Tag Archives: guam

What We Did Part 2

Day 5?

We had heard about this cool beach up north called Ritidian Beach that’s a wildlife preserve so we decided to just drive up there and see what it was. The cool thing about Guam and driving is that there are only a few major roads so you can just start driving and you’ll probably get where you’re going just with common sense.

We picked up breakfast – spam and rice and Chamorro sausage and rice and ate it on the beach.

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We have absolutely no pictures of the ocean but we saw some of the most amazing fish. Most of the fish from finding nemo, some really friendly guys that were always in a pair – they came up to our hands if we extended them. Really hope people haven’t been feeding them! We snorkeled for 2 hours in some of the most clear blue amazing fish-heavy waters we’ve ever been in.

We were pretty darn sunburned again even with frequent applications of supposedly-water-proof-sunscreen. So we spent the rest of the day indoors and had carrots and ranch for dinner.

Day Whatever: My birthday!

We were pretty conflicted on what to do for my birthday. After a somewhat disastrous breakfast at Dennys we decided we wanted to be alone. The crippling-introverts we are were not doing well with being surrounded by people who could understand us. Call us crazy- we haven’t been in an English speaking country for 2 years! We’re used to having open conversations whenever we want. A bad habit but a habit we’ve become accustomed to. It’s also somewhat of a coping mechanism. The Koreans draw a deep line in the sand that leaves us as outsiders. This can actually be  nice for introverts – so while it was so so wonderful to talk to people in Guam and be understood it was also uncomfortable. This will be a huge problem when we move back in February.

What I wanted for my birthday: to be alone, to relax and recharge. So Chris took us on the best hike of isolation from Cetti to Sella Bay. This is the one Chris fell on before we changed our minds and did LamLam.

It ended up being one of the best hikes we’ve ever been on and probably the best in Guam.

freshwater creek draining into the ocean
freshwater creek draining into the ocean

In the picture below you can see the two bays

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The hike starts at the top and you descend further into the jungle across the same creek a few times then you’re deposited right onto the beach – then you walk along the beach to the other bay.

Its a really rough beach, not the kind tourists lounge on. It’s covered in vines, decaying/sprouting coconuts, trash, and half the sand isn’t even sand. Half the sand is huge knobs of coral or just blackened volcanic rock with deep blue crystalized bits (don’t know my rocks anymore). It’s really beautiful how wild it is. It was also very secluded. It was nice to sit on a beach where no one else was for miles and just watch the ocean.

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The other thing that was cool was the hermit crabs absolutely everywhere. It was just us and a million crabs.

We also enjoyed seeing a progression of how palm trees grow, from the coconut falling to sprouting to getting bigger and bigger to eventually being a tree to decaying and falling over and all the other coconuts repeating the process. I decided if I wanted anything for my birthday it was a fresh coconut which was basically impossible with our lack of beach/ocean know-how. Still we had fun lobbing rocks at coconuts, attempting to climb the trees, and whacking at the low hanging ones with bamboo. We made the discovery of the day – besides an old 90s cellphone washed up on the beach (and a pair of scratched up Oakley’s) we found a 9 iron that even had a neoprene case. I don’t know if it was left on the beach or somehow found it’s way from the water onto the beach but it was ours to whack at coconuts as we saw fit.

Here’s Chris demonstrating the technical way of smashing a coconut against rocks. DSC05520

The trick is to not do it this way because eventually the coconut will leave the end of the 9 iron and go into the sea where you can’t get it back. Hypothesis- this will work. Findings- this doesn’t work at all. Science complete. Free spider-web-clearining-golf-club that we used for the rest of the trip.

Day The Next Day: it was a Friday

We had to give our rental car up because we were changing hotels from an isolated hotel to a hotel right on the beach. We figured we wouldn’t need the rental car after Thursday because we would be on the beach/downtown.

So we gave it up reluctantly and caught a shuttle downtown to our new hotel. The new hotel was called Holiday Resort and was mostly for Asian tourists – like everything else in Guam. It was almost alarming to be surrounded by Koreans, house slippers and ramen again.

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This hotel was much more expensive but had this amazing balcony facing the should-be-sunsets. We had coffee on the balcony every morning and beer and coconut water every afternoon after hikes and adventures. On the weekend all the locals came out and basically lived in the gazebos on the beach blasting awesome reggae music from their cars and boomboxes. This really set the beach-y mood.

Our favorite part of this hotel was we were right next to Guam’s only zoo. Some people online said they hated this but we enjoyed the resident donkey braying. Some other bird who didn’t like to be challenged by the noise would go off screeching over the donkey (also if the reggae music got too loud he would screech). It was pleasant to us – the only animals we’ve seen in Korea are magpies and house centipedes.

Saturday

We snorkeled and it was really weak compared to the amazing things we had seen at Ritidian. We felt hobbled without a car. So we rented one that night so we could get back to the adventuring. Time without a car: 30 hours.

Sunday

We drove all the way back to Ritidian to see a big fat “closed” sign on the outside. From this day forward we were in a “high waves and small craft advisory”. There was a typhoon near us – so the waves were high and it was supposed to rain. So bad, in fact, that the weather channel advised against hiking . The waves were high and the water clarity never cleared up but it actually never did rain so we could keep hiking/driving.

We drove to Gun Beach where there is actually a big fat gun rusting away on the beach. If you walk behind the gun there’s a secret path to a more secret beach.

The waves were so high you had to time it to get across the bridge without having the water spray/hit you.

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On the other side was a massive Asian tour group (surprise) but other than that the beach was secluded and beautiful

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The thing at the top of the cliff is Two Lover’s Point. It’s $3 to go fight with tourists to take selfies at the top and read the myth of two lovers Chamorro and Spanish who couldn’t marry so they braided their long hair together and jumped into the sea. We didn’t go there. We walked to the base of it and can confirm that they certainly wouldn’t have landed in the sea as the romantic story goes.

The view from the other side

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Some other day – Fonte Dam

We walked to Fonte Dam which was built in the 1910s-1920s. This is just in the middle of the jungle so it’s unexpected but pretty. Really mosquito heavy. Also some people think it’s not safe to swim in the water or even touch fresh water because of a bacterial disease called leptospirosis or swamp fever, sugar cane fever, mud fever, whatever fever. It has many names. We’d already been splashed by fresh water (apparently you can get it like this too) so we’ll have to see in mid September (symptoms don’t arrive immediately) if we caught it. Probably not.

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1,001 Steps to Taguan Point and Fadian Cove

This was another hike everyone said was amazing  – chance of dolphin sightings and wild coffee we didn’t see any of this but we met a guy trying to catch coconut crabs.

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Still nice to go for a hike with fresh air and good company (not the coconut crab guy) just Chris.

Second to Last Day

We wanted to hike to an old radio tower that had been used just after the war. The directions were basically cross a bridge, go up the hill, walk through sword grass and into the jungle, you can’t miss it.

Which are the stupidest directions ever because there is sword grass and jungle everywhere. So after a lot of false starts hacking at sword grass with the 9 iron (we kept it) walking face first through massive spiderwebs almost landing face first in a wasp nest we said it’s not going to happen.

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This was the first time directions had failed us/we had gotten lost so we were pretty lucky. We were disappointed we couldn’t find WW2 era stuff but we kept hiking around.

We don’t know what this is and no one had talked about it online. There had been a grass fire which revealed it and a bunch of random army looking stuff around it.

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It was half buried under the earth and said “Mag 22” on the outside.

We kept walking along this road because it was a known road leading to the Korean Air Flight 801 memorial. On August 16 th 1997 KAL801 was on approach to Guam’s airport – the pilots were relying too heavily on equipment and some people speculate the Korean culture lead to the copilot not speaking up about problems. Regardless mechanical and pilot error lead to the plane crashing into Nimitz Hill about 3 miles from the airport. 228 out of 254 people died – it’s possible the sheer amount of duty free alcohols helped spread a massive fire that killed many people.

We were hiking around enjoying the view near the memorial but we also didn’t know where the memorial was. That’s when we started finding stuff.

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Some of that stuff, when cleaned off with water or spit was a pretty distinguishable Korean-air turquoise blue. This was a huge surprise to us because we weren’t that close to the memorial. Upon further research we figured out the plane probably struck the hill we were on first before crashing/coming to a stop where the memorial is. I don’t know what airline debris looks like but the signs point to this being part of that plane. It was blue, there was lots of twisted metals and some of it had obviously been charred. We’re certainly sentimental- who wouldn’t be? Holding pieces of who knows what, was this part of a chair where someone died? Also to be holding this tiny little piece of what makes up a massive plane. Something so sturdy that doesn’t even look like it could be ripped into these tiny pieces. It didn’t help that we were only a couple days before getting on our own Korean Air flight back home.

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The day we arrived on Guam was the 19th anniversary of the crash. Actually at the same time to the exact hour of when the plane crashed – August 6th at around 1 am. Because we were flying Korean Air and it’s the same route and times. We visited the memorial a week later -there were flowers and soju cups laid out. memorial

After we visited the memorial we walked back and found some golf balls! What luck! Free 9 iron from the beach and about 5 balls (some damaged from a brush fire) from the golf gods.

Chris manufactured a tee out of sticks because we don’t care about the rules of golf plus we’re pretty sure the club was for a child because it was super short.

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The Last Day

We had to check out of the hotel but we did get to keep the car until 6 pm. From there we had to give it up and kill time until 2 am (!!!!) when our flight left. We didn’t make the rules and couldn’t see anyway around this.

So we were just trying to kill time and enjoy the island for the last time.

We gave the 9 iron back to the earth – some other lucky hikers can use it. Then we just drove around.

I want to give a shoutout to my dad – we were actually able to play the license plate game! Our favorite game while driving. We imagine military families import their cars so we played heartily on the 30 mile island often seeing the same cars with the same plates. In the end we found 16 plates (Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Idaho, South Dakota, Washington, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia)

We gave up the rental car at 6 pm. Caught a taxi to do some waiting-drinking-and-eating at Chilis then waited until 2 am to get our flight back.

 

 

What we did in Guam

Days 1 and 2

The first 2 days we didn’t have a car yet because we were being stubborn and cheap. Also we’ve never really rented a car before, There are just  so many horror stories about renting cars online. So we didn’t. Yet.

We haven’t really seen the sun in a while because we work indoors and also because the sky is blue maybe 1% of the time. The haze and air quality usually blocks it or deters us from even leaving the house. Guam is also the closest we’ve ever been to the equator and we underestimated what that meant. The pictures don’t do it justice and after the 3rd sunburn (with sunscreen that time!) we stopped taking pictures because the shame and feel were too strong.

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PIcture is from my ipod, it doesn’t show how deep red it was

Kaeti here-  I swell a bit on airplanes. I didn’t think about this and  wore my chacos on our 5 mile walk and completely destroyed my feet. I had blisters the size of well you can guess. We bought some duct tape and powered on.

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The tan line from that was pretty great.

The second day our the people at the front desk of our hotel were super upset we had walked downtown  (“what do you mean you walked?!) and told us they actually had a free shuttle so we took that and went shopping downtown in the tourist area. The lack of freedom from the shuttle combined with the sunburn-lets-stay-inside combined with the blisters motivated us to finally, finally rent a car.

Day 3 – Rent a car and drive around the island

First we went to the Asan overlook to see where the soldiers first stormed the beach.

DSC05637 We saw memorials to the soldiers and also the Chamorros who died in World War 2 (pictured in the other blog). Then we drove down to Asan beach where it actually happened.

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Chris and I are suckers for WW2 history but we’re also sentimental. 1,866 soldiers died fighting for Guam, surely some of them on the very beach we were standing on. We thought about that for a moment.

There was a hiking symbol so we thought lets go up and see what that is. It’s Japanese gun embankments and pillboxes! *and mosquitoes.

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This was unexpected. It turns out that there are hundreds and hundreds of World War 2 guns, pillboxes, embankments, and artifacts. In fact theres loads of “unexploded ordinance” that everyone has to look out for when hiking or snorkeling/scuba diving.

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We drove to the nearby Piti Coastal Defense “hike” where you just walk upstairs.  There are 3 guns the Japanese had been planning on using to defend the beaches. They were never actually fired though, and were found a few weeks after the island had been secured.DSC05129

After we went to the Latte of Freedom – we said in the other post lattes are a major symbol of Guam. This is something they’re very proud of. There was a story about what they were and how they saved up pennies to build this Latte of Freedom as the symbol of Guam behind the Governor’s Complex.

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From there we drove around the island more until we found Taga’chang Beach.

It was unreal how beautiful it was. It seemed like a different country like Europe or pictures we’ve seen of New Zealand.

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You can drive down a small road to the actual beach.

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The view from below:

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You could just walk out on the rock and see tidepools. Some people were swimming in big ones, others were fishing.DSC05195

The tide pools were beautiful but scary. We found a nemo-type fish twice (we’re that good). They’re not as vibrant as the movie but it’s the same fish.

No pictures of nemo but we do have pictures of a fish next to an urchin, the clear water… and picture three (bottom left) is some kind of water-centipede horror. Chris spotted it and said “don’t come over here.”  We’ve googled any combo of “sea centipede” “sea worm” “horrible sea thing” and can’t say what it is. If anyone knows what kind of unholy critter it is, let us know.

Finally we saw these creepy things that we didn’t like one bit, no sir, but then realized that they are strange looking star fish (bottom right). You think star fish are fatty, thick, and cute, these are really thin and long and spidery. They are actually called Brittle Starfish which is apt. Only some of them sticks out of whatever hidy hole they’re living in so it looks like a bony skeleton hand coming out of the hole.

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It was like snorkeling with the same horrors (we are not an ocean folk) but without getting wet. Just up to the ankles.

Excuse the shameless pictures from the car widows, I went fully Grammy “isn’t in beautiful the way the sun is shining on that part of the mountain?!” 🙂  I’m not as classy as Grammy is, she at least parks and gets out to take pictures of the mountains, I just snap them from the passenger seat.

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Lush, lush, lush jungles everywhere. There were times when you could see bamboo as thick as a human leg being pulled over, bent, and broken by thick vines and foliage. It was messy jungle. Wet, hot, lush, buggy jungle.

The mountains are covered in sword grass which is sharp (more on that later) but blows in the wind which is absolutely beautiful to see the mountains rippling like some kind of wheat field. Crazy different place.

We stopped at Fort Nuestra Senor de La Soledad  (more pictures on the other blog about the history of Guam)

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Chris has another wonderful example of my sunburn. Mistakes were made. Sunscreen was bought and applied frequently after that.

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And we saw this incredible peach colored hibiscus. Also I’m a sucker for palm trees.

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Day 4 – Hiking

This day we thought maybe we’ll go hiking, but we certainly didn’t wake up that day thinking we would hike the highest mountain the world.

The highest mountain in the world? Surely you’re exaggerating.

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As you can see by my really well drawn chart, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench (or Marianas Trench, both are correct) to the top of Mount LamLam it’s 37,820 feet which is a lot more than Everest which is at a meager 29,030 feet- thats like 8,000 more feet! Obviously that’s not how it works but that’s what people say to make Guam and their hike sound better.

I also included Mt. Jumullong on this chart which every asshole seems to think is LamLam but IT IS NOT!!!!

We were thinking of hiking from Sella Bay to Cetti Bay which is a a hike between two neighboring bays.  We found the trail from Sella Bay, and it was immediately horrible with mosquitoes and the trail starts with a huge drop down a muddy ravine. Chris immediately slipped and fell on the blood-red mud which stained all his clothes (permanently). There was almost no way to start the hike without falling and we didn’t know how much the impossibly slick mud would last.  So we left.

We parked at the Cetti Bay overlook to see if the trailhead for the same hike was easier on that when we saw a sign for Mt. LamLam. Well obviously we’re going to do that, so we just went for it.

This was a crazy hike because of how many terrains we went through. It starts with that blood red sand/mud. It’s actually old volcanic sand and it’s super pretty contrasted against how wonderfully green the rest of Guam is.

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Then you have to go through sword grass which is actually sharp and can cause cuts. We had read about it online and were scared about how sharp everyone said it was. So we brought pants and gardening gloves.

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Then you go into super super deep jungle where it’s immediately 10 degrees warmer, 70% wetter- there’s no breeze. There are strange sounds, bugs everywhere and spiders as big as half dollars with webs as big as a horse. Massive unbelievable webs.

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At the end you have to scramble up very sharp rocks for the last 15 feet. And that’s the false summit (but universally recognized as the summit) of LamLam There is a marker that says “Guam Geodetic Triangulation Station LamLam”, and if you don’t see that you’re obviously on Mount Freaking Jumullong which is, again, not LamLam.

view from the top
view from the top

What’s up with the false summit thing?  The Geodetic Triangulation marks the false summit which is 22 feet lower than actual LamLam but the actual LamLam is surprisingly far away ridge (even though it doesn’t look like it). Between the false summit and real summit you would need a machete, GPS, and probably spider anti-venom because hardly anyone ever goes there and there isn’t actually trail.

It’s a great hike but with a couple problems. One is that there’s a fork in the road left is LamLam and right is Jumullong. Going right is all pretty and wonderful and easy. The left doesn’t even look like a path, it looks like unholy boonie stomping through sharp sword grass.

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The path to LamLam:DSC05321Which is why we can’t condone people taking saying they climbed LamLam when they took the easy way to Jumullong. It was properly hard with all the spiders and sword grass. Slow going work.

I want to pause again to talk about snakes. So if there was any chance at all of snakes being in these horrible thick wet steamy noisy buggy jungles I would’ve been really reluctant to go. There are snakes, there are hundreds and hundreds of brown tree snakes. But they’re nocturnal. Whats really insane about these snakes is that they’re invasive – accidentally came to the island around WW2. Somehow, someway they have killed off all the birds in Guam. So the hiking is super quiet. No birds cheeping or chattering. This is also that’s why the spiders are out of control – no natural enemies, and no competition for food.

On our way down we figured we would march on over to summit Jumullong. To give Jumullong credit, the views were probably better and it was easier. It had 100% less spiders.

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We went to a gas station on the way to the hotel and got 2 liters of water, 2 large coconut waters (natural gatorade) and 2 large gatorades (actual gatorade). And drank all of it. Neither of us have ever sweat so much in our lives, the jungle heat and wetness. With the humidity you never evaporate. It’s crazy.

We rewarded ourselves with the mac and cheetos – that super American deep fried macaroni and cheese with cheetos around it and shared that while watching a sunset.

Guam is supposed to have really spectacular sunsets but while we were there we only saw this one. Not really even a sunset, just some clouds.

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Still, losing out on some of the vibrant sunsets was worth it for all the fun we had doing other things.

The Feel of Guam

We wanted to talk about the feel and the look of Guam because it’s such an interesting mix of cultures and ideas. We had no idea going there what it would be like. The Koreans we had talked to didn’t like it and said it was “too American” which we thought was laughable because it is American.

Reservation Feel

Growing up so close to Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute, and Navajo Reservations – we can say that Guam felt a lot like that. Except on an island.

A really cool thing is that people still speak the Chamorro language, it’s taught in schools. We saw an elderly man talking to a young shopkeeper in the language so it’s not dying out and not just taught for show. It’s also on all the history signs (along with Japanese, more on that later)

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The most common thing is Hafa Adai (sounds like “haffa day”) which just means hello but everyone greets you like this in all the stores, gas stations … everywhere. It’s a big deal – written on all the tourist attractions/souvenirs. Basically everything has Hafa Adai written on something shaped like a Latte stone. Which is awesome.

There are loads of cultural villages and like Hawaii there are cultural dances and songs for tourist entertainment.

Poverty Feel

The poverty comes partially from the run-down-reservation feel of it, but also because it’s an island. If you are down on your luck, you can’t just move to a new place to get a job without flying somewhere. To make things worse everything is expensive because it’s imported.

Guam has a very high rate of food stamps, partially because of the island import prices on food but partially because of joblessness.

There’s also a lack of care about stuff that reminds us of the res but also down-to-earth-island-feel. People drive around with cars that are rusted through or the windshield is completely smashed in. People fish where they aren’t allowed because it’s their only source of income, people destroy the reef to make money with fish. Many of the homes are pretty run down.

Of course it’s not all like this- here is what the average residential neighborhood looked like

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The worst thing was the trash. They have a massive dumping problem. We drove off the beaten path and found the most amazing dumping grounds, hundreds of old TVs and even some new broken plasma screens, laptops, coffee makers, a refrigerator, a car door, a bag full of children’s toys…

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The final bad part was all the feral dogs. I’m sure this is a mix of poverty/res and also island. Pets get out or are abandoned and reproduce so there’s quite a population of feral dogs. There’s obviously not a trap-neuter-release program going on with them.

Asian Feel and Catering to Asians

Another interesting thing about Guam is that there really are no western tourists (besides Russians from Vladivostock). Everyone who is western (i.e. not Asian) are probably in the military, so everyone assumed we were a military family and were very surprised when we said we were tourists. “Why?” was actually asked a few times. Why fly from the USA over Hawaii to visit this little 30-mile-long-island?

Of the 1.1 million people visit Guam a year, 71% are Japanese, 14% are Korean, 4% are from Taiwan. American tourists supposedly make up around 3% of this but we imagine they’re counting military families more than just normal tourists. The rest of the numbers go into small percentages of Philippines, China, Russia and others.

Guam is like an Asian-America. All the signs are in Japanese as well as English. The hotel rooms cater to Asian tourists with slippers and baths. There’s more ramen than you can shake a (chop)stick at. And of course with Asian tourists comes the pushy-ness, photography/selfie addictive attitudes (take a picture of me at the Applebees, take a picture of me with this gallon of grape juice, take a picture of me standing on and destroying this coral reef).

It was super interesting to be surrounded by Koreans and Japanese (and some Chinese) but be in America. All the stores had an explanation of the money system – our coins are pretty confusing to people because the dime is worth more than the penny and yet it’s smaller. Most places do it by size. It was also funny to see how they act as tourists – not good. The pot calls the kettle black that we need to understand Korea’s unique culture. There was a lot of expectations that Guam needs adapt everything for them.

Also some places only catered to Asian tourists – there were plenty of rental car companies that only worked with Koreans or only Japanese and an ecotourism place called Fruit World that didn’t even do English tours unless you called ahead. Who knew?

Go to the grocery store and you’ll find American food (poptarts, Ranch dressing, Koolaid,  Reeces and Rootbeer and some Tums to get that all down). But you’re also going to find chips, ramen, drinks, and sauces imported from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Every store we went to had kimchi in the refrigerator and a few restaurants had it as a default side dish.

Island Feel

Guam is very obviously an island. It runs on island time where people are late more often than not, and theres a “why worry” attitude about things.

You can also feel it when you go grocery shopping. We didn’t have any milk for the 2 weeks we were there because it’s extremely expensive to get fresh. Chips and everything else were expensive – a bag of Funyuns were about $6. Last I checked they weren’t that much in the US. You could add about a dollar to the price of nearly everything just because of the cost of importing it.

A cool thing is that islands are all about Spam, and Guam is no exception.

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There were more flavors than we could imagine or had ever heard of- in this picture there’s Hot and Spicy, Portuguese Sausage, Turkey, Jalapeno, Tocino, Chorizo, Teriyaki, Black Pepper, Lite, 30% less sodium, with bacon, and normal. That’s 12 different kinds of spam.

Something islands always seem to have are wild chickens everywhere as well as wild boar.

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Bu they also have a native water buffalo (see muddy print above) called a carabao. We saw a couple and followed one guys tracks on a hike. The boar are probably not to be reckoned with but the carabao are friendly docile guys who just want to munch on grass. The chickens, of course, don’t care about anything.

The last thing that makes it islandy is that the water is not exactly drinkable. At least according to the locals. It tastes like chlorine but we couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone if it’s downright bad to drink or just tastes bad. Either way we bought water or got it filtered from the hotels.  This was a bummer because Korea’s water isn’t drinkable either so we had been looking forward to drinking from the tap like good ol’ America. Interestingly enough there isn’t enough water- the US talked about adding soldiers from Japan to Guam but Guam wouldn’t have the water facilities to handle more people.

Actually while we were there a bunch of wells tested for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid – something that makes fabrics, packaging and cookware resistant to water, it’s also used for fighting fires. They had to shut down a few wells across the island, and it was a pretty big deal.

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Guam is all around American.

There’s deer hunting, hummers, corvettes, off roading, American money, American brands, and all kinds of American foods and all those famous fast food restaurants. People are friendly and say hello, people hold open doors, people say excuse me rather than pushing you out of the way. This was amazing after 2 solid years in Korea.

You also don’t walk anywhere. Not because of safety but because it’s your American right, dammit, to drive. People were shocked when we told them we had walked anywhere. People declared it “impossible” to walk from the airport to Applebees (we did it anyway at 1.8 miles uphill with a wheely bag, it’s not that hard).

We had to rent a car because the public transportation, in typical American fashion, is lousy. But a car! What a treat to drive again! We ended up renting 2 cars. The first week we rented a lovely Nissan Versa. We had to give it up and figured we would play on the beach for the weekend. But it was too hard to live without a car. And like we said, its our god given right as an American to drive. So we rented a car again. This time it was a crappy 2014 Nissan Versa Note – which is a hatchback style. It didn’t have ANYTHING, no power locks (lock each individual door by hand), no power windows… their wasn’t even a light, so if it was nighttime you couldn’t see what gear you were in. And if you pulled down the shade things there weren’t any mirrors. Its interesting to us because we had both figured that they had stopped manufacturing cars with manual window cranks about fifteen years ago, but they’re still going strong.

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Of course the most wonderful thing was the lack of communication barrier. To just talk to anyone about anything was fantastic.

We couldn’t really get a straight answer/feel. Do Guamanians identify as being American? Yes. Are they American? Yes in passport and citizenship. Many also identify, of course, as Chamorro. There are different opinions regarding mainland interference and the military bases. As we said some people think they should have the right to vote in American elections. Interestingly enough some people we met from the Philippines also said they should be allowed to vote.

Others would be happy with just more representation in congress. I don’t think they really want to be a state, I don’t think they would like the long arm of the US government interfering with marriage laws, gun laws or anything else like that just because of the nature of the place.

They actually join the military (American, obviously) at a higher rate than any US state. Guam is #1 in men enlisting for the armed forces. 14.5 out of every 10,000 Guamanians will join the military. In perspective Montana is #2 on that list with 8 people out of 10,000 joining.

A couple times we saw bumper stickers about how America needs to pay rent for the military bases to the tune of 1.4 billion a year for the use. Another person was talking about the military enlistment and deaths in the Iraq war saying he had felt pressured to join the military because of some “Guam-owes-the-US-for-the-liberation” mind set. I don’t think this is a common feeling but we didn’t talk to too many people about this.

As we stated earlier the military bases cover 30% island which made it a little difficult to travel and meant some famous sights were completely off-limits. We’ve been told this can be good because it’s helping preserve some species that are being over hunted by the whole poverty thing.

Guam’s American side in a few pictures:

mericaA Kmart and Little Casesars- I didn’t even know Kmart was still in business

A “Mac and Cheetos” from Burger King. What is more American than mac and cheese breaded with Cheetos dust and deep fried? Nothing. Nothing is more American than that.

American root beer and pop-tarts but also Asian tea and spam musubi, (A block of rice with Spam on top held together with seaweed) also some local hot sauce. And of course American-style-Asian ramen.

Ranch dressing and fresh veggies!!!

Gas prices at $3.50. Do these compare currently to the mainland?

We got to be red blooded Ameircans for 2 weeks -speak English, drive a car, use our American money/debt cards, eat ranch dressing, sip root beer, use Drive-thrus, and do it all with cheap gas.

Mixed Up

The mixed up side of poverty/island/Asia  is really evident in tipping. The service charge is included at restaurants because the Asian tourists don’t know they should tip. So it’s included. BUT it’s only 10% which is lower than the recommended 15% (more like 20%) so we still had to tip. Or still felt obligated to even though the Asian tourists weren’t. Messy.

My all time favorite thing about the mix of all America and Asia is that (and I’m sorry we don’t have any pictures of this) Japanese shooting ranges. Not like that. Shooting ranges for Japanese tourists.

The advertisements are all in Japanese, the service is mainly only for Japanese tourists to experience guns and gun culture. Because it’s America! Some are wild west themed with cowboys, others go for a Hollywood/American action movie theme. It’s hard to say exactly what was offered. It looked as though the amount you paid depended on which gun, or how many different guns, you wanted to test. $45 seemed to be the base price.

We went to Lonestar Steakhouse (steaks, cowboy art, leather gun holsters on the walls, country music playing, etc) and were the only white people in the whole restaurant. And at a hamburger/hotdog restaurant and we got freaking kimchi on the side!

All in all, we felt a tad out of place, we were tourists, but not Asians, and we were Americans but not military.  But it still felt like home, and we were completely comfortable there.

So last time we told you about what Guam is, and now you know what it feels like to be in Guam. Next time we will  finally write about what we did while we where there.

A History of Guam

 

We’re going to do a history of Guam first because it’s interesting and it’s all probably stuff you didn’t know about Guam. A lot of it relates to some of the stuff we saw and did.

Brief History – colonies

The US was a colony and didn’t like that so we quit. Britain obviously said you can’t quit, we had a war. We quit. Then decided the only real way to be a country and prove ourselves as a country was to have colonies ourselves. Unfortunately everyone else owned everything already.  We went to war with Spain and took their colonies including the Philippines. Guam was one of these colonies. Also we bought the US Virgin Islands from Denmark. We lost Guam to the Japanese in 1941, we later fought for it and got it back. Now Guam belongs to us, still, kind of. They are American citizens and have American passports but can’t vote in elections. They elect a delegate that represents them in congress but they can’t vote for things either. Guam does send delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions but that’s about it. Citizens also don’t pay taxes to the federal government. Many people we talked to were quick to complain they couldn’t vote. But no taxation without representation – they don’t pay federal taxes so they can’t vote.

So that’s the short history.

Here’s the long history

The native first Guamanians are called the Chamorro people. They were seafaring people a lot like the Hawaiians. They probably descended from modern-day Indonesia/Philippines/Malaysia. The most famous thing about them is probably the Latte Stones. These stones were used as the foundation to prop up homes and are now a symbol of Guam.

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The big picture shows the Latte of Freedom which was built by the people of Guam. Actual latte stones are not that big.

The first European to visit Guam was Magellan.  He didn’t really like the Chammoros because they stole everything off his ship, he declared it the Island of Thieves and left.

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A monument to were Magellan first made contact with Guam. Now a popular surfing area.

Spain declared Guam theirs 40 years after Magellan’s visit.  They introduced corn, cattle, western clothes and the big one: Catholicism. The Chamorros were not huge fans of this initially because babies near death were baptized which lead them to believe the baptism was killing the babies. A village chief brutally killed a priest after he baptized the chief’s baby without his consent. Now Guam has embraced Catholisism with 85% of people identifying as Roman Catholic.

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a large Catholic cemetery

Spain built roads, ports, schools and hospitals. They tried to build a cross-island road (hard with all the jungle) and some of the bridges are still surviving to this day.

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The US took Guam from Spain in 1898. (This is when we wanted to be a big boy country with colonies and went to war with Spain) an American fleet showed up and fired warning shots at Guam. Messages were dispatched on Guam that the Americans were greeting the ports and a friendly captain of one of the forts got in a rowboat to go greet the Americans to which he was informed that Guam was now American and all the militants were POWs. Much to the surprise of everyone.

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the remains of a Spanish fort

The whole conversion from Spanish rule to American was actually pretty peaceful and friendly- here’s the letter the governor wrote to the Americans to organize the occupation

“…I have been courteously requested, as a soldier, and, above all, as a gentleman, to hold a conference with you, adding that you have advised him that war has been declared between our respective nations, and that you have come for the purpose of occupying these Spanish islands.

It would give me great pleasure to comply with his request and see you personally, but, as the military laws of my country prohibit me from going on board a foreign vessel, I regret to have to decline this honor and to ask that you will kindly come on shore, where I await you to accede to your wishes as far as possible, and to agree as to our mutual situations. Asking your pardon for the trouble I cause you, I guarantee your safe return to your ship.

Very respectfully,
JUAN MARINA
The Governor”

Very polite. America actually thought it was a trick but everything was worked out.

The main museum on Guam said that the Chamorros were so used to being colonized and told what to do so it was an easy transition. I think that’s an interesting thing to say and will let you think about that on your own.

Our story now turns back to colonies… in a way. Japan was tired of Asia not getting along and was tired of the colonization. It wanted to prove itself as a country a little like the US had and also argued it had  absolutely no natural resources and that just wasn’t fair. It decided the best way for everyone to get along, for them to have resources, and for the colonization to stop would be to just colonize everyone. They called this the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The biggest problem with this would be the Americans, and the best way to stop the Americans from meddling with their plan would be to remove the American Navy from the Pacific.

So the same day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor it invaded Guam and many other islands in the pacific. Many people today don’t know this because Pearl Harbor overshadowed all else. At the time we suspected it was coming but decided Guam wasn’t really worth protecting. In fact some World War 1 guns and seaplanes had been removed in the 1930s.

4 hours after Pearl Harbor Japanese soldiers invaded Guam and within 48 hours (barely that) Guam surrendered. Many American soldiers were killed, some were put into hiding by local Chamorros and one hid on the island until 1944 with help by locals.

Japan used the Chamorros as slave labor to build up the defenses of the island. Any Japanese caves you see (hundreds are still on the island today) were carved out of the strong limestone rock by forced labor.

japacaves

Also many guns were transported up hills and mountains by forced labor.

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Chamorros were forced to learn Japanese language and customs. At one point 60 or so troublemakers, teachers and people who didn’t bow (fit into their Japanese world) were taken into two different caves where Japanese soldiers threw grenades in and stabbed survivors with bayonets. In one cave 14 people survived (amazingly).

Life under Japan wasn’t great for the Chamorros. They couldn’t rebel or really do anything but they did come up with a song that the Japanese quickly banned

“Early Monday morning
The action came to Guam,
Eighth of December,
Nineteen forty-one.

Oh, Mr. Sam, my dear Uncle Sam,
Won’t you please come back to Guam?

Our lives are in danger
You better come
And kill all the Japanese
Right here on Guam.”

The Japanese taught the Chamorros a simple song in Japanese about the flag saying the Japanese flag is pretty, it has a red center like the sun and a white background. They changed the lyrics from “white” to a local word that meant dirty. The Japanese never figured out they were being made fun of.

So Japan occupied Guam and killed thousands of Chamorros. We don’t know the exact number but heres a monument that shows all the names of the locals killed from December 10th 1941 to about August 9th 1944

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That’s certainly not all of them.

On July 21st 1944 American soldiers began the invasion of Guam. They landed on two places – Asan beach and Agat beach because there aren’t many decent beaches for invading. Most of it is very rocky or protected by gigantic reefs.

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an example of the rocky/reef coastline.

Underwater demolition teams actually went in to try to make it easier for landing craft but it still wasn’t easy.

Here is the view of Asan beach from Fonte Hill, this is where the Americans landed and eventually hiked up the hill fighting the whole way. This view is more or less what the Japanese would’ve seen except the field would’ve been rice paddies.DSC05637

We visited the Japanese caves where Japanese were living on Fonte Hill. DSC05832

From these caves they organized a banzai attack where they rushed at the established US soldiers hoping to overwhelm them. They made it far into US defenses to the point where injured Americans were fighting from their hospital beds but the attack didn’t work. 7 days after the invasion the two beachheads Asan and Agat met up and began securing the mountains.

The jungles are ridiculously thick in Guam so it was really tough work to fight, hunt and secure the island.

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Hiking to the Japanese caves. An example of how thick the jungles are- vines overhead, vines at your feet, bugs/mosquitoes/spiders everywhere. And don’t forget the tropical heat.

Dogs were majorly important to the fighting on Guam. They could hear/smell/find Japanese soldiers and alerted to surprise attacks. They detected mines and booby traps and of course protected soldiers while they slept. 60 Marine dogs landed on Guam, 20 were wounded and 25 died. One dog Kurt saved 250 lives on a single patrol when he alerted to an attack ahead. Theres a War Dog Cemetery in Guam but we couldn’t see it because it’s on the Naval Base. Military bases actually cover almost 30% of the land on Guam so we weren’t allowed to see 30% of the island.

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The wired fence on the left was a common sight of military base boundaries.

If we had been allowed to see the memorial it would have looked like this

I think it’s good we recognize how important the dogs were for the jungles/cave systems/booby traps. I’m sure this list of names of those killed fighting for Guam (pictured below) would be a lot longer without the dogs.

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A list of soldiers killed fighting for/on Guam

At one point the Japanese rounded up all the Chamorros and sent them to concentration camps in the middle of the island/the mountains. They did this mostly to stop the Chamorros from assisting the Americans (they were sympathetic to the Americans and were eager to help – plus they carved out most of the caves and established gun embankments, it would’ve been easy to tell the Americans where everything was). What’s interesting about this is that it saved many Chamorros’ lives.

The Japanese had about 3 years to build up defenses on the island so they carved caves right into the limestone. They hid them, too, so aerial reconnaissance  didn’t see many of them. Because the battle of Saipan had been so bloody the technique for taking Guam was to just sit out at sea and fire endlessly at the shores to take out the fortifications.

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bullet holes/holes in the back of a fortification on Agat beach
Surviving guns on beaches of Guam

If the Chamorros hadn’t been in concentration camps in the mountains a lot more probably would’ve died at the hands of American artillery.

Americans landed on July 21st 1944 and on August 10th 1944 the island was taken. 7,000 Japanese soldiers were still at large so there were sweeps to be done.

On August 11th 1944 General Hideyoshi Obata who was in charge of the Marianas Islands committed ritual suicide on Guam

Where Hideyoshi Obata died

The last interesting piece of history is the story of Shoichi Yokoi who was discovered in the jungles of Guam in 1972 – 28 years after American forces took the island. He was the third to last Japanese WWII holdout (that we know of) to be discovered after the war ended , the final one was found in 1974 hiding in the jungles of Indonesia.

Shoichi Yokoi lived in the jungles with 9 other soldiers for a while – about 7,500 soldiers were thought to be at large so it’s not surprising groups were together. Some left, some died in a flood. He lived off the land and underground until some fishermen found him in 1972. It’s a big fake tourist attraction to visit his cave – the real one was destroyed in a typhoon long ago.

Just like how some people claim the tourist cave is the real one most people say he didn’t know that the war was over. He knew what year it was by keeping track of moon cycles and said he knew the war was over since 1952 but it was too embarrassing to come out of hiding. He told the Japanese people upon his return “it is with great embarrassment that I have returned.”  It’s possible he knew it was over because Japanese people specifically hid flags with modern newspapers and notes saying the war is over across many islands to try to get soldiers to return home. Some people speculate he may have stayed hidden so long because

  • the unit he was with was supposed to fight to the death but he and the 9 others retreated.
  • he may have been expected to commit suicide rather than be captured but hid instead.
  • Others have speculated he committed war crimes against Chamorros and didn’t want to be tried for them/didn’t want to return to society.

So that’s all the interesting and incredible things we learned about while on Guam. I bet you didn’t know half of that because we sure didn’t.