Thursday, November 30, 2006

Northern Marianas: Fun, fun and more fun in the Marianas

It was water activities for me today. In the morning, we went fishing. The Marianas Visitors Authority had arranged for us to join a fishing trip offered to tourists. As always, there were Filipinos in the crew of the fishing boat. The fishing rods and bait are provided on board.

We arrived at the port in time for the 9 a.m. departure of the boat. The trip to the fishing area near Managaha Island was about thirty minutes. The water was so blue and so clear, you could see the white sand at the bottom. As soon as we anchored, the captain of the boat gave us a signal when we could drop our lines. We had approximately an hour before the captain would ring the bell again for us to stop fishing.

This was one way to relax and enjoy the blue waters off the island of Saipan. The only thing I wasn't happy about was the fact that it was a bit short since I enjoyed the great ocean views as well as the warm breeze that hit the boat.

We were back at the port shortly before 11 a.m. where the MVA vehicle passed by for us. We then joined the Probe Team crew while they were interviewing another successful Filipino businessman in Saipan. Aside from a hardware store and small department store, he also owned the only Jollibee Store on the island. Yes folks, Jollibee is already in the Marianas! And we dropped by to check out the products. It was weird seeing your favorite Chicken Joy and Regular Yum quoted in US dollars.

Lunch was at Tony Roma’s. This time, I made sure I didn't eat too much so I ordered salad. Our plan for the afternoon was more activities in the water courtesy of the Saipan Grand Hotel. But we first joined the Probe crew at the Saipan World Resort to watch a taping of an upcoming Koreanovela. Check out the previous entry for more details.

Since the hotels are beside each other, we simply walked back to our hotel via the beach, for our appointment with the jetskis. It was so much fun! After a few minutes on the jetskis, we went snorkelling to check out the remains of some tanks near the hotel beach.

Dinner was at D’Elegance Café, another Filipino restaurant which insisted that they invite us for dinner. After that, it was a short walk to the shopping areas such as DFS, Urban Outlet and Paseo de Marianas.

Every Thursday, the Paseo de Marianas is very much alive because of a Chamorro cultural show and night market. I hope we have cultural shows like these in our tiangge areas such as Greenhills, Market! Market! or Tiendesitas since it is an added attraction for tourists and locals alike.

I really felt I was in the Philippines while I was walking around since you could hear Filipino being spoken all over the place! Plus, most of the stalls at the night market were owned by Filipinos and you could see so much Filipino food such as dinuguan, bopis, arroz caldo, laing and even grilled delights such as barbeque, tenga ng baboy, adidas, etc. I was also surprised to see tupig being roasted there too! It turns out, it is known locally as apigigi and might have been brought there long ago by immigrants from Pangasinan.

But what made Saipan different from the Philippines was that it was much cleaner. For some reason, Filipinos when abroad, follow the law. I wonder why we can't do it here, especially the littering part since if everyone puts his garbage in the right place, we won't have have problems such as unsightly piles of garbage. Oh well!

Check out my photos at

Northern Marianas: Koreanovelas are shot in Saipan!

I had another fun day in Saipan today. We went fishing in the morning and jetskiing in the afternoon. But right after lunch, we watched a taping of an upcoming Koreanovela entitled "Nice Woman, Bad Woman" at the Saipan World Resort. And we also got to take photos with the stars who included Lee Jae-Ryong, Sung-Hyun Ah and Jun Jae-Yong.

It turns out there are a lot of Koreanovelas shot here in Saipan. So if you're a die hard fan of these Korean soaps and can't afford a trip to Korea, you can catch your favorite Korean stars here in Saipan. There are direct Continental Airline flights from Manila to Saipan so start planning your trips. Hehe! Just contact the Marianas Visitors Authority in Manila at (02) 8481512 for more information.

I'll blog in detail when I have the time. But for now, I need to get some rest. Hehe! So in the meantime, check out my photos at

OT: Please vote for the documentary of my brod RG Publico for BBC Best Documentary of the Year. The title is Sierra Leone: The End Of A Nightmare. Last day to vote is December 4. To vote, click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Northern Marianas: Saipan and the Second World War

The Northern Mariana Islands were witnesses to the poignant events of the Second World War. From shipwrecks and rusted tanks off its shores to the sites of fierce battles and tragic episodes, the Marianas stand as a memorial to this sad chapter of world history. Among these sites is an airfield on the island of Tinian, where the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay set forth on its mission to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Today, we visited several sites and memorials on the northern tip of Saipan. After breakfast at the hotel, the group first made its way to the Marianas Visitors Authority where we met with their managing director, Perry Tenorio. After the brief courtesy call, it was off to the Last Command Post in Banadero Cave, which is next to the Okinawa Peace Memorial, just below high cliffs. It was here that General Yoshitsugo Saito ordered his men to take seven lives for the emperor, then committed suicide. In front of the memorial are World War II relics including a light Japanese tank and several guns.

From the Last Command Post, we went to Suicide Cliff, an 800-foot cliff where hundreds of Japanese soldiers jumped to their deaths rather than surrender to the invading American forces. Simply looking down at the bottom of the rock face and imagining the drop was eerie.

The group then made its way to the Bird Island. Known as Islan Maigo Fahang or "island of sleeping seabirds" to the locals, it is a small stone islet in a secluded emerald bay that offered a stunning view to visitors.

We made a brief stopover at the Grotto, a deep limestone cavern which is connected to the ocean by several passages. It is a thrill for scuba divers who are out for adventure. The entrance also forms a natural pool that is also a popular swimming area. As locals say, it’s like swimming in the ocean sans the sunburn. It was quite tempting to take a dip, especially seeing the other tourists having so much fun. But we weren’t there to swim though and moved on to our next destination which was Banzai Cliff.

A breathtaking bluff overlooking the ocean, visitors to Banzai Cliff would be oblvious to its tragic past if not for the markers and memorials commemorating the sad event which took place there.

Japanese civilians, encouraged by Japanese troops who told them that they would be killed and raped by the Americans, committed suicide from this sea cliff. Women and children plunged to their deaths in plain sight of American soldiers who pleaded with them in Japanese not to jump.

Lunch was at a popular restaurant and café called Coffee Care. One thing I liked about the place was its picturesque view of the ocean and Managaha Island, a really great place to relax and unwind. It’s also a haven for web addicts like me, since there is free Wi-Fi Internet access.

For my meal, I ordered Blackened Chicken, which was pan-fried boneless chicken breast seasoned with cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, garlic and wine, served with fresh tomato salsa and linguine aglio olio. As we were waiting for our meals, they served us cream of broccoli soup while we played around with the crayons on the table, unleashing our creativity with the doodles we made. After that filling lunch, they brought us gargantuan servings of their mouth-watering desserts.

We then made our way to the south of the island, right beside the airport to visit the remains of the Bomb Storage Magazine. While the rest of the group was taking shots around, I was initiated by the staff of the Historical Preservation Office into the betel nut chewing culture of the islands. Known as nganga to us Filipinos, the betel nut, mixed with lime and pepper leaves is a potent source of euphoria for those who like chewing on it. After a minute or two, I felt a surge in my body temperature as my body released a sudden flash of sweat.

I was floating as we made our way back to the hotel. We just had a few minutes to freshen up and get dressed since we had to rush to the port for a dinner cruise on board the yacht Stars and Stripes.

We arrived just in time for the 5 p.m. departure. What a way to cap the day, watching the sunset on a cruise! On board, a Filipino performer rendered some songs in various languages since we had Koreans and Chinese on board. The guy really knew how to entertain and we had so much fun listening.

The food was great too! They had salads and chicken, beef and fish on the buffet table. While the bar served flowing drinks such as soda, juices and beer. Dancing followed dinner and it was obvious that all the passengers were having a blast!

We then made our way back to the Saipan Grand Hotel to get some rest for even more activities the next day.

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

Northern Marianas: Chewing betel nut in Saipan

I've been quite busy here in Saipan so to keep you entertained, here are photos of me eating betel nut or nganga to us Filipinos. Yikes! I didn't realize chewing on it gives you a high!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Guam: ATR42/72 plane to the Northern Marianas

Today, we left Guam for Saipan. Our flight was in the afternoon so we had some last minute meetings before we flew out. After breakfast, we made a courtesy visit to Walter B. Dias, the Staff VP for Sales and Marketing of Continental Airlines. After the visit, we were invited to visit the Hyatt Regency Guam to check out the facilities and savor their sumptuous buffet lunch.

The view from the rooms was picturesque! All their rooms are actually on the side of the beach and thus get a wonderful view of Tumon Bay. Lunch was at La Mirenda Retaurant. Everyday, the theme of the buffet changes so expect to try out something new. For today, it was Mexican so I had nachos and made my own burrito with guacamole in it. But the pièce de resistance was actually their dessert table. Yummy!

We were running late and had to rush to the airport. The counters were actually closed when we got there but they let us in anyway. We were already late, but when we placed our bags on the weighing scales, everyone was overweight no thanks to the shopping! So all of us were frantically opening our luggage and taking out stuff. Good thing Lou gave us a travel bag from Continental so we were able to balance out the stuff between the two bags. Whew!

The plane is actually a 42-seater ATR42/72, the ones with the propellers. I already had some misconceptions about these planes and was pleasantly surprised that it was a smooth flight since I had motion sickness. In fact, I was asleep for the most part.

We landed at the Saipan International Airport at about 3:30 p.m. To get into the Northern Marianas, you either need a U.S. visa or a visitor's entry permit. You could get an application form at the Marianas Visitors Authority office in Manila and fax it to CNMI Immigration. Forms can also be downloaded at the website of the CNMI Attorney General's Office.

We got a warm welcome when we got out the airport courtesy of our hosts, the Saipan Grand Hotel. They gave each of us plumeria leis which really smelled good.

From the airport, we went to the hotel. But they took us for a brief drive around the island center in Garapan first.
Our rooms had a really great view of Susupe Beach which was right beside the hotel. The group had a lot of time to rest since our only activity today was dinner. So after getting settled, I went down to the beach to swim a bit.

We had a BBQ dinner at the beach. The atmosphere was so relaxed and we had our feet on the sand. They served us salads, roasted oysters and mussels and steak. They also let us try Tinian chili. I dipped the tip of my fork in it to try it out. Wow! The effect of that very small amount was overwhelming since the chili was just soooooo hot!

The great thing about this hotel was that they had free Wi-Fi internet access at the lobby! Hehe! Anyway, time to sleep now. Lot's of stuff to do tomorrow.
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