Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Fronds, Tentacles and Trash
My wife and I spent the weekend at the new Palms Resort. Our family business is such that we found ourselves hosting others on Valentines Day with no time for us so we decided to treat ourselves to a romantic get-a-way weekend at the Palms to make up for it. That is our story and we are sticking to it.

I’ll start with the negative impression, in honor of the Sour Grapes logo. The new owners have a landscaper on staff who doesn’t like plants apparently. He has been attacking the once lovely gardens at the ex-Nikko Hotel with a chain saw and a small army of machete wielders. Bare dirt is found where there once were luxurious flowering shrubs, stumps where beautiful palms and mature shade providing trees once stood. Even the signature tree that the original pool was built around has fallen to the crazed chain saw murderer. Gravel, yes gravel – as in little prickly rocks, replaces nicely trimmed greenery in a number of highly visible areas, and the desert landscaping concept seems to be growing elsewhere around the grounds.

I don’t own the Palms so I don’t get to choose, but I will point out that tourists come to this place to see and be part of a tropical paradise…a jungle like setting of green and exotic blooming plants, shining crystal seas and the adventure of getting to be near plants, people and animals not found in their homelands. If they wanted a desert they would probably have gone to Arizona, or Egypt. I would suggest you leave every green mature thing you can, commensurate with your plans for expansion. You, of course, can suggest that I refrain from suggesting.

Now I must say that the owner’s taste in things botanical is the only fault we (I) found with the Palms Resort (the rest of the family didn’t seem to mind Sir Hacks-a-Lot and his propensity for dirt). The rest of our experience was refreshing, relaxing, fun and rewarding. The restaurants are serving up fantastic food at reasonable prices. The pool, rooms and public areas are well maintained and clean. The staff is universally gracious and accommodating. We were made to feel right at home from the moment we walked up to the breeze wafted front desk to check in. The service was impeccable. The smiles, authentic. The new owners are doing a great job, that will include finding a world class Hotelier group to act as executive managers in the months to come. The prospects for attracting many new tourists by linking with a world renowned Hotel group are exciting.

There are plans afoot to increase the size of the pool and other projects are underway that will add value and prestige to a facility already steeped in an aura of luxury and accommodation. The Palms deserves our local support. Please find your way to the foot of the hill in As Matuis/SanRoque and enjoy the fine surroundings, excellent food and friendly staff at the new Palms Resort. You’ll be glad you did. (Go soon before the next attack of the Giant Bushcutter).
* * * *
Octopus hat
There has been a bit of controversy about free-dive spear fishing recently. When I was a lad back in the Stone Age, we spear fished using scuba tanks and thought nothing of it except how yummy the fish tasted. Times have changed and a new ethic of conservation surrounds most everything now, including the time honored art of fishing. The use of scuba tanks while hunting fish has been ruled an unfair advantage now that there are a lot more people and probably a lot fewer fish.

The replacement for scuba fishing is an art form that awes me. Free Diving. Part art, part sport, part subsistence activity, part excitement, part commerce, Free Dive spear fishing and the men (mostly) that perform it are a wonder to behold. I will relate a short experience to illustrate why I hold these special fishermen in such esteem:

During the last Micronesian Games the Free Dive team from Guahan came here to Saipan to compete. They needed to reconnoiter the area and someone mentioned I could pilot a small boat and might take them around as they explored the reefs for the best fishing spots. I did and they did. It turned out to be an educational experience for me. I thought free divers would want to go to 20 feet or so, spear a fish and get back to the surface to hunt another. Not so. They search an area from the surface, like pilots flying along over a submarine landscape looking for their quarry. When they find a likely site they take a breath and dive down 50, 60 even 70 feet….they wait, if they take a fish and still can, they wait some more for another…finally they come back to the surface to begin the process all over again. The free divers are pulled along behind the boat on towropes until another likely spot is encountered.

They use specialized gear including very long flippers and long single shot spear guns. Most wear a thin wetsuit to help prevent hypothermia from long hours in the water and to prevent scratches and scrapes from the rocks and coral they swim down to.

The sport is a dangerous one with injury and even death possible for those brave and skilled enough to participate. They usually dive in pairs so one can keep an eye on the other as a safety precaution. When you hold your breath for 3 minutes or so and exert yourself by strong swimming, you can pass out and drown while unconscious. It is a looming threat every time they submerge. I saw these fearless free divers dive to the depths repeatedly over a two day period, maybe 40 or 50 dives each day and I must say it was a spectacular sight.

One day, one of the divers ascended and attached to his dive suit balaclava (skin tight head cover) was a sizeable octopus, holding on for dear life. When he climbed aboard the boat he deftly peeled the octopus from his head, a tentacle at a time and explained to me that it was hard to contain a smart and wriggling octopus once caught, but if you put it on your head the creature would hold on tight and change color to match its new surroundings (your bean) and ride peacefully all the way back to the boat.

I don’t free dive because I don’t have the stamina or the skills to do so. I don’t spearfish anymore preferring instead to comb the depths with a camera discovering the wonders to be found there using scuba tank air so I can stay submerged for an hour or so at a time. I won’t ring in with an opinion on whether certain species fish should be taken or not because there are reasons to do so and reasons not to that are complex and run close to the hearts of people on both sides of the issue. What I will do is gush effusive about the daring (mostly) young men who go out in search of fish with nothing more than their own skill, bravery and endurance to match wits with wiley aquatic creatures adept at skillful escape from predators. My hat is off to them, even if it has no resident octopus festooning it.
* * * *
Tinian rocks

Speaking of things aquatic, the Marianas Dive club (of which I am a member) made a trek to Tinian this past weekend (leaving me to wax eloquently about shrubs ‘n stuff back here on Saipan). They went to expand exposure of some of the scuba diving wonders to be found on that relaxing isle. They went to participate in the Hot Pepper Festival helping to educate folks about the undersea world. They went to help clean up the underwater sections of the main swimming and gathering beach there. They went to explore new dive sites with potential to be used by our tourists. They went to introduce scuba diving to a few new people. They went to have fun. They succeeded all the way around.

The Marians Dive club is a positive force trying to get the word out to the rest of the world that the Northern Marianas offers truly world class scuba diving and it is worth a trip from just about anywhere to get here and see the beautiful and exotic wonders that Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have to offer. Diving can be a big part of tourism here and the Marianas Dive club members work hard to promote that image and to be good stewards while doing so. Please think about joining them to help tourism grow here in the CNMI.
* * * *
Quotes of the week:
W.C. Fields (1880 – 1946) was fond of making jokes about water, since he preferred gin. Here are a few:

“You can't trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.”
"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.”
“I never drink water. I'm afraid it will become habit-forming.”
“I don’t drink water, isn’t that the substance fish make love in?”

He also said with a straight face:

“I have spent a lot of time searching through the Bible for loopholes.”
"My illness is due to my doctor's insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies."

All in all Fields was a pretty entertaining character.

No comments: