Monday, July 13, 2009

A trip through Saipan

By Aguarin Iriarte
Pacific Daily News

In a month's time the island's high schools will begin the new school year. For incoming seniors that means one last year together with the people you've grown and shared countless experiences with.

It's not uncommon for seniors to look for a way to commemorate their last year together by planning a senior trip. Making the trip work always take a lot of planning and fundraising -- something the senior class needs to start working on right at the start of the school year, says Danielle Gervacio, a recent George Washington High School graduate and student counsel member.

Although her class did not end up taking the trip they were planning for, Gervacio says public schools have strict guidelines that have to be met to allow for a trip.

The 2009 graduate and former VIBE reporter says plans for the trip need to be submitted by September and a quarter of the money for the spring trip must be raised by October. Then there is also the issue of finding chaperones.

She adds that the trips, to be approved, need to serve an educational purpose for students. Even overcoming tough guidelines is not a guarantee a trip will work out because of the expense of it all. Thankfully, Guam's seniors have a more affordable alternative as the island's proximity to our neighboring islands in the Marianas can make for a great travel experience. Consider Saipan as a possible destination.

Beautiful scenery, lots of history and a ton of activities makes Guam's neighbors to the north a great option for seniors looking for one last adventure together. The island's pristine beaches are a sight to behold, says recent Southern High School graduate Joelyn Borja.

"I didn't think these kind of beaches existed," says Borja, who recently took a trip to Saipan.

Saipan is about 120 miles north of Guam, so after a quick 40-minute flight on either Continental Airlines or Freedom Air, you'll be on your way enjoying the sights and sounds of the island.

"It's a trip back in time," says Saipan resident Brad Ruszala, "Guam is beautiful, but it's quite a bit more commercial than Saipan."

Ruszala says Saipan is a great place to experience with friends because a 10-minute drive in any direction "will take you to an adventure."

"A trek through the jungle, a trip to the beach, lunch with the locals? We've got all of the finer things in life but it's the simpler things that make Saipan special," he says.

Flame Tree Festival

Held annually in April, and right around the time of spring break, the Flame Tree Festival brings together groups from around the region to celebrate Pacific Island art and culture. According to the Marianas Visitors Authority, The Flame Tree Arts Festival is Micronesia's largest annual arts and culture celebration, featuring traditional and contemporary visual, performing and culinary arts from the region.

"It's so beautiful, it seems like it's on fire when the trees are in bloom," says Tammy Lujan, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School. Lujan, who traveled to the island recently with family and friends, says she will definitely be back when time permits.

History lesson

A senior trip to Saipan is also educational. The island has two superb museums with one specifically focusing on the island's role in World War II, and the other on the cultural heritage of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Remnants of World War II can be seen throughout the island. One interesting relic that seems to catch most eyes are the tanks that lie off the waters of Beach Road in the village of Susupe.

Banzai Cliff, Puntan Sabaneta in Chamorro, and Suicide Cliff, Laderan Banadero in Chamorro, offer spectacular views of the northern coast but both were tragic sites of WWII.

An evening out

You can't talk about a trip to Saipan without mentioning the Thursday night market in Garapan, the heart of the island's tourist district. Food and retail vendors set up tents to sell a variety of dishes to eat and items to buy to passersby.

A three choice meal without a drink would cost you about $7.95 on Guam, at the Garapan night market, a six choice meal will cost you under $6 and that includes a drink, and even dessert.

Shopping in Saipan is limited as the island's only mall closed in 2004, although several smaller shopping centers and the DFS Galleria can be found on the island.

All that still doesn't cover all the island has to offer, as Saipan has great hiking spots like Mt. Tapochau -- from whose summit you can see the islands of MaƱagaha, Tinian, and Aguijan -- or the abundance of exotic birds like the Collared Kingfisher, Mariana Fruit-dove, Mariana Crow and the Ga'ga Karisu.

With fabulous beaches, dazzling sunsets and friendly people, a trip over to our sister island could be just the solution for seniors looking to plan an affordable last adventure together.

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