Aug. 31st, 2017

Why yes, you are reading that right. Wait, you might be asking yourself, isn't this supposed to be a travel guide to Korea? Well, yes and no. It may have started out that way, but my travels have extended since then, so it only makes sense that my travel guide does as well. Up first? The island paradise of Guam.

Guam is a teeny tiny island. It's 50 km long and even smaller when it comes to width (in total, an area of 544 km2). For all of that, however, it is the largest island in Micronesia (other islands include the Caroline Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru). It's currently a territory of the US (which meant is was super easy to go shopping. Not only for the amount of products -good Lord I miss those-, but using the US dollar as well. I admittedly didn't do much shopping, but it's apparently a super popular reason to visit).

Being American territory is only the newest chapter in Guam's story. It's Its human history goes back 4,000 years, when Guam's indigenous people, the Chamorro people, landed on Guam. I will fully admit that I knew nothing about Chamorro people before going to Guam, and I honestly didn't learn much while there (I booked without looking at the history, planned basically nothing, and just wanted to sit on a beach on my Christmas break). They have a fascinating culture (which has been sadly beat up over the centuries, post- European contact. The population was very reduced because of the disease and the usual forced racist colonial practices meant to accomplish cultural genocide. A tale as old as time), with their own legends and stories, and while I read some of them after my trip, I am in no way competent to try and explain them. I'll just be awkwardly paraphrasing Wikipedia, so that'll have to wait until I go back to explore (and by God I will).
Just being on the island meant I learned a few things. In this case, I noticed some interesting statue-like in some places. Me, being the curious creature that I am, asked what they were. They're called Latte Stones. They're stone pillars with massive semi-spheres perched on the top, flat side up, metres tall. They weren't the flashiest or necessarily the most interesting looking at first glance, but thankfully I've learned never to pay attention to first glances. None of the ones I saw were original (the fact that they all seemed to be at entrances to buildings and/or around signs that gave that away), since they stopped being made in Guam around the 1700s. The reason that they've been brought back is because the Chamorro people have used it as a symbol and sign of pride in their pride in their identity. The stones were used with building, though which type of building is debated by archaeologists, but they've become so important as a cultural figure that they've taken on a whole new life.

I've already mentioned what happened when the Europeans showed up, and that was when Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521 on his journey to circumnavigate the world. Now long after, more Europeans showed up, and eventually it was colonized by Spain in 1565. Then it was conquered by the US in the Spanish-American war, and then fell to the Japanese hours after the Pearl Harbour. Thirty months later, it went back to the US, and it's been there ever sense, as I've already said. So there's some history about Guam, which you probably knew about as much as I did (apologies if I'm wrong). Now, let's go onto my actual trip. Let me describe paradise.

It was December- I literally left on Christmas Day. This was the first Christmas vacation in a not-cold place, and I was excited to just sit on a beach in the heart of winter time. Korea was going through a cold snap, so I was desperate to be somewhere warm. When I stepped out of the airport at four in the morning, I was hit by a blast of heat that stunned me. I was of course in a heavy sweater and jeans, and I regretted that choice the minute I got to Guam. It was wonderful. I obviously went straight to my hotel room, and driving in the dark showed me nothing of the land around me. All I saw was some palm trees along the road, but that was about it. It wasn't until the next day that I realized just how beautiful it was.

I was staying at Tumon Bay, the tourist hub of Guam. It's the big stretch of white, sandy beach located along Hotel Row (shout out to the Pacific Star Resort & Spa- I loved staying there. When I go back to Guam, I plan to stay there again). Tumon Bay is beautiful...the most beautiful place I've ever seen, and I've seen many beautiful places by now. Tumon Bay, or Tomhomat at the time, was a prominent economic centre back when the Spanish first came. Today, besides being a resort beach, it's also a wildlife preserve. The reef off the coast is protected because of a past of poor usage, and thankfully it's in better shape than a lot of other reefs in the world. It's pretty far off the shore from the bay, but you could book a boat tour to take you out to snorkel (once again, I didn't). Honestly, I didn't need to past the beach for it to be the perfect vacation.

Okay, so I need to back some. I checked into the hotel and fall into my bed. I didn't bother to set an alarm, and woke myself up naturally. When I did wake up, I went through my normal wake up routine without even thinking about it. Finally, I went to my window and pulled open the curtain...and my breath caught in my throat.

I've been on the water most of my life, but I've never seen water that colour. Teal, with dark spots of coral or rocks showing through clear water. It was so clear I could see those rocks/coral from at least a kilometre away. I was up on the twelfth floor, , so I overlooked the whole horseshoe bay. I could see where the blue water of the bay ended at the white capped breakwater and turned into an expense of sapphire. White sand ran along the shore, where dark green trees lined that. It was bright and breathtaking. Even now, just looking at the pictures, I'm amazed at the colours. I stood there blinking for an absurd amount of time, listening to the far off waves and smelling the salty air.
It didn't take long for me to get myself down to the beach. Well, sort of- in the time it took me to get dressed, order and eat breakfast, and get to the bottom floor, the blue sky had turned an ominous dark grey that promised to cause problems. I had just gotten down to the pool side, on my way to the beach, when those grey clouds opened up and the rain poured down. I ran under a small gazeboish frame, but those few steps still left me pretty soaked. When I said it poured, I am not underplaying it. It rained so hard that it made a thunder sound when the drops hit everything, and it came down in a curtain. It left me really, really worried. Guam is on typhoon alley, and I don't even want to think about how much I would have cried if my first vacation got rained out. It rained hard for a good five minutes, but it finally let up enough for me to make a dash for the hotel. A few hours of reading in my hotel later, the rain was done and everything dry, and this time I made it to the beach.

The sun was out, so I kicked off my shoes and found myself a patch of sand in the patch of a palm tree (such a beautiful, beautiful scene, isn't it?). For a long time, I just sat there in warmth and looked out at the water. I watched the waves and the people riding on them (paddle boards, inner tubes, kayaks, windsurfing, you could rent them all there on the beach). It was beautiful and calming, and I felt so much peace. It had been so long, with so much teaching related stress, that I just revelled in it. I sat there for a long time, alternating between reading and watching. Eventually, my peace got a tad boring, so I decided to explore. I picked a side of a beach and just walked.
The beach wasn't massive. It took me maybe an hour to the end of one side and back (and about the same amount of time the opposite way). The sand was warm and soft, though I had to watch out for the grey pieces of coral (some big, some small) laying there every once and awhile. It was still easy to walk on, and what a walk it was. While I can't say it was quiet, but the noise level wasn't enough to ruin my Zen. The reason for that was the beach wasn't that crowded. It wasn't empty, not by a long shot, but it was far from the most crowded beach I've ever been on. I had room to breathe. I walked with my feet just touching water (I love the feeling of the surf running over my feet. So soothing), and I didn't have to dart around people while I want. I walked in a fairly straight line at a leisurely pace. I never got annoyed by people being or obnoxious. It was so wonderful.

After a long walk, I got to the end of the beach. That is there it got a little more wild. I don't mean wild as in party time, but nature wise. The closer you get to the end of the beach, it's less relaxing beach and more rugged coastline. Big rocks began to crop up more often, dark grey and probably volcanic. It eventually became more rock than sand, which involved a lot more maneuvering and a tad bit of climbing. Don't get me wrong, these weren't cliffs. These rocks barely reached my shoulders, at most, but the positions still required more effort than the sand (consider this a warning- be careful if you're in bare feet. Honestly, don't be in bare feet). It's not just the rocks that made the edges of the beach more of an exploration. The tree line isn't kept here, and it begins to encroach on the beach itself. The twisty trees loomed over the sand and rocks, branches poking out everywhere. The trees are close to the ground, making it seem a lot more like a shelter than outside. It's a dark, cool enclave where you can relax and get away from the heat. It's a vaguely adventure-like setting, and you can bet I took another break here and imagined pirates, buried treasure, and dangerous sea battles.

I eventually had to go back, and it was around supper time when I got back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the evening there. The next day, though? I was right back on the beach. A lot of the day was more of the same. Staking a place and reading happened again, but I broke it up with something different that day. I got a bathing suit on and went for a swim. I'm not a strong swimmer, so I don't go swimming very often. I like it just fine, but it's not my go-to activity, even when I'm on a beach. However, that warm crystal clear water beckoned me. Completely worth it. I didn't go deep, maybe waist high, but it would be an excellent far out swim as well. I spent a lot of time wading, just enjoying the warm water, but I made sure to dive under the water at least a few times. I also spent sometime floating, praising myself for choosing Guam for my vacation.

I also continued my exploring, this time tackling the other end of the beach. This side, while still nice, has a lot more areas of being rocky and un-kept. It's not just the end of the beach either, but scattered throughout. In fact, the roughest part of the beach was maybe a five minute walk from my hotel. The closer you go, the rockier it becomes. This time, it really does turn more into a path than a beach. The land eventually just stops, and you hit water. It's basically the edge of this side of the beach, and you need to get yourself over the hilly rocks that jut out from the land. The rock that caught my eye though, there was something different about that. There seemed to be a big square window cut out, one that went all the way through the thick rock. It was big enough for a person to fit through, even it would have been a tight fit. I could tell it was man made.

It turned out that I had stumbled across a bit of history in my explorations. Remember how I mentioned that Japan took over Guam during WW2? That is when this window-like hole was carved out. The war in the pacific was in full force at this time, and the Japanese knew they'd need to fortify Guam in order to defend it. Cutting out windows on rock around the island, where they could position soldiers and their weapons, was what they went with. I can't imagine being a soldier or how you'd manage to fire off a weapon in that confined space. Don't get me wrong- I am aware a well trained soldier can do just that, but a soldier I am not. Whether or not the defences of Tumon Bay would have worked out for the Japanese is unknown, because the Americans landed somewhere else, and the battle for Guam was fought on the other side of the island. Now it's an interesting relic of the past, one it's totally possible to overlook if you're not paying attention (which would be a shame). I could actually see someone finding it
annoying, if it wasn't for the fact that someone had the foresight to put some stairs up and over the rock so it didn't cut the beach in half. The stairs were wood (watch out for splinters) and rather rustic looking, but sturdy.

The other side of the beach wasn't as nice as the first section. It was fine, but it wasn't as relaxing or beautiful, so if you can only go explore one side, choose the right. After I reached the end and headed back, it was close to sunset. It was my last night, so I decided to stay outside and watch. Sitting was for losers by this point of the day. The water was still warm, even though the air had cooled down enough that I was tempted to get something to cover my arms and shoulders. I decided to stand in the water, shin deep, and just look up at the sky as it slowly seeped from blue, to purple, to black.

It was then that everything just...fell into place. Even after spending two days there, it hadn't hit me until that point. It reminded me how much I missed the water, and the stars. I grew up on the bay. I spent the first eighteen years living in a place where I looked out my kitchen window and saw the water. If it was rough enough, you could hear the waves. I hadn't heard waves in years, not since I visited back home in Canada, let along felt them breaking on my legs. It wasn't only the water, because I've always known how much I love it. What surprised me was my feelings towards the stars. They're something I hadn't noticed in a long time, and part of that is I rarely see them anymore. I live in a city where the lights are bright and flashy all night. It wasn't until I watched the stars pop out, one by one, that I remembered how amazing it was to star gaze. It didn't stop there though, because it wasn't a few stars that were hard to see. They blanketed the sky, thousands of them. It wasn't quite pitch black, but it was close enough that the moonlight lit up the night sky.
This felt like home. It felt like the peace you feel when you're sitting in your yard, completely relaxed and content. This is what I want, I realized in that moment. That feeling, standing in the waves and taking in the stars, is the thing I'll settle for. When I find that, that's when I'll know I'm home. I have no idea where that place will be (maybe even Guam, someday in the future. You never know), or even at what point in my 'someday' that'll be, only that I want it. I haven't found it yet, three day weekend in Guam aside, so I guess I'll just have to keep looking across my corner of the world.



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