Well, we’ve had quite a run with bloggin’ as of late that I’ll need to press to continue, as today’s topic is the last big event I can write about off the top of my head for the next few months. From here on out, it’s back to the schoolin’ routine. I mentioned awhile back that I took a “surprise” vacation when some time freed up for both Jeonghee and I at the end of February. Since our original idea of heading back to Thailand and trying out Koh Phi Phi was shot down by the high last minute ticket prices, we searched for the cheapest possible beach, and the answer was… Guam.
I’d never actually considered going to the American territory of Guam before, although my mother was actually born there while her father was serving at its military base. Even though it’s in the middle of the Pacific, it’s only a surprisingly short 4.5 hour flight from Seoul, and apparently even easier to reach from Japan, as I heard as much as 90% of the tourist trade there comes from the Land of the Rising Sun. This is due to both its much, much cheaper golf courses, and a stretch of resort beach dubbed “The Paris of the Pacific” for its borderline disgusting amount of luxury shopping stuffed into one avenue.
Jeonghee and I skipped that part of town, choosing a dirt cheap hotel (the TamuningPlaza) far from the main drag for our first night in town, then deciding to stay there when we discovered we were only five minutes from a white sand beach that was mostly ignored by the crowds. Our part of town reminded me of a seedier, working class kind of place, a bit run-down and sketchy, with the closest restaurants of the Taco Bell and Dennys variety (both of which I unashamedly enjoyed). It was an interesting contrast to the fancy side of the island, but more my style.
For the first part of the week, we relaxed as much as possible in that area, enjoying the beach, the several Thai restaurants close by, and trying to manage the high prices of the area (gas was 5$/gallon, and with most food and goods having to be shipped in, high prices were no surprise). On our last couple of days, though, we got more adventuresome, renting a car and striking out to see the rest of the island.
Our first stop was part of the War in the Pacific National Park, which my friend Ken tells me is one of the least visited in the National Park System, understandably. The park itself is spread out over several “Units”, and not terribly developed. The Asana Beach Unit was the landing site of the American forces during the WWII Battle of Guam, and had some pathways along the beach and a monument. The other units weren’t as highlighted, and the Asana Inland unit, supposedly replete with Japanese gun turrets and caves, we couldn’t find at all. One supposed battle-related site, the Piti Bomb Hole, actually turns out to not have been caused by bombing at all, but still, the underwater observatory that was built in the opening in the reef provided a pretty cool look at some marine life of the area.
The next day, we set out on a circuit of the island. The drive itself along the winding beach-side highway was highly enjoyable, and as we headed south the terrain became more hilly and the views more spectacular. The highlights of the south side of the island were a 1700s-era Spanish stone bridge, the gorgeous hilltop views from Guam’s Vietnam Memorial, the yet-more beautiful Spanish Fort Nuestra Señora, which overlooked a beach that Magellan was believed to have stopped at, and the oddest McDonald’s I’ve yet seen. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here:
Trailer McDonald’s is the best McDonald’s
After this, we headed up the coastline all the way to the island’s northernmost point, Ritidian Beach. I’d been making a point of asking local folks what beach was the nicest for the previous few days, and all of them came back with this one. It’s damn difficult to access, as you have to drive gingerly for twenty minutes across a road that is more pothole than pavement, but it’s worth the effort. The white sand and clear blue water is like something from a photoshopped postcard, and the beach is still a decently-kept secret from the tourist hordes, meaning we hardly had to share it. Again, pictures will do this beach more justice than words, although still not enough, I suspect.
Despite the raging sunburn I got, that was the highlight of the trip. The last thing I’ll touch on before I wrap up, though, is the food. The local people are called Chamorros, and their cuisine shows a lot of influences, including Polynesian, Filipino, Spanish, American, and Asian. The more or less national dish of Guam is chicken kelaguen, shredded chicken dish marinated in lemon juice, coconut, green onions, salt, and Asian chili peppers and served with rice or tortillas as well as the ever-present finadene- a sauce composed of those chilis again, vinegar, soy sauce, and diced onion.
It was tasty, but nothing I’d make an entire meal of- more of a nice side dish complimenting something heavier like BBQ ribs (which is exactly how I had it). BBQ is very popular on the island, whether pork or beef or, of course, fresh fish like parrot fish and Mahi Mahi. I had the latter, which was a meaty, tasty white fish, accompanied by a salad and the popular side dish of red rice, which is rice flavored with the local achiote seed, giving it a reddish color and hard to describe savory taste. Overall, the Chamorro food was part and parcel with Gaum itself- intriguing and enjoyable, especially with a beer to wash it down.