A "quick" trip to Guam: The Island in Pictures!

Guam: A place that just over a year ago I knew absolutely nothing about. I couldn’t have pointed it out on a map (but if I were to hazard a guess I’d probably have chosen an island somewhere close to Thailand!) I never would have thought that it was a territory of the United States on the western edge of the Pacific Plate. I also didn’t know that it falls under Micronesia … mainly because I thought Micronesia was a made up place that was referenced in the movie Zoolander! So all in all, I knew pretty much nothing about the island!

But that all changed when I had to make a trip to Guam for work. Trips like this are awesome because I get to check out somewhere that I never thought I’d get to go to. With return flights costing between $1,800-$2,500, there's quite a few places that would be on the list above Guam, naming a few: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Thailand, Brazil, Cuba etc.

It’s a pretty remote island, and took a total of 24-hours to fly to from Chicago (a 13-hour flight from Chicago to Japan, followed by a 4-hour flight to Guam). I didn’t know what to expect, so the week before I flew out there I did a bit of research on the island. 

Guam received a lot of attention with the back and forth between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in August 2017. After Trumps “Fire ands Fury” threat, Kim warned that the U.S. should “stop at once arrogant provocations” and, should they persist “in their extremely dangerous reckless actions,” North Korea will carry through with their threats on Guam, as they will be ready to strike at any time.
Before that now infamous tête-à-tête between the two leaders, a lot of peoples knowledge on this island would have been about as extensive as mine. So what did I find out about Guam prior to landing in Micronesia?

The first thing that came up was the fact that over 7,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed on Guam - most of which are sailors ands airmen. Much of the land is controlled by the armed forces, including the Anderson air force base, which hosts B52 bombers and fighter jets.

The U.S. seized Guam from Spain in 1898 to provide a fueling station for the U.S. fleet in the western Pacific. It quickly became a key part of international communication (the American trans-Pacific telegraph cable passed through Guam) and transportation (it was a fueling stop for trans-Pacific flights).

It played a crucial role in multiple wars. In World War II, Guam was seized by the Japanese shortly after the Pearl Harbor attacks and won back by the U.S. in 1944. The suffering of Guamanians during the occupation, when they were subjected to beheadings, forced labor, rape, and torture, was acknowledged by the U.S. Congress in 2016, in a bill providing for compensation to survivors.

With that info I wasn’t expecting much from Guam, just a large military presence and a couple of beaches! What I found was quite different …

I was there for a total of 4 days: 2 of which I was working, so I had a couple of days to explore the island. I was lucky enough to be staying at the Westin in Tumon Bay. This is at the heart of one of the main bays on the island, and overlooks the ocean. It also has a perfect view of the sun setting over the ocean every night. If paradise was a place, this would definitely be in the running. 

After my first day in Guam it became very apparent that there were four main groups of people on the island: The U.S. military personnel, the locals (Chamorros), Japanese tourists, and Filipino shoppers! This island is beautiful with way more of a holiday resort vibe than I was expecting. It became very clear on day one that the majority of holiday goers on the island were from Japan. I guess it's comparable to the British going to the Canary Islands for their summer vacation! With Guam just a 4-hour trip from Tokyo I can see why the Japanese consider it for their family getaway. There are also a lot of Filipinos who are there to find a bargain, as well as the high-end hardcore Japanese shoppers! 

The island is a crazy mix of U.S. stores and restaurants, with Japanese eateries thrown in amongst it all, with a number of these asian restaurants taking Japanese Yen as currency! Guam has an ace in the hole that makes it an irresistible winner with international shoppers: shopping in Guam is duty free!
I was staying in Tumon, which is undeniably the center of Guam’s fashion and shopping universe, with a numerous collection of boutiques within several stores including The DFS Guam Galleria, The Plaza along The Pleasure Island strip and the Tumon Sands Plaza. 
ALL shopping on Guam is tax free, and with stores such as Bally, Tiffany & Co., Bree, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dunhill, Coach, and Chloe to name just a few, the avid international shoppers make the most of the duty free choices. 

The combination of US diners and traditional style Japanese restaurants was interesting to say the least. Instead of dining at TGI Fridays, Cinnabon, Taco Bell or Panda Express, I chose to check out the local sushi restaurants as well as picking up some local faves from the famous Chamorro Village Night Market. In all honesty the sushi I had in Guam is probably the best I’ve had outside of Japan, which I wasn't expecting. Although it was more expensive in Guam than it is in Japan … but hey, work was paying! ;) 

So I wanted to make the most of being on this island, because who knows when I’d be back again … if ever! For one of the days I just walked around the area I was staying in, along the beaches and around the shopping district. But to get a better idea of what the island had to offer I had to go further afield. One of the main things that I was told was a must-do in Guam was the Chamorro Village. The outdoor mall is open every day, but the main event happens every Wednesday night from 5:30pm to 9:30pm when tourists and locals gather for the outdoor market and a multitude of cultural events. Luckily one of my off days was a Wednesday, so I bought a $7 round trip shuttle ticket to the village.
The market is a great way to find local specialities, such as bbq chicken and pork sticks; pretty standard, banana lumpia (banana egg-rolls drizzled in honey): delicious, takoyaki (an Imari Japanese snack: mainly Octopus or shrimp); also delicious/my new fave, and coconut sashimi; wasn’t bad. And for dessert, the options were basically everything  / anything deep fried! To name a few items on offer: Oreos, Twinkies, Snickers, Milky Ways, Bananas, PB&J sandwich, Nutella banana sandwich, and even cheesecake! Even though a lot of these sounded like heaven, I actually didn’t leave enough room for dessert … but I can imagine what most of them would taste like! 
The market also housed a series of souvenir shops, along with the opportunity to pet a coconut crab … the largest land-living arthropod in the world, weighing up to 9 pounds with a leg span of more than 3 feet! And if crabs aren’t your thing, how about riding a caribao? These docile mammoths are the water buffalo of Guam. Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, this national symbol of Guam has been used for centuries in farming. Visitors can ride the carabao, albeit very slowly, around the Chamorro Village.
At the heart of the market is a building that housed a stage with a local band playing between DJ sets, a dance floor and a series of tables and chairs for people to enjoy the food they’ve purchased from the market. The dance-floor seemed to be very popular with the older generations, who hazarding a guess were mainly locals. It was rammed with no spare seats for me to enjoy my takoyaki, so I went up to the balcony to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the night market. 
It was a great way to get away from the touristy part of the island and meet some of the locals, as well as try a few of the islands favorite treats! I stayed until sunset and then got the shuttle back to Tumon with about 30 of my new Japanese friends! 

The island has a series of bus routes that you can use to explore Guam, but with only 1-day left and a limited amount of time I opted to rent a car from the hotel. This gave me the freedom to explore the island without having to kill time waiting for buses, as well as being able to visit more remote locations that I might come across. And with it only taking close to 70-minutes to drive from the most northern point of the island down to the most southern point, I felt I’d be able to tick everything off of my list within a day. 
It cost $54 to rent a car from the hotel for the day, which would probably be how much I'd spend in bus tickets! I grabbed a series of maps and booklets to help figure out the day trip around Guam the night before, and got to planning. 
Guam is 32 miles long and at the most 8 miles wide. There’s one main road that goes around the island, though there are also many side roads, so you can’t really get lost if you stick to the main highway. Landmarks and buildings are generally used for directions … but I used maps on my phone to make sure that I didn’t get lost and maximized my time with the car. 

The first place on my list was Talofofo Falls Park, which is home to Talofofo Falls as well as the hiding place of Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. This was on the other side of the island from the hotel I was staying at in Tumon Bay, which was around a 45-minute drive. Entrance to the park was one of the few things I had to pay for in Guam in order to explore, but with so much on site I didn’t mind the $12 charge. 
I went to Guam in the off season, so a lot of the rides weren’t open, but there was quite a lot on offer; to name a few, the child train, the ghost house, a cable car, a shooting range, Guam historical museum, Yokoi’s Cave, the Falls and Love Land! A few rides, such as the monorail car, which is still advertised in the booklet had definitely been closed for quite some time!
Exploring the park was rather eerie, because I was the only paying customer on site! The other people within the park were either running the rides or they were working on maintenance of the rides / buildings. 
After entering the rather elaborate castle-esc entrance, I made my way to the cable car which takes you straight to the falls and the suspension bridges over the river. On the way I found there were a lot of pigs and dogs, that you aren’t suppose to feed, but seemed to follow you on the off chance that you would throw them a snack or two!
The Talofofo Falls are a scenic series of cascades on the Ugum River, and were an extremely peaceful place to experience on your own … minus the cable car attendant who wanted to be on hand to take “tourist photo” for me at the drop of a hat! (To be fair he did come in handy once or twice!)
From here I made my way across the suspension bridges and up the hills to check out Yokoi’s cave. This one is a really interesting story. Initially, Shoichi Yokoi served with the 29th Infantry Division in Manchukuo within the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1943, he was transferred to the 38th Regiment in the Mariana Islands and arrived on Guam in February 1943. When American forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi went into hiding with nine other Japanese soldiers. Seven of the original ten eventually moved away to hide elsewhere, with only three remaining in the region. These men also eventually separated but visited each other until about 1964, when the other two died in a flood. The last eight years Yokoi lived alone. Yokoi survived by hunting, primarily at night. He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave. But the word cave is a stretch. I've included a few images of the entrance to his cave, and a sketch on site showing his layout inside. 
Walking from the falls to his cave through the extremely dense forest, you can see how Yokoi stayed in hiding for 28 years without being found!

Next on the list was the Inarajan Natural Pool, which was only a 12-minute drive from Talofofo Falls. 
Located at the southern tip of the island, Inarajan Natural Pool feels a world away from Guam's often overcrowded tourist beaches. This is more popular with the locals for family bbq's. You can escape the throngs by heading for some of the more far-flung swimming holes, explore the rock pools and the rocky terrain, and you can cook up a storm at one of the public barbecue pits provided. There were only a few families there when I went. I seemed to get really lucky with the time of year that I was there as I was told these areas get really busy during the holiday season and weekends. 
After a spot of “parkour” and climbing across some old crumbling buildings, I managed to great a great view of the ocean. This island really is a beautiful place, with a lot of it still untouched. 

From here I followed the coastal roads the whole way around the island, stopping off at any beaches or locations that looked potentially interesting to explore. Stopping at a small pier by Pyga Beach, a couple of abandoned buildings, a few of the islands military monuments, and finally stopping at Gun Beach on the way back to Tumon Bay. 

During my little trip I fell in love with this island and its people. Being English seemed to be an attraction to the locals. They don’t seem to get many European visitors, probably because it’s so bloody far away! They’re use to Americans and tourists from East Asia, so when they heard my English accent they were very interested as to why I was there, and were more than happy to help me with any questions I had. On one of my trips to Rotary Sushi I ended up sitting with a local family because they couldn’t bear the thought of me eating alone! Everyone you meet will say “Hafa adai” to you, which is the local greeting. 

If you do ever get the chance to make a short trip to the island I’d say GO GO GO! Or if you visit East Asia, maybe get a return flight to Guam for a couple of days. I’d love to hear anyone else experiences if you’ve spent any time on the island, but for now it’s Hafa Adai from me!


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