Day 9 was spent back on Guam. After a brutal 2 am flight (flights from Palau take off at ungodly hours to make connections), I made it to Guam and was reunited with my brilliant young hostess, Karen Quitlong, who had already planned a hiking trip to the Spanish Steps, a famous snorkeling area on the island. While the steps were turned out to be closed that day, the backup plan proved incredible.
Karen took us to the Northern side of the island (much of the prior visit was on the Southern side). My hosts had arranged for a non-public beach area to be opened for us. We were met by a ranger named Brian who was a wonderful guide. He has a Chamorro father and mother from Iowa. He has played a role in the excavation of early Chamorro sites including finding previously undiscovered Latte stones and evidence of a massive early Chamorro settlement. He explained how the Chamorro were the first people to sail beyond the sight of land and used their unique boats to travel over 1200 miles to the island. These sites reveal settlements that are over 3500 years old. Some burn areas are still readily apparent where Chamorro burned limestone to create an additive that could be joined with the popular betel nut (Chamorros still chew the nuts which turn their teeth red. There are signs all around the island not to spit betel nut juice).
We went to perhaps the most protected beach on Guam, which was stunning. Brian described how they are still picking up trash from Japan’s tsunami, including massive junk like a buoy. The trash arrives each day and locals help collect it. It is mainly plastics. The limestone caves and cliffs along the shore are amazing. They are also incredibly sharp like old iron. Crabs, turtles and other abundant life is everywhere. The sands are the softest I have ever encountered. Brian took us on the beach and into the jungle with a off-road vehicle. He had to move at an impressive speed to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand. It was itself an adventure.
We then went into the jungle and looked at some of the Chamorro village sites with the Latte stones that Brian and an anthropologist literally stumbled on in the jungle a few years ago. The highlight was to go to a series of caves in the jungle. These are the Guam version of Carlsbad Caverns with huge stalactites in the ceiling and cathedral like spaces. There are also hieroglyphics on the walls dating back to the 1600s or earlier. They are amazing to behold.
I was also impressed by the local trees called NuNu that have an interesting adaptation of their own. Their vines extend down these cliff walls to find better water on the jungle floor. So the trees are high above with thick vines pulling up water from below.
The Northern shore of Guam is truly something to be seen to be believed in its beauty:
After one last Chamorro meal with Karen and a young prosecutor from Tennessee name Jeremiah, I left Guam on an early morning flight to Honolulu. I left with a overwhelming desire to return. Guam is not just an island paradise with the other islands of Saipan, Palau and Tinian, but it is worth the trip just to spend time with the Chamorros. They are one of the most generous and genuinely kind people I have ever encountered. Their rich history and culture is fun to explore. I learned to be careful about expressing interests because, the minute you mention an interest, your Chamorro hosts will do to any length to make it happen for you. The history of the Chamorros (and differences between the islands) is also fascinating. On Guam, terrible atrocities were committed against the Chamorros by the Japanese (there were better relations on Saipan which was long a Japanese-controlled territory). Despite these horrible acts, the Chamorros seem to hold little resentment or anger.
The Chamorro live life to the fullest in this island with many people who came here and fell in love with island life. They are not lost their capacity for simple joy. I was equally impressed by transplants to the island. As a child, I would devour books like Treasure Island and Mutiny of the Bounty. I would wonder why everyone in the smoke-filled London did not come to the islands after their discovery. Here was paradise on the other side of the Earth and yet few had the courage to take the leap of faith to travel here. I met so many folks who had that courage and came to build a life in this place. Like the Chamorros, they take daily trips to the ocean or the hills to enjoy the natural splendor of the island.
I truly hope that some of our readers might consider a trip to Guam and the surrounding islands. It is difficult but entirely worth it. Now, off to Hawaii.