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Saipan Adventure

Continuation. Page 3 of 3. This article originally appeared in Pacific Crossroads, publication of Commander Naval Forces Marianas, in September 1982.

Photo, right, the "tower" portion of the old Japanese Watchtower on Saipan.

Chow time later, back at the ranch. Joe unwrapped some "pork adobo" brought from Guam and issued instructions on preparing the vegetables for the stew. The women were a little confused working outside their usual element -- the 20th-century kitchen. They stopped to ask Joe what to do next, how to do it, and where to locate the equipment they thought they needed, such as can openers. In the meantime, the chickens and pigs lined up outside the kitchen making assorted sounds of anticipation. They made occasional rushes at the empty meat containers, but panicked and raced back outside at the last possible moment.

One rooster perched on a fence top level with the "stove," which was a large, open barbecue with a nice hot fire. We made bets on whether the chicken would ever try to get to the meat over the top of the fire, and on whether he would make it without becoming chicken soup.

Lessons followed in peeling carrots by scraping, in peeling potatoes with a knife too dull to cut butter, and in can opening. To open a can, first you must find another can which has already been opened. Squash the can in the middle, and bend it until the two ends meet. There is now a nice, pointy sharp place at each end of the can's bent center. Place one of the points at the part of the unopened can that you want the opening to appear in. Then bash the top of the squashed can with all your strength with your other hand. Voila! The contents can be poured out.

If you need to remove the whole top of the can, the technique is more straightforward. You grab that knife that was too dull to cut butter, and three or four quick slashes to the can top do it right in. Remove the irregular piece that has been cut out, and carefully remove the food.

Needless to say, all this violence shocked the women campers and sent pigs and chickens flapping and trotting all over the yard. But it resulted in the most delicious stew anyone could remember eating.

Night fell. Part of the group went to town again to sample the night life. This attracted more interest tonight, with the thought of spending a few of the dark hours in a place with air conditioning and no mosquitoes.

Then home again, to our ranchito (lanchon) in the high country. Ming. Buzz. Back to the picnic table under the chicken tree, to try to get a few hours' sleep before dawn. Ming. Ming. Slap. Ming. Hopeless. I finally got up and spent the rest of the night pacing in circles. Occasionally I tried to tend the coconut husk fires that had been lit to discourage the mosquitoes. Either my knowledge of fire building was too little, or the fires burned out. They would not revive.

The alarm clock went off. That is, the contents of the chicken tree woke up, then flew off one by one to scrounge their day's food. Groaning was heard. Campers shuffled aimlessly or tried to brush their teeth in two tablespoons of water from a cup. One tried to shave and felt wildly successful when he ended up bleeding from only one spot.

We split into two groups for the morning. After our non-carry-on luggage was taken to the airport, one small group of die-hard snorkelers headed for a beach we had not visited before. They also planned to visit the man who has a Japanese Zero fighter parked in his front yard. We had passed the house several times, and the plane was in remarkably good condition. Some of the men were fascinated.

Head 'em out! We drove down a whole new set of roads. We didn't know where we were or where we were going. The truck swerved left, sped across a basketball court in back of a school, slipped back onto the unpaved road. Instantly, we turned a corner. Chickens and pigs scattered. We found ourselves in someone's back yard. Barefoot children giggled at us through an open doorway. Boonie dogs slunk from tin house to tin house, twitching their huge ears. Off down the road again. Aha! "The divided highway!" we shouted with glee, finally recognizing a landmark. The truck stopped between a shiny new metal home and a crumbling, concrete ruin.

"Japanese jail!" called out our guide. We obediently groaned and dismounted from the trucks. The entryway of the old jail was cracked and displaced. It looked as it it could fall at any moment, dumping tons of concrete on our heads. The rusted remains of reinforcing rods were completely severed. We were reminded that this was not recent damage -- it happened during the bombardment at the end of World War II. If the wall hadn't fallen by now, it wasn't too likely to crash down this morning. With a quick thrill of fear, we walked under the entry and strolled the corridor past cell after cell. The first cells were truly tiny. Each was sunken three or four feet below the corridor level. The only fixture in each cell was concrete fence in the corner enclosing a three-foot-square area -- definitely the worst bathrooms we had seen on Saipan!

A few quick photos and we were on our way to the next sight -- the Japanese Hospital and Sugar Mill. The hospital proved to be an interesting building. It was built to work with the climate, catch the breezes, and stay cool in the hot sunshine. It had a roof drainage system and a large covered concrete cistern. It also had a lovely bomb shelter complete with rats' nest in the front yard.

The hospital was built in an "L" shape, with high ceilings. At one time, most of the rooms had raised wooden floors, but these rotted away, leaving no trace. You could see the sill that built to support the wood, and the openings in the wall below to let pipes pass through. The operating room was obvious -- it had a large atrium window in the center for good light (the glass was gone, but the support for it was visible). The walls and floor were ceramic tile.

Into the truck for one last quick sight to see -- this time the Watchtower. The truck located a road heading up into the hills from a main road, and we were off. We found the Watchtower at the top of a prominent hill.

The building was "D" shaped, with the rounded part facing out toward the ocean. A wide concrete porch was cantilevered out from the wall. Graceful columns supported the porch roof, which was also a sun deck on the next level. Indoors, windows were continuous in the wall, separated by very narrow uprights of concrete. The original wood, very hard, was still in lace on a few sills. The overall effect was of a very modern and expensive living room in ruins, facing the view; the sort of thing you would imagine being built by Frank Lloyd Wright or some other "name" architect.

The back wall of the "D" was a stairwell. Around and around and around, until we were dizzy, we climbed in the well-lighted area. At the top, we were in a small round room. The roof and side walls were mostly missing, but we could see some sort of circular gun or telescope mount at just over eye level. An iron ladder led up to the next level, but there was nothing to stand on but the track.

Back into the trucks one more time, down the road to the bottom of the hill, turn left, arrive back in Garapan. There was no power that morning, so no gas, no water, no pump to provide air for the ties. We asked one man why he bothered to come to work and open up the gas station if nothing worked. By way of reply he sold us some oil.

The power plant for the entire island was located across the street in the open -- two ancient caterpillar diesel engines in rusting yellow.

After a delicious lunch provided by our hosts, we piled into the trucks for the (promise) very last time. Bump thump lurch, down a few new streets, then we recognized that we were back on the airport road. Relief. We walked up to the ticket window, noticed the real, plumbed restrooms nearby, took deep breaths, prepared to return from our three-day trip to the twilight zone.

Time to leave. We rushed out to the boarding gate, saw our jet waiting for us, ran across the pavement to be loaded through the rear of the strange-looking craft. Collapsed into the first padded seats in three days, now, and just waited to be taken home. What bliss!

The man in the seat next to me asked, "Where did you stay while you were on Saipan?"

"I don't know," I replied, reasonably and with a smile. The confused look on his face sent me into gales of laughter. I spent the rest of the trip explaining.

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