• Joyce McClure

A Pedacito Of The Tallest Place On Earth, Guam, Micronesia

When friends in the states ask what Guam is like, I reply, “It’s like Miami.” Hot, humid, and the ocean is right out there. And there. And there. And over there, too.

Guam sign- Ypao Beach
Guam sign- Ypao Beach

A strip of large, brand-name hotels sits along the shore in Tumon on the west side of the 225 square mile island. (Little Rhode Island is five times larger!) Chain restaurants with names like Appleby’s, California Kitchen, Ruby Tuesday, and Lone Star are scattered around the main tourist areas.

Then there’s the largest Kmart in the world and Macy’s and Ross Dress for Less for shopping. Guam is, after all, a US Territory with two large military bases housing the Air Force and Navy. But that’s not all. Not by a long shot.

Far from the madding crowd

When planning a visit to Guam it’s easy to stay away from the madding crowd if you do what the locals do, of which I am now one after moving here last year from Yap (check out my Pedacitos entries about that remote island 500 miles southwest of Guam.)

Plaza de España (c.1734), courtyard of the Governor’s palace during The Spanish, American and Japanese occupations. 
Plaza de España (c.1734), courtyard of the Governor’s palace during The Spanish, American, and Japanese occupations.

Since covid hit, it’s easier than ever to avoid crowds because the throngs of Japanese and Korean tourists have been reduced to a trickle. But the gate is still open so bring your vax card and proof of its legitimacy, heed the 3Ws – Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance – and enjoy your journey around this rarified island that is still largely unknown to Western travelers.

For current information on covid requirements, go to https://www.visitguam.com/about-guam/safety-tips/coronavirus/

Food = Culture

Guam is the center of the ancient CHamoru culture and home to a large Filipino community. Toss in Micronesian, Korean, Japanese, and Thai, add a dash of Mexican and two handfuls of Spanish, stir well and that’s the cultural stewpot that is Guam. It’s reflected in the locally-owned restaurants scattered around the island.

What might look like a dive on the outside will probably offer up some of the best food made from grandma’s recipes using local ingredients – reef fish or tuna caught that morning (Micronesia is the home office of tuna), coconut, bananas, taro, breadfruit and more. So skip those chain restaurants and go where the locals go.

Magellan’s fleet landed on Guam in 1521. 
Magellan’s fleet landed on Guam in 1521.

It takes a village

Guam is made up of villages that have evolved over the centuries from farming, ranching, and fishing centers to today’s residential and commercial hubs. Each village has its own patron saint, Catholic church, and annual local festivals celebrating everything from locally-grown bananas and coconuts to peace and heritage.

They’re a great way to experience the local culture while eating your way to stardom. Although the pandemic has curtailed events, for the time being, contact the Council of Mayor’s office at (671) 472-6940 / 477-8461 or mcogadmin@teleguam.net for information about which ones are taking place and the location.

Voyage through history

One of my favorite places to while away a few hours is the Guam Museum, a treasure chest of information and artifacts about the history of the island, its people, and environment.

Guam Museum
Guam Museum

The interactive exhibits never fail to draw me in for a few hours of immersive education. From the time, thousands of years ago when the island was first discovered by Austronesian seafarers from Southeast Asia, to the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century (who seemed to think they discovered this island first…think again), the island’s strategic importance during World War II, and on to today with a gallery of art by local artisans.

Mural by Guam artist Lee San Nicolas in the village of Agat
Mural by Guam artist Lee San Nicolas in the village of Agat

Hours are limited during the pandemic so call (671) 989-4455 / 989-2658 or email theguammuseum@gmail.com to make a reservation.

Shake Rattle ‘n Roll

Formed millions of years ago by two volcanos, Guam is a mere 124 miles from the Marianas Trench, the deepest trench in the world in the Ring of Fire where multiple tectonic plates meet. This means there are frequent earthquakes but no one seems to notice the usually minor shakes.

Asan Beach and War in the Pacific National Historical Park
Asan Beach and War in the Pacific National Historical Park

A friend who is off island sent me an anxious text last week asking about the earthquake she’d read about. “What earthquake?” I asked. The temperature is in the mid-80s year-round and there are two seasons: dry from January to May, and rainy from July to November when it’s a bit cooler. January is considered the best month to visit.

Two sides of the same coin