SANTA RITA, GUAM – I grew up on an island, so I am familiar with Island Fever. The shores encroach on your comfort until it seems like you have to wear boots just incase the next high tide doesn’t stop.
I’m also familiar with the more optimistic view of being guarded by water. The community is usually small and tight, the pace of life is refreshingly slow, there’s always somewhere to hike and of course, plenty of water to fish.
My brother has been stationed in Guam for three years so I needed to make it down before the Navy shipped him elsewhere. I finally did. Day one we went on a hike early in the morning. Like any rational human in a new land, I was sure everything was poisonous or at least had sinister intentions.
No, I am not a wuss. This is a carefully practiced reaction to unfamiliarity so that I will never be the guy crossing a fence to pet the cute grizzly bear cub, ride a buffalo, or lay next to an anaconda to see if I really could fit inside its stomach. You should treat every gun like it’s loaded, right? Well same goes for animals, loaded with venom.
I kept my hands to myself and we made our way down a trail to a cave and an underwater pool. Guam is known for its extensive cave systems. During World War II, the Japanese used the tunnels as fortifications and after the United States regained control of Guam in 1944, some Japanese solders hid in the caves rather than face capture. One hid in the jungle for almost 30 years, believing it was better to live in defiance or die than give himself up to the enemy.
We didn’t find any World War II relics, or 90-year old soldiers, just melted candle wax from previous visitors.
The next day we snorkeled, twice. Once as the sun was coming up, and once in the afternoon. My brother took me on a long winding path through coral. Two fish attacked me. I was trying to take a picture of one, and he backed into a defensive position. I left him alone and continued on, then the little coward took a nip at me as I kicked past him. I was sure there would be blood, but I couldn’t even find where it nipped me. Later a territorial Picasso fish the size of my hand tried to eat my leg while I was innocently talking with my brother. My brother doesn’t believe me, but there is a bit of horribly mangled skin the size of a freckle. It might actually be a freckle, but I’m pretty sure its from my nemesis.
I got my revenge on fish the next day when my brother and I went on a chartered fishing trip. Our guide was a friendly young local with the hair and mustache of Jack Black in Nacho Libre. He wore flip-flops and didn’t bother to slow the boat when he left the wheel to relieve himself off the stern. Being there is nothing in the immediate vicinity of Guam and it was a relatively calm morning, there was no danger, but it is a unique feeling to be on a boat headed blindly into the waves of the Philippine Sea.
We got into some tuna within a half hour and a little later had two solid mahi mahi in the cooler. On the way back in, we caught two more mahi and added a few more tuna.
My brother and I dissected the differences between mooching with herring plugs and the Guamanian way of doing things over fresh raw tuna for lunch. It’s at moments like those that you wonder how anyone could fall victim to something as silly as Island Fever. Life is good, even if the tropical fish Disney made into benevolent characters are out to get you.