Saturday, February 28, 2009

Invasion Beach Video

A video documentary has just been released about the recent survey of the World War II ruins along invasion beach. Brady Barrineau (aka The Bent Frenchman) has it posted on his website:

While not directly related to coral reefs or the environment, the wrecks offshore of Saipan are one additional attraction for divers. The WWII wrecks are also something that are unique to, well, just about every single island in the Pacific.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fat Guy Update V

I signed up for the Fat Guy Contest on a Tuesday, but didn't start actually doing anything until the following Saturday. Today is Friday and I just back from the gym which means that I've been doing this thing officially for two weeks now.

My weight this morning was 206.4 lbs, making me 6.2 lbs lighter than I was two weeks ago.

My work out regimen is simple. I run on the treadmill for 60 minutes each day, lift weights every third or fourth day, and do my regular extracurricular activities, like playing coed soccer and refereeing the occasional game.

I've started to begin thinking about possibly considering working on my diet because some of my friends have told me I don't eat well. They might be on to something. For example, last night my dinner consisted of fried beef lumpia and four Bud Lites. There is a slight possibility that there are healthier foods on this island. LIke I said, I've started to begin thinking about possibly considering looking into finding them.

In the meantime, I'll just flash Blue Steel:

angelo villagomez magnumStay Tuned: Fat Guy Update VI will discuss what happens to your skin when you lose a few lbs too quickly.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Monument Benefits Now

Agnes McPhetres wrote a letter to the editor today reminding everyone that we need to go after the visitors center if we want one. No need to rehash the benefits a visitors center would bring, what needs to be understood is that the visitors center won't build itself. It is going to take a lot of people in the government and private sector going after the federal dollars to get it built.

In a struggling tourist economy, nothing could be better than using federal dollars to build an added tourist attraction. Marianas Visitors Authority calls it "destination enhancement."
It has been nearly two months since then-President Bush declared the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. As promised, the monument resulted in worldwide attention for the natural wonders of the Marianas. News outlets in countries as far away and as diverse as Kuwait, Zimbabwe, Fiji, England, and Japan gave our monument room on their pages. The Marianas garnered more positive press in the first half of January that we have in the last 10 years. This attention will help us solidify a reputation as an eco-friendly tourist destination.

It is now time for us to turn our attention toward getting the other benefits promised when the monument was declared.

Specifically, the Bush administration promised us a visitors center, federal jobs, and an enforcement/research boat. When can we expect to get those benefits? Can the construction of a visitors center be considered part of Obama’s stimulus plan?

A visitors center will improve our ability to attract tourists. It would serve as an additional attraction for tourists, plus our local children would gain educational benefits from its creation. The sooner the process to build a visitors center begins, the better.

When I agreed to support the monument, it was with the understanding that there would be benefits for the CNMI. I am very worried that these benefits will end up in Guam.

San Vicente, Saipan
The Friends of the Monument are dedicated to getting the benefits they asked for in their October Vision Statement and they need your help.

Micronesia to Obama: Follow our Lead

During tomorrow's business meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force in Washington DC, the Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance will be presenting Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation to the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress. This document represents a collaborative, cross-NGO set of recommendations for swift and decisive action by the Obama Administration and Congress for responding to the global coral reef crisis.

Two Micronesians have attached their names and their organizations to this call for action. One is Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Monument. The other is yours truly, signing as the Executive Director of Beautify CNMI.

Here is the letter, posted in its entirety:
obama letter signatories
Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation
To the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress

Healthy coral reefs are the largest living structures on the planet and the second largest storehouse of biological diversity. These highly productive ecosystems are economically valuable, with reef-based tourism generating over $1.2 billion each year in the Florida Keys alone. Coral reefs provide coastal protection, food, and income, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 100 million people around the world.

However, coral reefs in the United States and worldwide are declining at an alarming rate. Unless we take immediate action, we could lose up to 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. Human activities have damaged coral reefs to the point of being the most threatened ecosystem on Earth; they are currently teetering on the edge of destruction. Fortunately, three major human impacts on reefs—climate change, overfishing, and pollution—are reversible if we act now. As noted undersea explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle has stated: “If reefs are in trouble, we are in trouble.”

We are encouraged by indications that the Obama Administration and the new Congress will establish a serious commitment to coral reef conservation through the appointment of Dr. Jane Lubchenco–a distinguished ocean scientist with a strong track record in ocean conservation–to lead the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We also see a tremendous opportunity for the United States to continue its leadership role in helping to reverse the downward spiral of coral reef destruction and ensure the health and survival of these invaluable resources for future generations.

We urge the Administration to adopt the strongest possible measures for the protection and conservation of coral reef ecosystems and stand ready to partner with the new administration in designing and implementing an effective and global coral reef conservation strategy. Such measures could include the following:

• Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, including authorizing international coral reef conservation activities;

• Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act;

• Enact meaningful reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that target CO2 concentrations to stabilize at levels climate scientists determine are necessary to preserve coral reef ecosystems;

• Fund and lead domestic and international coral reef conservation efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department;

• Support NOAA’s priorities in reducing impacts to coral reefs from fishing and land-based sources of pollution;

• Effectively conserve at least 30 percent of coral reef and reef-associated coastal resources in U.S. states and territories using marine managed areas over the next eight years; and

• Provide more support for ocean education and citizen-science programs to create an educated public that understands and is committed to ocean conservation.

Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000
The reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act must be a priority for the 111th Congress during 2009. The act was established in 2000 to preserve coral reef ecosystems, promote wise management, and obtain better information about
the current condition of coral reefs. As a result of this act, millions of Americans have been educated about the coral reef crisis, research has documented the threats and damage, and large areas such as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have been protected. It is critical to continue this work to give reefs any chance to survive and to expand similar strategies around the world by authorizing activities for international coral reef conservation.

Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act
Increasing CO2 in the world’s atmosphere is taking its toll on the oceans by increasing the acidity of sea water, which in turn threatens the stability of the marine food chain and the ability of corals to build reefs. Essentially, as the oceans increase in acidity it becomes more difficult for animals such as scallops, clams, crabs, plankton and corals to build their shells or skeletons and slows the development of their larvae. The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act focuses federal research on rising ocean acidity and establishes a comprehensive research and monitoring program within NOAA.

Enact Meaningful Reductions in Carbon Dioxide Emissions that Target CO2 Concentrations to Stabilize at Levels Climate Scientists Determine are Necessary
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must be prioritized. Without action, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million (ppm) between 2050 and 2100, and global temperatures will likely rise by at least 2°C. Under these conditions, global warming and ocean acidification are predicted to damage and kill most reefs. We urge the federal government to take aggressive action to reduce emissions now–action that can serve as a benchmark for international leadership.

Fund and Lead Domestic and International Coral Reef Conservation Efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department
With the recent addition of the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments, ensuring adequate capacity for management and monitoring of these and other domestic coral resources has never been more critical. The United States should also provide increased leadership in international and national coral reef conservation efforts. As increasing areas of reefs are damaged, tens of millions of people around the world will become desperate for food in countries that are critically important for global stability. Stopping coral reef destruction now and investing in conservation is an investment in global security.

Support NOAA’s Priorities in Reducing Impacts to Coral Reefs from Fishing and Land-based Sources of Pollution
Along with large-scale threats resulting from climate change, NOAA has identified land-based sources of pollution and impacts from fishing as priority areas for coral reef conservation. Land-based sources of pollution and poor water quality are recognized as two of the most important factors driving coral reef decline. In addition, rapid human population increases, growth of export fisheries, use of more efficient fishery gear, expansion of destructive fishing techniques, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of not only keystone reef fish species, but also associated species and ecosystems. For these reasons, we recommend expanded funding and legislative capacity for NOAA to better manage recreational and commercial fisheries and land-based sources of pollution to meet coral reef conservation objectives.

Effectively Conserve at Least 30 Percent of Coral Reef and Reef-Associated Coastal Resources in U.S. States and Territories Using Marine Managed Areas over the Next Eight Years
Full protection of at least 30 percent of the planet’s coral reefs from human activities is a reasonable and realistic management goal that will allow reefs to thrive. On November 5, 2005, then President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., of Palau called on his peers to join him in the
Micronesia Challenge to effectively conserve 30 percent of near-shore marine resources within marine protected areas by 2020. Similarly, Caribbean governments have called for 20 percent protection of marine and coastal habitats by 2020 in the Caribbean Challenge. We ask for the United States to join the many nations that recognize the importance of marine managed areas for effective coral reef conservation and provide the staff and funding needed for active research, monitoring, enforcement, and local management.

Provide More Support for Ocean Education and Citizen-Science Programs
By becoming educated about the value of coral reefs and threats to their survival, the public can become strong advocates for conservation and sustainability. One of the most effective means of education is a citizen-science program that turns
hands-on experience into knowledge. As a leader in marine conservation, the new administration should provide increased support for ocean education and citizen-science programs in the United States and internationally.


Core Signatories
Angelo Villagomez, Executive Director, Beautify CNMI
Brendan Cummings, Oceans Program Director, Center for Biological Diversity
Roger McManus, Vice President for Marine Programs, Conservation International
Brian Huse, Executive Director, Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)
Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chair, Friends of the Monument
Kristian Teleki, Director, International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN)
Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Malama Kai Foundation
Mark Spaulding, Executive Director, The Ocean Foundation
Jenny Miller Garmendia, Director, Project AWARE Foundation
Liz Foote, Executive Director, Project SEA Link
Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director, Reef Check
Bill Eichbaum, Vice President of Marine Portfolio, World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF)
I highlighted what I consider to be the most significant recommendation, at least from my little rock in the sun. I think it is significant that two Micronesians are challenging the President of the United States to meet what one day could become the "American Challenge."

The Micronesia Challenge, which seeks to effectively conserve 30% of our nearshore resources and 20% of our terrestrial resources by 2020, has received lots of attention over the last several years, including former President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr of Palau, the man behind the Micronesia Challenge, being recognized by Time Magazine as one of the "Heroes of the Environment" in 2007.

Palau, the Marianas, and the rest of Micronesia are Small Island Nations, or as I prefer to call them, Large Ocean Nations. Our populations are small and our conservation budgets are smaller, but every single day we live with the environment. Unlike large developed nations that have a concept of the environment as someplace far away (i.e. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument or Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), the environment for Micronesians is literally in our front yard. Local people catch their dinners on the beach 50 meters from my apartment. If we don't act as good stewards of our environment, we don't eat.

The environment in Saipan is central to our economy. Not only do we depend on healthy populations of fish to feed our families, but our economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Additionally, the environment, our ocean, our beaches, and our green forests, are consistently cited as the main attractions for tourists in the Marianas. Those tourists spend money and create jobs, which in turn generates tax revenue to support all those people in government jobs.

These ideas deserve to be explored further, which I will do in the near future. This post was really just meant to post the letter.

I hope that the Obama administration takes these recommendations seriously and I hope that he recognizes and considers the Large Ocean Nations that will live with his decisions. As with Climate Change, we'll feel the effects of poor policy sooner and with more intensity than the richer, larger, more developed nations.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Correction Needed

There are still media stories being written claiming that our leaders and our people were against the declaration of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. New Scientist magazine writes:
The Pew group bankrolled and was key in promoting one of George W. Bush's last acts as US president. Despite protests from local island leaders, Bush declared the Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean a national monument, even though it extends 80 kilometres beyond US territorial waters.
I would like to offer the following photo as evidence to counter the inaccurate claims made by New Scientist:

governor fitial george w bushThis is a picture of former President George W. Bush and CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial moments after the declaration of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. In case you can not decipher what is going on in the photo, Governor Fitial is hugging Mr. Bush.

New Scientist should issue a retraction and report that our monument was supported by our Governor, Legislature, Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association, and a majority of our residents.

Resume Cover Letter

I had a job interview over the phone today. I was pretty nervous and now that it's done I feel relieved. I was asked questions about school and work, the usual stuff, and why I wanted the job. I'll find out in a few days or so if I got the job.

In the meantime, do you want to read my cover letter?
Hafa Adai XXXXXXX,


I believe that I am qualified for the position based on my education and the work I have accomplished in Saipan over the last three years. I returned to Saipan the year after graduating from Rollins College to work on a coral reef outreach project. In that time I have gained experience writing press releases, newspaper articles, websites, and blogs. I have also managed letter writing and signature gathering campaigns. Additionally, I have managed email lists for activists, volunteers, and media contacts, including the entire email list for the League of Conservation Voters in Florida.

Some of my work has led to national recognition. In 2007, Beautify CNMI, an environmental coalition I helped create and still coordinate, received an EPA Environmental Award and Friends of the Mariana Islands, a small dedicated group of environmental volunteers of which I am a special advisor and volunteer, received an Earth Team award from USDA

In 2008 I was the local lead on a successful campaign to convince President Bush to designate a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, a conservation area the size of Spain. In order to gain his support we waged a multi-faceted local campaign, which led to our governor, legislature, business community, and over 6000 residents supporting the monument. This campaign was covered in over 1000 newspapers and garnered unprecedented media attention for the Marianas.

In addition to being qualified for the position, I have many ties to the region. I was born on Guam and having family living throughout the region. I am also a member of Micronesians in Island Conservation, a learning network for conservationists in the region.

Thank you for taking the time to consider me as a candidate.

I can provide references upon request.

Si yu'use ma'ase,

Angelo Villagomez
I cut off the top paragraph so that you won't know what job I'm applying for.

Campaign Time Again

Alexie Zotomayor, one of the Friends of the Monument and the author of Boon or Bane, had a letter to the editor appear in the Saipan Tribune today.

Rebranding the CNMI as a destination

With the establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument the CNMI has the opportunity to rebrand itself as a travel destination.

Although it is not a fully protected marine reserve, the monument is one of the world’s largest protected areas. This in itself is not something that will attract tourists to our shores. We have to give people a reason to want to visit the monument and our islands.

Saipan could sell itself as "The Gateway to the Mariana Trench." The stores in Garapan could sell t-shirts that read, "I dove the Marianas Trench." Maybe one day submersibles could take tourists to the underwater eruptions off the coast of Rota.

This will require a lot of work, and communities, businesses, and the government will have to contribute to the change.

One of the first steps toward this rebranding is for the federal government to build a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument visitors center. Half-museum, half-aquarium, the visitors center could and should be one of the premier tourism destinations in the Pacific.

I hope that our leaders on Capital Hill and in Washington, D.C. are working with the federal government to bring the visitors center to Saipan.

Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Chinatown, Saipan
There is a concern among certain people that a lot of the benefits of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument will end up in Guam because the monument boundaries extend into some of the Federal waters close to Guam. The Bush Administration, through his Council of Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton, promised the CNMI that they would have a seat at the table (check), untold worldwide media attention (check), a visitors center, a research/enforcement boat, and federal jobs.

The NOAA Sanctuaries people in Hawai'i know about these promises because during the campaign the Friends of the Monument sent them copies of every letter they wrote. Since we assumed that NOAA Sanctuaries would manage the monument, nobody took the time to do any work with anybody at US Fish & Wildlife Service, so they probably have no idea what conversations took place during the process to create the monument. The situation is also complicated by the fact that the key people we worked with in the Bush Administration have since been replaced by the Obama Administration. Some of the key players haven't even been replaced yet, either, like the Secretary of Commerce.

The Friends of the Monument consider themselves the "guardians" of the Marianas Trench and they are going to work hard to ensure that the benefits promised to the CNMI come to fruition.

Fat Guy Update IV

"It's just water weight, fat boy" is the typical response I get when I mention I've burned a few lbs. since signing up for the Golds Gym Body Success Challenge. I've lost just under six lbs. in two weeks and I'd probably have lost a few more if my diet wasn't so terrible.

I had McDonald's twice this weekend. I have a weak spot for Buffalo wings and I get my fix with the chicken strips and Buffalo dipping sauce. Then a certain friend, who shall remain anonymous (no, not Lil' Hammerhead), made me go to McDonald's for chicken nuggets. She rammed them down my throat as I screamed, "No, stop, don't!"

Oh wait, no. That's not how it happened. I rammed them down my own throat as she screamed, "Hey, leave one for me!"

I'm still trying to run 60 minutes per day. I didn't get a run in on Saturday, but I did referee women's soccer games for 90 minutes, so I don't feel too guilty. On Sunday I only got in 30 minutes before my right leg started cramping. Today it started cramping at 50. I'll probably have to slow down the runs so that I reach that 60 minute mark the rest of the week. Every day before this weekend though, I got in the full 60 minutes.

I also did some weights today. Amazing how weak you get when you don't go to the gym for two years. More on that later.

High School Flashbacks

I was tagged on Facebook by a former resident of Saipan. I have a good answer for #27, so I am going to fill this one out. Facebook will pull the RSS feed from my blog and automatically post this. I'll go back into facebook and tag 10 people after it posts (I think you can do that).

Here it goes:
Fill this out about your high school life! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be!! At the end, choose 10 people (or more) to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.


In the 10th grade I dated a girl named Laura. I think we were together for three days before we broke up. She was my only girlfriend in high school as I was terrified of women until I was about 25.

No wife. No kids. No debt. No kidding.

Freshman year I drove to school with my cousins, Chris and Jamie. I walked Sophmore year. Junior year I got a ride from Forrest down the street. Senior year I drove my neighbor, Craig, and my friend, Steve.

I bought an 88 Honda Civic my senior year for $3000.

I have a rusted out 96 Jeep Cherokee that I bought for $3000.

Showalter Field, getting ready for the 1600 m run.


Senior year I worked at the Magic Kingdom. I worked Parade Audience Control, then Splash Mountain, and then Entertainment. I was in Spectromagic almost every night.

I'm actually unemployed at the moment, but I'm an environmentalist.

Not at all. I didn't drink a drop of alcohol until college and I've never done drugs.

I was considered a social retard.

I ran Cross Country and Track, played Soccer one year, and dabbled in Student Council and International Club.  I also belonged to a Karate dojo, but that was outside of school.

Hell YES!!! I collected baseball cards, took 5 AP classes Senior year and got a 1470 on my SAT. I was a super-ultra-mega nerd.

Not even close.

Probably the 4x400 m race at the Regional Track Meet Junior year. That story was published in the Marianas Variety and republished on my blog two years ago.

Physics and Math.  I hated English and Chemistry.

Steve, Joe, and Juan

Winter Park High School Wildcats


I really hated moving to Florida in the 9th grade. Things eventually got better.

Hell YES!!!

I guess so.

We don't talk, but we're friends on Facebook. She's married to another woman. That's hot.

Probably not. I missed my 10th in 2006 because I was in Saipan. Who knows if we'll even have another one?

I talk to Selena, but we didn't go to Winter Park at the same time. I'm also the only Wildcat within 7000 miles of Saipan (that I know about).

In high school? Probably anything associated with Gangsta Rap (Snoop Doggy Dogg, Warren G, and Dr. Dre).

Not from my school, but Senior year I made out with a girl, Dana DeArmond, from a neighboring high school, University High School, who went on to star in Gang Bang My Face 3.

Not even close, but my mother still lives there.

In high school I wanted to be a scientist. I'm an unemployed environmentalist, so I'm at least in the same ballpark.

I thought I'd be married with kids by now.  Honestly, I never really though about a career much.  My goals were always travel and learning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 Duck Race for Cancer

rubber ducksI attended the 2009 Duck Race for Cancer at the Pacific Islands Club on Saturday night. The event was a fundraiser for the Marianas March Against Cancer.

duck race for cancerThere is little in life more exciting than watching 1500 plastic ducks do a lap around a resort's lazy river. Such is life on a small island.

2009 duck race for cancerThe crowd clustered around the starting line around 6 PM to watch the ducks cascade down the big water slide at PIC.

pacific islands clubOnce the ducks were in the water, most everyone followed them along the lazy river.

marianas march against cancerIt only took a few minutes for the ducks to make it to the finish line. I had sponsored 11 ducks. None of them won, but I'm okay with that.

Kudos to the Pacific Islands Club for putting together a fun even for a good cause. Double kudos to happy hour at the poolside bar (half-off appetizers, hell yeah!).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fat Guy Update III

When I got on the scales at Gold's Gym this morning I was well below the 210 mark. I wondered what my no-shoes weight was, so I kicked off my Sauconies and got back on the scale. It read 207.6 lbs.

My starting weight was 212.6. That means I've lost 5 lbs since I started the Body Success Challenge.

My body feels it today. I've been doing my 60 minute runs in the morning and as a result I'm lethargic most of the afternoon. I'm only a week and a half in and I'm still pretty fat, so I'm hoping that the fatigue fades a little in the upcoming weeks.

When I made the transition from high school runner to college runner, one of my coaches told me that the most important thing to do during the off season (summertime) was to run distance. He said it didn't matter how fast you ran, only how long you ran. When we got back to school and started training with the team, he said the speed would come. Those long runs from the summer provided the foundation for building speed.

That is my philosophy right now. I'm taking it relatively easy, running 5 12-minute miles every day. In a week or two I'll start throwing in some faster runs, some shorter than five miles and some longer. Hopefully by then I'll be under 200 lbs and my knees, ankles, and heels will be able to handle the pounding I intend to give them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Google me this

This is an excerpt from a Marc Fisher column in the Washington Post in 2005.
By using their blogs to create links from a given phrase to a particular page on the Web, googlebombers outfox the search engine's algorithm for determining what results pop up. The six-year-old practice has given us such devilish links as "more evil than Satan" to the Microsoft home page, "miserable failure" to President Bush's biography and "gastrointestinal dysentery" to a Florida restaurant that sacked a waiter for blogging about his job there.
Can you guess which google bomb is mine?

Same time, last year

Every once in a while I'll dig through the archives of this blog to see what I was doing 1, 2, 3 and now 4 years ago.

Four years ago today, in 2005, I was planning for my JET interview in Miami. You'll notice from the url of this blog that I was once a JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) applicant. You can probably guess from the content of this blog, that I am a failed JET applicant. After my interview I was put on the Alternate list and was never upgraded. Emily, my girlfriend at the time, was accepted and moved to Japan. I followed her a few months after she left.

Three years ago, in 2006, I was living in Takaoka-shi, Toyama-ken in Japan. Even though I had moved there in November 2005, my world changed when my father passed away 10 days after I touched down in Japan. I spent the entire month of December in Saipan and that is when I made the decision to move back after having lived in the mainland United States and England (and Japan, technically) for 24 years. I was enjoying a prolonged vacation, getting ready to move to Saipan.

Two years ago, in 2007, I was in Saipan doing conservation work, finishing up my contract with Marianas RC&D, starting work with MINA, and training with CNMI Men's Soccer team preparing for our first game against Guam.

Last year, in 2008, I was starting to crank up the campaign to designate the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. I was also planning a Jake Shimabukuro concert to celebrate the second year of Beautify CNMI. Most importantly, I met Janet King for the first time.

And here we are in 2009. I'm playing coed soccer and trying to lose some weight. I'm also planning a Beautify CNMI island-wide cleanup for April. I'm 30, debt free with no kids and no girlfriend. Good times.

Fat Guy Update II

I am enjoying running again. Today was my fifth straight day of hitting the treadmill. The first day I managed about 20 minutes before my legs felt like jelly. The second day I made it to 30. The last three days I've run for 60 minutes. I ran 5 miles, 5.5 miles, and 5 miles, respectively.

My achilles heels, which have been bothering me for about a year, are feeling fine. I've stopped wearing zorries and whenever I wear leather shoes (i.e. not sneakers) I have these rubber heel cups that I use. Not only do they keep pressure off my heels, but they have the added benefit of making me 1/4 inch taller.

The exercise seems to be paying off already. Today when I got on the scale I was flirting with going under 210 (my starting weight was 212.6). I'm looking forward to getting under 200.

So the next step is to change my diet. That's the hard part. I really like pizza. And beer. And fried chicken. And loco moco. And beer. And chicken kelaguin. And strawberry ice cream. For breakfast.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A joke for Kevin

I have an 11-year old brother named Kevin. The following jokes are for him to repeat at school.
Why do elephants paint their balls red?

So they can hide in cherry trees.
And then the follow up joke:
What is the loudest noise in the jungle?

A monkey eating cherries.
If you are underage and get caught telling this joke, please tell the authorities you heard it from Brad Ruszala.

Giddy as a school girl

joe camachoThe front page of today's Marianas Variety has a picture of Floor Leader Joe Camacho and Speaker Arnold Palacios holding a map of the proposed bombing range the US military wants in our part of the world. The map in their hands highlights an area 5x as large as the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. As far as I can tell it includes every single island in the Marianas except for Maug and Uracas.

At the very least I should expect our leaders to give the United States Military the same warm welcome they gave the Pew Environment Group, NOAA Sanctuaries, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

That doesn't appear to be the case.

In all seriousness, kudos to Floor Leader Camacho for his personal/campaign/office website. The Marianas Range Complex website put up by the military has a lot of nothing and is difficult to navigate (where the hell is the map!), but Joe's website has info front and center. He should commission a similar website for the Legislature, so that this public service continues should he lose reelection or run for a different office.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Amateur Dining Night

Valentine's Day is the day when people who usually don't spend time in restaurants and bars go out en masse to restaurants and bars. Back in the day when I was a waiter I remember making some good money on Valentine's Day, but there was a lot of bullshit to deal with.
"Excuse me sir, my uncultured wife didn't know that Pad Thai is made with fish sauce. We're vegetarians. You should have known that because we're both wearing Birkenstocks. This is all your fault. You ruined Valentine's Day. Our children hate you."

"Pardon me, but my chubby husband doesn't like pancetta. Can he have bacon instead?"

"Does that cost extra?"

"I'd like water with lemon."
My fellow servers know what I'm talking about.

Happy Valentine's Day.

She shared her chicken

On Thursday night I went to Godfather's for a slice of pizza and two Bud Lites (yeah, Body Success Challenge, I know). Guess who I ran into?

roberta GuerreroRoberta had come in for a bite to eat, too. She shared her fried chicken strips with me (yeah, Body Success Challenge, I know).

Tan Holdings brings a new band to Saipan every 3 months. They play at Club V on Fridays and Saturdays and at Godfather's, Southern Cross, and Chambre on other days of the week, depending on the band and the business they bring.

Back in 2006 when they first started bringing bands to Saipan, I saw Brown Republic and Resound several times per week.  I'm less of a Club V groupie in my old age.  Or maybe I just don't like bootie dancing anymore.

Anyway, the new band, Art East, started playing last month. I saw them for the first time on Thursday.

Art East BandThe names of the new singers are Donna and Jem, according to Edz.

I gave them a tip and asked them to play Ghostbusters.

They didn't play it.

donna and jemI hate to say this, but most of the Filipino bands that come to Saipan are pretty much the same. There is some variation in the cover songs they sing, but the songs are always cover songs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fat Guy Update I

Two years ago when CNMI played Guam in the first Marianas Cup I was the starting forward. I weighed 170 lbs. My freshman year of college I could run a 4 mile race in 22:00 and a 5 mile race in 28:00. In high school my best 5K was in the 16:00 range.

Now I weigh 210 lbs and I get tired walking over to the refrigerator.

I have no illusions about returning to my former college fitness level, but I'd like to get to the point where I can run up and down a soccer field for an entire game again.

Over the next three months I'll be playing coed soccer once a week and refereeing a game here and there. I also renewed my Gold's Gym membership.

That's it. I'll give period updates over the course of the next three months.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marine Monument News from Fiji

There was an extremely long article on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in Fiji Islands Business published on February 9, 2009.
In Saipan, where tourism and the garment industry are in free-fall, a pro-monument petition attracted 6000 signatures and the Hotel Association and the Chamber of Commerce endorsed turning the waters around the three northernmost islands—Maug, Asuncion and Uracus—into a marine national monument.

“Almost no one is able to enjoy these islands at this time,” wrote Lynn Knight, chairwoman of the association, in a letter to Bush, while monument status would “boost the local economy in promoting ecotourism”.

In contrast, the governor and most of the legislature have voiced their opposition to what they call “The Pew Monument” in language that strikingly resembles Wespac’s.
I'm not going to repost the entire article. Click the link above to read the article. In response to a comment by Jane, I will now post the entire section of the article pertaining to Saipan and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

As you read this, please keep in mind that Kitty Simonds thinks I'm hot.
“The opposition was led by Wespac in every regard,” said Rick Gaffney, a former Wespac council member. “Without Wespac,” added Andrew Salas, a former Marianas legislator, “the opposition would have been minimal. There would have been a bit of grumbling because relations between the Marianas government and the federal government are pretty bad these days, but that’s it, because the overwhelming majority of the people support the monument.”

Wespac is under investigation by the US General Accountability Office and the Inspector General of the Commerce Department for suspected illegal lobbying.

In a letter to Bush that received wide publicity in Saipan, Aha Kiole, an organisation essentially created by Wespac to prevent marine reserves from being created in Hawaii, accused the president of having created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands reserve “without the participation of the Native Hawaiian people,” all of whom feel “anger, trepidation and despair” whenever the monument “is mentioned.”

Although more than 100 hearings were held on the issue over six years, the letter asserts that most Hawaiians “did not know that the Pew Foundation was planning to take three-fourths of Hawaiian lands and make it into a monument.” (In fact, the total land area of the ten-islet monument is 13 sq km, while the rest of Hawaii totals 16,635sq km).

The Marianas monument, the letter continued, “will take an integral part of the Marianas culture away from the native people—with no hope of ever getting this part of their heritage back”.

Like all federal agencies, Wespac is barred from spending federal funds to lobby the legislative branches of state and federal government. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, and the Inspector General of the Commerce Department are currently both investigating allegations that Wespac lobbied the US Congress and the Hawaii legislature to push its pro-fishing, anti-conservation agenda, notably in creating Aha Kiole.

In Saipan, much of the political elite has ties to Wespac. The governor’s chief of staff, Ray Mafnas, is a senior, unsalaried Wespac official who collects over US$600 a day every time he travels for Wespac. Arnold Palacios, Speaker of the House, is a former member of the Wespac council. He wrote in a letter to Bush that the “loss of control over such a vast area of land and water is an assault on the traditions and culture of the islands.”

The representative Speaker Palacios appointed as chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee, Representative Diego Benavente, is a former lieutenant governor who is running for governor. He engineered the approval of two (sic) He was president of the Saipan Fishermen’s Association in 2005 when it got a US $150,000 grant from Wespac to rent and equip a store to sell its members’ catch.

But this past December, the Marianas Variety reported that the store had closed two months after it opened because of unexpected expenses “like utilities, rent, and salaries.”

Benavente was quoted as saying: “We ran out of money, basically.”

Valentin Taisakan, the mayor of the Northern Islands Municipality, which lies south of the three islands designated as a monument by Bush in January, also wrote to Bush in opposition to the monument.

Taisakan, who lives in Saipan, received a US$90,000 Wespac grant to create a fishing base in his remote municipality, but the base never opened, according to Saipan sources.

In another letter to Bush opposing the designation, Juan Borja Tudela, the mayor of Saipan, where most of the Marianas’ 65,000 people live, said the monument waters should be left under the control of Wespac, which he called “much more sensitive to the Pacific Islanders’ way of life.”

Wespac’s vice-chairman, Manny Duenas, head of a fishermen’s group in Guam, went further in his own letter to Bush. “The taking of our marine resources may be construed as being no different than cattle rustling” and it would “serve as a springboard to ensure the cultural genocide of a people,” he wrote.
I think that line about Mafnas getting $600 per diem is incorrect. I think only the 13 council members get per diem; the advisory councils just get reimbursed for their expenses. I'm not affiliated with WESPAC, so I actually don't know the answer.


So less than a month after I open up my blog to unmoderated comments, a certain person goes full blown stalker on me. Not only has she been calling every single person I may or may not have had contact with over the last 10 years and threatened to kill my family, but she has now taken on the identity of my mother in her blog.

The comments on this blog are from here on out going to be moderated until a certain person starts taking her methylphenidate again. I apologize.

Speaking on behalf of the Friends

When I gave the interview that appeared in today's Marianas Variety, I was not speaking on behalf of the Friends of the Monument. Jun, the reporter, stuck a recorder in my face after Tuesday's Rotary Club meeting and asked me a few questions. I never said I was speaking on behalf of the Friends. I thought I was speaking as Angelo Villagomez, environmental champion.

Just wanted to clear that up.

I want to comment on the article in this blog post. I've posted it in its entirety below if you want to read it first.

So, do I think it makes more scientific sense to protect an entire ecosystem rather than a patchwork of postage stamps? Absolutely. Is that something I want to begin working on right now? Probably not.

There are a number of things that need to be worked out with the monument that we have right now. We need to focus on getting the benefits that were promised to us. Let's get that visitors center. Let's get that enforcement/research boat. Let's get a few local people hired as monument staff. Let's begin work on the draft regulations.

Once some of those benefits start trickling in, then we can start thinking about extending the protections to the full Exclusive Economic Zone and protecting the entire ecosystem.

I promise you that one day the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument will extend out to 200 miles. It will protect all of the seamounts, hydrothermal vents, whales, and other unique life within its borders. That day may not be for 2, 20, or 200 years, but I promise you that that day will come. And when that day comes, I also promise you that it will again be supported by a majority of the people of the Commonwealth, much as today's monument is supported by our political establishment, our business community, and most of our residents.

Here is the full article:
Friends of Monument yet to decide if they will pursue original proposal

THE Friends of the Monument will not lobby the U.S. Congress to implement the proponents’ original proposal for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Angelo Villagomez of the Friends of the Monument said even during the Bush administration their group did not lobby Congress.

“We worked with the Bush administration,” he said.

Ask if they will lobby the new administration of President Obama, Villagomez said: “That has yet to be seen.”

He said even if their group decided to move forward, they have yet to know who they will work with in the new administration.

He said what their group is interested to know the benefits that CNMI will get from the monument.

They want to see the establishment of a visitor center and the creation of federal jobs for local residents, he added.

The Friends of the Monument have yet to meet to discuss what next step they will undertake after the declaration of the monument, Villagomez said.

He is hoping that the CNMI leadership will seriously focus on the benefits that can be derived from the declaration of the monument, adding that the Friends of the Monument will continue to cooperate with local officials.

Last January, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial appointed three representatives to the advisory council for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument — Benigno M. Sablan, a member of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council; Joaquin P. Villagomez, a former member of Wespac’s advisory panel; and Sylvan O. Igisomar, the director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Villagomez commended the CNMI leaders and the White House for the monument declaration.

With the creation of the advisory council, he said he is hoping that the CNMI will continue to inform the people how the monument is going to be managed. [emphasis mine]
That last paragraph makes no sense. I never said anything like it. If I was going to make a statement like that, it would be something to the effect of "I hope this monument management plan drafting process is open to the public and not simply the purview of political appointees."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brad Ruszala's Speedo Carwash

Brad RuszalaMy good friend Brad Ruszala is trying to raise money to compete in an Ironman competition in New York or someplace far away. I suggested he have a banana hammack carwash. So would you pay $10 to watch Brad wash a car wearing nothing but a speedo and the hair on this back? How much would you pay to not see that?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Saipan Biggest Loser II

I just signed up for the second installment of Gold's Gym's Body for Life/Biggest Loser/Body Success Challenge/Fat Guy Contest II. I signed up for the first one...and gained weight.


My starting weight for the contest is 212.6 lbs. My final weigh-in is April 30. That's gives me about 10 weeks to lose...a lot.

Motions Magazine

motions magazineI'm featured in a new magazine called Motions Magazine this month. The inaugural issue of the magazine is about going green, so they interviewed me as a "twenty-something" who does green stuff. Shhhh....don't tell them that I just turned 30.

The article starts:
In some ways, Angelo Villagomez is your typical 20-something. He ran cross country in high school and college. He was involved in karate. He plays soccer and video games and spills his thoughts on a blog.
motions magazineIntrigued? The rest of the article talks about Beautify CNMI, mostly. The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument gets a mention:
These days, Villagomez spends most of his day advocating for the Marianas Trench National Monument (sic). "Now that that project is finished, I'm looking forward to focusing more on Beautify CNMI," he says. "I want to do another island wide cleanup this year."
You can pick up a copy of Motions Magazine at your local book store.

My Presidential Letter

Now that I've been home for all of 72 hours, I've begun the process of catching up on the backlog of work I was supposed to be doing these past five weeks. I've got a few bills to pay, a  number of letters to send out and so on.

We're working on our Thank You list, which we'll be adding to during the Friends of the Monument meeting tonight. Over 6000 residents and 200 businesses signed our petitions, we had over 60 volunteer petition gatherers, 50 plus people wrote letters to the President, and dozens wrote letters to the editor. We also had several associations, like the Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, Mariana Island Nature Alliance, and Beautify CNMI show us strong support.  We also have to thank all of our local leaders for working with the federal government on this issue.

Basically I'm saying we're going to need a lot of stamps.

I was mentioned in the letter from the White House to the Pew Charitable Trusts thanking them for their involvement in the monument process.
I also greatly appreciate the cooperative and effective way the Pew Charitable Trusts worked with my staff here at the Council on Environmental Quality, and I want to thank you, Joshua Reichert, Jay Nelson, Matt Rand, Angelo O'Connor Villagomez, and the rest of your staff for providing early assistance and support throughout the process. [emphasis mine]

Coed Soccer Tonight

The long drought is over. Coed soccer starts tonight!

Well, it actually started last night. I was the referee for the first game.

We're still taking on players if you are interested in playing. There are four teams this season. Games are Monday and Tuesday (you only play once per week) and the season is 10 weeks long. Contact me at 285-6462 for more info.

Come on, if Jerry Tan can lace up his soccer cleats, there is nothing stopping you from playing!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A-Fraud Juice

I am an unabashed Red Sox fan and nothing makes me happier than seeing A-Fraud Rodriguez getting caught for steroid use.
In 2003, when he won the American League home run title and the AL Most Valuable Player award as a shortstop for the Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for two anabolic steroids, four sources have independently told Sports Illustrated.
As we enter the 2009 Major League Baseball season I look forward to A-Fraud getting the "Ste-----roids" chant at every single away game.

Jeff, I await your reply.

You've already used:

"...and you had a lot to do with the Red Sox winning two World Series rings in four years."

"...we won 26 World the 20th century."

"...up yours!"

Friday, February 06, 2009

Barack Obama visits Nan Madol

Fierce Clouds: This canoe was sailing through the lagoon as we made our way towards Nan Madol.

Tour Guide Jimmy: Today it was Jimmy's turn to show us Pohnpei.

Barack Obama in a boat: I proudly wore my Barack Obama shirt to Nan Madol. It may be the first time a sitting US president visited the historic site.

Blue Steel: It is hard too look cool when you're wearing white sneakers. Just ask Jeff Turbitt.

Main building: This is a shot of the main building from the ocean.

Inside main building: According to our guide, Jimmy, tree roots are responsible for the crumbling of Nan Madol.

Iconic pattern: I've been seeing this pattern in books since I learned to read. It is such a thrill to see them in person.

Another inside shot: I like posting pictures, what can I say?

Corner: This is the northeast corner of the main building.

Toes of discovery: I don't have any pictures of me in the kayak.

Kayak ruins: I didn't see these walls during my last visit.  Exploring in the kayak allowed me to see a lot more of the Nan Madol ruins.

Sting ray: It is hard to tell from this photo, but this sting ray was huge.

Trees and canals: A building is underneath these trees.  You can see how much the jungle has taken over the ruins because you can't even see the ruins.

Nan Madol today: Most of Nan Madol today looks like a mangrove. It has been overgrown for over 1000 years now.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Kitty Simonds thinks I'm hot

I laughed every single day of the Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat. It may seem natural since all 20 of us work in pretty much the same field, care a lot about the same things, hail from pretty much the same geographic location and live in similar communities, and we were, after all, at a retreat: A place away from home to gain some perspective and hopefully go home recharged and ready to take on the next challenge. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I hate to admit that my job is not always fun. There were a number of times last year when I was ready to quit. To be honest, there were a number of times I wanted to move.

I'm coming to the realization now that there is no need to dwell on those days as the islands are now near unanimous in their support for the monument. In fact, as evidenced by recent press statements by Governor Benigno Fitial, Speaker Arnold Palacios, Senate President Pete Reyes, Representative Stanley Torres, Dr. John Joyner, Secretary Dela Cruz and Jack Ogomoro, there is now a tug of war going on to determine who was the strongest supporter of the monument and who should get the most recognition for their contributions!

So, in the spirit of moving past those days that doubled the amount of gray hair on my head, I offer some of the lighter moments from the campaign in this second installment of Monument Flasbacks.

In August 2007, long before Pew offered me a position and made the decision to promote the idea of a monument in the Marianas, I set up a meeting between Jay Nelson, Representative Cinta Kaipat (who was still in office at the time), Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Ike Dela Cruz, and Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor Ray Mafnas. I forgot how long the meeting was, but it ended with Ray Mafnas telling Jay Nelson that the Fitial Administration would be happy to work with Pew Environment Group.

As we were walking out the door, Ray turned to Jay and said something to the effect of, "One thing I can say about Angelo is that he is effective. I wouldn't want to be on the opposite side of an issue with him. I know he'd win."

That meeting convinced Pew to go ahead with the campaign and Ray single handedly convinced them to hire me.

John Gourley was sent by the Division of Fish & Wildlife to spy on the MINA three-year strategic planning session. I've written about this before on my blog. Gourley took his own version of meeting minutes and sent them to Sylvan Igisomar who then sent them on to the governor. A copy of those two letters ended up in my hands and I was drawn to the part where Gourley wrote, "Angelo has excellent grassroots organization skills (and website, blogs, etc.) and I am sure they will be put in use if these public forums are allowed, especially if he is hired by Pew to manage the project."

On April 16, 2008, a WESPAC staffer in Hawaii, Joshua DeMello, wrote to a staffer at the CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife with the warning, "Here's a heads up. Guys in DC are already talking Marianas trench monument. Sounds like its a done deal and the president is waiting to sign it."

That email sent our local government into a frenzy and within days (on Earth Day in fact), our legislature passed the first of three anti-monument resolutions. Three independent sources in the Senate told me it was written by WESPAC. It was a brilliant move by WESPAC and it nearly killed the monument.

Thus was born the phrase, "done deal," which along with, "no brainer," was something I would hear every single day for the next nine months.

On September 29, 2008, I, along with Dr. John Joyner of CNMI Coastal Resources Managment, briefed Bishop Camacho and all of his priests on the monument concept. I was allowed to speak first; Joyner went second.

During his speech Joyner called me a social entrepreneur in a very derogatory fashion. I had never heard of a social entrepreneur, so I went back to the office and looked it up.

A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.

What the hell? Did he realize he was complimenting me?

On January 16 of this year, I went to pay a visit to Delegate Sablan in his office in Washington, DC. As I was walking down the hallway towards his office on the fourth floor of the Canon Building, who should pass by me other than WESPAC Executive Director Kitty Simonds.

Inside his office, Greg told me that part of his discussion with Kitty had been about me.

"She thinks you're handsome," he told me.

So Kitty Simonds thinks I'm hot. It doesn't get much better than that.

MIC in the News

The Saipan Tribune reported on the 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat in an article in yesterday's newspaper.
NMI environmental leaders take part in region-wide retreat

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia-Local conservation strategies and community involvement were in full display last week in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, as environmental leaders from across the region participated in the 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat.

The retreat, which lasted from Jan. 26 to 30, was held at the former Pohnpei Agricultual & Trade School in the Madolenihmw municipality of Pohnpei. The purposes of having the retreat in a remote site were so that the participants could become immersed in the local culture and community and develop closer ties with one another.

Environmental leaders from across the Micronesia region participated in the retreat. Representing government and non-government, managers and advocates, local and national levels, up-and-coming and veteran conservationists, the 20 participants hailed from the CNMI, Guam, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

During the retreat members set short- and long-term personal, professional, and institutional goals. Many of the members have similar goals, or set goals that other members have already attained. Members learn from one another and collaborate together on meeting their goals.

“As a young conservationist I can look at some of the members who have been doing this for 30 years and learn from them,” said Angelo Villagomez of Beautify CNMI.

Members also discuss common institutional and conservation challenges during the retreats. These sessions are “break-out” sessions. Members “break-out” into small groups to discuss challenges recommend ways forward and determine next steps. After meeting in the small groups, members bring their findings back to the group at large for more discussion.

One of the conservation challenges discussed by members this year was surviving climate change. Marine protected areas, like the recently established Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, were identified as a buffer to the effects of climate change.

According to Marshall Islands Conservation Society executive director Steve Why, “Our contributions to climate change are small compared to what larger nations contribute, but due to our number of low-lying atolls, the effects of climate change will arrive sooner and be more severe in Micronesia than elsewhere on the globe.”

The members also had time to become immersed in the local culture and community. On the first night of the retreat they were welcomed by the Meninkeder Lapalap of Madolenihmw municipality and participated in a sakau ceremony.

On Wednesday they visited the Enpein community and their local marine protected area. They toured the bamboo raft the community uses for monitoring and surveillance of the Enpein Marine Protected Area and were treated to a feast and another sakau ceremony in the village.

“I was really impressed by the amount of community buy-in. I would love to follow their model to get our community more involved in conservation,” commented Fran Castro of Saipan.

The two MIC members from the CNMI are Division of Environmental Quality's Fran Castro and Beautify CNMI's Angelo Villagomez. Dr. Peter Houk and Laurie Peterka from CNMI were also invited to the retreat. New members of MIC are identified by the current membership of MIC, based on the needs of the MIC network. The CNMI is expected to gain a third member in time for the next retreat.

The purpose of MIC is to strengthen the collaborative, organizational, technical, and policy skills of leaders and organizations so that, together with communities, they can advance the conservation and management of important natural areas in Micronesia.

The 12th MIC Retreat will take place in October in Palau.

Tectonic Love Story

A line from a press release in the Saipan Tribune today reads, "Come and listen to Dr. Hein describe the wonder of what happened when the Pacific Plate met the Philippine plate to form the Mariana Islands."

Sounds like a romantic love story for geologists.

I'll be sure to be there, if anyone wants to have brunch afterwards.
The Office of the Governor and the Pacific Islands Club are partnering to host a public forum on “Minerals Mining in the Marianas.” The forum will be conducted by Dr. James R. Hein, a marine geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, and it will be held at the Charley's Cabaret at PIC on Sunday, Feb. 8, from 10am to 12pm.
I know you miss me. I've been off island for five weeks now! And a big thanks to whoever scheduled this for waiting for me to get back.

It will be interesting to see who shows up for this. Every single time there was a forum that even hinted at the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument John Gourley would show up with his WESPAC boys, raise all kinds of hell, and put an end to all rational academic discussion. I hope they don't ruin this one, too.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Nan Madol Kayak Tour

nan madol pohnepeiAgain, most of the photos are going to have to wait, but I wanted to put a few up as a teaser. I'll have them all up by the end of the weekend, once I'm back in Saipan.

Non-NMI Descent Power

2009 electionAny thoughts on this one?

Six Waterfalls Hike

“If we can’t find the guide, we’ll hike up Sokehs Rock,” explained Laurie.

In order to hike to the waterfalls at Six Waterfalls you have to get permission from the family that owns the land. All land in Pohnpei is privately owned, so you can’t just go tromping through. The front desk of the hotel couldn’t get a hold of them and told us that our best bet was to just drive out to the waterfalls and look for the proper person out there.

90 minutes in the bed of a pickup truck later, driving down a dirt road on the opposite end of the island, we come upon a thin shirtless man carrying a machete and a rice sack bag.

“That’s the guy we’re looking for,” said our guide from the hotel, Billy.

After Billy spoke to him in Pohnpein, Sheldon, agreed to take us on the hike. He just said we’d have to go pick up some rope in case of a flash flood.

Billy explained that 6 Palauans had died a few years back during a flash flood and that the rope was just a precaution.

“Great,” I thought to myself.

Worth every minute: Our guides were Billy and Sheldon.
Sheldon told us it was a 90 minute hike to the first waterfall. We did it in 45.

laurie peterka pohnpei
Going down: The first portion of the hike lasted 45 minutes. We went up, down, up, and down through hills, ravines, and over streams. There was hardly an inch of solid ground. We were either walking on slippery rocks, tree roots or mud.
The trail to the first waterfall was rough, but not treacherous. Pohnpei is more mountainous than Saipan. Its topography is more like the Northern Islands. We traipsed up and down through hills, ravines, and streams. There was not an inch of firm ground the whole way. Our footholds were either mud, slippery wet rocks, tree roots, or mud. Did I mention mud? The going was slow, but nothing compared to what we would find when we arrived at the waterfalls.

Pohnpei rainforest
Forest Photos: Yes, it was green.
The jungle at these high altitudes was lush. Like the cloud forests of Costa Rica, green was growing on green was growing on green. Vines growing up the trunks of trees were covered in moss. Fern trees reached to the top of the canopy. Bromeliads, orchids, and vines hung from tree branches and littered the ground where branches or whole trees had fallen.

On the hillside adjacent to the first waterfall somebody had planted sakau and bananas. As far as I could tell the closest house was a brisk, muddy 45 minute walk through the jungle. Why plant your sakau so far away?

Green, green, green: The vegetation, especially the tree ferns reminded me of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica. I think Laurie got sick of me saying that after about the 14th time.
Along the wall above the waterfall was a cave. As I inched toward it a hundred small bats dropped from the ceiling and scrambled out into the sunlight. Oops, didn’t mean to disturb you, guys.

The first waterfall turned out to be the smallest. Water poured out from a stream above, fell about 50 feet, pooled, and then continued its journey towards the river.

Cascades: This is the second waterfall. I think this picture captures a sense of how big the waterfall is and how much sound the rushing water makes.
The next few waterfalls were right around the corner, all of them cascading straight into the river.

This section of the hike, the portion where we saw the waterfalls, took us straight up the river. The river ran through a ravine with high walls on either side. We tried to stay dry if we could, but most of the time we were getting our feet wet.

Ankle deep: I thought this is how wet I would get. Wishful thinking.
The river banked back and forth as it winded its way up the mountain (or down the mountain depending on your point of view). Rocks clustered on the inside of each bend, while the outside of each bend was usually a vertical wall. It was easier to trek up the river on the inside of each bend, which meant we had to cross the river at every other curve.

Crossing was always treacherous. Every step required my full concentration to keep from falling down. Stepping on the rocks without slipping was impossible. With every step I wedged my foot into a crevice or between two rocks. The water was never deeper than mid-thigh and wasn’t moving very fast (but it was moving), but a single slip on the rocks below and I would have eaten it. My non-waterproof camera would have eaten it, too.

Making it look easy: Our guide, Sheldon, seemed to have no trouble with the slippery rocks.
We went back and forth across the river in this manner for about 75 minutes, passing the second and the third waterfalls along the way. When we reached the fourth waterfall we stopped for lunch. I found a nice round dry rock and pulled out my ham sandwich. It was about 12:30.

Lunch time scenery: We ate our lunches at the foot of this waterfall.
Lunch ended 30 minutes later just as it was starting to rain. We walked right by the fifth waterfall when we came to it. Nobody wanted to risk getting their cameras wet in the monsoon.

Proof I was there: I didn't take too many pictures of myself, this is one of the few.
We continued crossing back and forth until we reached a point in the river where it narrowed and coursed between two vertical walls, not 10 feet apart.

There would be no walking across this section. Our guide, Billy, informed us that it was time to go for a swim.

Our other guide, Sheldon, carried our cameras to keep them dry while we dove in and swam upstream towards the final waterfall.

We were not disappointed.

The final waterfall, which I have unofficially christened Six Waterfalls Cathedral, is in one of those special places fashioned by the hand of God.

Worth the swim: I don't think this photo captures how amazing this waterfall is.
The sense I got from the area was that of an outdoor room. The walls through which we swam rose ever higher, widening towards the middle, but tapering towards the end, where a magnificent two-tiered waterfall gushed out of an opening in the granite.

In place of stained glass windows was a mosaic of ferns and moss covering the entire rock face. Instead of pews, black river stones blanketed the ground. In place of an altar and a crucifix stood the waterfall, bringing life to the cathedral and everything downstream of it.

Then it was time to go.

Since we swam in, we had to swim out.

Emerging from the water on the other side I suddenly realized I was about to hike back a good 20 lbs heavier. Each of my boots was soaked through and all of my clothes from my socks to my t-shirt were drenched. We were also already three hours into the hike, and my legs were feeling every ravine we scaled during the hike in.

We did not go back the way we had come in. We spent less time on the river, which was great because the hillsides aren’t as slippery, but burned because we spent two hours climbing up and down hills and ravines.

We got back to the truck just short of five hours after we started, where an ice cold Fanta and a 90 minute truck ride back to a hot shower awaited me.