Lauren In Tokyo

Monday, November 26, 2007

Guam trip 2007

After months of preparation, I finally took the family to Guam for a 3 day vacation. We also took the in-laws, since they wanted to see where I was from.

We left at 8pm on Tuesday evening and arrived on Guam at 2 in the morning on Wednesday morning. We had dinner at the Chinese restaurant in Narita, which btw, is really good and totally recommended. It was a good thing we ate because Northwest's dinner cuisine was absolutely terrible.

Immigration on Guam was very easy. Since Guam is so dependent on tourists, they go out of their way to make travel to the island easy. On top of that, my American passport means that getting into the country is no problem. I chatted it up with the immigration officer for a minute about traveling abroad and coming back home after so many years, and then we got our papers together and went out to get our luggage and rental car.

We got a Nissan Quest which turned out to be just about the right size for the 4 adults and 1 child we were hauling around the island. Maybe we could have gotten away with a slightly smaller car, but if I've learned anything about this type of thing, it's that it always pays to get a car bigger than you need than one smaller.

We stayed at the Fiesta Resort which used to be the Dai Ichi Hotel in the middle of Tumon. Unfortunately, we were not able to get an ocean view room, so we had to make due with our parking lot/street view. They call it "mountain view", but they must be joking.

Bright and early the next morning, we got up and had breakfast at the Fiesta Resort buffet. Expensive and bland. Not that we had time to eat, though. At 10 the bus came to take us to the tour package Beach Tour.

The beach tour consists of getting on a bus to be taken to an Agana bay beach club where for only 50 bucks a person more you can ride jetskis and do other fun things that people who didn't pay only get to sit and watch from the shore. At lunch time, they brought out some barbecue chicken, spareribs, and red rice, but most of the time you're stuck in the shallow water waiting for the bus to go home. If I had known ahead of time what the beach tour was going to be, I would have passed on it altogether. I had expected that it would just be a hotel tour of the adjacent beach and a lunch meal coupon to be used at the hotel. I didn't expect to be kidnapped and taken to a completely different location.

The bus ride back to Tumon was very sad for me. The drive back took us down Marine Drive through Tamuning. In the years that I've been away, Tamuning has gone from a bustling metropolis to a burned out ghost town. Literally, many of the old buildings that I remember from my youth have been burned out and left that way. The old Hong Kong restaurant is probably the biggest testament to this decay with its charred three story husk graffitied walls sitting silently next to the abandoned lot which used to be Chick's Chrysler/Mitsubishi/Dodge. Now, there is only Atkins Kroll Toyota and the UIU building that seem to have avoided the creeping decay.

Since we already ate lunch at the beach, we hopped in the car and went to Micronesia Mall to do a little shopping. Wednesday afternoon at the mall is dead. No one there but the tourists and the poor shop employees who had to hang around while no one came in to look at the merchandise.

I remembered that my friend Clifton worked at Foot Locker, so I stopped in there and found him right away. Can't miss the tall guy managing the place. We caught up and I felt really old when he told me his son is 13 and just about to enter high school. I can't believe it's been long enough that one of our kids is the same age I was when I met my friend.

After the mall, we headed down to Agana for the weekly "fiesta" at Chamorro Village. Less a fiesta and more of a tourist trap, we had some sweet tuba, a fiesta plate, and enjoyed the evening crowded under a tree. While not exactly the best fiesta food I've ever had, it wasn't too bad. Miki says that she now understands what a fiesta is, but I'm afraid she really has no idea. Whatever you want to call Wednesday nights at Chamorro Village, it will never be a real fiesta.

The rest of the evening was spent in the hotel sleeping. Except for me and Miki, who went to KMart and bought some refreshments. We also stopped in at the Haggen Daz which is on the first floor of the hotel for a quick cone.

The next day, I decided that we weren't going to "take advantage" of any more of the freebie tour package stuff and got everybody packed in the van for breakfast at Kings. Of all the places we ate during the trip, this one was the absolute best. You can't beat filling your body with grease and fat first thing in the morning, so Fried Rice Ala and a bottomless cup of coffee got everyone in the mood to go driving.

Guam isn't so big, so there's no sense in heading south right away. Instead we visited Two Lover's Point and took our pictures with Tumon Bay making our backdrop. The weather was great and the winds were very light, so except for the fear that Julian would jump off the cliff, everything was really nice. It costs 3 dollars a person to go up to the observatory now. It used to be free when I lived there, but there wasn't an observatory back then, so it evens out, I suppose.

Next stop after TLP was One's store in Yigo. This is where another friend from high school has a family store. He wasn't in when we stopped in, but his parents were glad to see me and to meet my wife. They invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, but since I was with the in-laws in tow, I had to decline. I think Miki could have gotten a real understanding of fiestas if we had gone, but it wasn't to be.

After picking up a few more refreshments, we drove down Back Island Road to Mangilao and my old high school GCC. The gates were locked so we just drove past. I pointed out my mom's temporary classroom T-4, which despite it being a temporary building is still in use 15 years after I used it. It was dilapidated then, it must be terrible now. I wonder if the soft spot in the floor eventually fell in.

Our next stop was the University Of Guam which really improved with new buildings along the backside of campus for the business school and hospitality departments. The science building is still the old white building it always was. There is a small area near the administration building which allows one of the nicest views of Pago Bay on the island. We stopped there and took a few pictures and Julian ran around the parking lot for a while. Since there isn't much more to see in that part of Guam, we headed south.

Our first stop was Taga'chang beach in Yona. The drive down to the beach was eye-opening as there was lots of development where once there was only jungle. Who wants to live on the edge of a cliff, I don't know, but apparently that is a hot real estate spot. It's not hard to understand why, though, with the great view of Pago Bay and easy access to central Guam.

There wasn't much to do at Taga'chang, since the water was too rough to wade in and no one really wanted to get wet yet. So after letting Julian play in the rocks for a while, we packed into the van and went to visit my old stomping grounds.

Baza Gardens, in the south of Yona, used to be a somewhat upscale neighborhood, but with all the people leaving island, it is all boarded up ramblers and broken down cars. It's hard to believe that this place used to be my old hangout when there wasn't a kid running around anywhere. Casas de Serenidad, which is where I lived, at the bottom of Baza Gardens was a bit better, with carefully manicured green areas and clean swimming pool and pavilion. But even here, a lot of the old playground has been removed and replaced with kid-friendly rubbermaid stuff that doesn't look at all playable.

The highlight of the tour, at least for some of the gourmets in our troop, was the next stop at Jeff's Pirates Cove. Island style outdoor beach dining with good food and good drinks were a welcome relief after almost 2 hours of driving. Julian and I played on the grass while the adults hung out in the shade.

Everyone else ordered Jeff's signature sandwich, but I stuck with the fiesta plate. It was more than I could eat with two chicken filets and spareribs and red rice and a salad and chicken kelaguen and squid. I couldn't finish the second chicken... The hamburgers everyone else ate looked really good and I wanted to try it, but I just couldn't force myself to put down another bite.

The gift shop at Jeff's is great, with overpriced t-shirts and towels as well as hand-crafted woodworks. We got a few t-shirts.

Continuing south, I intended to stop in Talofofo for some brown sand sightseeing at the bay, but in the years that I've been away, Talofofo bay beach has completely washed away. The water has risen and washed away the sand and is encroaching on the road. I don't know if this was just natural erosion or whether rising ocean levels are to blame, but to see my old boogie boarding spot completely destroyed was strange.

We drove slowly through Talofofo, Inarajan, and Merizo and saw many empty lots that were for sale. With all the people moving to the mainland, it looks like the southern tip of Guam is suffering the most population loss. A big problem down south is that the road runs almost along the waterfront, so no beach developments can be easily undertaken. This makes the area useless as far as tourism goes. Which is unfortunate, because the south is where most of the best and most interesting parts of Guam are.

We drove on to Umatac and Fort Soledad to see the ancient fort which the Spanish built to protect their cross-Pacific galleons. The view of Umatac village from there is really beautiful and if you ever have a chance to go to Guam, I recommend you make a visit to that village.

With Umatac past, we drove back to Tumon. There are other interesting places to visit. The Latte Stone Park area of Agana is nice, as is the view from Fort Apugan. But everyone was asleep by the time we got to Sumay, so I figured it would be better to skip all that and just let them sleep for a while.

When we got down to Tumon, though, everyone was wide awake and wanted to see more sites. So I took them to Gun Beach on the edge of Tumon, next to the Nikko Hotel. Or so I thought. The road to Gun Beach is not paved and our big van had a hell of a time getting down. Everyone had a blast as we bounced that rentacar down the rocks and slipped and slid to the bottom of the road. Unfortunately in the middle of the road was a very large and very deep puddle. The puddle was about 20 feet across and there was no way I could get out of there if we got stuck. The two military dudes in the econobox who followed us down the hill parked their car and walked the rest of the way, but we thought better of it and just 4x4'd our way back up the rocks in our FWD Nissan Quest.

That evening, we drove back to Two Lover's Point to catch the sunset. With the sun rapidly setting, I hightailed it along those back roads at 70mph and got to the spot just in time. We all had our pictures taken in the minute or two that it took for the sun to dip below the horizon. We didn't get the full effect of the sunset because we had run from the parking lot and were out of breath, but the pictures look great.

Afterwards, we went out for dinner at Sam Choy's. Sam's is an upscale restaurant from Hawaii that attracts mostly tourists and locals looking for a nice restaurant. Unfortunately the service was subpar. I ordered a Chardonnay, but since they were out the waiter brought a white zin. You can't even begin to compare a Chard to a white zin! Then he had the audacity to claim that they were similar. Anyway, after that, we put in our orders and our waiter disappeared for the rest of the night. I think he was a little shell shocked after the wine incident.

The food was okay, but was too much volume and too expensive. The beef, while tasty, was tough and chewy. The pasta was okay, but I expected better. The mashed potatoes were great, and if they just had an entree of just mashed potatoes, I'd order it. After eating good food all day, these large portions were too much to handle. I don't think anyone finished all their orders.

The next day we went shopping at KMart in the morning and bought a few souvenirs and other touristy things like chocolate to appease the savages back home. Then we went to Duty Free Shoppers and spent half a day looking at very expensive stuff that we wouldn't buy for ourselves in a million years. I did find Chamorro Chip cookies, though, so the visit wasn't a total bust. These are the best cookies ever.

Julian slept halfway back to Japan and played with his puzzles the rest of the way. He didn't make a scene and didn't throw up on anyone, so he was a really good little boy.

Japan just implemented a new system which requires fingerprints and photos to be taken of all foreigners. Apparently some people can't grasp the intricacies of pressing their fingers to the scanners because it took a long time to get just 4 people in front of me through immigration. How can that be right when I sailed through in 10 seconds? They should have a separate line for people who didn't fill in their immigration documents yet, and there should be a separate holding area for people who can't follow directions. That would speed up my immigration ordeal a bit, I think.

That was our Guam trip story. Nothing too crazy happened. The old island isn't what it used to be. Too many people leaving and too much focus on attracting tourists instead of attracting immigrants. When I was growing up, we used to sing a song that had a verse which went "I came to Guam and it's here I think I will stay". That feeling is still in me, but as more and more people leave island for the greener pastures of the mainland, Guam is losing its most important features. You can argue that the scenery and hospitality are essential to Guam, but the people and the culture are what make it livable. I wish more people would make it to Guam and feel like they want to stay.