Marianas Variety

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    Wednesday, July 17, 2019-12:27:27A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Rep. Sheila Babauta voyages north (4)

THE Super Emerald dropped anchor off the shore of Alamagan around 3 p.m. on June 3rd, after a three-hour sail from Pagan. As she did when docked outside both Pagan and Agrigan, precinct four Rep. Sheila Babauta once again asked if she could swim to shore.

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Rep. Sheila Babauta on Alamagan’s stone beach with Jesus Santos, oldest male currently living in the Northern Islands.

“Ok Sheila, we’ll compromise,” she remembers them laughing. Wary of the unpredictable currents surrounding the island they paddled her halfway across the bay in their dinghy, then allowed her to swim the rest of the way to Alamagan.

Unlike the black pebbly shore of Agrigan or the fine black sand beaches of Pagan, Alamagan’s coast consists of large stones piled atop one another. Rep. Babauta said the rough landscape made for difficult maneuvering, particularly when Northern Islands Mayors Office staffers hauled three 200-gallon water tanks across the treacherous coast.

But the water tanks were crucial; according to the crew, the islands’ inhabitants had come uncomfortably close to running out of water during the drought that followed Typhoon Jebi at the end of last summer. There are no rivers or wells in Alamagan; its inhabitants drink and wash in rain water.

In addition to the extra water tanks, NIMO brought cement mix for new shelters, tools for land clearing, and fly traps.

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One of the many ancient Chamorro medicine stones scattered across Alamagan.

“Alamagan was full of history. We were literally surrounded by it.” Rep. Babauta told Variety. “There were ancient Chamorro mortars and pestles (lusong yan lommok) everywhere, carved from stone, in all sizes. And according to the residents, Alamagan is home to many local medicinal plants. It was fascinating.”

Northern Islands Mayor Ben Santos was raised on Alamagan. He and his siblings believe that the island may have once served as a hospital island for ancient Chamorros.

“Heritage preservation and education about our indigenous people will add so much value to us as a Commonwealth. Learning about our history, preserving artifacts, passing on traditions to the next generation. These are but a few ways we can show pride in our Marianas and share it with our visitors.”

For dinner the NIMO staff prepared a 60-pound white fin tuna that the sailors caught trolling between Pagan and Alamagan. Rep. Babauta estimated that the tuna was about as large as a small loveseat — big enough to make sashimi, fried fish, and fish soup for ten.

After dinner, they were treated to songs by fellow passenger JJ Concepcion. Once the stars were out, a handful of adventurers left camp to hunt for the next day’s breakfast, returning with a live catch of over fifty lobsters.

Exhausted and finally able to spend a night on land, Rep. Babauta laid down on a mattress on top of a trailer and slept under the stars.

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Northern Islands Mayor Ben Santos awaits a response from Saipan-based NIMO staffers after setting up a radio station on Alamagan.
Mount Alamagan in the distance.  Photos courtesy of Rep. Sheila Babauta

“I woke up in the morning and there were fruit bats — fanihi — flying over us,” she remembered. She drank coffee and ate lobster, then observed as the NIMO staff setting up Alamagan’s new radio antenna.

“Lerins Stole had to climb up a coconut tree and tie the antennae,” she said. “They hooked up the radio, they caught signal, and connected with Saipan. It was so nice to hear familiar voices from home. The Mayor communicated our schedule and even let me say hello over the radio.”

Rep. Babauta was able to request that her family be informed of her safety and scheduled arrival. NIMO staffer Ben Taisakan received contact information for her father and assured Rep. Babauta that he would relay the message.

“I have so much respect for the office now, seeing what they have to go through to get things done,” she said. “There’s so much hard labor that’s needed, in addition to planning and communicating off the grid. And they were so caring, so respectful, so considerate.”

“It really put a lot into perspective for me,” she continued. “I think sometimes we just need that reminder to be grateful for the little things. And to remember what really matters in life.”

“There’s so much potential in the Northern Islands. I know many people would love it if they got a chance to visit. They’d get a chance to disconnect from all the noise in today’s world and connect to nature. Many will want to protect the pristine waters and untouched land. Many will want their children and grandchildren to learn about our history and touch the artifacts crafted by our ancestors.”

“That’s a special opportunity. It really is. And I feel so blessed to have taken it.”