Guam, an island state of the United States of America, shares plenty of similarities with the Philippines.
Historically, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan visited the two islands one after the other in 1521. His arrival placed Guam and the Philippines on the global map, which resulted to their colonization under Spain from the 15th to 18th centuries.
It is also recorded in history that both islands were won over by the Americans from the Spaniards in 1898. And when World War II broke, the two also suffered the same fate under Japanese rule.
It is therefore no wonder that the American state and this Southeast Asian nation developed and established similar cultures especially in terms of religion and heritage. And as such, it comes as no surprise that many Filipinos have found a second home on the island of Guam.
In fact, in the latest report released by Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB), Filipinos already comprise 26.3 percent of the island’s current population, and therefore comprise its largest immigrant community. Happily and harmoniously, Filipinos co-exist with Guam’s natives who are called Chamorros.
And so with the aim of helping to further enrich and strengthen the centuries-old connection and modern-day relationship between Guam and the Philippines, the country’s leading budget airline, Cebu Pacific, has launched direct flights to the island.
On March 15, Cebu Pacific’s inaugural flight left the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for Guam International Airport. The passengers of the maiden voyage included a local media delegation, among them, The Sunday Times Magazine.
Upon arrival, GVB marketing manager for the Philippines Mark Manglona welcomed the entry of Cebu Pacific to his country, and said, “We are only three and a half hours away from the Philippines. We are such a close destination with only two hours’ time difference, and we have so many similarities—from the food, the culture, our people.”
Given these, the executive added that the Cebu Pacific route will service both native Guamanians and resident Filipinos who wish to go to the Philippines for recreation and vacation; and in return, bolster Guam’s Filipino tourist growth, which has seen a 3.9 percent increase in 2015.
Asked to specifically talk about Guam’s attractions for the Filipino traveler, Manglona took his cue to begin a jam-packed, two-day tour of Guam to provide the best glimpses of the enchanting island.
The Chamorros, Guam’s indigenous people, are also rightly a proud people. They treasure their culture and heritage, remember their past, and practice their traditions.
According to legend, the first Chamorro was a celestial navigator named Puntan who came to what was then an uninhabited island several millenniums ago. His discovery paved way for the arrival of more seafaring people who most likely originated from Southeast Asia. They were also characterized as skilled navigators and artisans.
This is just one of the many stories that continue to be passed on from one generation to the next—not only through written or spoken word but also through artistic performances.
One leading cultural group, which continues this tradition is the Taotao Tano. The name pertains to a traditional Guamanian dance and translates to “people of the land.” It was founded in 1983 by Francisco “Frank” Rabon with the vision of “researching Chamorro history, origins, migration, connection and reconstruction of indigenous Chamorro dances, chants and songs.” (guampedia.com)
The group, which accepts not only Chamorro performers but other locals who have a talent for dance, is gearing up for major performances at the upcoming 12th Festival Pacific Arts from May 22 to June 4 on the island. The festival, which began in 1972 and takes place every four years, is considered the “Olympics of performing arts” in the Pacific region as it brings the best cultural groups together from all over in a single festival.
Meanwhile, the Guam Art Boutique is another notable place to see the artisanal works of Chamorros.
Located at the Chamorro Village of the capital Hagatna, the boutique showcases various local handicraft ranging from simple souvenirs to intricate accessories, and even highly unique artworks. It currently houses the works of artisans Baba Yaga, Blue Amber Trio, Bonita Trading Co., Get a Glow on Bead Co. by Shirley Bridler and Dione Young, and Love from Guam. (For more information on these artists, log on to guamartsboutique.com)
Adding to the Chamorros’ unique identity is their warmth, happiness and most of all their sincerity in all that they do. Proof to this was the media group’s tour guide, Christopher Cruz, who besides being very knowledgeable about the island, was also the perfect host, and ever ready to offer a helping hand.
Cruz never ran out of energy throughout the trip, despite juggling odd jobs on top of being a veteran tour guide and a licensed physical therapist. He also proudly shared that his favorite food is adobo, cooked deliciously by his doting Filipina mother.
And at the end of the trip, the amiable Chamorro made sure he gave everyone a parting hug, showing just how charming his people truly are.
When it comes to food, expect Guamanians to grill some of the best barbeques in the world thanks to their hodgepodge of Spanish, American and Asian influences.
“People on Guam love to barbecue. They’ll find any reason to barbecue!” Manglona shared. “The typical mix for our marinade will be soy sauce, lemon or vinegar, and onions. We marinate [for hours], put it on the grill, and pair the barbecue with red rice [similar to java rice].”
For a taste of the best yet affordable BBQs in Guam, Cruz recommended once again a trip to the Chamorro Village, which holds a food market every Wednesday. There, must-haves include grilled Portuguese chorizos and turkey leg, which both come in gigantic portions, by the Guam Barbecue Company.
A popular BBQ restaurant, meanwhile, is the Jamaican Grill located in Tumon Bay. The food hub’s best seller—both for locals and tourists—is a platter of grilled chicken and pork ribs over two types of rice. Again, remember that portions come big in Guam so sharing is highly encouraged.
Guamanians also love their food fresh, especially when it comes to seafood. After all, fish and other kinds of catch are aplenty in the waters embracing the island. The best seafood dish can be had in the form of kelaguen, a traditional dish seasoned only with vinegar or lemon juice and topped with onions and herbs. And yes, from the mere sound of it, kelaguen is very similar to the Philippines’ kilawin. The only difference between the two is that Guam’s version, according to Manglona, can be made with all kinds of meat namely pork, chicken, beef or even deer.
For a taste of the best kelaguen in town, the GVB officer took his guests to Meskla, a Chamorro fusion bistro also in Hagatna. It serves the modern concoctions of owner and chef Peter Duenas like Lobster Mac n’ Cheese and Hinetnon Tapun (Clam Bake) for starters, and Chorisos and Linguini, Pika Platter, and the Chamorro Platter for main course.
After appreciating the Chamorros and their culture—including their delicious dishes—the next must-do in Guam, as everyone says, is shopping. And this bit of information is true because as a state of America, the island is effectively home to many of the most popular retail stores in the US, among them Ross, K-Mart and Macys.
As Manglona confirmed, shopping is indeed the top reason why Filipinos travel to Guam.
“It seems to be proven that shopping is popular to the Filipino market,” he said, citing information from exit surveys at the airport among Filipino tourists. “The answer why is obvious, it is duty-free here and there is a wealth of American brands [that are]authentic but cheap.”
If indeed looking for such finds, The Sunday Times Magazine suggests the first stop to be Guam Premiere Outlets (GPO) in Tamuning area. As its name suggests, the mall has outlet stores for some of the most popular American brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Naturalizer, Calvin Klein, and more.
Most notably, GPO is also home to Ross, known for its slogan “Dress for Less.” There, shoppers will jump for joy with the abundance of affordable high-end items priced up to 70-percent less.
Another popular shopping destination is Micronesia Mall, which in fact is owned by Filipino business magnate Lucio Tan. Inside are Macys department store, local Guamanian brands, a food court, and cinemas. Also happily spotted was Bench, a proudly Filipino clothing company.
Guam further has places for luxury shopping namely Tumon Sands Plaza and T-Galleria, which are located along the hotel row of Tumon Bay. Name a luxury brand—Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Chloe, or Furla—and the strip is sure to have it.
For personal care items, foodstuff and pasalubong, K-Mart is open 24 hours a day. It practically sells everything—clothing, furniture, groceries, gadgets, medicine—for every one and every age.
Sun, sand and sea
Lastly, do not forget that Guam is a tropical paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and Marianas Trench. Thus, it boasts of rich marine life and many water activities.
“Guam has every water activity you can imagine—from snorkeling to diving. There are jet skis and banana boat rides. You can even rent a boat to go deep-sea fishing,” Manglona enumerated. “And here’s the thing, the water in front of the hotel in Tumon Bay are protected so all types of illegal or harmful activities are prevented.”
Water sports and games are readily offered at most hotels on Guam. Beyond these, there is also a place where tourists can enjoy Guam’s marine life up close without even getting wet. It is called the Fish Eye Marine Park.
Different from manmade underwater aquarium, Fish Eye is an underwater observatory where the island’s beautiful marine can safely and easily be viewed through panels of glass windows. Since opening in 1996, the now 20-year-old attraction has expanded its business via snorkeling tours, dolphin watching and a Polynesian dinner show. (www.fisheyeguam.com)
For views of the glorious Pacific Ocean, visit Two Lovers Point. Not only does the tourist attraction offer the best vantage point, it also tells the myth of a Chamorro man and woman from warring clans who jumped off a cliff down to the ocean to be together forever.