Taga and Tachonga Beaches

Now that you know the history of Taga, you know why the most popular beach in Tinian is called Taga Beach. It is basically across the street from the Tinian Dynasty hotel and casino so it’s a popular tourist destination too. Just 1/4 mile south of Taga Beach is Tachonga Beach where tourists can go during the day to rent jet skis, learn how to dive, and rent snorkels.

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On my first day, I had a chance to drive around during my lunch hour since I packed my lunch with me from Saipan. The sun was out and the waters were sparkling so I made my way over to Taga Beach. In the mid-day sun no tourists were out although there were some locals taking their lunch break by the beach.

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The waters, just like in Saipan, are the clearest water that I’ve ever seen. The novelty of this beach is partially that the sands are really quite smooth. There aren’t many rocks or coral pieces on the shoreline nor are there really any when you first enter the water. (Also, because the surf comes in and it’s not so flat, there aren’t any of the sea slugs either!)

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Taga Beach has this manmade platform flanked by latte stone shaped fencing. At the end of the platform, the water is deep enough that you can jump off directly into the water. I’d estimate the height of the platform as about 10 feet. Not on the first day, but on another day when I visited there were plenty of other tourists around and I took the plunge off the platform. It reminded me of my swim team days and going to the big local pool where they had diving teams and platforms at that height (and higher).

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After seeing this during the day, I knew I had to get in the water after work that day so I grabbed my snorkeling gear and changed, applied copious amounts of sunblock and went to Tachonga Beach. I decided to start off here because there’s easier access to the water here rather than going down the stairs (or jumping off a platform) to get into the water at Taga Beach.

When I parked, I saw portraits being taken — the fact that these two girls were in what I would consider full bridal gowns made me a bit confused. Were they getting married? (There was another older man with them both, but they didn’t seem young enough to be his daughters either). They posed in the tall grass for what I can only assume will be some memorable portraits (although wonder why they didn’t turn around and walk on the beach at least!)

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At Tachonga, I jumped into the water and snorkeled out. There’s an area between Tachonga and Taga where the coral is and this area is teeming with fish. One of my favorite things is seeing a whole school of tiny fish swimming around together and there were plenty of little schools of fish around.

And then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something swim by quickly.. a sea turtle! I literally spoke out loud into my snorkel while my face was under water “a sea turtle!” to no one in particular since all the tourists on the beach probably don’t understand English. It swam away so quickly that by the time I had stood up to excitedly tell someone around about this, it was gone. (I explained this to the tourists on the beach in Mandarin but they looked at me and were like.. no, we don’t want to swim in the water. I was like.. WHAT?! I just told you I saw a sea turtle right here about 15 feet from where you are standing and you don’t want to get wet so you are just standing there?)

I kept swimming around and looking at a lot of the cool fish (I say this all the time — snorkeling here is like you are in a humongous aquarium — like Nemo’s aquarium except a million times better) and then I spotted another sea turtle surfacing and diving in the distance. It was really quite majestic to watch. As that turtle swam off into the distance, I happened to look down and see ANOTHER sea turtle nibbling on some of the algae covering the coral. This one was literally about 10 feet below me (perfectly clear visibility) so I got to follow it around for awhile. I’m not going to lie — I basically stalked it. It was such a treat to watch the turtle go about it’s daily business — eating, swimming about, surfacing and diving down again. The turtles were all about 3 feet in length from my estimate. I went back on a separate day to swim and tested by theory that maybe I was hallucinating and it was just one turtle that I kept seeing over and over again although I swore they were in different places — and I saw two at once!IMG_1855
(View from Tachonga Beach)

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See the tourists — and if you are wondering, yes.. they are wearing matching shorts and Tshirts. I took this picture obviously when I came out of the water. I wanted to insert an arrow in the middle of the picture saying.. ‘turtle sighting here.’

Honestly, after the excitement wore off (it took awhile for it to wear off!), I realized that most likely this is a commonplace thing in Tinian but just that I hadn’t talked to people about the snorkeling in Tinian so didn’t know. It’s okay if everyone else that goes to Tinian sees turtles — because I didn’t know to expect it, it was so much more of an exciting surprise.

IMG_1870I sat and watched the sunset here (secretly reliving my turtle sightings).

And courtesy of my favorite new function on my iPhone – time lapse camera (came with iOS 8) – a video of sunset!

 

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Tinian Dynasty and House of Taga

See my intro to the Tinian Health Center here.

I am staying at Tinian Dynasty — the casino and largest hotel on island. The casino portion used to be much bigger than it is currently and has always had the 200-some rooms that are currently being renovated. They used to be able to offer packages with free chips and meal vouchers just like in other deals in Vegas but not so much anymore after 9/11 and the tourism industry decreased. The hotel is renovating their rooms now from the late 90s when they were first opened.

The island of Tinian is actually not too much smaller than Saipan but significantly less populated. There are very few stores besides what one might consider corner stores and a handful of places to eat (hence I brought basically all my own food with me). The casino provides a huge boost for the economy and a source of jobs.

IMG_1809Here’s the view of the entrance from their huge drive-way.

And the main lobby…

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Basically, it’s very large! I walked into the casino and actually it’s a bit nicer than I remember on my first trip this time with people manning the tables. The business is still not exactly super busy although they do say that for Baccarat or Hold Em tournaments, the hotel can be up to about 80% capacity. IMG_1917 I actually didn’t even notice the large paintings until I posted this picture.. a little creepy. Anyway, I just took a quick saunter through the casino (where apparently phones are not allowed I guess for their video capabilities.. but oops, took my phone in and took a picture)

There is still novelty of staying in a hotel room and this was no exception. Honestly, it’s the idea that someone else makes my bed with clean linens that is really nice. (I, for some reason, dislike making my bed)

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Complete with 90s-era television!

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And view…

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(View after sunset at night)

One of the first places I visited was the House of Taga – what I only assume is a common tourist site in Tinian. The area is marked by a sign with information about the historical landmark in multiple languages. I will paraphrase the story here about Taga interspersed with the pictures.

Taga was born to the ruler of Guam some 800 years ago and apparently he was a giant with super-human strength. He challenged his father to a fight when he was dissatisfied with his rule in Guam and lost, moving to Rota. In Rota, he fought with the ruler there and won and married a local Chamorrita woman and had a daughter. He apparently then moved to Tinian for unknown reasons and perhaps to impress his father, excavated these large stones to build his house.

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Here are the large stones — the pillars are topped with hemispherical capstones and someone placed on top to serve as the foundation of the houses built on top.

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(Here I am standing next to one of the stones for size comparison)

According to legend, the son of Taga was also very strong. His father gave him a coconut crab (called ‘ayuyu’ here) as a present and one day the son of Taga lost it under a young coconut tree. He asked his father to remove the young coconut tree but Taga refused, saying that the tree was just about to give fruit. The son of Taga was furious and ended up pushing over the tree and he created a big hole in the ground where fresh water came up.

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(This is a bad picture of Taga Well)

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Apparently when Taga saw this feat of strength, he smothered his son, fearful that he would overpower him. At the loss of her brother, his daughter ran away to the forest and died of weakness — and subsequently her mother died too of her grief. IMG_1799This is not just folklore because there is recorded evidence of the House of Taga and Taga. Apparently there was a galleon disabled by a typhoon (in 1638) that wrecked off Aguingan point (a southwestern point in Saipan) with some parts floating up towards the northwestern Chulu Beach of Tinian. Taga saw some men floating and rescued them and brought them to his house to recuperate.

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He had a vision one night while they were recovering of a woman and her child that the Spaniards interpreted as the Virgin Mary. One of the survivors then baptized Taga with a Christian name. They went on to travel to Guam and back to the Philippines where the story was told.

The Spaniards visited the island again in 1695 from the Philippines in hopes of conquering the area. They went to Aguingan point and threw stones down at the Spaniards who were scaling the cliffs but the Spaniards guns overpowered them. Those Chamorro that were captured were brought to Guam for resettlement although legend has it that Taga survived by hiding in caves.

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The House of Taga was recorded again in history in 1742 when a British Commodore was looking for refuge and spent two months in Tinian. One of the crew members drew pictures of all 12 stones still standing at that time. Tinian was visited again by the French in exploration voyages around the world in 1819 when pictures show only 7 pillars still standing.

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Japanese archeologists visited the island in 1924 and by that time, only two of the stones were still standing. There were 17 other smaller latte stone structures on island at the time that were apparently bulldozed down in the resettlement of Tinian by the Japanese. During the US invasion of Tinian in 1944, one more of the remaining standing pillars was knocked down in the bombing and by 1950, it was overgrown by jungle. It has now been preserved as a site and legend has it that as long as one pillar remains standing, Taga still lives.

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More to come from Tinian soon! Hope you learned as much as I did!

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Welcome to Tinian Health Center!

Tinian Health Center (THC) is a hop, skip and jump away from the main hospital where I work — but unlike Kagman which is also very close, it involves a plane ride to get there. As you can imagine, this means that the patients there do not rely on the hospital for anything except emergency care. In fact, speaking with the director at THC (as much as they would prefer not to do this), without the support of outside providers, they very much act as an urgent care or emergency center. This is changing now that more providers are consistently coming out, and I hope that this new initiative to have the pediatricians at the hospital come over to THC ends up being a sustainable, consistent one.

I am here now for a scheduled four day visit to help see complicated pediatrics patients (as well as hematology/oncology patients) so wanted to share what Tinian is like. I have come here once before for a short visit with a friend, but haven’t stayed for more than a day. I will scatter these posts with my experiences at the clinic — while it may seem that all I did was play, I was working!

First step to get to Tinian: the commute.

I drove to the airport the morning of my commute with a few more bags than usual (I packed some foods to bring with me so I wouldn’t have to eat out every day) but just a few minutes earlier than what I would have done to get to the clinic in Saipan. At the airport, the check-in process is easy (notably, I was not asked for my ID in any form.. hmm. maybe that was an oversight). Anyway, you check in at the counter and stand on the scale. No, you don’t put your luggage on the scale — it looks just like the one you use at the airport, but you stand on it while holding whatever you are going to bring on the plane. I weighed in at around 150 pounds with all my stuff! It felt like a lot of stuff! ;)

After that, they give you a plastic colored card with numbers on it (numbered 1 to 5) because you are about to get on a six-seater plane. The coloring helps identify which flight is up next. IMG_1767Here they are fueling up the plane.

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The airline balances the plane depending on where you weighed in at so they tell number “1” to sit somewhere and maybe number “3” to sit next to them — the numbers just make sure they don’t pass out too many seats on one plane. When there is a large group of tourists going, I understand they just fly plane after plane to get them over in little groups of 6.

Suffice it to say, a 6-seater plane is not very big so you are basically in the cockpit!

 

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The views from these little low-flying planes are gorgeous though if you go during the daytime. Here you can see the northern portion of Tinian. See those grown-over runways? Those were the most used runways in the Pacific during World War II — and happen to be where the Enola Gay took off with the atomic bomb that eventually fell on Hiroshima.

After the arrival at the airport, I got picked up by the clinic staff and brought to the ‘hospital’ or clinic — it’s kind of halfway in between.

Here’s a tour of the facilities!

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Here’s the view from the road — big sign for hospital and in the distance, a sign for the emergency entrance in red.

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Here’s the view of the front sign — this facility was built 30 years ago.

Tinian has a population of about 3500 people at least count (compared to Rota where there are approximately 1700). I think of Tinian as approximately the size of my whole undergraduate class at the university I went to!

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Yes, we raise awareness here about Ebola too. You never know who travels where nowadays although I’d venture to say it’s pretty unlikely considering we are probably exactly on the opposite side of the world as West Africa — but always good to be aware and prepared.

My clinic room. Honestly, everything I need. I had my laptop, a landline connection, my paper notebook, stethoscope and medical equipment. (That computer in the corner is … a place holder — no screen. Eventually the hope is to equip here with the electronic health record that we have at the main hospital. — which happens to be the same EHR as the one used by the Indian Health Service)

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Here’s the phlebotomy (blood draw) area and the lab. It has very limited availabilities here — some chemistry tests but no ability to do any blood smears or blood counts (which limits me!). All the other samples are sent to the lab in Saipan which processes them to be done there or off island. This is probably more cost effective but the results of any of those tests basically take a day to come back which limits what you can use those tests for.

 

 

The lab area..

IMG_1848And the radiology department consists of a digital x-ray machine and a room for ultrasound.

IMG_1776This comprises the outpatient clinic side. There is an area for urgent visits that is staffed by nurses in the evening since there is only one physician on island here normally. This doctor happens to be trained in anesthesiology AND family practice which is a pretty good combination for an island with only one doctor.

IMG_1773Here’s one of the two holding areas where they can keep patients overnight while waiting for transport to Saipan or if they need some extended treatments. Any surgeries are obviously done in Saipan and they have the ability to change the six-seater planes that service this island into a one bay stretcher plane to get them over. It honestly is a 10 minute flight maximum from door to door so it’s not far — but does require a plane!IMG_1775

Here are the bags of saline. It was kind of reminiscent of other places I have been abroad. Honestly, these are the bare bones of what you need, which is is why things all look similar.

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Here is a wall of emergency medical supplies for those types of situations. Basically, they need to be able to stabilize their patients for the transport which means certain medications are required, fluids, and supplies.

 

 

More to come from Tinian. A sneak peak.. Taga Beach!

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First Annual Marianas Ukulele Festival

In light of starting my first ukulele lessons this past week, I had heard about the first annual Marianas Ukulele Festival last week and knew I had to go. I ended up staying almost the whole afternoon since it was just such a nice relaxing evening by the beach (with great music of course!)

The beach next to us on that beautiful day!

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It took place at the Tipeyeww Cultural Village which I actually have driven by many times but had not visited. It’s a great little patch of grass right in the middle of Garapan (the main ‘city’) behind the basketball courts.

There was a banner up at the utt (traditional local building) and it served as the coordinating center for the festival. There were a few catering companies nearby selling food (and cotton candy — which I purchased as if I was a small school child! – It was ridiculously sweet which reminds me that I’m not a kid anymore but still fun to eat) as well as a few tables setup with a few traditional baskets and things to sell.

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The main event was the stage and there were acts large and small performed one after another. I came about two hours into the event and most of the acts performed 3-4 songs. They were a combination of solo acts with singing or group acts (many times families that performed together) showcasing different styles of ukulele playing.

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(Here’s a view of the utt from the back — the pillars holding it up are replicas of latte stones, which is featured on the CNMI flag.)

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One of the things I learned in my first ukulele lession was the proper pronunciation of ‘ukulele’ and the possible origin of the word. Ukulele’s were made in Hawaii after seeing the Portuguese arrive on island many years ago with a similar shaped/sized wood instrument. It is a Hawaiian word pronounced ‘oooh-koo-leh-leh’ NOT ‘You-koo-lay-lay”. I actually have to still correct myself all the time to pronounce it right because I think the American way of pronouncing it is so engrained in to my head.

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Here are some uke’s that were being raffled off to raise money for next year’s festival. One of the acts included some of my friends doing a bit of a dance which was a nice surprise. Here’s a short clip.

In addition, there was a famous Japanese ukulele player known by his stage name JazzoomCafe (MVP winner of the 2011 International Ukulele Competition) who headlined the event. He used to be a mixed martial arts fighter and so he wears his former gear as part of his stage persona.

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He performed as the sunset and I caught a few pictures of the sunset as he did his set. Of course, there were some tourists there taking silhouette pictures too!

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Honestly, the afternoon flew by with the performances — and it helped that there was a nice cool breeze. It inspired me to get back into music — perfectly timed to start my weekly group lessons this week. We’ll see if maybe next year I can participate in the festival or not!

Up next: I’ve arrived Tinian and am updating this post from the clinic. More to come soon!

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Off to Tinian

I had been hoping to post a bit about the first annual Ukulele Festival in light of my first ever ukulele lesson yesterday but I’m having some trouble with uploading pictures.

So, just wanted to update everyone that I will be in the neighboring island of Tinian (just to the south, about a total 10 minute plane flight) for the next four days and may have intermittent internet access. But, look forward to sharing pictures and stories about my time working at the clinic there soon.

Here’s a link to a video of the headliner at the festival though! More about who that person is and the festival when I figure out how to get the pictures uploaded.

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Hike at Naftan Point Part Two

For part one.

So, as we emerged from the rabbit hole the whole group of else all felt a bit triumphant and merrily went on our way. Honestly, I was surprised there was more hike left. I felt like that was it — the awesome thing we had come to see and do and there could not possibly be more. But, there was!

We followed the path inland for a bit to another beach. You can see our skipping stone path here in and out from the beach.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 12.07.20 PMAs we exited at the next beach (?unnamed), the sun was just starting to feel the slightest bit warm (by this time it was around 8:30 AM) and we were just sweaty enough that we decided to take a break, eat the snacks we had packed, and hop into the water. IMG_1593

IMG_1600IMG_1602There were waves as this is the Southern side of the island not surrounded by surf and some were quite large. Surfing isn’t an option here because of the rocks by the beach but it was fun to watch the waves roll in.

IMG_1597  Did some shell picture-taking on the beach but left them be afterwards.

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Then, we packed up our gear and put our shoes back on to trek on. Fortunately getting off this beach did not involve another climb but a short backtrack on the path we came on.

IMG_1608(One last pic of the ‘beach’ with pieces of broken off coral)

We walked along for a bit farther (about a 1/4 of a mile) and stopped at what I thought was just a nice little outlook area.

IMG_1613But, if you looked around you could see we were at the top entrance of a cave!IMG_1610Rope to help guide you down into the crevice. From where I was at the top of the crevice, you could actually see the goal of going down into a cave — not just any cave — but a cave with an opening to view the ocean.

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IMG_1622We helped each other down slowly — as a group of nurses and doctors, I must say we were fairly cautious.

IMG_1625Here’s the view from the bottom when you got into the cave.

IMG_1626We moved towards the opening of the cave, far above the waters below.

IMG_1630A pictureque almost map-like frame for the Saipan blues of the water.

IMG_1642We sat for a bit enjoying the sound of the waves and exploring a few of the nooks and crannies — and taking plenty of pictures. This was the end point of the hike and we had about a 1/2 mile walk back on straight road to the cars.

We chatted the whole way back about the adventure we had and found our cars in the same jungle-covered place that we left them.

Here’s a zoomed out view of the hike from my GPS watch.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 12.04.28 PMThanks Naftan Point — will have to visit again soon!

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Hike at Naftan Point Part One

This past weekend, I went on a hike with some fellow nurses and their families at the area of the island called Naftan — just south of the airport on Saipan’s southern tip. We met up early to beat some of the heat and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. The trip was led by a retired military member who in his spare time explores these paths to find interesting hikes and sites. I know for SURE I would not have been to these places on my own!

We met up and piled into three cars packed to the gills because of reported limited parking at the area we were going to.

I wore my GPS watch and forgot to turn it on prior to the drive, but did plot our path on the way back from the drive.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 6.31.59 PMThis map starts from PIC.. continue on Beach road and turn right on As Gonna Rd.

From there, turn with the sign that says to Ladder Beach which leads you onto Naftan Rd.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 6.32.35 PMThen turn right at Obyan Beach Rd at the sign to Obyan Beach

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 6.33.02 PM But pay attention to the turn offs because you will turn off before you get to Obyan.

It basically involves turning and following initially the signs to Ladder Beach, and then following the signs to Obyan after passing the new Coral Ocean Point resort. (Even with this GPS tracking I’m not 100% sure I could retrace these steps).

We drove along the path to get to our destination as the sides of the road grew in on us — creating a bit of a jungle ‘car wash’ for the car.

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We pulled into the spaces where the cars could sit (I hesitate to call them ‘parking spots’) and took off into the jungle in one long line.

IMG_1549 IMG_1553This must have been one of the places where the U.S. and Japanese met up in the Battle of Saipan. Our guide pointed out the alcohol bottles that belonged to the U.S. (the amber colored glass) and the Japanese (the clear glass) as well as some old Japanese boots. In the spirit of preserving everything, we left everything untouched as it has all sat there for many decades now.

(Japanese bottles)

 

IMG_1555Japanese boots apparently with scattered amber colored bottles around — apparently the US GIs were allotted six of those a week!IMG_1557Our first destination was what is known as ‘Boy Scout Beach’ (unknown to me exactly why).

Immediately after this position, we found ourselves spit out on Boy Scout Beach where I snapped some pictures, we saw a lovely rainbow and then proceeded eastward along the beach.

IMG_1562(Above picture is a landmark of Boy Scout Beach)IMG_1564 IMG_1572Fortunately it wasn’t super high tide so we were able to get to the next beach area without getting our shoes wet and our guide then pointed us to a cool cave or outcropping.Upon further inspection, we saw what we dubbed the ‘rabbit hole’ — a hole in the coral rock that shot straight up.

(Nondescript outcropping of coral with washed up debris and large coral on the shore)

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What happens when you look deeper.. a hole!IMG_1574

Fortunately, a rope had been secured there and we came equipped with some flashlights (although a headlamp would have been a better accessory). Using all our limbs (and our knees), we scampered up the rabbit hole which was particularly challenging at the very end where it narrowed down to a small opening.

There is light at the other end of the tunnel, and a helpful rope. While it looks flat in this picture, this is me literally taking the picture straight up vertically. IMG_1577

From the other side.IMG_1579 IMG_1582 IMG_1588It wasn’t very long but certainly felt like an adventure. At the top, we stopped to help everyone else slowly make their way up one at a time. This took awhile but it was fun to encourage each other up and out.

This must also be accessible from the top end — and it was clearly marked by this blue rubber bear duck taped to the tree. Yes, things in Saipan are marked strangely. Let’s just agree with that fact and move on.

IMG_1581 So far, it felt like quite the adventure and it was such a unique experience to both see the remnants of the war, get to a beachfront, and climb up what felt like a ‘secret’ tunnel.

From there, we hiked along to our next position taking a path through the woods marked slightly with orange ties. For more on that, see part two of this post later.

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