Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jane & Tim's Guam Getaway!

Our first family photo on Guam taken in the beautiful backyard of our church!
Two weeks. 1,000+ pictures from four different cameras. So many new and wonderful experiences together. Where do I even begin to recap the incredible visit with my parents? In a perfect world, I would have found little pockets of time here and there to post stories and pictures along the way so I wouldn't face this seemingly daunting task of sorting through it all. But with all we packed in, there just wasn't time for that. Any extra time was spent visiting, preparing awesome meals together, recapping the stories from our day together, planning our next adventures... all the things that made the visit, in essence, its own perfect world.

My parents' visit began with a glimpse into the deep. After seeing all our pictures and hearing all of our dive stories, they were both interested in becoming SCUBA certified, or at least trying it out. We set them up with an awesome instructor named Fred who goes to our church. He's a former team guy and won Olympic medals (gold and bronze) in swimming. I've even heard a rumor from other church members that he worked on or with the space shuttle at some point in his career. Crazy! So needless to say, my parents were in great hands going into the course.

Moments before Mom tells me she's never snorkeled!
Having grown up surfing and snorkeling in South Florida, my dad was really comfortable in the water and got the hang of things pretty easily. On just his second day with a dive rig, he went down to 60 feet and had no problems! My mom, on the other hand, chose the moment she was walking into the harbor with a mask and snorkel on to tell me that she has never even been snorkeling before. What the heck?!? We have been talking about this dive course for two months and she never mentioned that! I was proud of her just for giving it a shot. In the end, she didn't like completing all the underwater tasks required to finish the official certification, but she really enjoyed the actual diving, being underwater, and looking at the fish. She went down to 15-20 feet with Fred for about 10 minutes and came up laughing. She loved it! Pretty impressed she got this far, considering my mom was the one who always sat on the side of the pool growing up, never even getting her feet wet. Now she can say she's been SCUBA diving! My dad completed the certification and we ended up knocking out six dives together throughout the length of the trip.

"Everything's okay!"

When my parents weren't in the thick of their dive cert, we filled the rest of the day with sightseeing on some of the island's best overlooks at Nimitz Hill, Two Lovers Point, Asan Beach cliffs and various beautiful vistas all around the island. We took them to church with us, hung out with my friends, and worked out at the gym, so they really got to infuse into our little world out here. We played golf a handful of times and even found a few places to go shopping (which is hard to do around here!).

Introducing Mom to my fab Guam friends!

 The always stunning Tarague Beach

Our first family adventure once Nick returned from his work trip to Hawaii was to snorkel at beautiful Haputo Beach. I was so glad it was a beautiful sunny day, but I guess we did not factor in the high surge and strong currents surrounding the island that weekend. We hiked down the cliffside to the stunning white sand Haputo cove and were faced with some pretty decent sized waves breaking on the rocky reef. But Nick and I don't really have a stop button, so we stuck with plan A. Next thing I know, my mom (who, remember, has snorkeled once in her life two days before) is kicking through the waves and the current, getting battered by the breaking surf on our way to the outside of the reef line. To give you an idea of how hard the waves were crashing, both my dad and I lost fins when one of them zapped us head on.

We found Dad's fin, but mine was a goner

At this point, I was freaking out for my poor mother, planning my dramatic apology speech in my head to tell her how sorry I was to put her through this treacherous experience. But when we got the outside of the surf line, turns out Mom was completely fine. "It's pretty rough," she said, but she stayed out and we snorkeled together for the better part of an hour before heading back through the crashing surf once again. As the waves buckled down on us from overhead, I was once again lamenting our decision to take her here in these conditions... and here Mom came up from the waves laughing! "That was exhilarating!" she said. She definitely surprised us with her ability to plow through unfamiliar situations without letting fear stop her. Pretty awesome to have a mom as brave as mine, and I hope I am as adventurous as she is when I'm her age!

So, we went completely out of order and somehow the snorkeling trips got easier as we went, instead of more challenging. Whoops! Most of that, again, was the timing of the ocean conditions, but it seemed like no matter where we went, whether North Tip (right), Gab Gab, or Fish Eye, Mom and Dad were in awe of everything there is to see under water around our island. I would get so nervous that they weren't having a good time because there wasn't much to see. I keep forgetting how jaded and spoiled Nick and I are for knowing how everyday all the sea sights are to us. Mom and Dad were continually impressed!

One of my favorite things to do with visitors is to take them around the southern tip of the island. As I've explained before, the southern end is less inhabited, more rural, mountainous, oceany, and, in a word, breathtaking. Doing this tour half a dozen times now, I have learned all the best places to stop on the way and what to bring (like snacks and lawn chairs!) to make the trip most worthwhile. We started at one of the US Marines landing sites during WWII, continued on to Cetti Bay overlook, Spanish Fort to meet the carabao, Inarajan Pools, and up to Jeff's Pirate Cove for a cold drink. We arrived back home via cross-island road, and just like that, in just a few hours, my parents had seen half the island... the better half, at that!

Mom after feeding "Beshy" the carabao a banana

Big John giving us an overview on the organically grown bananas

The always refreshing Inarajan ocean pools!

Inarajan pools vista

We rounded off our fabulous day of Guam exploration by going to Chamorro Village that night for market shopping and meat on a stick. We went out to dinner at a fabulous local restaurant where my parents got to experience trying to order things on the menu the restaurant did not currently have. We still had a fabulous meal, even ordering our second choice. (I think they finally started to understand why we don't eat out very often!).
In two weeks we only ate out for dinner once :)

One of the best parts of the visit was their timing, being here over Thanksgiving. We planned a very low key Thanksgiving meal and ended up combining forces with another family on our street who also had low key plans. In fact, they were planning on having fish for dinner. A few other families came as well and we had an absolutely wonderful meal together. I especially loved that several of my least favorite Thanksgiving dishes (gravy and stuffing) weren't even part of the spread. And I must say, our paleo pumpkin pie was pretty darn good! I had not spent Thanksgiving with my parents since they came to visit me in Annapolis in 2004, so this was a very special holiday for us.
Thankful to spend the day with so many awesome people!
 We also managed to fit in a few rounds of golf!

At the fish market for the third time for fresh yellowfin and poki... yum!
Looking around our quiet living room now, I can hardly believe our visit has already come and gone. Funny to think back now... talking to my mom before they booked their flights, she asked me several times, "Are you sure two weeks isn't too long? We don't want you to get sick of us!" An understandable concern when you've grown up with the mantra that company, like fish, start to stink after three days. And yet, even with all we did, there is still more I hoped to show them that I wish we had one more day to do. And then just one more day after that...

While Mom was worried about overstaying her welcome as a guest, as a hostess I was worried that the trip wouldn't be as amazing as our visit with Nick's family last Christmas, given the timing would be so close to our pretty terrible rainy season. Then there was the ever frustrating factor that we no longer had a boat to jet them around in to all our favorite spots. Turns out, we had completely different experiences with both sets of parents, visiting different sites, doing notably different activities... and yet somehow both trips were equally incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trips for them and visits for us.
And the weather turned out to be pretty fantastic for just about all of the visit. Can't ask for more than that... Thanks Guam!

As we have come to realize how difficult it is for people to set aside the time and the means to make it out here, I am especially grateful that my parents were able to make the trek. One of my favorite parts of the trip was, multiple times, looking at my mom and saying, "Hey, when was the last time we hiked to a waterfall together? Or sumitted a mountain together?" And the answer was never. There are so many new experiences we were able to have together simply because of the opportunity to spend time together on this amazing island. And because my parents happen to be in pretty awesome shape! Grateful for this time together, for these photographs that tell a thousand stories, and for new memories of both adventure and Thanksgiving we will tuck into our hearts for the rest of time. And even so, I still find myself somehow wishing there could be just one more day...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Double the fun at Double Reef

Last Sunday Nick and I hiked to a secluded beach called Double Reef. By secluded, I mean it takes an hour of traipsing through the jungle, navigating a dizzying maze of spiderwebs and trudging across a sharp, wobbly limestone forest before you get to said beach. The plus side is when you get there, you have the whole reef to yourself.... two of them, in fact! (Double the reef, double the fun...).

One of the fun things about this hike is that we got a new fancy camera! It's a Canon digital SLR with a zoom lens, and wow, I am so impressed what a difference it makes in photo quality. I saw this shot and thought, hey, I look like a professional hiker! Now I just need to figure out how I can get paid to boonie stomp...

While we usually only boast and brag about the underwater nature shots Nick captures, we can now show off some of the wildlife on land we were able to capture on our journey to the reef.

Not a bad view from the trail  

There were a whole lotta spiders with some pretty impressive web networks. 
They are like spider condominiums and that drywall they spin is unbelievably strong.

 This one is a good five inches across... creepy, yes, but there's very little risk of getting bitten considering how many of them there are. 
The mosquitos are waaaay more of a nuisance.

In addition to the bugs, we also saw a couple of wild boar, and we heard one of the notorious barking deer not too far from us (it sounded like a dog with labor pains)! Halfway to Double Reef, we took a detour to scale a big wall and climb up into Tweed's Cave. George Tweed was a navy guy who escaped the Japanese during WWII (all the American military on Guam were taken prisoner to Japan). He hung out in this obscure cave and the locals brought him food for three years to keep him alive. His knowledge of the area ended up being very instrumental once the U.S. Marines came to shore to free the Guammies on what is now Guam's Liberation Day.

On our way up the wall, we ran into this guy... we saw quite a few of them, actually!
The only other place I've seen these monitor lizards is out on secluded Cocos Island. This one must have been honoring the Sabbath day because he didn't want to leave the middle of the trail despite us sneaking up on him. Just chillin.... 
He made quite the little model for us!
A little perspective so you can see how big he is

And a close-up so you can see that pretty face

A refreshing break from spiders and lizards


Once we got to our private, beautiful crystal-water, secluded beach, we made the transformation from hiker to snorkeler and hit the reef. Because the reefs here are so secluded and don't get near the amount of traffic of the more accessible shore dives, the reefs are much more vibrant with sea life. So while we didn't see a ton of new stuff, we saw a flourishing amount of the regular stuff. Where a school of fish we are used to seeing may have 15-20 fish, out here it seemed like it was in the 100s. Pretty impressive.
Still haven't figured out how I can be a professional snorkeler either...

Nick found the biggest snail we've ever seen on Guam... maybe anywhere for that matter

Dogface Pufferfish... arf!

Seahorse + snake = pipefish... 
that's not evolutionary math, just my description of this weird looking thing

After an hour of snorkeling, we hiked back out the way we came. Another fantastic afternoon in the jungle and the ocean and that ever glorious sunshine. I love it when Guam decides to show off!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Waterfall Valley

Last week my friends Ashley (above) and Bligh (left) and I took advantage of the break in rainy season and ventured into the great Guam outdoors. Part of the problem of rainy season is that, not only does the sky open up upon all humanity, but even in the intervals where gallons of water are not actively falling from above, the unbelievable amount of mud created from past deluges makes outdoor land activities like hiking and golf simply not doable. After a few promising days with more sun than rain, we decided to take a chance and get back out there. To get going boonie stompin again, we started with a short hike to a place called Waterfall Valley, which is absolutely as beautiful as it sounds. 
 Ashley and I at the bottom of the first of a series of four waterfalls.

Bligh and I at the landing pool of the largest of the falls, which looks like this...

Nothing "Ugly Guam" about this!

Bligh giving a pretty convincing demo on how muddy it is. 

The above picture was taken on a Thursday around 10a.m. 
There's no way to include that piece of info without also acknowledging 
the twinge of guilt I feel knowing how many people reading this (uhh, like Nick)
were in an office at that time. Yeah... this just is not real life... (thanks honey!).

 The darker line of trees behind us marks the river where all of these waterfalls 
cascade down from.  It's a really beautiful place, exceptionally rewarding considering 
the hike to get here is only about 5 minutes from the main road!

Next we ventured down the road (and by the road I mean the road... there is only one road on this remote part of the island!) toward one of my favorite spots in all of Guam, Inarajan Pools. I've been here before with our out-of-town visitors, but this is one of those places that's worth going to for any or no reason. I just never get tired of how beautiful it is. We brought a picnic lunch and hung out in the sun for a while, taking a dip in the pools, listening to the ocean waves crash not far from us, and enjoying one of the best natural water features this beautiful island has to offer. It was a great end to a wonderful Guam morning! 
The only less than ideal part of the day was realizing my two hiking buddies are both in the middle of organizing their moves off Guam to their next duty station, so it won't be long (just weeks, actually) until my friends peace out and I've got to find some new hiking buddies. It also won't be long until Ashley and Bligh are experiencing winter again for the first time in a few years (yikes!). Pretty sure there will be a moment in the future for us all when we will look back on days like this and wish we could, even if just for a moment, be transported back here, to this place where the ocean is warm and inviting, the jungle is seethingly green, the wind is crisp, and the sunshine is generous. Until that day comes for each of us, carpe diem prevails.

"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." Khalil Gibran