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Three Perfect Days: Guam

With its pristine waters, diverse landscape, rich cultural heritage and burgeoning hospitality industry, this tiny tropical island is set to be the next big thing

Author Jessica Peterson Photography Jessica Peterson

Tanguisson Beach Rock Curve

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DAY THREE | You’ve booked an early Balinese-style massage at the hotel’s Spa Ayualam, in an open-air cabana overlooking the bay. You disrobe and a petite woman gets to work on the knots caused by the previous day’s adventure with the Russians. The combination of a gentle breeze, fragrant oil and the woman’s expert fingers sends you to sleep.

Having been prodded awake by your masseuse, you shower and head down to the Hilton’s Islander Terrace. The buffet bar heaves with both American breakfast food and dishes from the Far East. You fill your tray with miso soup, kimchi and oden, a stew of boiled eggs, daikon radishes and fishcakes in a dashi broth. It’s wonderful.

You’re tempted to go back to the beach, but you have a very different kind of aquatic experience in store. You hop in your car and head south, following the signs to Fish Eye Marine Park, where you’re booked for an activity they call Seawalker. It starts in a circular building at the end of a narrow pier, where you are fitted with a sort of spaceman’s helmet. Like those old diving suits, your helmet has a constant stream of air pumped in so you can breathe. Next, you descend a ladder, which takes you about 20 feet under the surface of Piti Bay. Your guide walks you out to a feeding area and hands you a clump of fish food. Immediately, you are surrounded by a rabble of impossibly bright and chummy creatures. No funny looks here.

Next, after an appetite-honing kayak trip, you head for Tumon’s Gun Beach, home to The Beach Bar & Grill. On the deck, blaring reggae provides an odd soundtrack to a view dominated by a large rusty gun (one of the island’s many reminders of its World War II battles). You start with a Beach Sunset—rum, amaretto, orange, pineapple, banana liqueur, grenadine and, uh, more rum—followed by a Tinian Beach Burger, a mammoth patty topped with cheese and bacon. Lunch over, you slide into a padded beach chair, lower your sunglasses and (yep) fall asleep.

Just next door is Lina’la’ Beach & Culture Park, the centerpiece of which is a reproduction of a traditional thatch-and-latte Chamorro village. A man with one cheek full of betelnut hunches over a flat stone, grinding noni leaf. He hands you a sample. “Mm!” you say, thinking “Ew!” A moment later, a muscular man with coarse black hair wearing only a red loincloth shimmies up a coconut tree, tilts his torso parallel to the ground, then slides down. “That looked painful,” you say. “Well,” he replies, smiling, “maybe a little.”

As the sun sets, you drive south, to the capital city of Hagåtña, where you find Chamorro Village, Guam’s largest indoor/outdoor market. Tables are piled with jewelry, paintings and straw baskets. The air is thick with the aroma of smoked meat. You head to Åsu Smokehouse and order a fiesta plate, which includes tender caramelized beef brisket, red rice and crisp cabbage slaw. Despite the large burger you tackled earlier, you eat it all.

From here, you find the only empty seat in the market’s central pavilion. A band is playing a classic rock set that, oddly, involves a tuba and a ukulele. On the dance floor, a local woman is swaying her hips beside a man in a top hat lined with tinsel. She giggles as he twirls her around. You get the feeling these two are a staple here.

The narrow arteries of Hagåtña are filling with tourists sipping coconut milk from the shell. A grinning young man poses for a picture with a coconut crab that’s about the size of a toddler. When they’re not sipping and posing, the tourists are spending. It is tchotchke heaven here, an endless array of beads, baubles and wooden carvings. You are not immune. A stocky middle-age man dressed in a loincloth and holding a spear beckons you to his shop. You walk out with a clamshell pendant.

As you’re readying yourself to leave, you spot a makeshift stage, upon which dancers with spears and grass skirts chant and sway to the furious beat of drums. Surrounded by chattering tourists, you cannot help but think of the island’s knotted jungles, its mazy reefs and half-forgotten rituals. It strikes you now just how far away from home you are, and just how happy you are to be here.

Writer JESSICA PETERSON has called Guam home for five years, but her friends still ask her which “nesia” she lives on.

3 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Guam”

  1. Don Weakley (Inarajan resident) Says:
    February 26th, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    A beautiful article, well written. reflects my experiences as a former New Yorker who has resided on Guam for over 55 yrs. Many folks who come here to visit end up staying. The local people are one of Guams largest attractions known for their friendlyness and hospitality.

  2. Lance Wolfson Says:
    March 1st, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Someone turned me on to the article in “Hemispheres” a few weeks ago. It has always been that paradise in my mind.
    I was born in Agana in 1952 at the US Naval hospital. It is definitely on my bucket list.
    Is there a way whereby Jessica Peterson (author and photographer) might be able to contact me through e-mail. I have so many questions I would love to ask and, in all my years, have never met anybody who has actually been to Guam.
    It would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance

  3. Janis Jackson Says:
    April 2nd, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    I enjoyed seeing Guam featured in your magazine Hemispheres. Originally from Guam I can attest to it natural, raw beauty. I’ve been around the world and there’s nothing like it.
    Guamanians like myself, don’t usually share our Island with Tourists, except for the occasional Japanese tourist, mostly honeymooners since after the last work word. Kind of our offer at peace. It is their history too after all.
    Its taken many years for Chamorros to realize that for an island that export nothing and imports everything that we have to fund our beautiful island somehow and what Guam has to offer was a well kept secret! Not anymore thanks to articles like your highlighting its natural beauty. Another interesting fact for you is the friendliness of the indigenous people of Guam, it is genuine and part of their Chamorro tradition to visitors.

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