Where America’s Day Begins – Exploring Guam

Here, visitors can snorkel with darting fish in brilliant coral reefs and scuba dive to shipwrecks, explore a WWII museum and stunning viewpoints and enjoy a fabulous meal or two before New Yorkers bite their first bagel.

Fourteen hours before the first warming rays of each day reach the eastern seaboard of the U.S., they make Guam’s sandy shores sparkle and its powder-blue, 82-degree water shimmer.

Guam is one-tenth the size of Delaware, so nothing is more than an hour’s drive from the action hub of Tumon Bay. It’s much closer to Japan than any place in the U.S., and truly an island as strategic as it is beautiful. It was part of the booty the U.S. got from Spain after the Spanish-American War in 1898 (along with the Philippines and Puerto Rico). Today, Guam – part of Micronesia in the Western Pacific Ocean – remains one of five US territories.

Two Lover's Point.
Personalized hearts in a tree at Puntan Dos Amantes (Two Lovers Point) looking west over the Pacific Ocean. Photo credit: John DeLeva.
Road side fruit stand in the village of Umatac offering mangos, papayas, breadfruit, guavas, jackfruit and other local favorites. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

Tales of Two Lovers

Some say Tumon Bay reminds them of Waikiki, and I think that’s half accurate. High-rise hotels, beautiful sandy beaches, very American stores and malls, yes, but then venture minutes away and differences become evident. Just five kilometers from the heart of Tumon Bay’s famous bay and beaches, Puntan Dos Amantes (Two Lover’s Point) offers a pilot’s perspective of the amazing coral reefs 450 feet below. The promontory took its name from a Chamorro legend.

The Chamorro are Guam’s original inhabitants and arrived more than 3,500 years before the Spanish. Their story about Two Lovers Point was about love, poor parenting decisions and a big jump, but I actually appreciated the 21st Century interpretation as much as the legend.

In 2002, a typhoon battered Guam, and among those affected by the storm’s fury was a 50-foot statue of the two lovers. Twisted into oblivion, the brass statue was sent to salvage during post storm cleanup operations. Eleven years later, a recently married couple read about the fate of the Two Lovers statue and decided to search for the salvage operator – just in case. Sure enough, the man who should have melted the metal a decade earlier didn’t have the heart to do it and kept the ravaged statue in a lost corner of his junk yard. With the word out, contributions soon followed and the statue was brought back to life, and resurrected at Two Lovers Point for the young couple’s second anniversary.

Guam’s Location: A Blessing and a Curse

Every American is taught about the day that will live in infamy – Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. But few learn that the Japanese invaded Guam the very next day and controlled it for three years! The Pacific War Museum is a treasure chest of kiosks, videos and images about the horrific WWII years. A wall that doubled as a map of the Pacific showed how Guam’s strategic position had always served as a blessing and a curse.

I soon understood why the Spanish planted themselves here for three centuries; why the Americans wanted the island after winning the war with Spain and why the Japanese took Guam less than 48 hours after bombing Hawai’i. And, ultimately why the U.S. took Guam to defeat Japan during WWII. Beyond the museum, there are six historic parks on the island, plus submerged remnants of WWI and WWII ships, memorials to Japanese and American soldiers and the South Pacific Memorial Peace Park.

The People Make the Place

I learned more about the Chamorro people, who arrived from Southeast Asia several millennia ago and despite centuries of heartbreak, occupation and colonization, endured it all and today make up more than one-third of Guam’s population. Chamorro art, song, dance and food was well worth diving into every chance I had. Again, there was the Hawai’i comparison because people love to compare one thing to another and not describe things on their own, but the flavors in their foods, the rhythms of song and dance – they were all distinctly their own.

I had the luck of running into a friend from Hawai’i who was on Guam for a celebrity chef event. Roy Yamaguchi has come a long way since opening his first restaurant in Honolulu in 1988. Today, one of his 26 worldwide restaurants is on Guam. One thing that has remained the same is his love of learning, using local ingredients and constantly trying new Pacific Rim creations.

I might have had special insight into Guam’s bounty, but let me be clear, I not only found it with Roy as well as other recommended places but at spontaneous lets-try-that stops along the way. My mouth still waters today when I think of two unforgettable Guam favorites: seafood Kelaguen, a Chammoro dish featuring a marinade made from lemon juice, grated coconut, chili peppers and other local ingredients, and red rice, the delicious staple carb that perfectly accompanied almost every meal I had.

Running into Roy was serendipitous, but it was countless incidental moments with people who I didn’t know, locals that were full of island spirit, who truly elevated my experience and made Guam a heartwarming experience.

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