After spending my first day in Saipan getting pampered at the spa, I was ready to get out and explore some of the beauty and historical sites around the island. I woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed out in my rental car armed with a map, bottled water, and a wide-brimmed sun hat.
My first stop was Banzai Cliff, a somber World War II historical site, where many Japanese soldiers and family members jumped to their deaths in the deep rocky ocean below. The plaques in the area explained that some Japanese soldiers felt it was their duty, while others believed they would be tortured and killed if taken as prisoners of war by the American soldiers. In 1987, the site was consecrated by Rev. Teruhiko Kawakami, the third Reverend of Shikogakuen, and a couple of years later a monument was erected, in an effort to provide some peace for the souls who died there.
Many other World War II monuments and memorials are found scattered throughout the small island of Saipan, including the American Memorial Park where the lives of fallen American soldiers are commemorated, the Korean Memorial, the Japanese Peace Memorial, the Last Command Post, the U.S. WWII Soldiers Memorial, the Veterans Memorial, the WWII Japanese Tank and Bunker, the WWII Air Raid Shelter, the Japanese Memorial of the Dead, and several others. Many of the historic sites found throughout Guam and the Mariana Islands refer to WWII as The War of the Pacific because so much of the fighting, the bloodshed, the horrors of the war, and the battles that eventually began to turn the tide of the war took place in these small yet strategically located Pacific islands.
Interspersed throughout my stops at historical sites were adventures of a more serene and scenic nature. I stopped to admire and capture in photographs some of the breathtaking views of jungle terrain, cliffs, and dramatic ocean seascapes. I hiked down the steep uneven stairs to The Grotto and watched divers brave the treacherous looking entry into the underwater caves, wishing I had my own dive gear with me and could join them. I took in the magnificent views from the Bird Island Lookout, back towards the Bird Island Sanctuary, turquoise water, and ocean-carved terrain. I drove from the north end of the island down to the southern tip, admiring the splendid beaches, calm water, and tropical vegetation. I watched fishermen bring in the afternoon catch and proceed to sell fish straight from ice chests in the marina parking lot. Much of this beauty can be seen via bicycle or just walking along the stretches of bike and walking paths that surround Saipan.
At the end of my day of driving, walking, and hiking, I pulled into a nail salon that caught my eye. It’s bright green store front and its name, Natural Nail Spa, beckoned me in for a pedicure and some relaxation. To my delight, I learned that they had just opened their doors for a “soft opening” before their grand opening soon to follow. They were offering 50% off their already reasonably priced menu of services. I was greeted by the owner herself, Merle Hudkins, and learned that they specialize in products with less of the harsh chemicals found in most nail salons. The salon itself smelled of lavender and tropical flowers, rather than the typical acidic chemical fumes that usually accompany nail salons. I opted for a spa pedicure with a salt scrub and choice of aromatherapy scents. As I sipped my complimentary tea and relaxed, my only regret was that I didn’t have time for a manicure as well. They also offer free WiFi, which is always a perk that I seek out when I travel, though on this particular afternoon I chose to read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane to top off my little escape.