Goodbye Guam

Goodbye Guam


It is so strange that Guam is part of the USA and prides itself on “where America’s day begins.” Guam is so far away from the continental USA. The closest American state is Hawaii, which is a 7-hour flight away. From Osaka, Japan, where we live it was only about a 3 hour flight and that is one of the major reasons why the US has Guam as a colony, er, “unincorporated territory”. It was a strategic location to fight the Japanese in World War II. Today there are close to 6,000 soldiers and a naval base and air force base on the island. They have 10 times that amount stationed in Japan. I don’t see the USA leaving anytime soon as the Americans will want to keep a presence in the Pacific due to the rise of militarism in China and the unpredictable North Koreans. The locals are ambivalent towards the military, a high percentage serve in the military and the money the bases bring is needed. In speaking with an experienced military person, he mentioned that that there is some resentment for the amount of land that is reserved for the military. He feels they can get by with much less and put more in private ownership.

Ocean overlooking Merizo

As I wrote earlier, it is a convenient location for resupplying ships and planes. It was the same for the Spanish, who arrived with Magellan in 1521 and ran the island for almost 400 years. They liked stopping to resupply ships going between the New World and Manila. The Spanish treated the local Chamorros horribly for a long time, so when America won possession of Guam after the Spanish-American war at the end of the 19th century, the people were generally happy. The Japanese took over for a 4-year period during World War II and were quite cruel to the chamorros. Today we visited the massacre site of 30 villagers from Malessa. The Japanese army, anticipating US forces retaking the island, took the 30 biggest men and executed them days before the invasion in fear that they would help the Americans. It shows you how much time has passed since WW II in that one of the biggest sources of income today for Guam is Japanese tourism. It is a short flight to a tropical country with US shopping.

Campaigning for Bernie Sanders in Hagatna

I’ve been thinking about should Guam be independent. The UN, among others view Guam as a colony and declared that there should be no more colonies. Former US president Gerald Ford gave his blessing for Guam to become a commonwealth in 1974, but it was never acted upon and some in Washington actively stopped this movement. I think the locals would vote to stay in the USA because of the development that has come to the island. I have visited several Caribbean islands that are independent countries and the scene is pretty bleak for most of the locals outside of the tourist resorts. They do have much autonomy with a democratically elected governor, a 32-representative legislative body and a supreme court. Guam also gets one representative in the US House, without voting rights, but he/she serves on committee and can participate in discussions. This is much more than they ever had with the Spanish and Japanese. However, I do feel that they should have more autonomy. I would suggest merging with the rest of the Marianas Islands and become a commonwealth, similar to that of Puerto Rico.

It somewhat feels like the USA with Kmart (no competition from Target or Walmart so it is THE place to be in Guam), Home Depot and several American fast food franchises. Most (75%) of the people are chamorro, Filipino, Asian, Pacific Islander, bicultural and only 7% white. That compares to Hawaii with a 25% white population, so it does feel like a foreign place.

Guam National Wildlife Refuge – Coconut Palm Grove

When I travel to places I always ask myself could I live here. I am not sure what it would be like to live on an islands 4-8 miles wide and 32 miles long. The weather and scenery is so nice, however. I don’t think I would ever get sick of those beautiful sunsets, Pacific waves, palm trees and the green hills. Sadly the introduced brown tree snake from Australia has decimated the island’s bird population and there is certainly a lack of birds here. Not many mosquitos however as well. The chamorros remind me a bit of the Venezuelans (where I lived for six years) with the cement block, flat roofed homes, cars on blocks in the yard and dark skin. Everyone here has been super friendly and I am sure we could find friends and a community here. I think I could live here with a fulfilling job and good school for my children. We will most likely be back here as it is an inexpensive flight from Japan and there are plenty of outdoors (hiking, snorkeling) for me.

It was great to decompress in a tropical paradise and enjoy a bit of the US culture.

Reaching the Top of Guam

Reaching the Top of Guam

Ocean is leading the way 

Yesterday we climbed Mount Lamlam (lightning in Chamorro) which is 1,332 feet (406 meters) above sea level. The locals look at it being actually 38,300 feet if you start measuring the elevation from the bottom of the Marianas Trench. However, the trench is 75 miles off the coast of Guam and so cannot really be considered a single geologic feature like Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

We actually did two summits, the first Mount Jumollong Manglo (1,283 feet) is where the annual Good Friday stations of the cross pilgrimage takes place. We saw the white crosses at regular intervals and the big monument cross was a short distance from the fork for Lamlam.

Oliver in the grove of Pandanus trees

We encountered steep hillsides of sawgrass in the initial portion of the hike. It reminded me of the 1998 movie about the WWII battle for Guadalcanal, The Thin Red Line   . The sign that used to indicate which direction to the two peaks are the fork is missing. For those of you reading this before doing the hike, Jumollong is to the right and Lamlam is to the left on the smaller trail.

Hills of Sawgrass

The path to Mount Lamlam goes through some incredibly beautiful Pandanus forest and limestone outcroppings. It is amazing to think that the limestone rock was once coral reef. One needs to be careful climbing on the sharp rock, especially towards the peak. It was the most pandanus trees I have ever seen! It felt like walking on the set of Jurassic Park. I am not sure which species of pandanus of the 750 total, but it is also known as the “screw pine” because the leaves are arranged spirally like a screw and the fruit looks like a massive pine cone. They kind of look like palms, but are not related. I also spotted several cycads, which are endangered in Guam. The forests surrounding Lamlam peak are the only limestone forest tracts except in the Guam National Wildlife Refuge in the far north of the island.

A careful descent from the peak over sharp limestone

Initial Impressions of Guam

Owen and I out on the kayaks. 

I have been on the island for only a few days and mostly spent in the far south of the island. Purposely I chose to stay away from the urban area Agana with its resorts and hotels.

Driving through the villages of the south, it reminds me of Venezuela. The quality of most of the homes is substandard to mainland American homes. Definitely a poorer economy for most of the islanders. This is in contrast to the military housing facilities which are suburbia USA. You can’t beat the weather however, with sunny skies, warm nights and the Pacific ocean always near by, it makes me long for living again in the tropics. I spent 13 years living in Latin America and was ready for temperate climes and the change of seasons, but there is something to be said for tropical living.

Another delicious dinner by Nadia!

I basically see Guam as a roadside park. The Pacific Ocean is huge and refueling/rest stops are needed for America as they try to control shipping and air of the whole world with their military. Hence, the naval and air force bases on Guam and it is an American territory. I can see why Guam and Saipan were fought over so fiercely in World War II. Using airstrips and facilities on these islands put the USA within striking distance of mainland Japan. With China building islands in the south China Sea and apparently trying to make a sphere of influence similar to what America did in the Caribbean (read Robert Kaplan’s book, Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific), I don’t see the USA leaving anytime soon. Outside of the city, it doesn’t feel like America until you get in the supermarket or watch TV. Most of the people I see are dark-skinned Polynesians, who look a bit like Venezuelans. It is ironic that besides military bases, Guam relies on Japanese tourism to boost their economy. Over 1 million Japanese visit yearly. It is only an inexpensive, 3-hour direct flight from Osaka.

We are enjoying quiet family time together and soaking up the south Pacific land and sea natural beauty.

It is nice to have time to watch the sunset. 

Sella Bay Hike

A view to Sella Bay from the top of the trail. 

A wonderful and challenging hike today from the Sella Bay trailhead, 500 meters above the beach. The trail led us across two small creeks and into an old coconut palm grove. The views were spectacular all the way down with some varied vegetation. When we got to the beach, we were rewarded with crossing this old Spanish bridge, over 300 years old. Amazing it has stood the test of time with erosion and typhoons, you think it would not still be standing.


The highlight of the beach time was the superb snorkeling. Owen and I went out past the reef and looked down into the abyss. Thousands of multicolored fish, coral and other creatures. Ocean and I had a great time snorkeling in the tidal pools.


Oliver and Ocean were troopers! Ocean is so calm and methodical in her hiking. Oliver is really in his element in wilderness. It rained a couple of times, making the trail quite slippery in many places. We made it back safe and sound.


We didn’t see anyone the whole afternoon and had the beach to ourselves. I love the tropics and the smell of the sea, high humidity and tropical foliage, made for a day I won’t soon forget! My highlight was Owen’s reaction when we passed the high point of the reef. “It was like a documentary!” The snorkeling was really great and I recommend anyone doing the hike. It is located on the south side of the island, not far from where we are staying.