Saipan Island

Saipan Island A Beautiful Oasis

The best possible thing has happened—you have ended up on a nearly deserted island, a tropical oasis, Saipan Island.  Vast white sand beaches give way to 80 degree ocean waters.  Not many people know of Saipan Island and fewer have traveled to this pristine playground.  Saipan Island has its share of challenges. However, it still remains one of the Pacific’s best kept secrets.

Saipan Island – How We Discovered It

We set out to climb Mt. Fuji, excited for the adventure ahead I breezed through customs and immigration.  Upon exiting the secure area I did not see my husband who was behind me in line…waiting for 20 minutes I became worried.  I asked a security officer for assistance and with a stare I knew I was in trouble, guilty by association.  I was escorted to a back room where I saw Joby; we were told to wait for a translator.

Come to find out he had less then 6 months of travel time left on his passport and was being denied entry into the country.   After an 8 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean, I was not wanting to jump on the next flight back to the states.  One thing we knew for certain was we were not allowed to stay.  The translator suggested we hop a flight to Saipan Island, which is west of Hawaii and south of Japan.

I’m embarrassed to admit but I didn’t even know where this Saipan Island was, let alone that it is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands—a commonwealth of the United States, which meant no passport, no problem, we only needed a drivers license to enter.  The dollar is the local currency and local inhabitants are US citizens.  I felt that history class had really let me down.

Saipan Island

Saipan Island – A Gem Of The Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan Island is only 14 miles long and 5 miles wide.  We thought we would just grab a bus to the center of town and figure out a plan.  We quickly learned that there is no public transportation on Saipan Island.  To get around, you must rent a car or moped.

There are taxi’s on the island however, the official taxis are only allowed to take you to and from the airport or your hotel.  With such stupid logic, so a handful of illegal taxis sprouted into existence.  They have become the Uber of Saipan Island, as they undercut the taxi cartel on price and efficiency.

We put renting a car on hold to figure out where we would be staying…it’s always good to know where your going.  We hopped on AirBnB and found a local, Nicky, who offered to be our personal tour guide for a couple of days while we stayed at his house waiting for Joby’s new passport to arrive.   Things were working out.

Saipan Island

Saipan Island – It’s All About The 80’s

We woke up in a beautiful mansion over looking the ocean.  Excited to explore the island, we set out with our new friend.  The weather on Saipan Island is amazing.  The average year-round temperature is 84°F (28.9°C) and boasted 80% humidity.  Saipan Island holds the Guinness World Record for most consistent temperature.  The only deviation to Saipan’s perfect climate is the rainy season from July-November with August bringing the heaviest amount of rain falls.

The white sand beaches give way to crystal clear aquamarine colored waters with 150 feet of visibility.  The 85 degree water makes you feel like you are soaking in a healing bath.  The warm temperature allows you to play in the water all day.

When visiting Saipan, you’ll feel you have the whole place to yourself.  We quickly learned that Nicky knew everyone on the island and everything about this oasis.

Saipan Island

Saipan Island – The Grotto

We decided to visit the Grotto.  Parking the car in the parking lot, Nicky led us on a  short walk that opened up to an beautiful view of the Grotto.  A popular scuba diving site, there are three different exit holes out to open ocean.  Once outside, there are beautiful walls, swim-throughs, and caves to explore.  This site is one of the four dive sites most frequently visited by professional dive shops on Saipan Island.  The Grotto is a popular and challenging dive.

We were not prepared to scuba dive, we were just taking in the scene.   My husband thought this would be the perfect setting to teach me how to high dive, I wasn’t as sure but I went along with it.  From a large cliff which others may describe as a small jump, I set out to learn how to dive.  From below Joby and Nicky coached me to lean forward with my hands over my head, push off with my feet and just let my body follow my head into the water below…no big deal.  Well, I would love to say that I dove gracefully from the giant cliff but I did not…instead, I belly flopped and I hit hard, so hard that the wind was knocked out of my lungs and my face and chest began to burn from the sting of impact.  A glutton for punishment and not wanting to disappoint my husband, I climbed back up the cliff to try again and again with the same result; I was mastering the bellyflop.  Here is a video for your comic relief:

Saipan Island – The History

Saipan Island has its share of challenges.  In 2009, Saipan was hit by near economic collapse, which can been seen in the deteriorating infrastructure on the island.  They are still recovering.

Many of Saipan’s “tourist attractions” center around it’s involvement in WW2.  One of the islands biggest attractions is the sight of a mass suicide, known as Suicide Cliff.  At this spot, 1,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide so they would not be captured and imprisoned. Even before knowing the history, the site gave off an eerie vibe.

Saipan Island

Saipan Island – Points Of Interest

  1. The old Japanese jail:  In the middle of town there is a jail where some have reported that Amelia Ernhart spent her last days.
  2. Forbidden Island: Unlike reality TV you don’t want to be stuck on Forbidden Island. Originally occupied by evil spirits, it is now a bird sanctuary.
  3. The Last Command Post:
  4. The Garment District: Saipan was home to a thriving garment industry from the mid 1980s until 2009.
  5. Garapan Street Market: The place to meet locals, try local cuisine and buy handcrafted goods.
  6. The Old Man by the Sea: One of the most popular pocket beaches on Saipan, this rock is like an x marks the spot treasure hunt.

Saipan Island – The Local Flavor

While in Saipan you must try some of the local cuisine. The Apigigi is a sweet treat.  It is made of grated young coconut and tapioca flour.  Over an open fire the Apigigi is grilled in banana leaves.  A dish called Kelaguen is served as a side dish or main course.  The interesting thing about this meal is that no heat is used to cook the meat (cooked chicken, raw shrimp, fish or beef meat/liver) instead the “cooking” property is the acidity of the lemon juice that is used in the recipe which cooks the meat over time.

Saipan Island – The Infamous King Larry

At some point during your stay on Saipan Island, you will learn about King Larry.  In 1969, Larry Hillblom developed the courier system, now known as DHL.  He is the “H” in DHL.  This company  helped cargo save money by getting documents to customs before the ship docked, saving days or weeks at port.  By 1979, DHL was operating in 120 countries.  In 1981, he moved to Saipan Island.

Hillblom was a hero among the islanders.  He successfully sued the US government for its mistreatment of locals by persuading a judge in Guam to sanction the US for not issuing enough passports to residents.  He also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of Saipan Island against the inspector general.  When the case came up in court, he was the presiding judge.  He rendered a decision that the inspector general was not allowed to audit tax returns of commonwealth citizens; this ruling was favorable to Hillblom, as the inspector was trying to get to his tax records.

When fighting Continental Airlines for control over Air Micronesia, he used the court system to force the trial of the case in Saipan.  He gained control of Air Micronesia, and became the largest individual shareholder of Continental.

As the Hugh Hefner of Asia, Hillblom loved young virgin girls and is suspected of sleeping with hundreds of them.  The reason he wanted only virgins is that he is said to have been a germaphobe and was literally deathly afraid of contracting AIDS.

On May 22, 1995 he boarded his plane, as an unlicensed pilot Hillblom often took off on illegal flights around the Marianas.  On this day, he never returned.  The plane’s wreckage and the bodies of two passengers were recovered. Hillblom’s body was never recovered.  This incident caused a lot of speculation.

After his death, many illegitimate children came forward looking for their inheritance.  In the end, four children were able to prove that they were Hillbrom’s offspring.  Each of them received $90 million.

The history of Saipan Island is one splattered with character.  The beauty of the Saipan Island is unmatched, a picture perfect embodiment of paradise.  I learned a lot on our trip from our now dear friend Nicky—if you make it to Saipan, you should look him up.

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