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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-

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.

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, weren’t 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.

The 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 island’s 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 tropical fish.

This idyllic setting, however, is perhaps best known as the site of some the Pacific theater’s 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.

 

Race day
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 Saipan’s 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 year’s festival hadn’t 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 island’s 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 Club’s many pools

The heat—our cab driver the night before had described Saipan as having two seasons: Hot and Wet—intensified 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 friend—who he was trying to convince to enter next year’s race—and asked, “Don’t you know what the Xterra catchphrase is? It’s ‘Live More.’ And that’s why we do it. We’re living.”

 

Getting there
Northwest Airlines and Jalways offer direct flights from Narita to Saipan with a travel time of approximately 3.5 hours. See www.nwa.com or www.jalways.co.jp 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.

More information
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.

Photos by Carlo Niederberger


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