July 16th & 19th, 2017 

Guam was my first stop on my Pacific Island hopping trip. There are direct flights from Hong Kong to Guam, but not daily. So I flew via the Philippines, where I spent a night and took an early morning flight on Saturday from Manila to Guam. Guam is the main hub to reach most of the other islands in the region. I had two separate days in Guam, one each before and after my trip to Pohnpei.

About Guam:
Guam is the largest of the Northern Mariana islands. It is about 50 km long and up to 20 km wide, and has a population of around 170,000. Guam is a territory of the United States, and Guamians are US citizens by birth. The immigration rules are the same as in the US. So when you are travelling on a visa waiver, make sure you have a printout of your ESTA approval with you. They do check it.

The indigenous people, who first settled Guam 4000 years ago, are called the Chamorros. The first European who reached the island was Magellan in 1521. Guam was colonized by Spain in 1668, which held on to it until 1898, when it was ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American war. Soon after colonization the indigenous population was reduced from about 50,000 to less than 5,000 due to wars, typhoons and in particular a smallpox epidemic. Today ethnic Chamorros make up about 40% of the population. The second largest group are Philippinos with about 30%.

In World War II Guam was captured by the Japanese within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was occupied by Japan for two and half years, until it was re-captured by the US on July 21st, 1944, a date that is now celebrated as liberation day. The two main drivers of the economy are the US Armed Forces and tourism. Anderson Air Force Base, which was established here in 1944, is located in the Northern part of the island, while the Naval Base is in the South. These two US military bases cover nearly 30% of the land area of Guam. There are plans to increase the US military presence in Guam relocating Marines from Okinawa.

The drive from the airport to the hotel made me feel like I am somewhere in suburban America. It looks like just any other strip mall in the US, the roads are really wide, everyone drives SUVs and they have all the same shops and restaurants, including Friendly's, Denny's and IHOP. I stayed at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort, which is a bit faded but otherwise nice and at a beautiful location with great views of the ocean.

On my first day in Guam I had booked a half day sightseeing and river trip through a local company called Turtle Tours. I was picked up at the hotel by bus in the morning. The majority of the other people on the tour were Japanese. The vast majority of tourists in Guam are from Japan and Korea, and most of the direct flights to Guam originate in those two countries. The bus took us to the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park, located on the South East coast of the island. The 'adventure' started with a boat trip on the Ugum river. It’s a small river with flanked by dense jungle on both sides.

We were looking out for monitor lizard but didn't see any. We did see some catfish and some fairly large land crabs, which were very keen on the pieces of bread our guide threw them.

After the short boat trip we went to see a traditional Micronesian house, where we were greeted by young men in loin clothes blowing on shells.

The most of impressive thing here were the original Latte Stones, which were about 2,000 years old. Latte Stones are a peculiar artifact only found in the Marinara Islands. They are the foundation stones on which large thatched huts were built, which usually served as community meeting places.

There was also a small animal park that had some deer. (Deer were introduced by Europeans in the 18th century for hunting, and have thrived on the island since then.) You could also ride a Carabao, which is a large water buffalo native to the Philippines.

We had a very nice barbeque lunch by the river, watching them demonstrate the traditional outrigger canu.

I was dropped back of at the hotel at 1:00 pm, which left me the afternoon to relax by the pool and edit pictures, before I had to leave for the airport around 5:00 pm, for my flight to Pohnpei, Micronesia.

After my trip to Pohnpei, I had again one night and one day in Guam, and this time I had booked a half day hiking trip with the same tour company again. I was picked up at the hotel by my guide Prince (yes that was his name) and a driver. We first stopped at Nimitz hill for a great view of the bay and parts of the naval base underneath.

Then we started walking through dense forest. We saw wild tangerine and lemon trees, and some beautiful flowers.

After a short hike up the hill we saw several small caves, a couple of which we could go into. The first one was bit of tight squeeze to get in, but it was quite spacious inside. Guam has many caves that were used as shelter and living spaces by the earliest indigenous people and also by Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese soldier who survived in the jungles of Guam for 28 years after the end of World War II, when he was discovered in 1972.

The tour also included a stop at some pretty natural pools by the ocean and it ended with lunch at the same place we had lunch after the river tour.

Guam was a nice place to visit, not particularly spectacular, but quite pretty and relaxing. I don't think it's really worth a long trip just for itself, but it's definitely worth spending a couple of extra days here if you are on your way through to one of the more remote islands in North Western Pacific.

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