By Jojie Alcantara (Text and photos by Jojie A., Ros Razon)
In the center of international headlines lately is Guam, a popular tropical destination for Asian and European tourists. This tiny speck of island is the largest in size (214 square miles), and the most inhabited of the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific – home to a populace of peace loving people.
Storm advisory and other misgivings aside, we flew from Manila to Guam via Cebu Pacific Airlines, our host to the VISMIN familiarization tour as invited by the Guam Visitors’ Bureau (GVB). After more than a 3-hour flight (Guam being 2 hours ahead of the Philippines), we descended on the unincorporated United States territory underneath heavy clouds. It was raining in Guam when we touched down, but somehow it didn’t dampen our spirits.
The island of Guam is like a breath of fresh air, as unpolluted as the lush environment it is nestled in, with wide traffic-free roads and structures built far apart from one another. Downtown, however, a long line of contemporary, posh buildings is stamped with glittery brand names. As modern as it looks, the atmosphere has an old world charm reminiscent of our provincial regions.
The Chamorro people are the indigenous people of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Guam’s modern Chamorro society is multi-ethnic. More than 160,000 inhabitants — composed of Chamorros, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, Caucasians and other Asians — are US citizens enjoying economic opportunities than other Micronesians, but with limited rights. Guam became a US territory in 1898, but not a State, and therefore could not vote for the President, unless they move to the mainland.
The native Chamorro from the Austronesian language is mainly influenced by the Spanish language but because of trade relations and settlers, includes many Filipino vernaculars that enabled us to grasp some familiar terms.
The most popular phrase is “Håfa Adai” (pronounced “HALF A DAY”), which means “hello” or “what’s up?” in Chamorro. Everyone we met warmly greeted us with smiles. With an even-toned tan most non-tropical inhabitants would envy, these Americans have that extra warm, hospitable traits we are familiar with – observing Catholic feasts and the Station of the Cross, and villages celebrating big fiestas and welcoming everyone to abundant food preparations.
We were billeted in the Sheraton Laguna Resort which offers a gorgeous view of the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean. From my balcony I could see two family pools and the shallow end of the deep blue sea. An islet in the middle of a cove is surrounded by swimmers in kayaks, jetskis or floating tubes, basking in gloomy skies that were threatening to erupt in a downpour any moment.
For a pea-size presence in the map, which affords one to travel around the scenic coastline within a day, there are plenty of fun activities to do in Guam. It is an adventure port for those physically fit to run, swim, surf, dive down significant World War wrecks, parasail and paraglide, play golf or go “boonie stomping” (a fun term for trail hiking). Take a half day’s river boat cruise adventure to the Valley of the Latte to learn more about the ancient Chamorro culture.
For the laidback visitors interested in history and sightseeing, one can opt for a central island tour like Fort Santa Agueda, Basilica and other old Spanish structures, Plaza de Espana, Latte Freedom Park, War Museum and Memorials, and Two Lovers Point, a huge monument depicting a tragic folklore of star-crossed lovers from two warring tribes whose fate ended in a jump off a 378-foot-high cliff below the ocean. This romantic notion may have invigorated the island to be an ideal wedding destination, as it opens it arms to couples of any race or gender.
Filipinos may also favor visiting an obelisk monument to Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, bearing an inscription, “Magellan landed here”, which was in 1521, before he sailed to our country and died in a battle. The St. Pedro Calungsod memorial shrine also stands in commemoration of the Filipino saint’s martyrdom. An interesting note is that of our revolutionary leader Apolinario Mabini, the “Brains of the Philippine Revolution,” who was deported to Guam and was given a commemorative statue on behalf of the Filipino community for his few years of exile here with other leaders.
Our afternoons were left to shopping, which is the most delightful attraction of all. Guam is indeed a tax-free spending paradise. There seems no end to the shopping outlets to choose from — the upscale Tumon Sands Plaza (think Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Cartier, Bulgari, etc.), Guam Premier Outlets and Ross Lots for Less, DFS Galleria, Macy’s, T-Galleria, and even the smaller ABC convenience stores reveal interesting finds. Most of us could not get enough of the clearance sale and discounts and went back to the outlets right after dinner! K-Mart and Micronesia Mall are two of the biggest stores in the island worth a stopover for half a day. Interestingly, while I got my hands on a few US products, they were also selling many Philippine goods.
Meanwhile, night spots were laidback as we rounded up a few bars (namely Live House and Porky’s) on a quiet, drizzling Sunday night. If you want big entertainment, the Sand Castle Las Vegas Style Magic Show offers dazzling illusions complete with showgirls and white tigers. In its opposite scale, there’s TaoTao Tasi Beach Dinner Show overlooking the beach in Tumon, as you dine on BBQ buffet. Watch the amazing, unique cultural performance of fire dancers, beautiful songs, and hula dances on a grand scale. Our food trip in Churrasco Brazilian Salad Bar & BBQ filled us with unforgiving portions of yummy meat and calories. GVB and Pacific Star Resort treated us to fine dining over the juiciest prime steak imaginable in Manhattan Steak House.
“The Jewel of Micronesia” is one of its monikers, as apt as “Where America’s Day Begins”, being the first territory to touch the sun’s morning rays. Sadly, the few days of rain didn’t give me a chance to shoot this sunrise nor its famous sunset. As I watched in awe at the biggest cultural show, the Tao Tao Tasi, consisting of young men, women and children performing a fluid dance with soulful music that evokes peace and calm with smiles on their faces, I could not help but shed a little sentimental tear for these people whose pride is undeterred as they continue to fight to keep the Chamorro culture and Håfa Adai spirit alive.
Cebu Pacific Air flies between Manila and Guam three times weekly at the lowest year-round fares. The latest seat sales may be found on Cebu Pacific Air’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. Check updates from the Guam Visitors Bureau at www.guamvisitorsbureau.com or www.visitguam.com.
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(Jojie Alcantara is a long time photojournalist, workshop speaker, blogger, and social media influencer based in Davao City. Proudly writing for SunStar Davao for more than two decades, in this nest she has grown to become an avid traveler and photographer. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog kodakerdabawenya.com.)