Monday, November 21, 2011

A Descent into the Heart of Darkness

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Today we hopped in the rental car and tried to drive around the island.  The trip, with no stops, reportedly takes a mere three hours.  We did some stopping.  Seven hours later we dragged back into the hotel, having only seen about one half of this paradise in the Pacific.  What we did see was the southern half of the island - and it is beautiful beyond words!

Our first stop was at an underwater observatory where we saw the little fishes swim among scuba divers.  (There was a dive class being held nearby.)  Stop number two was a marina where Valerie struck up a conversation with the skipper of a small boat that carts tourists around Guam.  Today he was taking a group out to watch dolphins at play.  I got a good picture of Valerie and Captain Mike that will be up on my Okinawan blog in a few days.  I'm not set up here to post photos.

Every time the highway curves along the coast of southern Guam, another postcard shot comes into view - so we did lots of stopping - crashing surf, sleepy lagoons, villages, and even a group of itinerant pigs!  Valerie, who loves to talk to strangers, made friends with an American and his Japanese wife at a swimming hole in a park in one of the southern villages.  A couple of hours later we saw them again at a seaside tourist stand and burger joint.

I had just bought a tee shirt there for my grandson that honors Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese soldier from World War II who was discovered hiding in the wilds of Guam in 1972 - not realizing the war was over.  When Valerie's new friends came in, they told us that since they saw us at the swimming hole, they had been to the cave where Shoichi had hidden all those years.  We decided that some backtracking was in order.

The site where the cave was located was in a very remote spot.  We left the car in the parking lot, walked through some displays set up for tourists (including a pair of live reindeer), and then boarded a rickety cable car (a  plastic box on a ski lift type of cable - not sure what it is actually called) to be carried across a steep ravine and past a beautiful waterfall.  Disembarking, we walked beside and below a breathtaking display of water cascading over boulders, across a suspension bridge that swung perilously with each step - the kind of bridge that would have broken if Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner had been in front of us trying to get across - and finally down a long, twisting trail for a half-mile or so.  It was truly like we were descending into the heart of darkness.  I kept expecting to see severed human heads mounted on stakes.  The horror, the horror!

Finally we reached the cave, which wasn't a cave at all.  It was a shaft dug straight into the ground that supposedly led to a hand-dug horizontal chamber.  The shaft was lined with large stalks of bamboo.  It was a Saddamesque hidey-hole that poor old Private Yokoi reportedly lived in for twenty-seven years until he was discovered and captured by a group of Chamorro hunters who had to explain to him that the war had been over for nearly three decades.

(I was serving on Okinawa in 1972 when Shoichi Yokoi was captured.  It was a really big deal.  He was taken to Tokyo to meet the Emperor (Hirohito, the real emperor) and feted by one and all as a war hero.  Yokoi died in Nagoya, Japan, in 1997 at the age of eighty-two.)

That was what we saw.  After we left the "cave" and returned to the cable cars for our ride back up to civilization, this is what we heard:  Valerie, of course, struck up a conversation with the young Chamorro park guide who was operating the lift.  He told us that the "cave" was not where the soldier had been hiding.  In fact, he said that he, himself, had helped to dig that particular cave because so it would be much easier to access than the real cave which was nearby on top of a very steep hill.  He said that he had been in the real cave once.  He did a lot of smiling as he told the tale, and Valerie was not sure that she believed him.

When we got back to the parking lot area, I asked a female park guide if that was the real cave.  She looked kind of startled and then said that it was not.  She said the real cave had collapsed a few years ago during a typhoon and a new one had to be dug on what they hoped was the same spot.  I told her that I had heard that the real cave actually was a cave and that it was located on a hilltop.  She said that was not true.

I never got to the bottom of that story because about that time thirteen pigs of various sizes came roaming out of the woods and laid down in the shade on the parking lot.   We had a great time trying to get the bored porkers to pose for pictures.

I am easily amused.

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