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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.

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Where the waves splash higher

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IMG_0285(First published at the Marianas Variety)

THE coastal areas of Saipan, Tinian and Rota are blessed with a fair balance of pristine, white sandy stretch of beaches that anyone can picnic and swim around, as well as rugged, dangerous rocky cliffs that are perfect for taking photos of.

On Saipan, the coastal area on the western side with its clear blue waters and calm and gentle waves is perfect to lure locals from the comfort of their homes and tourists from all over the world to enjoy this paradise. The but the coastal areas at the eastern part tells a different, thrilling and dangerous story.

Try driving to the Banzai Cliff in Marpi and follow that little stretch of road to the left just before reaching the Korean monuments and you will be looking at an angle of Banzai Cliff not known to many, except for the fishermen and the adventurous. While majority of the visitors are happy to stand and marvel at the beautiful spread of blue ocean meeting the skies from the viewing deck, some people who prefer to go to the other side are watching the cliff from another perspective. They can see how dangerous the cliffs are and how high and furious the waves smash against the rocky cliffsides.a mainpix

Check out other beaches that display a spectacular show of spray of waves like Cow Town Beach in Marpi, Tank Beach and Marine Beach in Kagman, Hidden Beach and Old Man by the Sea in Talafofo, Forbidden Island. Naftan Bay, and others.

On Tinian, while locals and visitors can enjoy the lovely stretch of white sandy beaches at Tachogna, Long Beach, Taga Beach and others, the thrill of adventure awaits those who are willing to venture beyond the comforts of the more frequented areas and explore the Blow Hole, Chulu Beach or Star Sand Beach, and the coastal views along the cliffs heading to the Suicide Cliff.

On Rota, some of the beach fronts from Sinapalo heading to Songsong are ideal for picnics, but go beyond the paved roads and explore give in to the lure of adventure by driving to the Bird Sanctuary and to the As Matnos Cliff where one wrong step could make you history.IMG_0337

Again, you get the best of both worlds. If you just want to laze it out on a lounger or spread a mat on the sand, or are capturing photos and videos, you have the option of going safe and just sticking it out with the beaches within your reach.

If you go beyond your comfort zone, more adventures await. Be there to see and get wet in the shower as huge splashes of the waves rush in. Experience the adrenaline rush as you stand on tiptoe as near as you can at the edge of a dangerous cliff for that photo or video of a lifetime.

Where the waves splash higher, more thrill awaits you.

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Bye 2014, hello 2015

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The sun sets for the last time at 5:30 p.m. from my favorite spot at the Fishing Base in Garapan, Saipan.

SAIPAN–From my corner of the world, I joined the thousands of photographers from all over the world in what has become a common practice– to capture the last sunset of the year. The sun did a favor to all of us. It was round and full and did a slow show of dipping into the horizon until the last trace of it was gone, and my most favorite moment when the skies take an orange fiery glow took over.

This spectacular photo is not just another must-capture last-sunset-of-the-year but is one of the stunning and romantic sunsets that Saipan has to offer to locals and tourists from all over the world all year round.

Welcome 2015!

 

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Roadtrippin’ Rota

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20130314_154637DRIVING aimlessly around the island of Rota is one of the most rewarding experiences on island, especially if it is your first time there and you came with a thirst for adventure.
Upon your arrival, rent a car from the car rental companies outside the arrival area of the airport and as soon as you have your car keys, the island is yours.

If you are adventurous enough to adopt a ‘follow the road wherever it leads’ attitude, you are in for memorable adventures. Roll down your windows when you drive from the airport through Sinapalo Village and breathe in the salty tang of the ocean breeze while enjoying the spectacular scenery along the coastal road all the way to Songsong.

Driving on the unfamiliar and mostly deserted roads will give you a certain kind of ‘high’ and you have the luxury of just stopping anytime to take photos of anything that will catch your fancy without the risk of slamming into another vehicle or pedestrians, or getting deaf from horns blowing from cars behind you. If you are daring to take the less trodden roads that fork off into the unknown from the main roads, more escapades await you. The rugged roads could vary from too rocky to steep and narrow oftentimes it makes you undecided to go on or go back. Sometimes, thick hanging vines hanging from the trees almost obscure the road but if you listen to the thrill of the unknown, you will go on.

Driving alone for the first time makes the adventures a bit scary but exciting. Some of the roads will lead you straight to dead ends while some will take you to long-ago abandoned hotels and resorts that once throbbed with life and laughter, now left to the mercy of the harsh elements of nature.
Still, some of the rugged roads will take you to discover breathtaking panoramas that will leave you stunned and you will begin to wonder if you have stumbled into another dimension.
Follow the road and drive past the picturesque village of Songsong all the way to the Zoo and beyond where more adventures await. The paved road snakes through the thick jungles and eventually ends, to be replaced by a rugged road that not a lot of vehicles use. The road goes around the island passing farms and jungles that at times you will think you have come to a dead end but keep driving. Very soon you will emerge into a wide paved road and find yourself back in Sinapalo village.
Watch out for historical landmarks like the Japanese Canon by the roadside, burial grounds and other World War 11 artifacts along the way.

Rota, dubbed as the untouched gem in the Pacific carries loads of character and charm that adds to its enchanting beauty. The island boasts of pristine beaches, spectacular underwater wonders, rich green jungles, cool mountains, cultural and historical memorabilia scattered all over the place. What’s more, if you drive around, you feel like you rented the whole island for yourself. You would be lucky to meet a car or two along the way especially if you take the roads less trodden.
More roads on Rota wait for the daring to explore. What are you waiting for?

                     First published at the Marianas Variety Guam Sunday edition for Nov. 9, 2014 issuerota

Rota Travel for everyone

Panoramic stopover in Rota

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Text and photos by Raquel C Bagnol
ROTA , Northern Mariana Islands— A few miles past the Sunset Hotel in the village of Sinapalo, there is a spot by the roadside you must not miss. There is nothing spectacular about it — a couple of unused benches covered by leaves and twigs and a pile of stones bordering the edge of the cliff.
I’ve driven by this same spot alone a couple of times in the past but I didn’t pay attention to it or take the time to stop and check it out. But recently, I was again on Rota, this time with a videographer buddy. Our host Jackie from the Sunset Hotel recommended that we check the place out so we did.IMG_9883

Driving on the paved road, we found the spot without any trouble at all. As expected, the place was deserted and a few birds were the only signs of life. With cameras ready, we picked our way through piles of twigs and over dead leaves and headed to the pile of stones that served as some kind of a fence. Thick vegetation protruded from below the edge of the cliff beyond the stone fence.

I was unprepared for the spectacular panoramic scenery that met my eyes when I emerged into the small clearing near the stone fence. Hundreds of feet below us, the blue ocean stretched forever, merging with the blue horizon. It was a bright sunny day and gentle waves lapped along the coast that snaked its way along beautiful rocky shores, forming a kind of a cove.IMG_9888

The different shades of blue in the water and the sky merged with the green foliage, which made the scene look like a work of art.

Down on the rocky shores, small formations created islets topped with vegetation, adding to the beauty of it all.

The view was postcard-perfect, and I then understood why Rota was named as the “untouched gem of a paradise” in the Pacific.

The world seemed to come to a standstill and, for a moment, I forgot I was there to take photos and video clips. I was mesmerized with the splendor of the scene before me.

Lost in another world, my finger connected with the shutter in an attempt to capture the beauty of nature on camera. A few yards away, my buddy was as lost as I was taking video footages of the wonderful panorama before us.IMG_9887

Climbing atop of a pile of stones, I got a much better view, but keeping my balance while trying to shoot photos was too much of a challenge. One wrong step and I could be history. We didn’t have much time to stay at the lookout. We still had so much to see.

Getting to this panoramic spot requires no special skills, hiking endurance or even rugged shoes or special costumes at all. It is just beside the paved roadside so everyone, even kids can go there. Watching the sunset from the lookout would be something else, something to look forward to. Another time.

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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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Black Burger on Saipan

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IMG_4439 - CopyI was thinking they named it the Black Burger because they overcooked the patty in a certain way, or burn the sides of the bun just a little bit but when a food staffer at N@Chan! Bar & Restaurant served my order, I was surprised. Contrary to my expectation, the bun was “black” like dark chocolate. The buns, I was told, are specially ordered just for their restaurant.

Under the bun was a slab of melted cheese, a huge homemade patty, and baked shredded cheese which was crunchy and crispy I  started nibbling on it right away. The sauce, tomato, onion and lettuce are served separately. You can put them all on, or just choose what you want.

The burger was a whole meal for me. It also came with French fries, mayo and catsup dip. Not bad for $9 because you can share it with others if you are not That hungry. I cut my black burger into four, ate one fourth at the restaurant and took home the three quarters. The next morning I woke up and it was still there.

Try out N@Chan!’s black burger but bring US $ or Yen as it’s the only payment accepted for now. For reservations, call 670-233-5233. READ the FULL article HERE

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