This weekend marked the uhh..., sevente...thirt...fift...um, twenty-niner...ith Rota Fiesta! This is an island-wide festival that occurs every year on the small island of Rota, which is about 40 miles north of Guam. It's mainly a Catholic holiday in recognition of the island's patron Saint, San Francisco. Most days, you can see the island pretty clearly from Ritidian Point at the north end of Guam, where I work. Rota is a beautiful island: having far fewer people than Guam (about 3,000 as compared to more than 150,000), a greater abundance of native forests, gorgeous cliffs, clear waters, and a much higher abundance of native wildlife. The latter is, of course, due in large part to the absence of our invasive friend, the brown treesnake.
We arrived on the island Friday afternoon, both Anna and I promptly being leied by young women (although these leis were made of small shells rather than flowers). From the start, all of the people we encountered were friendly and welcoming to us. This was especially nice since one of our main forms of transportation would have to be hitchhiking, all of the rental cars already being taken. We took a van to the Rota Resort, where we'd be staying with our friends Kathy, Ted, and John. After hanging out at the pool for a while, we went into town to one of the only restaurants in town, known as the pizzeria. They have a surprisingly large menu for a place like Rota and a nice atmosphere. Probably the most distinctive element of the place are the messages covering nearly every square inch of the walls, ceiling, and rafters, both inside and on the porch. People have scrawled out their marks there for years and in many places there is layer upon layer of messages. Before leaving this weekend, we were all sure to make our marks.
One of the best experiences we had this past weekend was a dive to a place called the coral gardens. We accessed the site through a fruit farm a few miles out of town. There were six of us going, so we had to take two separate trips in Jenn and James’ sports car (discussed later) to get us there. All the dive gear, James, and I went in the first load, after which I stayed with the stuff and James went to retrieve the other folks. Once we bargained for property access with the owners, we headed down the hill to the shoreline. The dive was gorgeous, with lots of healthy coral and incredible visibility. I haven’t been on too many dives yet, but this was by far the best. Among many other things, we saw a school of barracuda, some large parrotfish, and a large clamshell. I’ve found diving to be very enjoyable so far and I’m really glad Anna has gotten me into it. We plan on diving quite a bit when we travel next year, so hopefully I’ll have a decent amount of experience by the time we go.
The main night of the fiesta for us was Saturday night, during which they had more free food and beer than I have ever encountered. There was enough food to feed the entire cast of Braveheart, Troy, and Ben Hur combined (including extras). Much of this consisted of large 24’’ by 18’’ tubs of meat. The only questions that came up in some of our minds were, “What is it?” and “Who made it?” Not that these were major concerns (especially given that it was free), but some of it looked a little suspect and tasted that way, too. Also, dogs are often eaten in certain parts of Micronesia, which isn’t exactly my idea of a tasty dish. However, suspicions of the meat aside, I was completely amazed at the sheer quantity of the spread, all given for free by the people of the island.
That same night, there was also an all out battle of the bands, Rota style. A few of the bands were of the rock and roll persuasion, but most were more of the type most commonly found out here. These groups primarily consist of a keyboard/synthesizer (or two), a guitarist, and maybe a bassist. No matter what the mix, the synthesizer is a must. Absolutely NO drummers allowed. They would interfere with the incessant electric cha-cha rhythms that pervade every single local song. There are actually a decent number of drummers out here, but their numbers pale in comparison with guitarists and keyboard players. It makes me wish I had more time and transportation for a band. Anything to counter the melodious cha-cha.
I’m not sure who won the battle because we left the fiesta area around the time the last band got up on stage. The remainder of our evening was spent scoping out the local hot spots, which included about three places. We spent a little bit of time at each, but finally decided that it would be best to get some sleep back at the resort. Our ride back was a large public bus they had driving around town to take people home. The driver was a man Jenn and James had met up with earlier and from whom they had rented a car. Oh, and not just any car. This was his personal mid 90’s Toyota Supra sports car. This bad boy was bright yellow (originally red), with a Plexiglas hatchback window, pop up headlights, and all the amenities. It also had its original suspension (as felt by the gentle rocking at any speed over 30mph), a vacuous hole where the radio used to be, several rust holes in the doors, and apparently no muffler. It sounded, and smelt, like the Continental prop plane we flew over from Guam. In short, it was awesome! It had much more character than any generic rental car, plus it gave us a little more of the true island car experience (in Guam, they’re known lovingly as “Guam Bombs”). Jenn and James even got to experience one of the tires blowing, locating the spare that looked like it had been doused in steak juice and left to hyenas, and the resulting swarm of friendly folks who pulled over to help them out.
On Sunday, during which most of the time it was raining due to a nearby tropical depression, we had a laid back day. We ate at the pizzeria for the fourth time (it’s a good place!) and took a trip to the bird sanctuary, which was very cool. The bird sanctuary includes a long cliff line, the forest below, and a part of the shore. A beautiful walkway was constructed along the top of the cliff so you can observe the birds clearly. There are many different species there, including brown boobies, red-footed boobies, tropic birds, starlings, and collared kingfishers. We stayed there for a while taking pictures and enjoying the sight of all the birds interacting with one another. Jenn was also looking for a young red-footed booby that she recently rehabilitated on Guam. This bird, which she named Bindy, was found by some people while they were on the beach in Tumon. It appeared to have an injured wing, but for whatever reason she couldn’t fly. Under Jenn’s month of care, Bindy gained back her strength and health. After only a couple trips to Ritidian Beach, she was able to take off, fly strongly, and head back to Rota. We didn’t end up seeing here at the sanctuary for sure, although it’s very likely she was there. There were just so many birds that it would be tough to tell.
Apart from this trip, I’ll give a brief synopsis of what else is going on. My work with Andy in Saipan is now finished, so I’ll be on Guam for this week. It will be busy as always, especially since two of Anna’s good friends from the Peace Corp will be coming tonight to stay with us for a couple days. On Sunday or Monday, I’ll be heading to Tinian with Andy for another five weeks of rodent trapping. I hope to get back to Guam a couple times so I can see Anna and hopefully attend our Halloween party. I’m also going to try and make it to the Rota Hash next month, but we’ll see how that goes. Once I’m back from Tinian, I’ll actually be on Guam for a while (or at least through the holidays). Anna and I have been contemplating going somewhere for Christmas for a few days, but much of that depends of affordability. Whatever we end up doing, it will be nice to be around for more than a few days! It’s likely that I’ll be in Rota during January for my last trip with Andy, however, that’s a way off right now. All this gets me thinking about how soon I’ll actually be leaving Guam. The time certainly flies out here- I’ve had a wonderful time, but it will definitely be nice to get back home.
Posted by Isaac at October 11, 2005 11:21 AM