I arrived back in the UK on 8 April 2018 and had no time for post holiday blues as it was straight back to work to prepare for an audit diving right back in at the deep end. My suitcase remained unpacked for weeks as I operated in a post holiday bubble which I decided to hang on to for as long as possible. Saturday 7 April 2018 was pretty much the final day of my holiday; even though in my mind I saw my last day as 8 April. Thankfully I made the most of my last day and looking back I think it was probably the best day of my holiday.
I stayed in two parts of Saipan. The first was a beautiful hilltop location which according to Google maps is called Chalan Kiya. I found out towards the end of my stay that Saipan does not run a postal service like we have in the UK or the US for that matter. People rent post boxes instead. In the apartment building in Chalan Kiya, I made friends with quite a few neigbours but my favourite friends were two lovely children, Tristan who is 4 years old and his 2 year old sister, Tieran. I marveled at how free they appeared to be compared to London children as they would roam around the vicinity of their home playing on their own and sometimes with some of the other children. On the second night as we watched the sunset we noticed a fire on a hillside and very soon a lot of the neighbours had come out to watch it and talk about it with all the children speaking excitedly. I posted a picture of the fire on my Instagram page along with some other holiday pictures.
On my second day in Saipan I cycled into town from the hilltop apartment with a friend and was surprised at how unfriendly the local dogs in the area were. I was bitten by a dog in my 20’s and had to have lots of injections and have been wary of aggressive dogs ever since. In Saipan the dogs seemed to have a dual role as family pets and guard dogs. As far as I was concerned this ruled out any petting. I don’t cycle very much these days because of the 1,000 mile challenges that I took part in last year and am taking part in this year because only mileage from running or walking counts towards the total. On the rare occasion that I cycle, I try to make the most of it. However the combination of relentless tropical heat and the aggressive Saipan dogs really put me off cycling.
I cycled from Chalan Kiya to Susupe on my first visit to the beach. There were encounters with the local dogs but I put these out of my mind very quickly because the beach was breathtakingly beautiful. I have never seen myself as a beach holiday kind of person but Saipan, I think, has changed me. I took every opportunity I could during my holiday to read, people-watch and take dips in the sea. On one visit to the beach in Garapan, I actually ventured out on a jet ski. If I ever jet ski again, I will go on my own and travel at a slow pace. I loved being on the water but I was terrified when the jet ski overturned as I am not a strong swimmer. I was shaking like a leaf as I climbed back on.
After a couple of days in Saipan, I had settled in and enjoyed spending time in the barbecue area near the hilltop apartment in Chalan Kiya to escape from the tropical heat, listen to music, write or just relax. This relaxed and informal routine was punctuated by other activities for instance I managed to see a magic show complete with a big cat one night after a dinner in which I tasted sashimi for the very first time. It was delicious! I also visited a day time flea style market and purchased a Kylie Jenner lip-kit! Yes, the Kardashian family influence has reached Saipan! On another day I visited a night-time market and sampled some dishes. You get the picture.
On one night, I participated in a Full Moon Hash with a group of people who call themselves the Saipan Hash House Harriers. I think in the UK we would describe this group as completely bonkers. Their own Facebook page describes them as “a drinking group with a running problem”. In my view this description sums them up quite succinctly bearing in mind one of their stated objectives, number 3 is “To acquire a good thirst and satisfy it with beer”. The half-moon hash involved a caper in the dark. Had I known what it would entail I would have declined. The friend who invited me to the hash is not big on giving full information at the best of times. Anyway, we met at a predetermined meeting spot outside a bank in Garapan. There was a fee of 10 USD payable to a lady known as Ciega. I don’t know whether this is her real name because members of the group gave themselves the most weird and wonderful nicknames for instance mutt and paedophile to mention a couple. No, I am not making up the P name either! All members of the group take a hash name which they seemed to bear with pride.
Ciega was responsible for collecting the fee from members to join the hash and she gave my friend a terrible public roasting for being behind with payments. Ciega said that she needed the money to fund the purchase of snacks and drinks; I will elaborate on the type of snacks and drinks later. I was embarrassed to witness this but also shocked by the harshness of this rather public humiliation of my friend. I insisted that we went off to the first cashpoint we could find (ATM) and withdrew enough cash to bring my friend’s account up to date as well as pay for our entry. Once we had paid, I gave Ciega a piece of my mind explaining that it was not okay for her to speak to people the way she had to my friend and she responded by asking me to leave. Bearing in mind the fact that there was beach wedding that I had been keen to attend instead of the hash, the thought of leaving did not seem like the worst idea but I knew my friend was dead keen so we ignored Ciega and stayed on.
The newbies, including me, were given a short briefing about what we could expect. Right about the same time that I began to wonder what I had let myself in for, a very thoughtful gentleman after taking one look at my mobile phone which I had brought along to use as a torch, gave me a light that fitted around my head with a headband. I was grateful for this light as I battled with tree roots and stumps sometimes on all fours scrambling across rocks and so on during the course of the hash. At one point, on are about an area that I think was on Suicide Cliff, I had to stop to take off my shoe and remove what I thought was a sharp stone. It was in fact a dried spike that had pierced through the sole of my trainer. I managed to remove it and pressed on to complete the course in one piece. I was sure that we had travelled at least 5 miles at the time, but now know that it was much shorter distance. Let’s just say that The Health & Safety Executive in the UK would not approve such a route for runners, hikers or walkers in my view so it was a shame that I did not have more miles for my annual running log. Hey, ho!
On completion of the hash we helped ourselves to the snacks and drinks provided. In the few running events I have attended, water, hydration gels, oranges and other healthy snacks are on offer. This group however fueled up with beer, crisps, corn crisps and other snacks that are not usually known to go hand in hand with a healthy eating plan. A few members then built a fire from some recycled pieces of wood and we sat around it for what felt like an initiation ceremony which involved some of us introducing ourselves and then drinking beer from the sacred vessel (A repurposed bedpan no less!). We listened to thank you speeches made in honour of Ciega who it transpired was leaving after a very long service to the group as well as lots of fun, jokes and banter. I wondered how Ciega had served so long in the group with her harsh approach. What can I say, it takes all sorts in life! On completing the round the fire discussion/presentations it was off to catch the end of the wedding reception on a beautiful beach where I tried lots of different dishes and then went off to tear up the dance floor with other wedding guests mostly unknown to me as my friend dodged the dancing on the pretext of socialising and chatting with friends from the hash.
I was given the choice whether to attend the hash or the beach wedding. The wedding won hands down for obvious reasons because I have always wanted to attend one. In a rather spectacular act of indecisiveness – not mine, I hasten to add, I found myself going to the hash instead of the beach wedding. At first I was disappointed to be attending the wedding in my workout clothes when I had brought so many lovely frocks with me to Saipan from London and had laid out a lovely dress specifically for the wedding, but the dress code was very relaxed and as we arrived quite late in the dark we did not stick out quite as much as I feared.
For the second part of my stay, I was in a more central part of Saipan called Susupe right next to a cemetery, no less! Once again, there were lots of dogs whenever one walked or cycled around that to be honest I was quite relieved when my friend switched from cycling everywhere to using a truck from time to time. I found out that the circumference of the Island is less than 25 miles and I would have liked to walk the entire circumference and put that in my running log towards 1,000 miles in 2018 but I was only able to log a walk of 6 miles walking from Susupe to Garapan. I know I did a lot more walking than that but being in holiday mode, I did not put too much pressure on myself to log the miles.
I had planned to visit local markets if I could, to find out about the local style of cooking and how the ladies copied in the hot weather with menopause especially hot flushes but those plans did not materialise because I did different things – also fun to do instead. I managed to visit a day time farmers’ market and looked at lots of produce and then a night market type event in which lots of local dishes were sold. To my surprise the Saipanese seem to value pork and possibly beef above other forms of protein. Being originally from Asaba myself (Delta State, Nigeria) which is right next to the River Niger, we eat a lot of fish and are famous for our peppery fish soup called Nsala. I assumed that the Saipanese would be big fish eaters as they are surrounded by water but they do not appear to be even though their waters seem to be stocked full of fish.
I spent my last full day on Managaha Island and it was magical. This visit came highly recommended by lots of locals and I am so happy that I made it. The water was clear and beautiful and filled with spectacular shoals of fish which I kept reaching out to touch without success. My friend and I took a picnic which we set up in one of the quieter spots. Fortunately the couple next to us had some nice music and as usual with me, where there is good music there has to be some dancing. I kept myself cool by taking dips and snorkeling.
I had joked all day about trying to catch some fish with my bare hands for supper so on the way home, my friend stopped by the beach to buy fresh fish and to my surprise some of the species that I had seen swimming around earlier in the day were for sale so it was a fish last Saipan supper for me before a nap and a trip to the airport to begin the long journey back to the UK.