Category Archives: Photo Galleries

Cruisin’ in the rain around Honolulu

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WHEN you are visiting Honolulu, Hawaii briefly and the skies welcome you with torrential rains, don’t despair. Rain is not a hindrance to enjoy a scenic albeit wet drive around the best parts of Honolulu and count on leaving the island with hundreds of photos captured during a rainy drive.

I was all set to shoot some aerials with my friend Doc Nathan who is also a pilot a few months back during a quick stopover from Denver.IMG_2529

The plane started to descent from 38,000 feet and weather was perfect good.  Alas, when we reached 8,000 feet I could not see a thing but dark clouds and fat raindrops started hitting the window panes. I learned a storm has just passed the island and visibility was impossible.

We didn’t have luck to fly the next day too  as it was still raining so we decided to make the most of it and have sneak peek of Honolulu, rain or not.

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Driving along Honolulu’s highways is a wonder by itself. The huge mountains shrouded by thick fluffy clouds in the early morning mist and the and scenic roads zigzagging around and through the mountains add a mystic feel to the adventure.

Rivulets of water streamed down from the mountaintops forming mini-waterfalls and adding to the beauty of it all.

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We drove through the Nuuanu Pali Drive while traveling up the Pali Hwy.toward the lookout—a very beautiful, 2-mile tropical rain forest drive through dense jungles it makes you feel like you’re in an enchanted forest.

Must-not-miss sites include the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout which looked unreal in the mist, located 1,186 feet up overlooking Oahu, and the scenic Makapu’u Lookout, Hanauma Bay, and the list is endless.  IMG_2847

All I had was a few hours’ quick drive through of the island. I haven’t scratched the surface and there is so much more to do and see around the islands that you won’t run out of things to do even if you stay there for good. Nature lovers, you have the best options of cruising around the island, hiking or walking, explore waterfalls, beaches and coastlines, see botanical gardens and more. The islands also house rich historical treasures and locations, and if you’re up for shopping and night life, you got it all.IMG_2875

Don’t be scared of rain. Next thing you know, you’ll be photographing the most spectacular landscapes that only Honolulu can offer. And oh, pack beachwear, flip-flops and sunscreen because you’re going to need it. Of course, it doesn’t rain  everyday.

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Twilight at the ‘Dawn of Happiness’

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With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was surreal.

P1300259 OVER seven hours bus ride away from Bangkok will take you to the old city of Sukhothai— one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.P1300202

Located at the lower northern Thailand, the most famous ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai is a must-never-miss in one’s itinerary. Nestled amid lush jungles, lakes and neatly manicured lawns, the ancient city of Sukhothai which means “the dawn of happiness” is a history buff and a photographer’s dream.

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When we got off the bus at the Sukhothai terminal, my buddy and I rode a songthaew, a long wooden jeepney that transported us to the Old City about 12 kilometers away. We picked one of the hotels right across the street from the Sukhothai Historical Park and hurried to catch our first real glimpse of temple ruins.

I discovered there are just too may temples and ruins to visit you can’t walk all the way. We rented a motorbike for 200 baht good for 24 hours, but there are lots of bicycles for less than 100 baht.

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When we reached the nearest temples or what was left of it, my jaw just dropped. With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was just surreal. P1290957

Historical records show that the Old Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438. Since the 1960s restoration work has been done to preserve the ruins, but I learned later that if you follow the unmarked tracks, it will lead you to more temple ruins in their untouched state. We drove around some more after dark and got a real taste of fear when we stumbled into more ruins in some territory we haven’t seen in thP1300593 copye maps that sent us going around in circles for a long time.

It was kind of spooky going around the ruins especially when darkness fell, with the orange glow casting shadows. You get this uneasy feeling that someone is watching you from behind the pillars and stones but I guess it is part of the mystery and attraction that lures thousands of visitors from all parts of the world every day.P1300428

Accommodation in Sukhothai is not a problem. Hotels and guest houses abound and at whatever budget suits you.

Sukhothai is a place where life starts very early in the morning with vendors selling food in carts and tables on the sidewalks, and where you see hundreds of monks in orange ply the streets in the early morning hours.

Getting to Sukhothai from Bangkok or other parts of Thailand is half the fun and you get to explore the Thailand countryside. The long bus rides are worth it but you can check out other options like trains and airplanes.

Discovering historic Guthrie

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At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone around and only a few cars were on the streets. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800′s.

IMAGINE waking up one morning and finding yourself in the middle of beautiful tree-lined city streets in historic Guthrie about 30 minutes drive away from Oklahoma City. You will rub your eyes to see if you are awake and make sure you haven’t stepped into a time machine.P1310867

I had no idea what I was in for when my travel buddy and I drove into Guthrie on our way to Ponca City some weeks ago. He just mentioned vaguely about stopping by to see some sights then we were in the center of a movie set, except that it is populated with real people.

At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone of the streets and only a few cars were driving around. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800s.P1310731

Guthrie, Oklahoma’s first capital is destination for history buffs, antique lovers and collectors. The streets were lined up with rows and rows of antique shops, thrift and resale stores, art galleries, and old-looking structures that house Oklahoma’s artifacts and collections. From the glass store windows the sight of various antique stuffs will lure any shopper in—old chairs and furniture, lamps, kitchen utensils, tapestries, and all sorts of knick-knacks.

Towers emerge from beautiful quaint buildings made of red brick and native sandstone, and don’t be surprised to see classic cars parked on the streets.

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Shopping in Guthrie is the most popular and must-not-miss thing to do but I never had a chance to do it, one more reason to return.

Guthrie has been in the limelight too often as the location shoot of several popular movies including Twister, The Rain Man, Fast Charlie…the Moonbeam Rider, The Gray Man, Public Enemies, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Fingerprints, The Killer Inside me and parts of Outlaw Kingdom.

Flashback to the city’s origins, Guthrie was located in the Unassigned Lands of the Indian territory. The early settlers were among the over 50,000 people who lined to grab their piece of land from the available 2 million acres in the first land rush in Oklahoma in April 22, 1889.  A gunshot was fired, a cannon roared and horses and wagons sprang to life. Guthrie has become a tent city for over 10,000 people  and developments followed right after.

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On our way back, we drove by Guthrie again and stopped on the road to ask a guy talking where the best place to eat was.

He pointed at the building behind him and said “they serve excellent steaks down there at the basement,” and added “I know because I own the place.”

Instead of taking the elevator, we went down a rickety flight of stairs to the basement where another surprise awaited us. Gage’s Steakhouse, the sign said, and true to the owner’s word, they serve really good steaks but that is another entirely article. Watch out for it. P1310845

It was exhilarating walking and driving around the streets in a town that started as a tent city in 1889. Guthrie has preserved the rich architectural legacy while merging with the advent modernization. The magic aura of this unique territorial city continues to draw thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

This article first came out in page 23 of the Guam Post October 18, 2015 issue.

9 Things to do on Rota

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Latte stones of Rota

   (This article was first published at the Marianas Variety Guam  weekend edition page 6 for April 12, 2015)

IF you ever get the chance to visit Rota, dubbed as the untouched gem of the Pacific located at the southernmost part of the Northern Mariana Islands, prepare to be surprised. The island has much to offer especially to first-time visitors, and here are nine things you must not miss:

1. Go fishing. Swim, dive or snorkel. Rota boasts of pristine blue waters and spectacular dive spots that have kept visitors coming back for more for years. Find long stretches of white, sandy beaches that you can have all to yourself, and breathtaking fishing cliffs like As Matmos and Poña Point where annual fishing derby tournaments are hosted.

2. Play golf

Rota Resort & Country Club boasts of world-class golf courses that is one of the main attractions of tourists in the island.

3. Bird watching

A few minutes from the Rota International Airport is the I Chenchon Bird Sanctuary, one of the most popular sites on island that continues to draw thousands of visitors each year. Perched on top of a cliff with a spectacular panoramic view of the ocean,   I’Chenchon Park Bird Sanctuary is one of the designated wild life conservation on island that gives visitors the chance to watch hundreds of thousands of birds in their nesting places.DSC_4343

Get your camera or videocam ready and prepare for a showoff from any of the birds anytime, and bring home wonderful photos of Rota’s feathered species.

4. Back road driving

Once of the must-not-miss adventures on Rota include driving through the back roads and see the other side of the island. Rent a car and drive your way around. Follow the roads to wherever it leads and carry on from there. Start from the airport and drive on to Sinapalo and all the way to SongSong Village. Don’t stop and get ready for thrilling adventures as you drive through the jungles and emerge back to Sinapalo to where you began.DSC_4270

5. Visit historical, cultural sites 

Rota carries its own share of historical and cultural wealth. Driving around the island will lead you to some very interesting historical sites starting off with the Cave Museum along the way to Songsong, the Tonga Cave which Japanese soldiers used as shelter during the World War 11, the Japanese canon right on the road just a few miles from Songsong village proper, the remains of a Japanese sugar mill which existed back in the 1930s. You will also get to see lots of cultural sites like the Latte Stone site, and more.DSC_4333

6. Climb the Cake Mountain

Rota’s popular Cake Mountain draws hundreds of mountain climbers each year. Named because of its unique shape that resembles a wedding cake, the mountain rises 470 feet above sea level and is Rota’s most popular landmark.

7. Ruins and abandoned buildings

There is a mystic beauty in ruins, and the island just has plenty of these abandoned structures. Explore, close your eyes and try to visualize what life was when those structures were still teeming with life and activities.

8. Bike around the island

Rota presents its own share of challenges for bikers from paved roads to deep jungle roads, rocky paths and almost non-existing trails with spectacular views along the way.

9. Try a deer dish.

Rota is popular for its deer meat, and you must not leave the island without trying one of the locally prepared dishes. Check any of the restaurants in Sinapalo or Songsong and ask for deer meat dishes.

Islands on Fire

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Text and photos by Raquel C Bagnol
A hot flaming welcome to the Northern Mariana Islands

IF you are planning a trip to Saipan, Tinian or Rota, do so from March to July — that’s when most of the flame trees are in bloom and the islands appear to be in “flames.”

Flying above Tinian during these months gives you a view of vast green jungles sprinkled with a lot of red. Approaching Saipan affords you a spectacular view of an island in full bloom.The best places to drive around is the Airport Road area where fiery red and orange flowers can be seen. Beach Road from Susupe to Garapan is also a sight to behold as the orange blooms provide a contrast to the blue sky and ocean.Flame trees bloom each year, but it’s never the same each time. If you have been taking photos of the flame trees each year at their different stages, you will know this. If you haven’t done it already, try keeping a photo journal of the different stages of the flame trees each year.
The flame tree is the commonwealth tree, and the annual arts festival in spring each year is named after it. The flame trees give the islands a lively and vibrant color. Even Suicide Cliff and the Last Command Post take on a different look when the flame trees are in bloom.They are the CNMI’s “flaming” welcome to visitors from all over the world.

Screaming walls of a lighthouse

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Text/photos by Raquel C Bagnol

See PHOTO GALLERY below

SAIPAN, CNMI—There is something about lighthouses that always sets my adrenaline level to ultra high and I just can’t resist the temptation to explore one. I guess that happens to a lot of people.

Back in 2008, friend Brad (not Pitt but how I wish! lol) invited me to visit a Japanese lighthouse and said that it was a perfect place to view the sunset, I wasted no time went up to the highest point of Navy Hill on Saipan one afternoon.

A slight drizzle started as soon as we were on Middle Road but I kept my fingers crossed, hoping the unpredictable Saipan weather would do me a favor for once.

The lighthouse is located a few meters away from Whispering Palms School. Hidden by a bend in the road behind overgrown bushes is a white concrete three-storey tower rising approximately 50 feet, looking neglected and abandoned in the gathering dusk.

I mounted 45 steps of the circular staircase going up, counting beneath my breath. To get to the very top of the tower, you have to climb up eight more rungs of a steep ladder. I looked doubtfully at the rusty-looking steel but Brad assured me it wouldn’t collapse under my weight. A fantastic view awaited me from the top. The whole area of Garapan spread out serenely below, the sea in the distance bathed in a red-orange glow as the sun finally decided to peep out of the clouds after the slight drizzle to show its splendor.

Delving a little into history, I learned that the lighthouse was built in 1934 to guide Japanese ships arriving in the harbor. It was abandoned long after the U.S. Navy pulled out of Saipan in 1947. In 1990 the lighthouse was renovated into a restaurant but it closed four years later. The lighthouse was among one of three CNMI sites that were accepted to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

If walls could talk, what stories they have to tell! These walls had been the mute witnesses of everything that happened years and years ago.

The walls DO talk, and shout and scream. Here is one structure that suffered only a slight destruction during the World War 11, withstood the test of time and resisted the harsh elements of nature yet powerless against heartless individuals who seemed to have held a competition on wall writing.

The whole structure was covered in graffiti. Beautify CNMI! and other groups exerted efforts in repainting the lighthouse each year, but vandals always follow them and ruin their efforts.

From time to time I grab the chance revisit the Japanese lighthouse to shoot photos. My next visits not only presented more graffiti but trash on the floors too. You have to wade your way through the piles of empty beer and soda cans and bottles and hordes of other food wrappings to the top of the lighthouse.

Despite the tall bushes and thick shrubs that threatened to engulf the whole structure, the place still maintains its power to lure visitors to come up and challenge the slippery and dank stairs, the piles of trash and graffiti.

It’s always a cat and mouse game with the cleaners and the vandals, but this lighthouse is one of the must-visit sites when you’re on Saipan. Don’t miss it! To get there, just follow the road up to Navy Hill, go left past Whispering Palms School, look for a mango tree, scratch your head and watch out for a dog by the roadside. Kidding. Once you get to Navy Hill, just ask anyone for directions.

As Matmos Fishing Cliff

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Panic gripped me. I had made sure that I stood on dry rocks not reached by the water and that one single wave got me.

ROTA, Northern Mariana Islands—There was no debate when I saw that sign by the roadside, a temptation too strong to resist, and I knew I was not going to have peace of mind until I get to the As Matmos Cliff. “As Matmos Fishing Cliff, 4 miles.”

With the sun beating relentlessly down from the skies, I turned the car aircon on and started following the road that resembled like a dried up river bed, driving deep into the jungle and emerging again into a hot open area, assured that the ocean was not far and it was still high noon.

The path I was following ended in a fork—one with a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign on it, one that I had no plans of violating no matter how tempting it was, and one leading to more rocks and rough road ahead. Still I drove on, seeing no other car in the road or anywhere around.

Another fork in the road showed a sign that the As Matmos Fishing Cliff was 1.8 miles away and I drove with renewed spirits. The thicket thinned out and I was heading into rocky plains and a looming cliff up ahead. Every 50 meters or so, a huge splash of water sprayed the air and I was prompted to stop and snap photos.

From behind some bushes, I saw the final sign loom into view and the rocky road ended in more rocks and crevices. Tuning in to my surroundings for a few minutes, I opened the car and tentatively took a step toward the menacing cliffs, snapping photos and taking video clips like I was on a race with time.

Everything was so overwhelming. It was as if I stepped at the edge of the world and I felt so small and alone with the giant stone mountains behind me, the sharp steep cliffs before me. Waves were furiously crashing against the cliffs every few seconds, and it was a nightmare watching from the cliff lines. I stayed as far away as I can from the edge but close enough to capture the terrifying yet magnetic whirl of water in the rocks below.

The giant splashes that goes up like a hundred feet or so way above the cliff lines was mesmerizing to watch, as if luring one to step on to the very the edge and go with its flow to the ocean. I didn’t realize I had been staring mesmerized at the water from my nervous perch about a dozen feet or so away from the edge, until one exceptionally huge foaming wave landed at my feet, pulling back with a magnetic force so strong I was almost tempted to go with it.

Panic gripped me. I had made sure that I stood on dry rocks not reached by the water and that one single wave got me. Hugging my camera to my chest, I made a mad dash toward the car and leaned on the door to catch my breath, not minding the droplets of blood in my foot when I stepped on a sharp rock.

Warnings came flooding back when I was able to breathe normally again. Stories and warnings to be careful because As Matmos Cliffs cliffs claim lives of people who come close to the edge, especially if you are alone. I guess I never believed in the stories before, until that one scary moment.

As Matmos Fishing Cliff is one of the must-never-miss attractions on Rota, but go with a group if you want peace of mind and want to enjoy the enchanting view. You can also explore other popular fishing sites on Rota are Malilok and and Pona Point.

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