Trip to the motherland...errrr, fatherland... Guam

Trip Start Feb 26, 2011
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Trip End Jun 01, 2011


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Hafa Adai! 

(pronounced "half a day", means Hello in Chamorro, the native language of Guam and the Marianas Islands)
 
 As many of you know, Mark's dad, Joe, lives in Guam.  He grew up there, then moved to the States for many years, where he went to college, met and married Mark's mom and had Mark and his five siblings (Josephine, Fred, Melinda, Evelyn, and Lisa... then our baby, Marky!).  Years later, he married "Auntie" Mary (also from Guam) and they eventually decided that it was their dream to retire to their homeland, Guam, where they've lived for the past 15+ years.  Mark, nor any of his siblings, have ever been able to visit their dad in Guam.  Joe has been to California many times to visit, but no one from the States has ever been able to make the long journey across the Pacific.  When we learned that we would be in Asia for 3 months for business we knew that it was a PRIORITY to go to Guam and visit Mark's dad's home.  The amateur genealogist in me was tickled pink thinking about visiting Mark's motherland! My ancestors left Europe so long ago that I would never have the opportunity to visit family and learn about our native culture - but Mark had the chance! He's not a family-tree nerd like me though, so I don't think he was QUITE as geeked out.  

We had a crazy few weeks beforehand, so we were happy to head off to a NON-business related weekend with family.  We completely underestimated how much we would feel comforted by the American amenities that we used to take for granted! Denny's! Pizza Hut (I mean, REAL Pizza Hut, not a watered down franchise version)!  We were greeted unexpectedly by Joe and Mary in the airport; I was thrilled to look up and recognize Joe immediately! I had only ever seen pictures of him and heard his voice once or twice on the phone.  It was instantly soothing to be in the presence of family. You have no idea how much you'll miss your family until you're on the other side of the planet!

Guam is a very small island (it's about 30 miles long and 4 miles wide - at 209 square miles it's just a bit smaller than the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i) located in the Marianas Islands, Micronesia. Guam is 3,300 miles west of Hawaii, 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, and 1,550 miles south of Japan.  The shortest flight from the mainland U.S. (via Narita, Japan) is 14 hours, but from Hong Kong it only took us 4 hours, 20 minutes.  Continental Airlines runs the only direct flight from HK to Guam, and it only flies there and back once a week, so you better not miss your flight!  Guam is a U.S. Territory and you can easily see the blending of mainland culture mixed with local Chamorro, Spanish and Japanese cultural influences.  With only 178,000 people living here, this is LAID back place.  Zero traffic.  Zero skyscrapers.  Simple living in a lush, green, tropical environment. 

The biggest moneymaker in Guam is the tourism.  The Japanese love to vacation on Guam, which is an interesting irony since Guam was captured and invaded by Japan hours after Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 and during the two and a half year occupation the Guamanians suffered many atrocities at the hands of their captors, including horrific torture.  The scars of the fierce fighting on this proud little island are evident in the crumbling ruins of bombed out historic sites, a network of underground tunnels, and a certain sadness in the eyes of all who are old enough to have all too clear memories.  The second-largest source of income is the United States Military, which is what a lot of mainlanders think of first when they think of Guam.  
We had taken the red-eye from HK to Guam, and arrived at 5 am.  Auntie Mary had worked the night shift, and Dad had done his own night shift at his regular poker game - so no one had been to bed yet! We decided to grab breakfast together at Denny's before everyone headed to bed for a few hours.  After we woke, we followed Dad's directions and my iPhone Maps and found our way to Dad & Auntie Mary's home.  They live high atop a hill in a sweet little neighborhood with an unpaved driveway lined with tall palm trees.  Each home has a nice big yard, and Dad has many fruit trees, including papaya, banana, coconut, and bitternut.  They've done a lot of work around their garden over time and recently added some stairs up to the flat roof where they've set some patio furniture to sit and enjoy the view.  They have to keep the outdoor furniture pretty well nailed down though, because the typhoons here can be brutal! All of the homes and buildings have exterior storm shutters, and Dad and Auntie Mary have weathered more than their fair share of storm damage and losses over the years.  Dad actually lost one of his boats in one of the storms.    

For our two days being Guam tourists, we piled into our rental car and headed off to drive around the island.  The scenery is absolutely beautiful.  We kept saying that Guam is a lot like Hawaii - except without all the people and expense! We drove past the school where Dad went, the church his parents built, and the plots of land he and each of his siblings own(ed).  One of the plots was particularly meaningful; we stopped and walked around the foundation and the "backyard" of the home where Mark's dad grew up.  It's simply a concrete foundation overgrown with grasses and trees now, but it was once the only two story home in the neighborhood, the place where Dad and his family lived for many years.  

We continued around the island, stopping in many scenic spots to take pictures.  At one stop Dad told us the story of Ferdinand Magellan landing in Guam in 1521.  Island lore says that when he came with his ships he came ashore and offered to trade gold for food and supplies with the Chamorros.  He took the food that was offered but did not make his gold payment.  The Chamorros snuck out to one of his boats and towed it to the shore - then pillaged it for its supplies and wood, making it unable to sail again.  Apparently you don't mess with the Chamorros.  The boat's remains decayed there on the shore for many many years.  Mark asked if the boat was a landmark and Dad replied that Chamorros don't place much importance on nostalgia - they really didn't care much that it was there.  They were happy that after Magellan's party left that the island was left alone by the European outsiders for another 45 years.  Nonetheless, the locals now celebrate "Discovery Day" every March 21st with a re-enactment of the 1521 landing. 
 
We drove past the "London Bridge of Guam". It's mostly just a bridge, built and painted to look like a London Bridge.  For tourism?  After the bridge, the road runs uphill, where visitors can turn off into a small park to see the ruins of Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad (commonly referred to as Fort Soledad), constructed to protect the bay from pirates and other European explorers.  Mark had a good time fooling around with the cannons and we took some pictures.  Someone had left their ox (?) on a leash on the grass area in the park to graze!  Evidently farmers will just take their animals for a walk and leash them to any area there's grass then come back later to retrieve them.  This place is MELLOW.  

Another story from Chamorro legend is that of Two Lovers Point.  A Chamorro girl was betrothed by her family to a Spanish captain, who became enraged when he learned that she loved a Chamorro youth. In despair, the two Chamorros tied the locks of their  long black hair and leaped to their deaths in each other's arms from the cliff.  Today, you can pay a few dollars (support the local tourist economy!) and stand on the cliff and discuss the pros and cons of "Romeo and Juliet-ing it".  Thousands of tourists have bought luggage tags from the gift shop and written their names and the name of their lover and attached it to the fence, presumably as either good luck, or maybe a show of commitment that they'd jump off a cliff together? Hmmmm, Mark and I decided that suicide pacts are a bad idea, but we love each other nonetheless.  
 
We stopped and walked along a grassy bridge and it's dried out riverbed (the water had been diverted a long time ago) and admired the statue of the Sirena... another Chamorro legend... Sirena was a girl who would rather swim than do her chores, and one day her mother said angrily, "If you love to swim so much you should just become a fish!" and Sirena was never heard from again.  She became half woman, half fish and it is said that fishermen have seen her swimming all over the ocean.  Many have tried to catch her, but only a net made of human hair can ever snare Sirena.  **I'm wondering, is Mark's niece Sirena named after this folklore? or is that just coincidence?**
 
Mark was particularly interested in the Latte Stones of Guam (pronounced Lat-tee, not lah-tay like the coffee).  Latte Stones are stone "monuments" of Chamorro culture and can be seen throughout the island.  Most are fakes, placed in people's gardens for decoration, but many old Latte Stones still exist. Undisturbed stones are found usually arranged in parallel pairs of between eight and fourteen lattes framing a rectangular space.  The more pairs in the structure, the taller the latte stones.  While none of the early European visitors to the islands appear to have drawn pictures of latte stones in use, several accounts from the 16th and 17th centuries state that houses were erected on the stones, with one eyewitness specifying that the structures on lattes were used as community meeting places. However, the lack of definitive, consistent evidence means that all theories are disputed.  It's also not understood how these massive megaliths were moved into place... theories abound that the ancient Chamorros were a race of giant people.  Early Spanish visitors wrote that a Chamorro man could lift two Spanish men, each by one foot, as if they were children.  It should be noted that early Europeans were relatively small in stature - but no doubt these were some big islanders!

While on island, Dad and Auntie Mary hosted us for lunch twice and then my new Step-Sister-In-Law, Princess, invited us to dinner at her house. Her husband and the kids, cutie-pies Mariah and Nicolas, showed us around their huge yard and garden of banana and papaya trees as well as dozens of bushes with different peppers.  I had a fresh picked banana and Mark was in love with the pickled papaya with hot hot hot peppers.  Their home is pretty far from town, surrounded by thick trees (jungle), and Mark thought he was way out in the boondocks.  Ha! City boy.  His idea of a "big" yard is one you can fit a swing set into.  Real estate is tight in San Jose.

Did I mention that Mark had a birthday while we were on Guam?  He's not a big birthday kinda guy, but we forced some cake on him after a nice dinner at the restaurant in our hotel.  After dinner, Dad and Auntie Mary left but Mark and I sat in the lounge bar and had a few birthday cocktails and enjoyed the live entertainment for hours... we REALLY enjoyed the duo performing all kinds of great music and taking requests! The singer actually came into the audience and handed the mic to me for a verse of "Killing Me Softly" and then to Mark for the entire ending of the song! Totally RANDOM! We got lots of applause for our spontaneous performance, it was wild!

Overall, a very relaxing birthday and enjoyable trip.  No one has to worry about Dad anymore, Mark and I are reporting back to the mainland with a big fat "A+" report card.  Guam is fabulous.  

 

 
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Comments

Reynalyn on

Woowww! Great blog Meg. The pics made me miss my granpda but he looks well and healthy. Ha! The bull and rooster are a bit random but them being abke to leave their animals like that lends to the fact that they all trust one another enough to know v they would get them back. Looks like paradise.

margie on

it sounds like you two had a wonderful visit to Guam. how nice is it that mark got to visit his father. i really enjoy looking at the pitcures. thanks for sharing them with me. i loved the travel blog too.

Darlene Sharrow on

Guam looks like paradise! Some of the photos could be postcards. I'm so happy for Mark that he could finally visit his father's homeland. Through your eyes we could clearly see the love and pride of the Torres men. For the family members who haven't been there yet,what a precious gift for them!

Kate on

Wow, what a beautiful place! Your pictures are great and sounds like you all had a jam packed weekend of fun. :)

Melinda on

Meg, You are so awesome! Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and history of the Chomorro culture. I haven't been to Guam to see Dad's surroundings and see how he's doing, but you've made it so much easier to deal with his absence. I'm so happy that you & Mark were able to take advantage of visiting. Thanks for sharing. Love you both, M~

Joan on

I love your blogs!!!

Josie on

Meg, Thanks for taking us on the trip with you. It's great to see dad and auntie Mary in their surroundings. Glad you and Mark got the opportunity to spend some quality time with them. Hugs to you both!

Joe & Mary Torres on

We just want to thank you both for having the time to visit us in such short notice. We are very happy to know that we really made your visit a pleasant one to remember us. Our home is open to any of the Family who wishes to see us on how we live in this Beautiful Island of Guam called our HOME! Don't worry Mariah & Nicolas are always checking on how are we doing or what do we need. Princess and Alvin are their parents. Have a Blessed Easter and hope to see you soon. Joe will be playing cards all weekend since it's a Holiday for his Friends.

Mary & Joe on

Meg & Mark,
Thank you for showing Princess,Alvin, Mariah & Nicolas a great time in HongKong. This was a surprice for them since their out of school for Holy Week and Easter break. They call us up and told us about their nice visit with Auntie Meg and Uncle Mark. Once again Si Yuus Ma asie and God Bless you both!

Lisa Green on

Meg,
I laughed and cried throughout the whole story. Yes, Tasha was named after Sirena (the chamorro legend). Rick enjoyed the blogs so much he wants you to start sendin the link to him at his email address (rgreen@meridianvalues.com). Thank you for sharing. Love you both

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