Saturday, February 22, 2020

[GUAM] An Island of Thieves

As Cebu Pacific started plying the Manila – Guam route for cheap, it wasn’t long until I crossed it off my list but, as usual, it suffered from the so-near-yet-so-far syndrome. With just 3 1/2 hours of flight time from the Philippines and me not having many countries left in the vicinity to visit, the island has become my de facto destination of choice as I aim to flirt once again with the travel bug that just doesn’t thrill me anymore. And so, one boring Thursday afternoon, I decided why not fly tomorrow for a weekend trip?

Cebu Pacific would have cost me just 1/3 of the flight ticket but their flight schedule is erratic at best, not allowing me to take advantage of my leave credits for a long weekend. I ended up with United for a ticket price that does not fluctuate that much given the effective duopoly between them and Philippine Airlines. But enough of the pre-departure rave and rants. Being a non-incorporated territory of the United States, all you need is a multiple-entry US visa, then you are good to go.

They don’t have either Grab or Uber in Guam. What they have is Stroll, a homegrown ride sharing app. It’s expensive per ride but, like, half the cost of a taxi ride. Coming from the airport, what was supposed to be a 15-minute drive to Agaña turned to 30 with some detours and route redirection. Stroll Driver made it a point to make it clear to me that traffic jams are uncommon here. It just so happened that there were some road repairs this weekend. Oh well. There goes my USD25. Charge to experience and credit card.

Leaving late Friday night and arriving in the wee hours of Saturday morning meant I only had two days to spare for sightseeing. The stroll around Hagåtña did not take much time given how most of the attractions are all in one area. Plaza de España has a monument or two as a centerpiece, flanked by a cathedral to the left where I sought refuge from the angry sun toasting me alive. All info boards are in English and Chamorro, which will make anyone with a good command of Spanish squeal in delight because of the many loanwords and influences.

Perhaps what makes Guam and its language extra interesting for Filipinos is how Chamorro and Tagalog are both Austronesian languages that went through a parallel sociolinguistic history during the three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Before Magellan docked at Limasawa, their ships reached Guam first, the island getting the moniker Isla de los Ladrones from the very Caucasians from the west who would be pillaging these “uncivilized lands” in the east for hundreds of years to come in the name of  the Spanish crown. Come to think of it, who was actually robbing whom? Isla de los Ladrones my ass.

But let’s just elaborate on that in the next blog entry that will focus on the amazing Guam Museum, which left me in awe for many reasons. After almost two hours of history lessons in that museum, I exited at the back door and ended up at one of Guam’s few main roads along the coast. Crossing that mini highway, I ended up at Paseo de Susana, a tiny peninsula jutting out to the Pacific Ocean. Here it isn’t uncommon to see families just having a picnic while their children enjoy the beach. This is also the venue for the Chamorro Village, and it’s said that there is a night market there once a week.

Drained of energy from too much walking and sweating under the sun, I ended my stroll for the day back at the main road, where you will find a small monument serving as a frame for a curious view of a bent coconut tree along the Hagåtña River joining the Pacific in the background. That is the inspiration for the emblem on Guam’s flag. As to how I never ended up capturing that on film is anybody’s guess, but it’s one of those small eureka moments while you are mindlessly gallivanting in a place you’ve visited for the first time.

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