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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Playing With Fire and Follow that Water Buffalo



Guam International Airport, or Antonio B Won Pat as it is sometimes known, is a huge contrast to Saipan’s sleepy little airport.  The airport in Guam is a “serious” American airport with everything you’d expect to find in an airport in Los Angeles or Miami – namely security – lots of security.  While Guam is geographically port of the Northern Mariana Islands – along with Saipan and Rota – it is NOT part of Micronesia.  It’s American – like Puerto Rico – people born here are American citizens – same as if they were born on the mainland – except they can’t vote in American presidential elections – many here think that’s a plus – given the choices.


Upon my arrival I’m confronted by a wall of counters manned by men in uniforms with guns strapped on their belts – welcome to homeland security.  After having my eyes scanned and fingers printed I proceed to get my bags and look for my son, Elan, who in a moment of weakness he’ll soon regret, has decided to join me for this part of the trip.

Someone asked me what it’s like travelling with my son.  I told them it’s like travelling alone and it’s more expensive.  The biggest problem is getting through the morning.  Elan is not a morning person, and we quickly learned not to talk to him, make eye contact, or any other form of contact until he’s had his breakfast – after which he reverts back to being a normal human being. 

[N.J.:  Elan has his own version of what it’s like travelling with dad – which probably could fill volumes – I’m lucky he’s an engineer – not a writer]

The airport is quite large and it takes me a while to track down Elan and we rent a vehicle and head off to our motel.

Guam is home to several large military bases – the most noteworthy is Anderson Air Force Base, which given the unrest in the China Seas is a major base.

Guam is not a pretty island like Saipan. The whole island basically is one large military base and most of the other infrastructure services it – which means there are countless bars and poker clubs.  It has very little of the charm of its sister islands – but it is a major jumping off point to other Micronesian islands – hence our visit there to make our connection to Palau in two days time.

Inn on the Ba
We arrive at our motel, Inn on the Bay, which is occupied by mostly American contractors working for the military.  When I ask what sort of things they’re doing they tell me they could tell me, but they’d have to shoot me – usually this response is meant to be funny, however this time I had the feeling they meant it.   However they’re friendly and since they’re essentially living there months at a time they've converted it to their home away from home.  There’s a weekly barbecue and we’re invited to it.

Elan and I spent the first day driving completely around the Guam –given Elan’s built in sense of direction we only had to do the trip once.   At one point we stopped on a beautiful beach that was completely deserted.  We followed the beach around to where it ended at a sheer cliff.  Up on the cliff was a rickety boardwalk that followed the cliff around the corner to a secluded cove.  
The "backdoor" catwalk


Upon turning the corner we came across an “authentic” tourist village – evidently we had stumbled across a little used back access to it.    It was like that moment in Apocalypse Now when the boat turns a corner in the river and comes upon a USO stage in full light – complete with playboy bunnies.

This village was in full swing with two busloads of Japanese tourist who were being herded into a palapa for a floor show that featured “fire dancers.”  Nobody seemed to notice we weren't part of the tour group (“funny you guys don’t look Japanese”) so we just sort of tagged along.

"Butter Fingers" the fire juggler
We were treated to perhaps the most dysfunctional floor show I've ever seen.  The “fire seemed to only have half the routine worked out – they had the throwing part down pat – they were just a little light on the catching bit.  As a result lit torches kept raining down into the audience with the result that Japanese tourists were scrambling for their lives.  It was then it dawned on me that the whole building is built of dry palm leaves – not a fire extinguisher in site.  It was then that I suggested to Elan we might want to move on. 

Water Buffalo wash
On the way back we came across a kid washing his water buffalo – evidently the automated water buffalo wash was down that day.  For a buck Elan got ride it.


The next day was spent covering Guam’s tourist sights which broke down to a lover’s leap. [all these islands seem to have high places where people used to take a dive off of – now days they still do, but they’re usually strapped to a hang glider].  The other main tourist attraction was the cave where a Japanese soldier, Soichi Yokoi, hung out for 28 years after the war ended before he finally “surrendered.” I guess the thought of all that back pay accumulating eventually got to him. (The princely sum of three hundred bucks!)  A little known fact is the Yoko Ono is named after him (she bears a striking resemblance to him).

Soichi's cave
Some enterprising folks have built a complete “theme park” around the cave.  You get to take a gondola ride, fire a Japanese rifle, and take an optional tour of Yokoi’s cave – which Elan did.  They lowered him into the pit – unfortunately he landed he Yokoi’s privy so the tour was cut short.  

The "professional" fly fluffer
That Sunday the spy/contractors were throwing a BBQ dinner complete with a roasted suckling pig.  I didn’t know they roasted it with a raisin crust until I realized the raisins were flies! They hired a guy who’s sole job was to shoo the flies away from the pig.  He makes a great show of it – much like a Japanese  Teppanyaki chef -  slicing up Kobi beef.  The professional fly fluffer- demonstrated the backhand shoo – a wicked forehand swat – an overhand waft – what can I say?  It’s an art.  Elan and I passed on the pig – citing religious reasons, and went for the shrimp and crab instead.

Next: Elan and I arrive on “Survivor Island.” 

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