Now it can be told! One of the reasons I returned to Saipan from China specifically when I did was to arrange a special tour for a group of visiting Australians to the island of Saipan. Way back in October of 2010, while I was in Beijing, China, I received a request through my DiscoverSaipan site from Narelle M., one of the activity organizers on a 45-day Sun Princess Cruise Lines tour originating in Sydney, and then continuing to Hong Kong to Japan, a few Pacific Islands and back to Australia. (One of the beautiful benefits of running internet-based businesses is the ability to do so from any location on earth with internet access).
Narelle and I continued our communication throughout my China adventure and we built the excitement as the date approached. However, by the time the cruise kicked off in early March, Narelle was not able to be physically present on the cruise, so I continued organizing with Gaye H. As things progressed, the “Cherry Blossom Tour,” as it had been billed, had to cancel its stops in Japan due to the recent events there. However, the Pacific island leg of the tour was still on!
Most of the arrangements for transportation were made back in November (Thanks for the assist, Miki!), and as the number of interested cruise passengers increased, I had to add more and more vans to handle the ever-increasing group.
Once I returned to Saipan, I met with Scott Russell and Merced Alda of the Mariana Council for the Humanities, as well as local saipanpreneur, Catherine Perry, and Gordon Marciano of PDI, who graciously helped pull things together in the few days before the ship was to arrive.
I wanted to offer our visitors a Saipan experience unlike the standard “big bus, big guns” tour most visitors receive. I wanted to show them the Saipan I fell in love with: the fantastic scenery, the local culture, the warm-hearted residents, and simple daily lifestyle that make Saipan a secret paradise and coveted escape from the ills of modern living. For that, I would need to assemble a special team.
Both Catherine and Scott suggested “Uncle” Lino Olapai as a representative of Saipan Carolinian culture (Lino is author of a book entitled The Rope of Tradition, which can be ordered here; Saipan residents may purchase at Bestseller Books), and John Castro as a representative of things Chamorro.
John (left), Lino and I meet at Java Joe’s a few days before to discuss the tour
My friend, Norman Xing, suggested a Chinese NMC liberal arts student and former tour bus driver who would also be part of the team.
And, to add some feminine energy to the team, John recruited Catherine Shai, homemaker and former cultural dancer.
I awoke on the morning of Tuesday, March 5, 2011, to an auspicious Saipan sunrise. The past three days had seen rain and overcast weather which, if it continued, would threaten the fun and excitement of my Saipan in a Day Tour.
The sunrise on the actual morning of the tour.
We learned a day or two before that, due to an issue with a faulty engine, the ocean liner was delayed and scheduled to arrive at 11:45am.
Vans are picked up…Thanks, Cheryl and Jenny at Microl Toyota!
More vans are picked up…Thanks Layer and Monica at Hertz!
The team met, vans were picked up, logistics were arranged, and all was proceeding well.
The A team: Chamorro Korean Catherine, Chamorro John, Carolinian Lino, Chinese Tom, Jamaican Walt. Thanks Doug! Great Photo!
By 11:00am, the ship could be seen making its final approach to Saipan
We arrived at the dock, and as the members of our 3-van/1-SUV caravan waited for our turn to enter the restricted area, a torrential downpour began at about 12 noon!
Storm clouds gather ominously
After about half hour of rain, the clouds began to pass and we were able to see breaks of blue sky coming in from the south. I knew this would be a good day!
By the time the passengers started to alight, the sky over Saipan was a stunning blue!
We met our group, headed out to my favorite spot, did our special welcome, and did our thing!
Lino leads the group of visitors towards our vans
Welcome, introductions, flowers, mwars and the fun begins!
As I told the visiting Aussies (and New Zealanders and at least two Americans): There is only ONE Lino Olopai on Saipan, and we’ve got him! If you want local expertise on Chamorro culture, there’s only ONE John Castro, and we’ve got him on our tour too! I assured them, that once they returned to the ship and compared notes with the other passengers, they would have had an experience like no other!
Looking on intently
I’ll have to keep some of our Secret Saipan tour, well… a secret, you understand, but I’ll just say that based on the feedback we received, as well as the happy goodbyes, a good time was had by most!
An adventurous ten took Walt’s trek to the best scenic spot on Saipan
Sacred spots and more!
As it was requested by some of our guests, we decided to incorporate some of the big guns into their experience
Next to a big bus….”Ok, where do we go next?”
Lino holds court at the Micro Beach Pavilion….history, culture and more!
As the evening drew to a close, I noted to myself that the cloudy evening sky obscured one of Saipan’s greatest assets: the famous Saipan sunset. However, almost on cue, even with an invisible sun, some streaks of hot pink emerged to color the sky and water in front of Micro Beach seemingly just for the benefit of our guests. It lasted no more than 5 minutes, but was enough to elicit some oohs and ahhs from the crowd, and provide a nice end to a special day!
Sunset makes a special brief appearance just for us.
We dropped our visitors back at the dock and said our goodbyes….You should have been there!
And thus concludes The Short Happy Tale of the 41 Australians, the two Chamorros, the Carolinian, the Chinese, and the Jamaican on Saipan!