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travelogue
 PAST ISSUES

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

Paradise found

Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.

A blustering wind blew across Runway Able on Tinian Island, sending pellets of rain onto the concrete tarmac, overgrown in places with tufts of wild grass. We gazed down the vast emptiness where 58 years ago a B-29 bomber carrying the deadliest cargo the world had ever seen thundered into the tropical sky en route to Hiroshima, leaving behind what was then the largest airfield in the world.

Tinian lies several miles southwest of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A 56-square-kilometer oblong rock of rolling hills and coral reef-fringed beaches measuring roughly 19km at full length, the island is said to have reminded American WWII servicemen of Manhattan. In 1944, the troops built a bone-straight road and amicably coined it Broadway, a thoroughfare that still links the desolate north to the village of San Jose and Tinian Harbor in the south, from where a high-speed ferry runs to Saipan several times a day.

Traffic lights are nonexistent on Tinian-its sparse population makes do with stop signs-and fields of chili-pepper shrubs that supply one of the island's endemic exports, chili-pepper paste, cover much of the island. While San Jose looks set for development with the 1998 opening of the CNMI's first grand-scale casino, the Tinian Dynasty, and the more recent completion of an airstrip accommodating wide-body planes, the north remains an uninhabited sanctuary for trekkers and history buffs alike.

 

History lessons
"You could really get lost around here," said my guide Brenda as we drove through the old US air base looking for wartime relics scattered in the lush jungle. The four runways and the 11 miles of taxiways and holding aprons that make up North Field were made a national historic landmark by the US government in 1985, and are surrounded by territory leased by the Americans for the occasional military training exercise. Signs reading "danger: unexploded ordnance," deter Tinian's 3,000 or so inhabitants; although when bullets aren't flying, travelers are free to explore the barren landscape laden with historical artifacts.

A quiet stretch of coastline between Taga and Tachogna Beaches

Approaching the edge of a concrete clearing the size of a football field, we slowed to a halt in front of a stone monument near a patch of shrubs and a palm tree. The monument marked the spot where the atomic bomb had to be winched up into the belly of the B-29 because of its massive size. Another similar pit sat a short distance away.

But while this forlorn corner of North Field is a somber reminder of the ultimate cost of warfare, evidence of earlier aggressions abounds only a few hundred yards away. Japanese bomb shelters, command posts and communication centers abandoned following the onslaught of US Marines still stand in the shape of twisted metal and crumbling concrete covered in hornet hives and spider webs.

 

Beach storming
Making our way back down-island, we detoured on a potentially ankle-breaking trek down a jagged hillside covered on both sides by more unexploded ordnance. We were headed for Tinian's blowhole, a naturally occurring phenomenon where crashing waves send spews of ocean spray into the air through a crevice in the coastal rocks formed over a million years ago.

While waves from the Pacific pound the island's rugged eastern shore, the western shore, facing the Philippine Sea, features sandy beaches and some of the best diving in the world. The Tinian Grotto, located halfway up the coastline, is famed for its lucid water and the crescendo of blue as divers are engulfed by immense rock formations. Beachcombers, on the other hand, head for Taga Beach, a tiny alcove of pristine white sand and aqua-to-cobalt blue water. The former home of legendary Chief Taga of the Chamorros (circa 1500 BC), the beach is now often used to shoot Japanese TV commercials.

A short walk further south reveals Tachogna Beach, a more expansive stretch of sand where a plethora of marine sports can be enjoyed courtesy of Big Boy'z II Marine. Banana-boat sailing, snorkeling, and jet skiing are just some of the attractions on offer. Tachogna's crystal-clear waters are also known for their federally protected sea turtles, who oblivious to their $15,000 penalty-protection tags live unperturbed in the wild. Swimmers needn't dive to catch a glimpse of the creatures, since high visibility and relatively shallow depths allow views all the way down to the seabed. As beach hut manager Tetsuya Sakai claims, "There's not been a day without turtle sightings in years."

Following our frolicking session with a trio of juvenile turtles, careful not to touch them and incur the hefty fine, we took a short walk back to our hotel, the grandiose Tinian Dynasty that stood imposingly amid blinding neon lights and digital signboards. The casino, with its sparkling floor made of Italian marble reflecting the lobby's gorgeous chandelier, opened in 1998 to bring gaming to the Marianas, and currently caters to hordes of Pacific-Rim residents, mostly from Korea and Hong Kong.

Inside the 6,967km2 gaming floor, endless rows of slot machines and holidaymakers crowding baccarat, blackjack , craps, poker and roulette tables made a scene comparable to Vegas or Atlantic City. Imitation Baroque paintings and Renaissance-style marble sculptures lined the chandelier-lit hall with a circular bar planted in the middle serving free drinks. Listening to the occasional joyous yelp at a distant table and the mechanical beeps of the slots dispensing bagfuls of coins, I recalled the sign reading "bet with your head, not over it," and pondered over my limits of good-natured fun sipping Jack Daniel's on the rocks.

With the island's gambling opportunities and the casino's expansion plans paving the way for Tinian International Airport's extended runway (officially opening this week), charter flights using wide-body aircraft are set to increase and scheduled long-haul services are just over the horizon. Once again, Tinian's skies will be abuzz.

From here to Hiroshima

 

Getting there
Continental Airlines (www.continental.com) operates daily night-flights from Narita to Saipan designed to prolong holidaymakers' stays in the Marianas. The Tinian Express ferry service makes six round-trips daily between Charlie Dock at Saipan's commercial port (670-323-2000) and Tinian, and each trip takes approximately 55min. Alternatively, there are scheduled commercial flights to Tinian from Guam, Rota and Saipan as well as charter flights from mainland Asia. Commercial airlines serving Tinian are Freedom Air (Saipan office: 670-234-8328) and Pacific Island Aviation (Saipan office: 670-234-3601).

Where to stay
The Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino (see www.tinian-dynasty.com or call the Japan sales office at 03-3546-6001) offers 412 luxury rooms with ocean views, along with five-star services and amenities including a spa, swimming pool, massage parlor, restaurants, and gift and convenience stores.

More information
A comprehensive bilingual website (English/Japanese) is posted by the Marianas Visitors Authority (www.mymarianas.com) and provides the latest information on the islands themselves, travel arrangements, accommodation, activities and more.

Photos by Carlo Niederberger

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