Trip to the motherland...errrr, fatherland... Guam
Trip Start Feb 26, 2011
14Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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(pronounced "half a day", means Hello in Chamorro, the native language of Guam and the Marianas Islands)
As many of you know, Mark's dad, Joe, lives in Guam. He grew up there, then moved to the States for many years, where he went to college, met and married Mark's mom and had Mark and his five siblings (Josephine, Fred, Melinda, Evelyn, and Lisa... then our baby, Marky!). Years later, he married "Auntie" Mary (also from Guam) and they eventually decided that it was their dream to retire to their homeland, Guam, where they've lived for the past 15+ years. Mark, nor any of his siblings, have ever been able to visit their dad in Guam. Joe has been to California many times to visit, but no one from the States has ever been able to make the long journey across the Pacific. When we learned that we would be in Asia for 3 months for business we knew that it was a PRIORITY to go to Guam and visit Mark's dad's home
We had a crazy few weeks beforehand, so we were happy to head off to a NON-business related weekend with family. We completely underestimated how much we would feel comforted by the American amenities that we used to take for granted! Denny's! Pizza Hut (I mean, REAL Pizza Hut, not a watered down franchise version)! We were greeted unexpectedly by Joe and Mary in the airport; I was thrilled to look up and recognize Joe immediately! I had only ever seen pictures of him and heard his voice once or twice on the phone. It was instantly soothing to be in the presence of family. You have no idea how much you'll miss your family until you're on the other side of the planet!
Guam is a very small island (it's about 30 miles long and 4 miles wide - at 209 square miles it's just a bit smaller than the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i) located in the Marianas Islands, Micronesia. Guam is 3,300 miles west of Hawaii, 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, and 1,550 miles south of Japan
The biggest moneymaker in Guam is the tourism. The Japanese love to vacation on Guam, which is an interesting irony since Guam was captured and invaded by Japan hours after Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 and during the two and a half year occupation the Guamanians suffered many atrocities at the hands of their captors, including horrific torture. The scars of the fierce fighting on this proud little island are evident in the crumbling ruins of bombed out historic sites, a network of underground tunnels, and a certain sadness in the eyes of all who are old enough to have all too clear memories. The second-largest source of income is the United States Military, which is what a lot of mainlanders think of first when they think of Guam.
We had taken the red-eye from HK to Guam, and arrived at 5 am
For our two days being Guam tourists, we piled into our rental car and headed off to drive around the island. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. We kept saying that Guam is a lot like Hawaii - except without all the people and expense! We drove past the school where Dad went, the church his parents built, and the plots of land he and each of his siblings own(ed)
We continued around the island, stopping in many scenic spots to take pictures. At one stop Dad told us the story of Ferdinand Magellan landing in Guam in 1521. Island lore says that when he came with his ships he came ashore and offered to trade gold for food and supplies with the Chamorros. He took the food that was offered but did not make his gold payment. The Chamorros snuck out to one of his boats and towed it to the shore - then pillaged it for its supplies and wood, making it unable to sail again. Apparently you don't mess with the Chamorros. The boat's remains decayed there on the shore for many many years. Mark asked if the boat was a landmark and Dad replied that Chamorros don't place much importance on nostalgia - they really didn't care much that it was there. They were happy that after Magellan's party left that the island was left alone by the European outsiders for another 45 years. Nonetheless, the locals now celebrate "Discovery Day" every March 21st with a re-enactment of the 1521 landing.
We drove past the "London Bridge of Guam". It's mostly just a bridge, built and painted to look like a London Bridge. For tourism? After the bridge, the road runs uphill, where visitors can turn off into a small park to see the ruins of Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad (commonly referred to as Fort Soledad), constructed to protect the bay from pirates and other European explorers
Another story from Chamorro legend is that of Two Lovers Point. A Chamorro girl was betrothed by her family to a Spanish captain, who became enraged when he learned that she loved a Chamorro youth. In despair, the two Chamorros tied the locks of their long black hair and leaped to their deaths in each other's arms from the cliff. Today, you can pay a few dollars (support the local tourist economy!) and stand on the cliff and discuss the pros and cons of "Romeo and Juliet-ing it". Thousands of tourists have bought luggage tags from the gift shop and written their names and the name of their lover and attached it to the fence, presumably as either good luck, or maybe a show of commitment that they'd jump off a cliff together? Hmmmm, Mark and I decided that suicide pacts are a bad idea, but we love each other nonetheless.
We stopped and walked along a grassy bridge and it's dried out riverbed (the water had been diverted a long time ago) and admired the statue of the Sirena..
Mark was particularly interested in the Latte Stones of Guam (pronounced Lat-tee, not lah-tay like the coffee). Latte Stones are stone "monuments" of Chamorro culture and can be seen throughout the island. Most are fakes, placed in people's gardens for decoration, but many old Latte Stones still exist. Undisturbed stones are found usually arranged in parallel pairs of between eight and fourteen lattes framing a rectangular space. The more pairs in the structure, the taller the latte stones. While none of the early European visitors to the islands appear to have drawn pictures of latte stones in use, several accounts from the 16th and 17th centuries state that houses were erected on the stones, with one eyewitness specifying that the structures on lattes were used as community meeting places. However, the lack of definitive, consistent evidence means that all theories are disputed
While on island, Dad and Auntie Mary hosted us for lunch twice and then my new Step-Sister-In-Law, Princess, invited us to dinner at her house. Her husband and the kids, cutie-pies Mariah and Nicolas, showed us around their huge yard and garden of banana and papaya trees as well as dozens of bushes with different peppers. I had a fresh picked banana and Mark was in love with the pickled papaya with hot hot hot peppers. Their home is pretty far from town, surrounded by thick trees (jungle), and Mark thought he was way out in the boondocks. Ha! City boy. His idea of a "big" yard is one you can fit a swing set into. Real estate is tight in San Jose.
Did I mention that Mark had a birthday while we were on Guam? He's not a big birthday kinda guy, but we forced some cake on him after a nice dinner at the restaurant in our hotel. After dinner, Dad and Auntie Mary left but Mark and I sat in the lounge bar and had a few birthday cocktails and enjoyed the live entertainment for hours..
Overall, a very relaxing birthday and enjoyable trip. No one has to worry about Dad anymore, Mark and I are reporting back to the mainland with a big fat "A+" report card. Guam is fabulous.