Digging into anything and everything that makes the CNMI tick beyond politics...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Giovanni's turns 13!

FOR some, the number 13 may be unlucky but for Giovanni’s Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, celebrating its 13th birthday is a significant event.

Hyatt Regency Saipan family were all smiles as they celebrated Giovanni's 13th birthday. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

Hyatt Regency Saipan family were all smiles as they celebrated Giovanni's 13th birthday.

For the thousands of customers whose diverse palates have been satisfied by the mouth-watering concoctions whipped up by the restaurant’s competent and dedicated staff, 13 is a threshold as the restaurant embarks into its teenage journey.

Clients and distinguished guests flocked to Giovanni’s on Friday night for party time as Giovanni’s celebrated a memorable milestone of the restaurant’s success.
It was a night where nothing else matters but food, wine and fun. Guests had a grand time rubbing elbows with one another, exchanging pleasantries, conversation and laughter.
Mouth-watering delicacies that could make one forget about diets and calories loaded the table. Wine flowed freely, and the air became more festive as the night wore on and more wine glasses emptied and refilled.

Then it was time to wheel in the huge, square birthday cake and to blow the candles.
Hyatt regency Saipan general Manager Nick Nishikawa sliced the cake amid cheering from the crowd. Then it was time for food and drinks...and more food and drinks.
Hyatt Regency Saipan general manager Nick Nikishawa slices the birthday cake. Looking on is executive chef Gabriele Colombo.

Hyatt Regency Saipan general manager Nick Nikishawa slices the birthday cake. Looking on is executive chef Gabriele Colombo.

Giovanni’s is one of the four restaurants at the Hyatt Regency Saipan that offers gourmets a taste of real Italian cuisine.

Take the trip with Giovanni’s as they embark on a new journey toward serving its growing list of clientele.
Whatever event or no-occasion occasion you may be celebrating, Giovanni’s provides a cozy atmosphere that can equal any upbeat restaurant on premier dining.
Expect more treats and high quality menu at Giovanni’s with Hyatt Regency Saipan executive chef Gabriele Colombo at the helm.

Giovanni’s is one place where you can dine to the sound of live piano performances at the backdrop, and where you get the best that spells out the Hyatt touch.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Relaxing by the beach

Photos By Raquel C. Bagnol

IF you are one of the beach bums who thinks that a day out is never complete without taking a dip in the warm waters of the sea, this beach is just the perfect place for you.

PauPau beach, located right next to Palms Resort Saipan and across the now-closed La Fiesta Mall in the northern part of Saipan is a haven for beach lovers.
The long, sandy beach provides an ideal setting where families with kids or anybody else can have fun. You can stretch and sunbathe on the sand, snorkel in the crystal clear waters, swim, fish, or just hang around.
As a bonus, trees growing on the beach offer lots of shaded areas where you can bring a beach chair and catch up with your reading. Better yet, you can experience total bliss by hanging a hammock and drifting off to dreamland to the gentle crooning of the waves.
Picnic pavilions and a playground add to the convenience of the beach.
Saipan has so many beaches you can choose from to spend your next day off. You can go to isolated beaches that you can have all to yourself or make you feel shut out from the whole world. You can also go to beaches that provide total adventure.
PauPau beach is one which gives the impression of being some place “away from it all” but it is just a few steps away from the main road.
When you get some time off, drop by PauPau beach and pamper yourself to break the monotony of work.

(Got any interesting place in the CNMI you would like to be featured for Island Explorer? Please email me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Let there be light

Welcome to Saipan…bring your flashlights.

9:20 p.m. I have an hour and 40 minutes before the lights will go out (again? Yes, again and again and again!) and I will have to grope my way around to my bed and summon all my forces to fall asleep. 2 a.m. is a long way off and If you are a nocturnal being like me, you could understand the torture I go through every night. Or until the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. change the schedule next week.

I mean power outages is nothing new in this island. We have tasted power outages at all shifts but this 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. has been my biggest problem so far. It leaves me with no choice but to grope my way toward the bed guided only by the blurry light from my cellphone.

I prefer the darkness of my room because I can not bear to light a candle. It’s been over three months since I suffered the biggest blow in my life but I can’t even look at a lighted candle without breaking down. It just digs up the pain that I had been bottling and forcing to bury inside me. Enough about the subject of candles, tears are threatening to fall.

The continued power outages on Saipan is nothing new and everybody’s suffering from it. Since my two housemates left, I have learned to monitor the load shedding schedule CUC publishes in the paper every Friday. I mean it’s actually useless because CUC never follows its load shedding schedule anyway. The power just goes off anytime.

I was rushing toward the Attorney General’s Office after a press conference at the public safety on Thursday, skirting the puddles of water on the way, but with three minutes left to be on time for an interview with Atty. Ed Buckingham, I was not successful in totally preventing the heels of my sandals from sinking in the muddy portions. I was directed to go straight to a room where Atty. Ed was waiting, and had to hesitate in the doorway.

The room was engulfed in darkness and I was sure I had come to a closet or a darkroom. I was about to back out when a figure turned around. Atty. Ed was working on his laptop using miner’s flashlight attached to his forehead. What a way to work. At the Justice building on Monday, court proceedings were suspended and the hallways were filled with a mix of lawyers, clients and court staff fanning themselves to survive the heat. The court needs at least 50 gallons of gas an hour for the generators to run and the court’s dwindling budget can’t afford to pay for gasoline.

Oppsss, gotta grab some dinner before the lights go out. I don’t fancy groping my way in the kitchen. I've got a flashlight bought for $1 at a garage but I have to buy batteries yet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Parking

Each driver has his own unique way of parking...this is my favorite.

(I passed this car
at the Compact Road on my way to Melekeok in Palau
early last year.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Saipan’s sunken pool

Any trip or stay on Saipan would never be complete without visiting the Grotto, a sunken pool of amazingly azure waters that is connected to the ocean by passages underwater. For divers, the Grotto is one of Saipan’s best spots but non-divers too can enjoy the spectacular views the place has to offer.

Come with me as we visit yet another one of the unique spots this island has to offer.
The first time I visited the Grotto, I was not able to resist the urge to go down the 100 steep steps. A slight rain had made the stairs slippery and I was wearing sandals with heels but I was not about to let the opportunity pass.
Going down takes real effort as you have to hold on to the cement handrails and watch your footing if you have no wish to crash in a heap at the sharp rocks below.

Once you reach the bottom of the staircase, you will be facing yawning caverns that promise worlds of wonder under the water’s surface. Non-divers can enjoy listening to the thunderous crashing of the waves on the rocks, or watch snorkelers having a grand time in the pool.

If it requires effort on your way down, going up requires double effort. I had to rest every five or so steps and listen to my deafening heartbeat while trying to catch my breath.

Above the pool, a view deck provides a perfect setting where you can gaze for hours at the endless blue of the ocean stretched out before you. The view deck has tables and benches where guests can sit, relax and breathe in the salty tang of the ocean breeze.

The Grotto, located north of Saipan is easily accessible. Just drive past the “last command post” and “Banzai Cliff” memorial parks, and watch out for the sign on the road.

The Grotto is one place you must not miss. All you need is a healthy pair of legs (for non-divers), guts and a pair of itchy feet, and some exercise if you don't mind.
I will leave the divers to describe the underwater wonders of the Grotto, or wait until I will have the chance to dive someday. Maybe that would be when I learn how to swim. Ahhhh, maybe in the next 50 years...

CLICK HERE for more photos

(Article originally published at


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chasing butterflies

Thursday was one of those days which buddy Ferdie calls "bokya" at the CNMI Superior court. Nothing much went on, save for trials for small claims and traffic violations. I went out with a clean notebook, meaning I got no stories from there to meet my daily quota.
Waiting for the car to pick me up is one of the worst times I always experience in a day. You stay inside the court you freeze to death with the cold blast from the aircon. You wait outside you suffer from the blistering heat of the sun.

I decided to do a little of both , staying inside for a while, then going out to wait. Junhan and Raymond caught me running after butterflies and trying to capture them with my ever-reliable point and shoot Sony digicam outside the court.
I actually found chasing butterflies much more fun than running after lawyers in the lobby (although some of those serious-looking, attache case-carrying species are worth running after...lolololll) after each trial, snapping fotos of orange-clad defendants in handcuffs, poring over court records and digging up cases, not to mention pestering the clerks to have access to the files.
I envied the butterflies...no daily quota, pressures or deadlines to think of.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I had coffee today (uh-oh!)

TODAY is the fourth day after I tried to kick out coffee from my system and I am winning, or I was winning until this morning when I lost the battle and gave in to the temptation. The clock struck 3:30 a.m. and the world was eerily silent, broken only by the sounds I made as I rapped away on my keyboard, pausing once in a while to sip the scalding black liquid in my favorite mug. An unanticipated power outage (yes we know that’s not news on Saipan) forced me to go to bed at 11 pm last night. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. and jumped out of bed to erase all traces of sleep from my system. A deadline was beating down my neck and this is one battle I could not lose.

AHhh, the sweet aroma of coffee assailed my nostrils as I paused to sniff before each blissful sip. I remember walking toward the refrigerator to down a glass of cold water but my eyes strayed towards the top of the fridge where the coffee paraphernalia sneered at me invitingly.

Before I knew it, I was already pouring a spoonful of ground coffee in the coffee maker. I remember mechanically plugging it in and closing the door of my room to try to blot out musical gurgling sound of coffee dripping into the glass container. The closed door however could not stop the tantalizing smell of coffee from permeating through the room I had to take a deep breath.

The other night was pure torture. I had to swallow my saliva several times as I watched at my companion sip a cup of coffee at Shirley’s while waiting for our dinner. (I can’t mention his name here because we are not supposed to be seen together anywhere, particularly in "enemy" territory …LOL) Knowing me to be a coffee drinker, he was about to order two but I shook my head (oh if he only knew what an effort that action took) and I ordered a glass of water instead. Uhmm, I mean a glass filled with 90 percent ice cubes and 10 percent water.

I tried to look everywhere except on my companion’s cup. My agony was doubled when his cup was refilled a few minutes after. When the waitress offered a third refill, I was tempted to kick him under the table to get it for me. I had to fork ice cubes from my glass and stuff it to my mouth to fight the urge to order coffee. I won the battle that night and attacked my order of spicy chicken wings with a vengeance.

I never meant to get addicted to coffee. I mean I'm not a coffee addict. I drink my coffee without creamer and I don't take my coffee black. Just half a spoonful every- uhmm three times a day. The first thing I do after turning on my computer at the office is to pour a sachet of two-in-one coffee into my mug, head to the water dispenser in the kitchen and presto, i sip coffee as I check emails and other stuff online. By other stuff this includes "fan" mails from who wish to fan the life out of me by their vicious letters for stories that I wrote the previous day. Thanks to coffee I can bear it all.

The decision to stop curb my drinking coffee came when last week when I took a day off and stayed at home. No coffee in the morning. At about noon my body started to sense that something was very wrong, or some part of me was missing. By afternoon, I was fidgeting and sweating and only became "normal" again after I've had a cup of instant coffee.

I have a jar of Nescafe on top of the refrigerator, dozens of sachets of two-in-one coffee (minus the creamer) which I bought in Manila when I went home last May. Underneath a pile of papers in my desk, I had sachets of coffee and another jar of Nescafe behind my CPU.

I bought a pack of tea at San Jose and tried to convince myself that it’s the same with coffee. I drank juice and chomped on ice cubes and stayed away from the kitchen in our office during coffee break and succeeded, for four days.

I know I filled the four-cup coffee maker. I know I would be too weak to resist heating the rest of the coffee when I arrive home tonight. Okay, just this once...and I'll start the battle once again tomorrow.


I won i won i won!!! i was nursing a steaming mug of coffee in my hands this morning and was about to take a sip but then I went to the sink and poured the coffee into the drain. What a waste but then it was a victory.

Last Command Post remembered

DRIVING all the way to Marpi on the north end of Saipan will lead you to several areas that have been mute witnesses to the poignant events of the Second World War, and one of these areas is the Last Command Post.
If you had been on Saipan long enough, you may have taken this spot for granted but everyday, this spot gets a fair share of visitors from all over the world.

Tourists wander around the Last Command Post. At the backdrop is the Suicide Cliff.

Tourists wander around the Last Command Post. At the backdrop is the Suicide Cliff.

Located just along the road, the Last Command Post would have been another ordinary park with the colossal 800-foot Suicide Cliffs towering above and flame trees flowering from April to July each year.
Were it not for the markers and memorials scattered all over the park, visitors wouldn’t know that behind the World War II relics, a light Japanese tank and several guns that had been silenced forever is a tragic past that will forever be a part of the islands.
Records would tell you that the Last Command Post, a rock slab is where the Japanese command held out to the very end.
I and my explorer buddies Mark, Moneth, Junhan and Raymond went up the stairs and in to the inner chamber of the cave. I couldn’t help but shiver as I thought of the people who took shelter in it more than 60 years ago. If the rocks could talk, how interesting their stories would be. They had witnessed the unfolding of the fierce battle and sad events that made up a chapter of the world’s history.
Going into the inner chamber of the cave.

Going into the inner chamber of the cave.

A drizzle started and we had to hurry because we were not planning to get wet.
It was a relief to leave the place which holds so many bitter memories. Just as we were driving away, a busload of tourists arrived, excitedly snapping photos from their cameras despite the drizzle.
Generations have come and gone, but like the rest of the war memorials on Saipan, the relics of the Last Command Post will stay as a reminder of the island’s tragic past.
One of the canon placed near the stairs going to the cave. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

One of the canon placed near the stairs going to the cave.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Paradise amidst cliffs and bushes

NESTLED amidst cliffs, sharp rocks and bushes just off the eastern side of Saipan is an isolated nook which is perfect for a day out with family or friends.

Ladder beach, hidden in a cove between rugged cliffs is one of Saipan’s beautiful albeit hidden beaches.
Last Saturday’s adventure brought me and companions Mark, Junhan, Moneth and Ed to several turns on rough roads before reaching a grassy parking space way off the back of Saipan International Airport.
From the parking space, Ladder beach looked less inviting, with cliffs and huge slabs of rocks jutting out.
We descended a flight of stairs and when we emerged into a clearing, I immediately changed my mind. It’s a different word down there!
Ladder beach is a paradise, with spacious caves ideal for holding camp outs or bonfires where you can swap stories and while away the time.
If the urge to feel alone hits you, Ladder beach is the place to be. You could sit for hours and watch and listen to the sound of the huge waves crashing on rocky shores from the Pacific Ocean.
Compared to other beaches on Saipan, the waves at Ladder Beach are a little larger, adding to its charm.
Ladder beach is kind of hidden away, a place where you can be free to meditate, to wade in the water, to enjoy moments of peace or to shout and hear the wind and the waves answer you back in their own wild voices.

If you feel adventurous, you may jump on your bike and sped off toward the place. It is a place where you can discover that even among the crags and bushes, nature’s beauty flourishes. (http://www.mvarietynews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9112:island-explorer&catid=4:special-features&Itemid=31)

Click HERE for more photos