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
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
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
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
Sarawaks 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 its
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
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
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
Seeking the past in China's megacity
Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatias phoenix
The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
World heritage site
Land of hope
Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
Suzhou and Hangzhou
The river mild
Top of the world
Memo from the Lower Mekong
Call of the wild
Mad about Madurai
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle,
up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama
M. Lung joins the chase.
|Defending champ Jamie
Whitmore heads for the finish
A beach-fringed isle between the Pacific
Ocean and the Philippine Sea, Saipan seems suited to little
other than lazing on the sand. But one Saturday in April,
its western beaches had been swallowed by a pale green tide
and instead of sunbathing, I stood on shore among sinewy athletes
surveying a choppy surf.
The third installment of the Xterra Saipan Championship, an
off-road triathlon that gets under way in the waters off Micro
Beach before traversing dense jungle and scaling the craggy
515-meter Mount Tapochao, drew some 150 competitors from as
far afield as Spain and Switzerland. Pointed white tents and
colorful banners replaced picnickers and barbecues at American
Memorial Park on the edge of the Garapan business and shopping
district. Even the ubiquitous boonie dogs, who growled me
off their turf during an evening training run, werent
to be found among the mountain bikes and weekend warriors.
The transformation from sleepy Pacific outpost to adventure
sports capital of Asia in well underway in Saipan, with the
Xterra event taking center stage in a new weeklong Sports
Fest that also includes the 15-year-old Tagaman triathlon.
The crescent-shaped island now draws elite triathletes on
a regular basis, in addition to the divers, golfers and trekkers
that have been flocking here for decades.
author tackles the bike course
Saipan is the capital and largest of the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an archipelago
dotted along 400 miles of the record-deep Marianas Trench.
Its western coast, host to most of the islands hotels
and resorts, is fringed by a long barrier reef that soothes
the surf into a tranquil lagoon. To the east, jungle trails
and limestone cliffs lead down to waterside golf courses and
coves populated by turtles, clownfish, manta rays and other
This idyllic setting, however, is perhaps best known as the
site of some the Pacific theaters fiercest battles during
World War II. Today rusting tanks, sunken wreckage, overgrown
caves and locales such as Suicide Cliff, where hundreds of
Japanese soldiers plunged to their deaths to avoid capture
by the Americans, offer reminders of the bloody US invasion
in June 1944.
Just 13 miles long and six miles wide at its broadest point,
Saipan has withstood war, colonization and even its sale from
Spain to Germany in 1899. Now a self-governing US territory,
the island hosts most American chain stores and a number of
government jobs. But most of Saipans 65,000 residents
are descendants of the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians
or later settlers from the Philippines, Japan, China and various
parts of Polynesia. This tropical island mixture reveals itself
in the local language, food and cultural events such as the
annual Flame Tree Arts Festival, which takes place the same
weekend as the Xterra.
|The transition area at
American Memorial Park
The barbecues for this years festival hadnt been
fired up for the day when we took to the surf behind pro triathletes
that included three-time champ Jamie Whitmore and 2000 Olympian
Haruna Hosoya. After a rough swim through typhoon-roused waters,
we began the arduous climb to the islands highest point
atop Mount Tapochao. Despite opting for the shorter Xterra
Sport version (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run vs. 1,500m swim,
30km bike, 12km run), which bypassed the peak, I still faced
a long, slow ride up seemingly endless mountain paths.
The dusty roads were empty save for a few aging pickup trucks
and local residents who ventured out to watch the race. Our
route took us past grazing cows, abandoned cars and the occasional
mountainside lodge. But no matter how high we climbed, Mother
Nature was the prevailing presence. Grasses and wildflowers
jumped the curb and swallowed the road while boxy, one-story
houses withered under the heat and damp. Timeworn churches
faded under the noonday sun. Even the trees looked rusted.
When we turned off into a single-track trail section through
thick jungle, our battle against the elements and our equipment
began. But even scraped shoulders and popped tires did little
to take away from the lush tropical setting and view across
emerald waters. A racer from Guam literally sang the praises
of the course, promising me between verses that the downhill
portion was always around the next corner.
|Fun and sun at one of
Pacific Islands Clubs many pools
The heatour cab driver the night before had described
Saipan as having two seasons: Hot and Wetintensified
as the minutes ticked by, making my brief run through a wooded
patch beside American Memorial Park a welcome finish to the
race. Participants in the full Xterra, meanwhile, returned
to the rainforest, where they ran alongside World War II ruins
and through caves used as hiding places during battle.
Later that day, weary yet happy competitors made their way
back down the main drag, Beach Road, for an awards dinner
at the Pacific Islands Club resort. By car and in a few cases,
bicycle, we rolled past the laundromats, the 24-hour poker
halls, the massive DFS shopping center and the Roman-style
Caesar Sauna. The dancing lasted as long as Mojo, a band from
Guam, could stand on race-weary legs. And when the party was
almost over, a Saipan local turned to a Japanese friendwho
he was trying to convince to enter next years raceand
asked, Dont you know what the Xterra catchphrase
is? Its Live More. And thats why we
do it. Were living.
Northwest Airlines and Jalways offer direct flights from Narita
to Saipan with a travel time of approximately 3.5 hours. See
for flight schedules and fares.
Where to stay
The Pacific Islands Club is the official hotel of the Xterra
Saipan Championship, offering special room rates, transportation,
pre-race meals and related festivities. The hotel also boasts
a host of on-site activities, including several pools, a rock-climbing
wall, tennis, archery, beach volleyball, game rooms and the
luxurious Mandara Spa. See www.pacificislandsclub.co.jp
for details and room rates.
For general information on the Northern Mariana islands, including
Saipan, Tinian and Rota, visit www.mymarianas.com.
The official website of the Xterra tour, www.
xterraplanet.com, features an event calendar, race results
and information on training camps.