Tagaman 2015

As mentioned, this weekend marked the 26th annual Tagaman triathlon race. This is the first of the two events that mark the Saipan Sportsfest partially organized by the Marianas Visitors Authority.

It was my second time doing Tagaman — the first time being when I was roped into running it after a fun time at Xterra when the races were flip flopped (xterra occurred before Tagaman). The first time I was the runner on my team and would never have dreamed of doing the ocean swim part of it. Looking back at that post, I was in pretty good running shape — which I’m not quite now! The distances were also adjusted since then (I ran a 15k at that time) to fit the international definition of an Olympic distance triathlon. This time around, I had a team and was going to be swimming rather than running! And also, I got to be around for the whole event.

I was headed over to the starting point (PIC resort) at 5 AM so that we would have time to register and settle in. There wasn’t much for me to do since we were on a team, but those that are doing the whole thing need to setup their transition areas. You wouldn’t know about these unless you do triathlons — there are two transitions known as T1 and T2. At T1, you setup a place to kind of get dry and change from your swim gear to your bike gear (mostly people wear a tri suit and just are adding footwear and helmet and some type of water contraption). In addition, you hang your bike on a designated place on the rack. The other triathletes also dropped off bags marked with their number for their T2. At T2, they transition from bike to running so most people change their shoes, put on their running number (usually using some clip on belt instead of sitting there and pinning it to them) and grab more hydration. This bag gets dropped off at the start of the race and brought to the T2 point so that they have it available at that time.

Here are some pros checking in at registration

Here are some pros checking in at registration

Sorry for the blurry pictures, it was dark and I wasn’t focusing my iphone. Fortunately there are lots of people around taking pictures so I borrowed a few. In addition, once the race started I was basically camera-less.

IMG_3858(Here’s a blurry picture of people setting up for T1 transition in the early morning before we started)

From there, we made our way down to the beach for the ocean swim. I had already put my numbers on my arms, taken pictures with my team, and got my swim cap and goggles on. I also went in for a dip into the water for a very short ~25 meter warm up. It was also a way to get a feel for what the water was like. I swam at this same beach for the Meek and Mighty swim a few weeks ago and the water was just as calm on the day of Tagaman which I knew would make for a nice swim. We waited on the beach while they shouted out last minute instructions on the course and waited for the faintest rays of sun to come out.

PC: Mark James

PC: Mark James

I love that some people captured these images because they capture the beauty of swimming at sunrise. I can’t say it’s the most calm swim because 1) I knew this was the only part of the race I was officially doing so I wanted to push myself for speed and 2) assuming I wasn’t falling into last place, there would be lots of swimmers around me so I would have to keep my eye on the buoys that I was supposed to be aiming for while not running into (or rather, swimming into or getting hit/kicked) by another swimmer.

Here we are milling about at the start, caught in dramatic fashion from the eye of Kanae Quinn.

Here we are milling about at the start, caught in dramatic fashion from the eye of Kanae Quinn.

PC: Kanae Quinn

PC: Kanae Quinn

It’s actually not so regimented as you would think. Basically, we all crowd towards the start line and at the blow of the horn, we go! If you’re not the best swimmer or not super experienced at starting with a bunch of people, it’s best to try to stay towards the outside of the group.

PC: Mark James

PC: Mark James

PC: Mark James

PC: Mark James

The light was lovely and as I swam back to the finish line at the end of course, the sun was peaking over the trees lining the beach. As you can see, while we start in a clump in the beginning we spread out pretty quickly. From there, you run out of the water to the transition area which is actually not super close.

PC: Kanae Quinn

PC: Kanae Quinn

I just had to tag my biker by touching her hand (and I don’t mind running) so I basically sprinted out of the water towards her without stopping to take a breath. (Well, I did peel off my swim cap and goggles) Most other people use the time to start taking off any extra layers of clothes they need and — they run thru the showers that are setup. Basically, there was an area with a waterfall of water so you could run thru it (or just stand under it) and get some of the saltwater rinsed off. I was pretty tired after my swim and sprint so could not really imagine what it would be like to think — I have to bike 40 km and then run 10 km after this!

With a quick tap of my hand my biker was off! I got to watch a few of my friends do their transition at T1 and get on their bikes as well. From there, my runner (who had been with me on the beach and taking pictures/watching) and I walked to the street in front of PIC resort. The bikers made a right when they exited to go South towards the airport and then looped back North. I knew I would catch my biker by the time I walked out front to cheer for her. By the time I got out front I realized I had already missed some of the professionals in the short time it took to walk out from the transition area to the main road — they had that much of a lead already.

Here I am across the street from the resort, chatting with my runner while waiting for the bikers to return.

Here I am across the street from the resort, chatting with my runner while waiting for the bikers to return.

And.. here we are cheering for our teammate flying by!

cheeringThe bike portion then leads riders north from PIC resort up to Marianas resort in the the Marpi area of the island where they turn around and head south again to American Memorial Park near the center of the island. We decided not to drive up to the Marianas resort since I wanted some time to rinse off and change clothes, and we wanted to cheer on our biker. We figured we could get there by car before they arrived but it was close! These bikers are riding at more than 30 miles per hour sometime and by car, we had to do some maneuvering in the traffic since parts of the road was blocked off. We quickly parked behind the fire station in Garapan across the street from the entrance to the park and jogged over to that intersection. There, we cheered for the bikers as they passed and saw our biker looking good as well!

Knowing we had a little bit of time since she was headed up north still, I rinsed off at Hyatt and I borrowed their bathroom for a quick change. We then waited at the T2 transition point in American Memorial Park. This would serve also as the finish line of the race so there was plenty of hubbub as the announcers would announce bikers coming in and we would see people transition to their run. Later on in the race, we would see some runners finishing the race while some of the longer distance bikers were just coming in.

tagaman finish kanaeI don’t have any pictures of this section really because I ended up going out on the trail so I left my phone with my things. This probably couldn’t happen in a truly official race but things are a little bit more ‘island style’ here and it’s not like we are professionals. I saw some of my friends come in while we were waiting for my biker to meet up with my swimmer. I knew in advance I wanted to run some part of the course. I ended up running alongside a friend to the first aid station which was fun (although it was already starting to get hot because the sun was beating down). From there, I waited for my runner to come so I could run alongside her and help her keep her pace. I wasn’t sure how long it would take actually so I was worried that I would be waiting there for awhile under the sun and was reconsidering the place I was standing. But, it was not long at all and soon I was off with my team’s runner. I ran with her until about the second aid station which ended up being about 2.5 km from the starting point and then let her run on her own. (I was not prepared to run the full 10 km with her!!) I then waited for her while she got to the turn around point on Middle Road and ran back towards me.

For me, this time was fun because I got to see some of the other teams that were behind us run by and cheer for them as well as see some of the teams and triathletes that were ahead of our team running back. While there are aid stations scattered along the way, one of the things that is different about running a race here in Saipan is there are basically no spectators — a few at the major points but very few otherwise. I remember how in my very first half marathon (in Philadelphia), I basically got through it on sheer willpower because of the many people lining the streets screaming encouragement at you — even if you are a stranger! This time, I gave out a lot of high fives as people slowly slogged ahead in their run under the sun. (In addition, you could see some of the pros who were doing double our distance whizzing by on their bikes)

My runner came back to where I was and I started running with her again. Pacing her this time I knew would be crucial since she was much more tired than I (while I had been hiding in the shade of a palm tree and giving out high fives). I tried to keep a few steps ahead of her to give her something mentally to focus on. I ran those last 2.5 km (to make my total 5 km) in with her and I was definitely feeling the heat and tiredness so I knew she was way more than me (not to mention the people who were running 13.1 miles as part of the half Ironman distance who were just starting the run when we finished!).

Our biker met us at the finish line and we happily took some pictures and sponged down with ice water. We got our times printed out (later slightly edited with the official results posted here) – 1.5 km swim 32:30, 40 km bike in 1:31:44, and 10 km run in 1:00:40. We were one of only two all-female teams and ended up in first place. As you know, it’s not hard to place in Saipan as sometimes you can be the only person in your age/sex division but — it’s still fun to get a prize.

We waited to watch some of the other finishers come in and also had the chance to see the men’s half Ironman distance winner come in — professional athlete Ben Allen.

IMG_3880I then went home to shower and rest. As per most post-races, you want to take a nap but you still feel a bit wired from the adrenaline of the race.

In the evening, there was the awards reception back at PIC resort. It was fun to watch the sun set and think about how just that morning we were all swimming like crazy fishes in that same water!

IMG_3895 IMG_3906The reception was nice with live music and buffet style food. We all were able to relax (well, pretty much.. some were already looking forward to the XTERRA race coming up on Saturday) and enjoy the award presentations. It doesn’t hurt that basically everyone gets an award!

IMG_3885 IMG_3910 IMG_3907 IMG_3954 tagaman medalThis is our gold medal for the winners of the women’s relay team! It was nice to have the medal but I think the three of us were just really happy with how we did and how much fun we had doing it. We had named our team “We TRI to have fun” since we were just in it for the fun and getting to the finish line. This was the cherry on top for sure.

There were monetary prizes for the first 5 places of the half Ironman distance (a grueling 70.3 km total!) and everyone was happy with their wins. All of the pros that are here for the Tagaman are also here for XTERRA later this week so I will get to see them all again soon.

More to come — in the meantime, thanks for allowing me to share this experience with you and… yes, I do also work as a doctor here still!

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Events before Tagaman and Tagakids

The Tagaman is apparently in its 26th year, and I got to participate again this year. In the past, it historically has been on the Saturday after XTERRA (the ‘off road’ triathlon coming up this weekend) but it was changed to the Sunday before in this case.

It’s funny because most people would read “Tagaman” as the words tag-a-man but in the CNMI, Taga (as in the House of Taga) is well known .. and that is what this race is named after.

I would like to say I have been intensely training for the Tagaman, but honestly, I have just been adding a few more events to my basic exercise schedule. I knew in late fall of 2014 that I was not going to add biking to the things I did (not enough time for all that fun!) so I knew if I was going to participate in any of the triathlons, I would be swimming or running. In the past, I have been the runner but in the last month I picked up my swimming. I was able to find a team of all females and knew it would be especially fun since my teammates had never done Tagaman before. As I have said before, the community of athletes on Saipan is relatively small and are very kind hearted and encouraging — perfect for someone like me who would never make it past the lower tiers in a bigger pond. While I do enjoy the sport for the sport, I still do have a competitive side so it helps that there can occasionally be some reward (even if you are winning against no one else in your category) to spur me on to continue to join and train.

Tagaman is a traditional triathlon — that now has two possible distances which are traditional international benchmarks. You can participate in the olympic distance triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) or the half Ironman (double that!). Suffice it to say, our team did the olympic distance. Our team’s biker has never competed in a bike race (but often bikes) and our team’s runner has run in many races but never been part of the Tagaman.

Two nights before, there was a meet & greet event at PIC, one of the hotel resorts. We sat on the beach and got to see the sun set. I didn’t stay for too long but some of the more seasoned veterans (and some of the professional athletes who are on island for these races) were able to give some tips to the new athletes.

IMG_3818IMG_3812IMG_3829 IMG_3828The next day, we returned to this same hotel to pick up our race packets. I didn’t take any pictures but you basically got a drawstring bag to put your things in and all your race equipment. For me, this was simple — a Tagaman printed red swim cap and a pair of temporary tattoo numbers to put on my arms so they could identify me. For the runner, she received the same bag but with her race number (our team number) and some safety pins on it. For our biker, she got the number that attaches to her bike and ties to attach it. I hear that these types of races are big money makers — I’m not sure if that’s true in Saipan but I can see why. There’s not too much actual stuff that they purchase! We did get printed T-shirts as well though with our pick up.

Before I went to pick up my race packet, I stopped by Tagakids — this is the children’s version of the Tagaman race and is also a triathlon. It occurs at American Memorial Park and is definitely much shorter than any of the distances, but still fun. Because it is so short — and because kids are kids — they pretty much are on full 100% sprint mode as much as they can be.

tagakids kyungah thompson

(photo credit to the above photo: Kyungah Thompson) IMG_3837

I caught this picture of this kid setting up his transition area. I wish I had taken video — it was so adorable. He gently laid out his shirt pinned with his number onto his bike seat so he could easily slip it on when he got out of the water. You can see behind him his little bucket of water to rinse off his feet after he got out of the water and ran thru the sand to the transition area. He was checking the water to make sure there was enough in there and spreading out his towel neatly. IMG_3855  IMG_3853

Above is a kid who just hopped on his bike and is headed onto the course.IMG_3834Here are some of the kids are taking a ‘Thank you Gatorade for sponsoring this’ picture.

All in all, some fun events leading up to the Tagaman — but stay tuned to my next blog post about my Tagaman experience!

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Sugar King Park

As I was telling someone the other day, there are lots of places in Saipan I have not gone to yet. One of them was a bit of a surprise since I have been around this area many times but just never got out of my car or walked around.

The other day, a group of us met up in the parking lot next to Gold’s Gym for hiking the Xterra trail. I got there early since I was coming from something else so had some time to walk around. The first thing that caught my eye was the mini skate park. I actually have known for some time that there was a skate park but have never actually seen it. Not that I skate or anything like that but it’s just interesting to know what’s around!

IMG_3764

Just across from this is Sugar King Park. I always knew it was there because I’ve used it as a landmark for people who need directions (it is also just across Middle Road (one of our main roads) from the CNMI museum… which I also have never been to believe it or not!).

Sugar King Park is a green space with a winding path lined with bougainvillea that leads to a few monuments. The space is filled with large, tall, beautiful trees covered in drapings of other plants — a testament to the fact that this space has probably been protected a long time.

IMG_3766 IMG_3767There is a small shrine where small offerings of food were placed. This is a very traditional Asian shrine — a little pot where incense sticks can be placed with a few ledges to place some small offerings.

IMG_3768(entrance to the path to the shrine)

IMG_3770The park is (I guess) a dedication to the ‘Sugar King’ who brought the sugar cane industry to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, starting in Saipan. At the turn of the 20th century, Japan’s power reached far, and the ‘Sugar King’ aka Matsue Haruji who was educated in the States where he learned to make sugar cubes brought that expertise and knowledge to Saipan where he found it a suitable environment for sugar cane production.

IMG_3772It became Saipan’s biggest export in those times (about the 1920s) and was one of the drivers of the railroad expansion on the island to help transport the goods from the fields to the factories.

IMG_3774Here are some parts of an old locomotive on the park property. (It did not used to be painted like this. I personally feel that the painting of the historic piece makes it look .. um.. fake?)

It’s a nice little park to walk around in and is nicely groomed. I’m glad I found it. Now if only there were still sugarcane around Saipan… as far as I know I haven’t ever seen any but would love some fresh pressed cold sugar cane juice right now!

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Tropical Storm Bavi

As has been in the news lately, there have been a series of storms that have been emerging from my area of the world. The most well heard of recently is probably Pam which caused (still being investigated the extent) horrible devastation in Vanuatu (p.s. it is pronounced vAHN-nu-ah-too), an island nation in the South Pacific closer to New Zealand. Just a reminder, Saipan is part of the Mariana Islands Chain in the north Pacific (we are above the equator).

As island living would have it, I was out of power for two days because of the storm and there are some on island that are still out of power today. I heard wind of the storm (initially rated as a typhoon — aka a cyclone that happens north of the equator) last week when the weather had been its usual Saipan niceness – sunny skies and some cool breezes – vestiges of ‘winter’ or as close to winter as it ever gets here at a balmy constant 80some degrees. Most people didn’t believe the hearsay (nor did I although I still dutifully passed it on like a juicy piece of gossip) until the warnings starting coming thru last Friday. By Saturday night there was a projected path right through Guam that would hit Sunday evening into Monday morning.

Here’s a picture of the encroaching storm via satellite taken on Friday 3/13.

Noaa.gov

Noaa.gov

Can you make out the text saying Guam and Saipan at the northwest corner of the bands here? Saturday was a busy day for me with a 7 mile long slow run in Marpi followed by the XTERRA trail hike (and then a quick dip in the ocean in the afternoon)

Sunday started relatively calm as well and I was able to run some errands because of an unexpected day off I had. We were informed there was a tropical storm warning and briefly it was upgraded to a watch but no one really seemed worried. (As opposed to a little more hullabaloo about the last typhoon that came thru) By Sunday afternoon things REALLY kicked up though. This was definitely unexpected.

For those unfamiliar with island living, power outages are a thing of life here. As the warnings rolled in and the winds picked up, they shut down the power islandwide to prevent a electric disaster. This is just part of island life. Having known a bit in advance, I had everything charged up. A tip for newcomers — also be sure to store up water. We all conveniently have 5 gallon jugs of drinking water but you have to store up the water from the faucet. You will lose water most of the time (unless you have a gravity tank) because when you lose electricity, you lose the pump that pumps the water to you. So, I stored up a number of buckets of water around the house to have to wash up dishes, wash my hands and face, brush my teeth, and flush the toilet. You also don’t always know how long the power outage will last so you just prepare. I also downloaded a book onto my Kindle and got my candles and flashlights ready.

Fortunately it was afternoon on Sunday when the power went out and while it was very windy, there was no rain yet or lack of sunlight so I just had a relaxing afternoon playing my ukulele, eating up some snacks, and reading my book. It’s nice to get disconnected — even in a place like this where we are way less connected than some other people in this world! I was conserving batteries on everything and had no access to wifi so just made do with the simpler things. Plus, the wind was REALLY going and from my (dangerous in a typhoon) floor to ceiling windows, I watched the palm trees sway.

Later in the afternoon I ventured out with friends as the winds really picked up. I wasn’t able to grab really any good pictures but have come across some today taken by other people.

The most dramatic thing was when we drove out to Banzai Cliff.

This is what Banzai Cliff looks like normally…

IMG_3720Pretty calm, usually very few white caps except where it comes up against the cliff edge at the tide pools. It supposedly is more than 50 feet down to the water.

aaa from the side of banzai photo by bev-LThis picture is from Mark Robertson here in Saipan who posted that this photo was taken by Bev. The reason this picture is so good is because you can see that the water had risen to just at the level of the cliff and with every wave crash — and even occasionally not — maybe just from the wind, there would be a huge tidal wave of water that would just shoot out up and over the cliff.

You can see the video taken by Mark at this link.

http://www.optimimagery.com/CNMI-ON-LAND/SAIPAN-2015/MARCH-15-2015-BANZAI-TROPICAL/48035253_nS8wPH#!i=3932404062&k=bQCVrHT

It is really quite something to see — the video is hard to capture but maybe you can see thru the windshield these occasional bursts of water just flying thru the air.

Today, this post came up showing that a portion of the rock at Banzai actually got carved out and is GONE! This is so super astonishing to me!

banzai missing pieceYou can see the freshly exposed white coral. This picture was taken today and you can still see the choppiness of the waves. (Taken by Nonogaki Yuichi)

I went down also to the Grotto and saw the water churning way above its usual waterline as well.

IMG_1144Suffice it to say, the winds were very strong and the lack of hype was certainly made up for by the performance of the storm. We are lucky that thru it all, everyone was safe and besides lack of electricity and the need to clean up majorly, nothing big happened.

One of the major things I noticed after the smoke cleared was that many of the trees had lost their leaves – almost like it was fall. It was a bit sad to see and made me miss the greenery.

Some of the beautiful majestic trees on island were completely uprooted, like this one in American Memorial Park.

amp tree downand this one at one of the places I often run to.

Picture by Brian O'Halloran

Picture by Brian O’Halloran

I take back what I say about ‘nothing big happened’ … because something potentially horrible did happen. Many rumors and whisperings have been going on about the downed banana trees and *gasp* mango trees that were just flowering. Save the mangoes! I worry that the prices of local foods will go up and they will be scarce and with the mango (and avocado) season just on the horizon, we will just have to see what happens.

All in all though, I have power back and things here have mostly been cleaned up. I’m hopeful that most people will have their power back on by later today. This is not traditionally the time of year for typhoons or storms so I hope this isn’t a sign of major weather change — for now, it’s best to be prepared and enjoy the calm days.

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Hiking the XTERRA trail run

The TAGAMAN triathlon race is happening a week from today and the XTERRA off-road triathlon race happens the Saturday after. I am swimming in the Tagaman and running in the XTERRA — both with teams. It means lately I’ve been getting to do a lot of swimming and running.

I had a great time yesterday getting to share the fun with some friends who hadn’t experienced it before. The XTERRA triathlon is one that is internationally recognized and is part of a series of off road triathlons. That means that the swims are all open-water swims, the biking is all mountain biking, and the runs are all trail runs. I haven’t seen any other XTERRA courses but I think the course here in Saipan is a marvelous challenge. Supposedly this XTERRA course is known as the ‘crown jewel’ so.. I think it must be pretty good! So, I decided to get a group together to hike the course. I actually wish I had more pictures but I was busy trying to remember exactly which way to go (really just following the signs) so I didn’t take as many. A few of these pictures are taken from one of my friends :) (Thanks!) Here is the link to my post about practicing the trail from 2013.

The full XTERRA course (see the link for my report on my XTERRA experience in 2013) is just over 7 miles and it is a combination of some running on the road, some running in the forest, some pure hiking or scooting along on your bottom (in my case), and some running on the beach. Because we were just hiking the trail, I skipped out on the run from the actual start line of the course at American Memorial Park. We drove our cars to the parking lot of Sugar King Park (more to come about this in a future post) in front of Gold’s Gym and then we took only two of the cars (we had that many people!) to the start of the jungle portion.

This start is by the entrance to a nice condo complex called ‘ANAKS’ on Middle Road just a mile north of the hospital and we parked just behind their sign. There is a hedge of bushes right next to the road and you just insert in right behind the bushes.

IMG_3775Then, you just follow the red arrows. The reason I went now is because it’s the week before XTERRA basically. This trail is marked only for a very limited amount of time and it crosses through some private land so most of the time, its off-limits to other people. This was our chance to take our time on the path. I do think I started out a bit fast though since I’m more used to jogging on this off road trail but I think fortunately for all of us, I slowed down.

The portion we hiked on ended up being about 4 miles but it took us a bit more than 2 hours. We took our time and rested along the way. I had an absolute blast showing people around newer parts of the island that they have never been to and reminding everyone about the beauty that is Saipan.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 4.05.36 PM(I turned on my GPS watch a little bit late so that green dot is not actually where we started)

Despite my best intentions, we did overshoot one of the arrows once and had to double back, but it is excellently marked overall. It was a reminder to me that you do have to keep your head up some of the times and not just watch your feet when you are running this. I am perpetually amazed that some of the pros do this whole run in under an hour.

Here are some pictures from the hike.

IMG_3778Starting off we went up through the jungle to a lush green area that is part of someone’s private land. This stretch of road is just before a few uphill dirt climbs that are not a fun way to start the race! But, it’s absolutely green everywhere and beautiful.

xterra1This is what a majority of the trail looks like… weaving thru the jungle and you would never know where to go without the occasional signs.

xterra3(Again, sorry for the blurriness — was not focused on taking nice pictures during this hike and will NOT be when I’m on the race!)

xterra2You go through two bamboo forests. There is a tropical storm watch taking into effect now (don’t worry, it was NOT in effect when we did the hike) but yesterday the cool breezes were definitely coming in. While the hike was still a bit sweaty, it was actually quite nice in some places because of the breeze. One of my friends pointed out the sound that the bamboo made as it creaked in the wind. So cool to hear that ‘in the wild.’

IMG_3779A HUGE clump of birds of paradise flower we saw on the trail.

The most unique part of this trail has to be the Japanese cave. This cave is just randomly carved out of the rock. It’s not 100% clear to me if it was used as an army post or later, a place that the Japanese hid (or maybe both) but it was definitely used during World War II.

Usually during the race the cave is marked by some flameless electric candles lighting your way. Obviously they cannot keep those on the whole time leading up to the race so we had some little flashlights to help us. I had to do a little scampering around the cave to remind myself where the exit was. It’s a large cave.. perhaps about 50 meters long in the longest stretch with stairs carved out of the coral rock inside.  (The entrance is clear. When you go in, turn almost immediately left down the 3 little steps, and then go to the end of that cave and turn left out into the light.. do not exit at the first exit on the left, take the one at the end)
Unfortunately pictures never do it justice! Here’s the entrance. IMG_3782And the exit as we helped each other down the little rock wall. IMG_3785xterra4This is the view from the the outside of the cave. Some of the professionals will just go from the top and jump directly down!! There is always a photographer stationed at this place. I remember when I got here during the race I just daintily picked my way down the side of the wall and kept apologizing to the photographer for what was not at all an exciting photo!

After this, you travel along a gully for another bit with some parts where you have to scoot yourself down and then it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there to where you come out and meet the road. There, you take about 1/4 mile on the road to Sugar King park where we cut through and got to our cars. Usually, you proceed past the park on the road, cross ‘Middle Road’ (which is one of three major roads on island so usually during the race there are police so that they stop traffic for you) and then end up at the beach where you run about a mile under the blazing sun on the beach to reach the finish line. It’s quite an experience!

I really enjoyed taking others out on the hike and am glad I got to do it once slowly before the actual race. More to come soon with updates about the races. In the meantime, I’m storing some water in case the power goes out with the tropical storm winds coming in. I think it will probably just be windy here with some bands of rain and hopefully not much else (that’s how most of these go here) but Guam may get hit a bit harder… and considering sometimes we lose power or internet just because it’s raining means it’s always better to be prepared.

(In the news has been some things about Vanuatu (and island chain to the south closer to New Zealand and New Caledonia) and the cyclone Pam. Please keep them all in their prayers because I’m sure the devastation is incomprehensible.)

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Burger Night!

One of the things that I think surprises people about Saipan is that there are actually some great dining out options on the island. I think most people expect on a tropical island for there to be some decent fare at the high end hotels (Hyatt brunch is very popular, for example). Since I live here and am not just a tourist here, I don’t eat out too often but I do like trying out things whenever I hear about them. Recently, I went to Cafe MangoSix (a coffee/dessert/burger chain very popular in Korea – apparently more popular than Starbucks there) which was, as had been billed to me before, overhyped. They build a huge building with a grand seating area and after the hype in the first few weeks, it now sits largely empty because of the expensive and not great food and drinks. It may be a place I would go to study for a few hours, but other than that — no thanks. IMG_3673 IMG_3674 (Large and empty — perfect for studying.. but probably not good for business)IMG_3672Still though, I am always excited to try something new. Recently, the paper posted about ‘international burger night’ at Aqua Resort, one of the resorts close to the Marpi area up north. This quieter area of the island is great for a resort (I think — although it seems most Asian tourists like being closer to the ‘city’) but I would venture to say that few people go there to eat because of its location. I had been there once before for a steak buffet night so I agreed to go again knowing that it would be another night of indulgence. Since I have been doing exercise once or twice a day, I figured it would be worth it. Here are some recent sunrise and sunset pictures… IMG_3670(Sunrise at Pau Pau beach for a morning swim) IMG_3657(Sunset from PIC hotel beach)

Yesterday after a hectic day, I drove up north to Aqua Resorts to enjoy their burger night. Since I don’t go up there often, it was really nice to check out the beach up there and take a few pictures around the resort. It’s a really nice resort actually with a great lobby and area just to relax. Not to mention their beautiful blue pool overlooking the ocean…

IMG_3699Here was the basically empty beach at sunset. IMG_3694 After a quick stroll on the beach in my flip flops to erase away the day, I was ready for dinner with friends. We were shuffled into the restaurant and given a table just by the big windows with a view of the sunset.

You were allowed to get food from a small buffet with salad, some burger toppings, and French fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, and tortilla chips. There were drinks available as well as part of the package. Then, they showed us the ordering menu.

IMG_3704I thought that it was genius for the restaurant to come up with this. They don’t have to keep that many hot foods on the rotation in the buffet area but people still feel they have a unique experience.

Ignore some of the mis-spellings on the burger menu but you can see they were offering an assortment of ‘international burgers’. Basically, they were burgers of various sorts with toppings that fit the country — i.e. feta cheese on the Greek burger, wasabi mayo on the Japanese shrimp burger.

I ended up ordering the Japanese shrimp burger as recommended by my waitress which turned out quite good with real shrimp inside. The wasabi mayo was not very strong though which was fine by me since I was hoping that it wouldn’t be overpowering. Going with a group made it fun because we ended up all being able to sample a few bites of each of the burgers.

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You can see the Greek on the left and the Japanese shrimp on the right.

You are allowed to order two burgers during the night so my second order was the unique Mexican burger.

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It was a burger with some cheese and wrapped in a tortilla with some jalapeno peppers inside. Actually, it was really good. I was glad I got this just because by this point, eating any bread or more carbohydrates was too much! I should have skipped the buns altogether from the get-go.

It was nice to relax in a restaurant without many people (which may not have been great for the restaurant) and also taste some foods that I probably wouldn’t make for myself at home. The food was good, but honestly it’s the experience of dining out that I enjoy. I capped off my night with some ice cream and some Illy coffee — again, things that you don’t do for yourself at home.

The sun set and by that time, we were all ready to head home. I don’t go out to eat very often, and  I definitely got my share of beef and not-so-heart-healthy foods but it was worth it. (I say this as I write this the next day with a full belly still!)

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Taiwan Chinese New Year pictures part 2

Sunrise from a bridge from Taipei City

Sunrise from a bridge from Taipei City

Cutest 1 year old's birthday party meal!

Cutest 1 year old’s birthday party meal!

Dessert fruit... seriously, Taiwan fruit is the best - always the largest and sweetest.

Dessert fruit… seriously, Taiwan fruit is the best – always the largest and sweetest.

Fancy schmancy tiramisu

Fancy schmancy tiramisu

Speaking of fruit -- always like taking pictures of the perfectly set out fruit stands.

Speaking of fruit — always like taking pictures of the perfectly set out fruit stands.

Lunch spread at a seafood restaurant in the south part of Taiwan

Lunch spread at a seafood restaurant in the south part of Taiwan

(inclusive of escargot)

(inclusive of escargot)

Spotted from the high speed rail (kind of like the bullet train in Japan and makes for easy transportation around Taiwan) -- rice fields and betel nut trees.

Spotted from the high speed rail (kind of like the bullet train in Japan and makes for easy transportation around Taiwan) — rice fields and betel nut trees.

Went to visit one of the first churches in Taiwan on a warm sunny day

Went to visit one of the first churches in Taiwan on a warm sunny day

Taiwan really does have some picturesque mountains

Taiwan really does have some picturesque mountains

Visiting a suspension bridge nearby

Visiting a suspension bridge nearby

With a field of cosmos flowers next to it

With a field of cosmos flowers next to it

We used to have these in our front yard in the States too

We used to have these in our front yard in the States too

I didn't take pictures of every meal but am glad I snapped a shot of these. These crabs were so delicious!!!

I didn’t take pictures of every meal but am glad I snapped a shot of these. These crabs were so delicious!!!

Sunflower fields.... actually at a rest-stop on the highway.

Sunflower fields…. actually at a rest-stop on the highway.

Some of the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom around the time I was there despite it being the tail-end of their winter.

Some of the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom around the time I was there despite it being the tail-end of their winter.

Here we are at Sun Moon Lake. We took a quick bike ride along the path.

Here we are at Sun Moon Lake. We took a quick bike ride along the path.

Unfortunately, the bikes were a bit crummy but the view was nice.

Unfortunately, the bikes were a bit crummy but the view was nice.

More hotpot!

More hotpot!

Hot pot fixings.. with a ginormous shrimp.

Hot pot fixings.. with a ginormous shrimp.

More pictures from the markets.. everywhere you turn, fresh vegetables and in general, goods of all kinds.

More pictures from the markets.. everywhere you turn, fresh vegetables and in general, goods of all kinds.

Chicken feet, anyone?

Chicken feet, anyone?

This is why I used to have two boxes full of various hair accessories as a child.

This is why I used to have two boxes full of various hair accessories as a child.

More delicious, fresh veggies. While Saipan has veggies like this, there just isn't the variety.

More delicious, fresh veggies. While Saipan has veggies like this, there just isn’t the variety.

Another bike ride -- but unfortunately on a hazy day. I made the comment that this time on my trip I noticed Taiwan was much more 'smoggy'. They say that smog has blown over from the big cities in China during the winter season which is such a shame.

Another bike ride — but unfortunately on a hazy day. I made the comment that this time on my trip I noticed Taiwan was much more ‘smoggy’. They say that smog has blown over from the big cities in China during the winter season which is such a shame.

On New Year's Eve, you have a big meal (kind of like Thanksgiving) -- but many people purchase portions of their whole meal instead of personally cooking all the millions of dishes you are supposed to eat. (I guess this is like the States too -- many people buy sides or packages for Thanksgiving). Here are prepared bowls of soup.

On New Year’s Eve, you have a big meal (kind of like Thanksgiving) — but many people purchase portions of their whole meal instead of personally cooking all the millions of dishes you are supposed to eat. (I guess this is like the States too — many people buy sides or packages for Thanksgiving). Here are prepared bowls of soup.

The restaurant keeping things cooking in huge steamers outside their door.

The restaurant keeping things cooking in huge steamers outside their door.

New Year's Eve feast!

New Year’s Eve feast!

A better air quality day bike ride -- able to see the mountains around Taipei.

A better air quality day bike ride — able to see the mountains around Taipei.

Pretty nice light on the bike ride.

Pretty nice light on the bike ride.

And before you know it -- time to leave Taiwan. At the airport, they had a display of the Hello Kitty jetliner accessories. Since I didn't have it in me to steal the toilet paper when I took the plane over to Taiwan, I thought I'd share a picture of the bathroom accessories on the way back.

And before you know it — time to leave Taiwan. At the airport, they had a display of the Hello Kitty jetliner accessories. Since I didn’t have it in me to steal the toilet paper when I took the plane over to Taiwan, I thought I’d share a picture of the bathroom accessories on the way back.

They changed the seat covers to reflect the season on my flight back to Guam from Taiwan -- year of the ram (or sheep or goat... it's a little confusing)

They changed the seat covers to reflect the season on my flight back to Guam from Taiwan — year of the ram (or sheep or goat… it’s a little confusing)

I didn’t take as many pictures as I usually do this time so this is all I have to share. Part of the reason was I enjoyed being disconnected for awhile. I only checked email occasionally and my phone was only really useful as a camera so I didn’t use it as often. This is definitely my definition of time off — especially in the world we are in now with constantly being connected.

Hope you enjoyed seeing pictures of Taiwan. If you have never visited, I cannot recommend it enough – besides being the place I am from and where the majority of my extended family lives, it is fairly easily accessible to tourists and those who speak English with good public transportation in Taipei. The food is amazing of course and definitely can offer you a cultural experience. Unfortunately, there are not direct flights from Saipan to Taiwan because if there were, I’d probably go more often (it is actually pretty closely geographically related in the world). The flights via Guam do not have good connection times and are unreliable. Other ways to get from the CNMI to Taiwan include flying via Tokyo or Seoul but these options add lots of miles (and money) to your trip.

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