had to rush to the 9 p.m. cocktail show at SandCastle Saipan at the Hyatt Regency. Indeed it was a great show! Hats off to illusionist David Womach and the rest of the cast. I was especially dumbfounded as I watched the Chinese acrobats bend their bodies in extraordinary shapes I never thought humans were capable of doing.

No doubt, there is so much more to see and do in this island paradise and the other islands of the Northern Marianas. But I am most certain that the five days spent in Saipan was five days utilized to the fullest. And I am looking forward to my next adventure in the Northern Marianas.

I'll be back in the Philippines tomorrow, and back to school and more work. Hehe! Check out my photos at http://ivanhenares.multiply.com.

Photo credits: Karlo de Leon who took most of my photos, Jodi Madridejos and Cheche Lazaro.

Philippines featured
I was delighted to read in the in-flight magazine of Continental Airlines that Manila is one of eight cities featured in the article "The List: Eight great places for a laugh." Seattle tops that list.

The entry for Manila reads: "According to a 2005 global survey. Filipinos - with their care free que sera sera ("bahala na") attitude and lack of words for depression and boredom - are the happiest people in Asia. Shiny Jeepney taxis ride to scores of street parties throughout the city and outskirts for endless revelry, raucous dancing, and crazy costumes. Festivals center around water fights, a parade of enormous lanterns and suckling pigs sitting in chairs, houses dripping in fruits and veggies, water buffalo races, and the best-dressed tuna. Other attractions include the Banaue rice terraces and the unofficial pastime - karaoke."

Funny but most festivals alluded to are in the outskirts of Manila like the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando, Pampanga; Parada ng mga Lechon of Balayan, Batangas; Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, Quezon; Carabao Festival of Pulilan, Bulacan; and the Tuna Festival of General Santos City way down south.
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