Up until I graduated from high school, I lived on a tiny rock in the Pacific Ocean called Saipan. It’s a gorgeous island about 30 minutes north of Guam by plane that has sunshine and consistent tropical temperatures all year round.
(Google Maps finally made street view available on Saipan, so feel free to virtually explore it there! And when you do, be sure to check out Beach Road, aka Route 30 on the map, where you can enjoy a scenic view of the beach while driving.)
Saipan is about 44 square miles in area, so anything more than a 10- to 15-minute drive away is considered far. The beaches are pristine with soft, white sand and water so clear that you can see the bottom of the ocean floor. Some of the most popular places on the island are The Grotto – a prime place for scuba diving, Bird Island, and Suicide Cliff.
It’s an island paradise.
But it wasn’t until I left for the continental U.S. in 2008 that I realized how much I took where I grew up for granted. I wasn’t thinking about how unique it was to live on an island or thinking about how much of it I hadn’t seen. All I really wanted to do was move to the U.S. because it seemed like the place to live.
Till this day, I haven’t thoroughly explored The Grotto. And until I visited Saipan again in 2010, I hadn’t ever hiked Forbidden Island. It’s a moderate hike with caves and a warm pool of water at the bottom of the trail that’s a perfect place to just wade and relax in. (See photos below.)
When I finally moved to California, I slowly came to realize how much I took for granted Saipan’s abundant free parking, the beaches that are always within a 10- to 15-minute drive, the view of the ocean on Beach Road, and the lack of horridly congested roads, among a number of other things. Also, it’s just a few hours away from so many Asian countries, making it a convenient launch pad for traveling in the region.
Although it was a huge goal for me to move to California after high school, sometimes I still take for granted the fact that I live in the beautiful Golden State, which is a bucket list destination for so many people and a place with so much to offer!
It can be easy to overlook the beauty of where we live, no matter where that is. And when it comes to traveling, it’s easy to add a ton of foreign countries to the bucket list without having even explored and appreciated our own.
Why not take the time and effort to truly be grateful for our backyards?
Photos courtesy of Nahoko & Lica Ishida.
For those who may be curious, here are 8 quick facts about Saipan:
- Saipan is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a chain of 14 islands with a total land area of 183.5 square miles
- The CNMI’s population is somewhere around 50,000
- The indigenous people of the CNMI are Chamorros/Chamorus & Carolinians
- Individuals born on Saipan are US citizens. However, residents of the CNMI cannot vote in federal elections (with exceptions for qualifying individuals who formerly resided in the continental US)
- Another popular activity on Saipan is to visit Mañagaha, an islet that has no permanent inhabitants. It’s accessible via boat ride and is a perfect place for a day trip.
- Saipan claimed a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most equitable climate across the globe. The average year-round temperature is 84 degrees Fahrenheit/28.9 degrees Celsius with an average humidity of 79 percent.
- As of Sept. 30, 2014, the minimum wage on Saipan is $6.05. For years, the minimum wage fell below federal standards at $3.05 per hour. (At one job I held, I was paid $3.55/hour.)
- The United States acquired Saipan from Japan during a battle in World War II