Guam Travel Articles

Guam: a Pacific Jewel

Located in the warm Pacific waters, Guam is a tropical paradise of sandy beaches and coral reefs. A cruise to Guam will reveal an abundance of natural beauty and a unique cultural heritage that has survived for centuries. Visit the Pacific jewel that is Guam!

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A Surviving Native Culture

The island of Guam is thought to have been inhabited since 2,000 B.C. by immigrants from Southeast Asia. The principal culture to develop was the Chamorro, which was an advanced hunting and fishing society with considerable horticultural skills. They were good weavers and makers of pottery and strong canoes. The Chamorro had a prominent matriarchal society, and the women of Guam are the ones that preserved cultural traditions, including dance, music, and language to this day.

The Chamorro left behind the glory of their ancient architecture in the form of the Latte Stones, which are pillars of ancient houses. They consist of a coral limestone column topped with a coral capstone. These massive constructions were usually carried several miles from the reef or shore all the way to the housing site. The Chamorro buried bones of ancestors, jewelry, and pottery underneath the Stones. A cruise to Guam may include a visit to one of these ancient pillars, and legend has it that intruders may encounter Chamorran spirits near the sacred and respected pillars.

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Guam's Vibrant Culture

Guam culture is still strongly Chamorran. The culture of the natives is manifested in song and dance, as well as unique food and games. The Chamorro are still very proud of their navigational abilities as well. Although the Spanish attempted to wipe out the culture through displacing and killing the warriors, the women of the matriarchal culture successfully preserved their traditions. A cruise to Guam will provide a glimpse into this fascinating culture

Chamorrans practice an interdependence in which the land and all it produces belongs to all people. The Chamorro have a very defined sense of cooperation that will be obvious to visitors. Travelers to Guam will find beautiful crafts made by the natives. The Chamorro are masters in the arts of weaving and plating, making hats, bags, skirts and belts.

The Spanish influence on Guam’s culture can be seen in the pervasiveness of Catholicism on the island, and patron saint days celebrated with fiestas.

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Guam's Endangered Environment

The abundance of introduced animals to this relatively small island has resulted in a threatening case of bioinvasion. The brown tree snake decimated nearly all of the native bird population. The few species left are endangered, and are protected in the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.

Invasions have also affected the flora of the island. Coconut palms were hit by a virus that left dead and infected trees across the island. Much of Guam’s native foliage was lost during WWII, and the dense forests that once covered the island have been replaced by an American species call tanga tanga. These trees were introduced to prevent the considerable soil erosion that was threatening the island.

Guam’s beautiful coral reefs are under protection from pollution and soil eroding from the island. Turnon Bay has been designated as a preserve to protect the remaining sea turtle population.

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A Taste of Guam

Traditional food plays a large role in Guam cuisine, and definitely fits into the Pacific Islander genre of food. Seafood is abundant; lobster, octopus, and fish are baked or grilled with vegetables and fruit. Sashimi is also popular on the island. Other common foods are red rice, noodle dishes, barbequed chicken and ribs, and taro leaves cooked with coconut milk. Soy sauce is a common ingredient that illustrates Japan’s influence on the island. Hot peppers and tropical fruits also characterize the Guam diet.

Guam is also surprisingly cosmopolitan, and there are a variety of restaurants to choose from featuring international food. Korean, Japanese, and Thai food are very popular, although Western types of food are making their way to the island as well. A cruise to Guam should provide something to whet the palate of every traveler, from traditional seafood to exotic Pacific dishes!

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The Island of Guam

Guam is the largest and southernmost island in Micronesia. It covers 210 square miles, the southern portion is dotted with volcanic peaks covered in grassland and forest. The northern region of Guam is a limestone/coral plateau, and coral reefs surround the island on all sides. Small rivers run down from the hills to empty into the seas, and these have created space for bays free of coral. There are several stretches of long sandy beaches that make Guam a perfect vacation destination.

The highest point on Guam reaches to 1,332 feet. The island is not volcanically active, but does experience the occasional earthquake due to its position on the edge of the Pacific plate.

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Turbulent History of Guam

Fist contact between the Chamorro and Europeans occurred with Ferdinand Magellan sighted the island on his circumnavigation of the globe. He anchored his 3-ship fleet in what is now known as Umatac Bay in 1521. The Chamorro, it is said, had no European concept of ownership and rowed out in their canoes to help themselves to whatever they pleased. Magellan eventually was able to barter iron in exchange for rations for his sailors. Despite Magellan’s visit, Guam was not formally claimed by Spain until 1565.

The island was left alone until colonization began in 1668. Jesuit missionaries were the first to arrive, and taught the Chamorro to cultivate corn, and they introduced cattle. The Chamorro learned to tan hides and adopted Western-style clothes. Guam became a regular port on the Spanish routes between Mexico and the Philippines. A Guam cruise will reveal the significant influence the Spanish have had on the island.

These Spanish ships began to fall victim to English pirates. An expedition cruise to Guam may explore some famous shipwreck sites in the island’s waters.

The U.S. assumed control of Guam in 1898 during the Spanish American War. The island transitioned from a Spanish trading port to an American station. Guam was attacked during WWII in 1941, and the US evacuated its small population there. Some of the Chamorro were brought to the northern Mariana islands, which were occupied by the Japanese, to serve as interpreters and in other positions. The Japanese treated them as occupied enemies for the 31 months that the island was under their control. The Chamorro were treated horrendously, subjected to slave labor, prostitution, concentration camps and family separation. 1,000 people died during this time. The U.S. finally recaptured Guam in 1944, and established the island as a United States unincorporated organized territory. The people of Guam were granted U.S. citizenship.

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Guam's Political Status

Guam is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States. The Governor is head of state with a multi-party system. The Executive branch consists of a governor and lieutenant governor. The unicameral legislature has 15 members elected by popular vote. The Judicial branch is the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam.

Guamanians are, for the most part, proud of their connection to the U.S., and the economy is dependent on the U.S. military base there. Despite the oppressive history, Guam is a prime tourism base for Japan. Guam is currently waging a campaign to become a commonwealth of the U.S., which would bestow it a political status similar to Puerto Rico.

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Weather in Guam

Sunshine is abundant and warm in Guam. The island enjoys a beautiful tropical marine climate; this means warm and humid weather with a fairly constant temperature. A cruise to Guam will sail right into beautiful 86-degree highs and 74-degree lows. Travelers may want to plan to visit during the dry season from December to June, especially since average rainfall is a significant 96 inches!

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Bioinvasion in Guam

Guam is actually famous one its non-native animals. The brown tree snake was thought to be a stowaway on a U.S. military ship and found its way to the island. Guam has no native snake species, and so the native bird population was caught entirely by surprise. It killed almost the entire avian population, and had no native predators to curb its destructive habits. Introduced pigs became its first predators. Although there is supposedly a high density of this snake on the island, it is rarely seen and is harmless to humans. A Guam cruise may likely miss the snake entirely.

The Spanish are responsible for introducing dogs, chickens, Philippine deer, and water buffalo to Guam. However, Guam has its share of native insects and invertebrates, the most notable being the Giant Land Snail—not actually that giant, but apparently worth the name!

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