The Guam Zoo

I went to the Guam Zoo today. I went just to see it. I don’t suppose there’s any other reason to ever go to a zoo, but I wouldn’t have gone, except that I found myself with some bonus time on Guam and I figured I would add it to my “Second Chance Guam Bucket List.” The Guam Zoo is an attraction I had passed by many times in my time on Guam, and I hadn’t ever really regretted that decision. Most of the signs for the zoo are in Russian, it’s nestled behind a California Pizza Kitchen, and most of the time all I ever heard from the place was the sound of dogs barking, so I hadn’t expected much. Reality didn’t do too much to dissuade me from that assessment, but it was nicer than I thought it was going to be.

Approaching the zoo, it rather bombastically pronounces itself to be the Guam Zoological, Botanical, and Marine Garden. At the front gate, you push a button to ring for the zoo attendant. He was a nice old guy. He accepted my $20 bill and wandered off to fetch me my $5 change while I inspected the first animal, a carabao. I was already pleasantly surprised, frankly, because all I had really expected was various species of boonie dog. “Boonie Dog,” for those not in the know, is the affectionate name for the feral dogs that can be found in large numbers on Guam. The carabao seemed mildly interested to see me, and I admired his nose ring. As the man returned with my change he also brought a tuna can full of generic animal feed, thus revealing the source of the carabao’s interest. At the zoo various animals had little chutes you could tip some of your tuna can-borne feed into, thus attracting the animals out of whatever hidey-hole the zoo had provided. So that was cool I guess. I was most amazed by how even the turtles knew the gig, following me around the edges of their enclosure until I provided some food.

Late on a Sunday afternoon, I had the zoo to myself. If I could read an expression on any of the animals, it was the macaque, and that expression was mild surprise at seeing a visitor. Passing by the zoo attendant building, the white board on the outside delineated that the zoo wish list included a second-hand refrigerator and a rake, to give you a sense of the scale of this operation. Like I said though, the place was nicer than I thought it would be and had a far larger variety of animals than I anticipated. It wasn’t a huge variety, but it was larger than I anticipated. They had emus, and ostrich, the macaque I mentioned, an American and Nile crocodile, African crowned cranes, tortoises, sea turtles, and small sharks. The variety of African animals threw me off; was there a sale someplace at some point? The zoo also had exotic animals like a pigeon, rabbits, pigs, and goats, but it was interesting to see some of the local animals they had on display. The carabao is a given for Guam, but they also had a Sandbar deer, which helped to clear up my confusion on a deer I saw on the south side of the island a while ago. There is also a cage full of Marianas fruit bats, of which there are apparently less than 50 left in the wild. The star of the zoo, however, is the Ko’Ko’ bird, which is a small flightless bird that resembles a kiwi and is extinct in the wild on Guam. It is displayed across from its unnatural enemy, the brown tree snake. Despite the island apparently being infested with them, I had never seen a brown tree snake on Guam before today. So now I know what the enemy looks like.

The Guam Zoo isn’t going to win any awards any time soon for creativity, originality, or overall animal well-being, if the expression on the American crocodile’s face is any indicator. The zoo, however, is obviously trying to do its best to display for the public as many interesting animals as it can and be as educational as any zoo can be. I don’t think it’s the place to go if you’re looking for a solid afternoon of entertainment, but if you’ve got $15 ($8.50 for 12 and under) and are interested in seeing some easily excited turtles, it’s worth a visit. And if the zoo keeps alive at least a small population of the critically endangered species of Guam, it’s a noble enough institution to keep around.

Saipan Part II

After an excellent night’s sleep in Saipan, I was out the door the next morning at 7:30 to explore the island. Since I only really had Saturday to see much of anything, I headed out that early to make sure I saw it all. I probably could have slept in a little later. Leaving town, I hung a left and headed north towards Banzai Cliff and eventually the Grotto. From my various tourist maps obtained from the car rental place and the hotel, I surmised that if I just kept driving north I would find Banzai Cliff. Neither of the maps I managed to pick up were in English, so I had to just take my best guess based on the pictures. The first place I came across was Last Command Post Park. It is not hard to find, as it is right next to the road and beneath a towering cliff.

I noticed the cliffs first, which isn’t really an impressive feat of observation. These things are massive and rise nearly strait up 650 feet out of a strip of jungle at their base. We don’t have anything like them on Guam. The other major contrast from Guam is that I noticed all sorts of birds flying around. Due to the brown tree snake infestation, Guam has been de-birded, leading to the famed spider infestation. There are still some birds on Guam, but unless you count roosters wondering around listening to bird song isn’t really a thing. The pleasantness of the bird song was contrasted sharply, however, by all the trash littering the Last Command Post Park. I don’t know how regularly the place is cleaned, so maybe I caught it at a bad time, but the place had those tourist coconut drinks all over the place. Clearly more than one bus full of tourists had been dropped off here after coming from the beach and decided that “anywhere” was an appropriate place to deposit their finished coconut, straw and all. Beyond the trash, the park was perfectly pleasant and about what you would expect. The signs weren’t too explanatory, but you could walk into what I assumed was the eponymous command post. It was at this point a bit of a fixer-upper, but you could tell at one point it was a fairly fortified place and would have been imposing to attack. Also around the park, in various late stages of rust and decay, were all the usual examples of military hardware including a torpedo, a small tank, and antiaircraft guns. Exciting stuff for students of corrosion.

For those of you looking to enter a new field, you could probably make a comfortable career for yourself by moving to Saipan and setting up a peace memorial construction company, if Last Command Post Park is anything to judge by. There were examples from at least Japan, Korea, and Okinawa. I had the place to myself early on a lovely Saturday, and they were therefore in fact quite peaceful.

I managed to find Banzai Cliff, but only because curiosity sent me down a random side road. If you’re coming from Garapan, Banzai Cliff is a left turn across from Last Command Post Park. As I alluded to in Saipan Part I, I think most people are familiar with Saipan as that place where many Japanese committed suicide in the face on the oncoming American invasion. According to the museum I visited on Sunday, the Japanese had spread propaganda among their population on Saipan that the Americans would commit atrocities to the Japanese population if the invasion was successful. Instead of face that, many Japanese chose to take their own lives both at Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff. Suicide Cliff was the cliff that buttresses the Last Command Post, and Banzai Cliff ends in the Pacific Ocean at the north side of the island. To take a step back before I tell you about the place itself, my major thought that calling the place “Banzai Cliff” is probably a bit insensitive in the first place, and that putting a sign that in all caps says “WELCOME TO BANZAI CLIFF” is jarring. According to the aforementioned museum, enough people committed suicide from Banzai Cliff to impede boat traffic, bodies were so thick in the water. But, you know, welcome! My other impression of the place is that there were less beautiful places to end it all.

The location is beautiful. There is no reef around this portion of the island, so a sheer cliff drops into the deep, royal blue of the Pacific Ocean. It was windy the day I visited, and that was kicking up waves which were crashing all along the cliff. When the waves hit at the right angle a geyser of water would shoot out of a cave to my right, sending water into the sky and reminding you of the power of the ocean in front of you. The view is nothing but unbroken Pacific Ocean and gorgeous Western Pacific sky. The deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean lie off the Marianas Islands and if you contemplate that, it makes it all the more magnificent that these islands rise out of those depths. Given its history, Banzai Cliff is lined with small shrines and memorials, and with those in the background the location is a powerful if not peaceful spot to sit and think for a while. Or fish, as one dude I spotted as I was leaving was doing. I don’t know if he caught anything.

The view from Bonzai Cliff

Saipan Part I

The weekend before last I traveled to Saipan. It exceeded all of my wildest dreams. I credit that statement to my low expectations going into the trip, but it was an exciting trip for me nonetheless. When I put in my preferences and got my home port, I was most excited about the travel opportunities. Out of the lovely A.B. Won Pat airport, there are flights to Japan about every two hours, we have a direct flight to Australia, and to get to places like the rest of the Marianas or the Federated States of Micronesia you’re probably going to fly through Guam anyways. I had imagined frequent trips to exotic locales like Hong Kong or Laos, but that was before I faced the harsh reality of submarine life and my own laziness. So finally in my last month on Guam, assigned to squadron without any responsibilities and without anyone really caring if I showed up to work at all, I committed to finally going on a trip. I chose Saipan.

I think nearly everyone in the good ole’ U.S. of A. has heard of Saipan but would have no idea where to begin looking if presented with a map. It’s a trope for “having no idea where to being looking on a map” to be true for Americans no matter what map or location is named, but it’s a little more embarrassing when it comes to Saipan because we own the place. We won it fair and square back in World War II (as an aside, I think the boldest thing I’ve ever seen one of my fellow Americans do is wear a “Back-to-Back World War Champs” shirt in Japan), which is why I think most people had heard of it. For the record, it’s about 100 miles north of Guam. If you still don’t know where Guam is, start at New Guinea and head north until you find it. Back to Saipan, if you mention the Japanese people jumping off cliffs in the face of American invasion I think that will ring a bell with anyone at least passingly familiar with the war in the Pacific.

All of that was to say that I had no real clue what I was getting into when I decided to visit Saipan. Saipan’s web presence is not robust. In a solid afternoon of Googling the day before I left I only identified 5-6 spots I was going to try to find. After visiting Saipan that speaks more to reality than poor internet brand marketing, but my list included Suicide Cliff, Banzai Cliff, and several other places not known for massive amounts of death. Bird Island and the Botanical Gardens were also on the list. I am the sort of man who enjoys going to Botanical Gardens, and not to spoil the engrossing “Saipan Part II,” but I was to be disappointed. Out of the 3-4 flights to Saipan from Guam every day, I set off on one of the later ones in case I got stuck at “work” for longer than my now-customary one hour. Join the Navy, people. The flight on a sweet little turboprop included some cookies and a bottle of water. It was an extremely pleasant ride and I stared out over the Pacific.

Upon landing in Saipan, I was downright elated. I was so pumped to have finally traveled somewhere while stationed on Guam that everything had a sparkly sheen to it. The airport was cute, with the roof all pointy and curved like it was. The customs station was cute, how it spit you right out onto the street like that. Buoyant, I waltzed over to the car rental hut. When I entered, I smiled at all six bored-looking car rental attendants. I walked over to the first one that made eye contact and discovered the only car left was an SUV. I went for it anyway and the man was apologetic enough to give me a special rate. It wound up serving me well over the weekend so I was glad to have it.

Departing the airport with my swank new rental car, I got some of my first real impressions of Saipan. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Saipan is very well marked, at least for the major tourist destinations. This is in contrast to Guam, where street sign technology hasn’t really made a big splash. Saipan is also tiny enough where finding your way isn’t really a problem anyways, because if you drive more than about 20 minutes you’ll probably wind up wherever you were going no matter what. That made it pretty easy to get to the Capital Hotel where I would be staying. If you’re in Saipan on a budget, the Capital Hotel is a suitable place to sleep. It’s got a lobby atrium thing and a desk clerk that isn’t too excited to see you. As I was soon to discover about the rest of Saipan, it mostly caters to an Asian clientele, as evidenced by those awesome disposable slippers I always like and the TV remote that had no English on it. That wasn’t too much of a stumbling block because once I discovered they had Al Jazeera English there wasn’t any need to change the channel.

So here I was! Landed in Saipan! Out in the world! Seeing things! Here somewhat illegally because I didn’t exactly tell squadron I was going to be leaving the island but that’s no matter! It added to the excitement! The first order of business was dinner! I set off on foot in Garapan (the main town) and I should probably continue with those first impressions I mentioned earlier. If you think Guam is run-down you haven’t been to Saipan. That’s probably unfair, as Saipan has some up-scale places. It has a few resorts right in downtown Saipan, and nearby the resorts were plenty of reputable-looking establishments servicing the resort crowd. Also, I presume, gambling is legal in Saipan, leading to at least one nice-looking if small casino. But the island has that “under-construction” feel and it’s clear not everyone is getting rich off the tourist market. I’m going to write another post one day about why I love the tropics (weather) but Saipan hit all the wickets of easygoing tropical living. The other major thought I had while wondering around and analyzing my dinner choices was that I couldn’t tell which of the massage parlors were brothels. On Guam, it’s easy: they’re all brothels. That’s not quite true, but unless you’re at a hotel spa or one or two other locations, they’re going to offer you a something extra at the end. But the massage parlors on Saipan had nicely-dressed women outside. In suits! It threw me off. I can’t report on the fact of the matter, however, because eventually I found a pizza place and then headed back to the hotel to prep for an early morning.

First Blog Post

My name is Pat and I used to be in the Navy. That’s technically only half true; as I sit here writing this I am still in the Navy, but our relationship is on its last legs. I graduated from the US Naval Academy with a degree in Chemistry and I went submarines. After nuclear training in Charleston I was stationed in Guam for three years. Guam is great. I did not like submarines. I decided to get out of the Navy for a variety of reasons that change with my mood, but the common thread is that I don’t really have the personality for the submarine force. It’s not you, babe, it’s me.

Part of the reason I am getting out of the Navy is because I want to see more of the world. A few points on that one, the first being that I realize I am a late 20-something cliché. Dissatisfied with the system! I need to do more with my life! Still, I want to see more of the world. Second is that I realize you’re supposed to see the world in the Navy. The Navy has taken me some cool places. I have done port calls in Japan, Singapore, Korea, and Australia. Due to an unfortunate run-in with a cop car and attempted grand theft auto, I only really got to see Singapore and Australia. Sill, without the Navy I wouldn’t have had any other excuse to live in Guam. However, my travel experiences while in the Navy have been few and far between, and difficult. Again, I accept a lot of the blame, but a radical change is still in order.

This blog is therefore called Pat in the World. My name is Pat, and I want to be in the world. Avoiding getting too lofty, my plan slash hope is to publish something weekly, in an essay-ish format. My personal goals are to improve my writing through practice, find my writing “voice,” push myself to go out and do things to provide blog fodder and avoid mental/physical/life stagnation, gain and audience and become rich with the help of the internet’s long tail, win the Olympics, and save Christmas. Thank you for reading my blog.