I'm embarrassed to admit that before traveling to Guam I knew very little of the destination. My limited knowledge: Guam is a U.S. Territory, a tropical island in the Pacific and closer to Asia than North America.
But wooed by my taste buds and the lure of the island's annual Maila Ta Fan Boka Festival, (Come, Let's Eat) I visited, I learned and I fell in love. For the delicious details of my voyage, keep reading.
Let me set the stage: Picture Hawaii, then subtract 30 years from your vision, for Guam is lush and tropical but heralds the simplicity of an off-the-beaten-path getaway. Here life is beautifully uncomplicated - 35 miles per hours is the standard speed limit, cha-cha is the adopted dance and country is its favorite music. It's also a land of turquoise waters, palm silhouettes, Kodak-moment views and a contagiously welcoming spirit where the local Chamorro greeting "H?fa Adai!" is warmly and widely offered.
Discovered by Magellan, its history is impressive. Guam and its sister Mariana Islands were formally claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1565 and its role in World War II's Pacific Theater was critical. The island is proud of its multi-generational investments and no where is its pride and love more evident than in its food and fun.
Come, Let's Eat!
Maila Ta Fan Boka Competition - Attended by foodie fans and fanatics this festival spurred my visit, and disappointed I was not. Showcasing the island's Asian and Spanish influences, amateur and professional teams competed with three dishes: chicken, eggplant and banana. Favorite food: eggplant in coconut milk, flavored with red peppers.
Outdoor barbeque - Ever wondered how to throw a fiesta? Ask the Mu?as. Entertaining is the lifeblood of the family of Guam senator, Tina Mu?a Barnes. Required ingredients: outdoor grill, multiple pounds of meat and hardy appetites. And the generous invitation from the Mu?a's family is not unusual - this is life on Guam.
Favorite food: Chamorro barbeque ribs.
Chamorro Village - Start with a Spanish setting. Add an energetic guest list. Throw in some live music, island dancers and fresh food from local vendors and this gregarious gathering is a happening, an every Wednesday night happening. Favorite food: shrimp kélaguen (made with fresh island coconut and lemon juice).
Hit the Road
The best way to see Guam is to rent a car, cruise along Marine Drive and let the island unfold before you like a Polaroid picture. Stops can be as frequent or infrequent as your desires dictate.
Latte of Freedom - As early as 500 A.D. ancient Chamorros built their houses on stone pillars known as lattes. These stones are symbolic of Guam and the 80-foot-high Latte of Freedom on a point overlooking the bay was constructed to be for the West what the Statue of Liberty is to the East: a welcome to the United States.
Asan Beach - On July 21, 1944 the Americans landed on Asan to recapture the island from occupying Japanese forces; it has since represented Guam's role in World War II.
Lina'la' Chamorro Cultural Park - Offering a back-in-time visit into Guam's rich cultural background, the island's newest sight (all phases completed January 2012) features animal encounters, ziplining and an authentic peek into long-ago island life.
Two Lovers' Point - Legend holds that a pair of star-crossed Chamorro lovers, whose parents would not allow them to marry, jumped to their deaths from this 378-foot cliff. Today it's an open-to-the-public lookout over the Philippine Sea.
Memo to Luxe Lovers
Being no stranger to five-star luxury, Guam is where a day at your hotel is as simple as deciding which umbrella-topped drink to order and what strength of sunscreen to apply. Situated on the island's favorite playground, Tumon Bay, the brand names Westin, Nikko, Outrigger and Marriott are only a sampling. Westin was my temporary home, where a day at the waterfall pool competed with more active options - outrigger canoeing, windsurfing and scuba diving (with shipwrecks from WWI and WWII, experts consider Guam among the world's best diving spots).
Guam's aisle action includes topnotch namedropping: Gucci, Prada, Versace and more. Found at DFS Galleria, shopping this impressive collection of high-end boutiques is sweetened with the tidbit that Guam's goods sell duty free.
Leo Palace Golf Resort (four nine-hole courses with one designed by Jack Nicklaus and two by Arnold Palmer) runs through the hills, valleys and wetlands of Manenggon Hills. And for a made-in-Guam treat, play a round at Mangilao Golf Club where the hilltop clubhouse provides a panoramic ocean view, and holes #12 and #13 demand daring tee shots stretching across the Pacific.
Spa Bali, Guam's only authentic Balinese Spa, is found in the Holiday Resort Hotel. With "natural" as the guiding principle, my treat was the Island Paradise Massage - a hypnotic blend of Balinese and Lomi Lomi techniques.
Tips Only a Local Would Know
Visit McDonald's (yes, you read that correctly) for a typical island breakfast of Portuguese sausage, rice and eggs.
If you're invited to a family barbecue, seize the opportunity.
Enjoy an informal lunch at Jeff's Pirate Cove, the only outdoor eatery on the Pacific (note: order the cheeseburger specialty).
Search for the best fests. Whether it's the Mango Festival, Banana Festival, Burgerfest or Coconut Festival, plan your visit to include an event. They're year-around, typically sponsored by one of the island's 19 villages and showcase Guam's welcoming nature.
Dine at Hotel Nikko's 16th floor Toh-Lee Chinese Restaurant. The view of Tumon Bay is unparalleled.
Situated approximately three hours from Manila, Tokyo and Taiwan, Guam's proximity makes it a prime stopover when in route to Asia. It was after 14 hours of travel via newly merged Continental/United Airlines that I reached this distant change of longitude. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I return? A definite yes. At 212 square miles, what Guam lacks in size, it makes up in flavor. My only question upon departure: Who's Michelin?