Guam: See more of island country by exploring its natural side
April 8, 2007
Some travelers are not satisfied to experience a locale from the comfort of a climate- controlled vehicle or from a designated overlook viewing spot.
They are heartier, more curious and more adventurous and want to trek a trail that may require more effort, but yields an authentic experience.
In Guam, this adventurous type will find that experience — literally — on the Saturday morning boonie stomps offered by Guam Boonie Stompers Inc. (a nonprofit corporation) in cooperation with the government of Guam’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
After years (really) of promises to myself, I made it to the 9 a.m. gathering at the recreation center at the Paseo Baseball Stadium in Hagatna. That morning about 30 hikers gathered and after paying the $2 registration fee, listened to the orientation talk from one of the hike leaders. We then headed to the Fonte River trailhead.
The group on the Fonte River hike was a mix of folks, about half of whom appeared to be military personnel and their dependents. The rest of the group were tourists and local residents. They ranged in age from a 9-year-old with her parents and dog, to several people well into their 60s.
The hikers parked next to a power substation at the trailhead on Nimitz Hill, across the street from DoDEA’s Guam High School. After last-minute equipment checks, at about 10 a.m., we began walking along the cleared grassy pathway below the high voltage powerline that runs off into the distance.
A couple hundred yards in, we turned left onto a narrow dirt trail that ran through tall sword grass and patches of trees that got thicker as we got closer to the river. About three-quarters of a mile from our starting point, we reached the top of the Fonte dam.
While all of the 50-plus boonie stomp destinations offer a special slice of Guam’s natural beauty, the Fonte River dam is, to my knowledge, unique among structures in Guam. It was built in 1910 as part of a system to supply drinking water from the Fonte River to Hagatna, Guam’s capital and pre-World War II population center. At the time, 12 years after the United States had gained the island in the Spanish-American War, the United States was beginning to develop Guam as a strategic military location between its bases in Hawaii and the Philippines.
Today, few intact structures in Guam are more than four or five decades old, thanks to the island’s harsh tropical climate, too-frequent typhoons and earthquakes, and the destruction caused by World War II. Yet, the red-brick spillway still stands. It is not maintained, but appears sturdy.
We spent a few minutes appreciating the size and design of the structure and trying to imagine the effort and ingenuity it must have taken to get the materials to the spot, which didn’t seem to have any easy access.
The group then followed a steep trail to the bottom of the dam, crossed the river and headed up the hill east of the dam for a spectacular view of the north-central part of the island. From there, we descended to the river and headed downstream.
The river valley almost seemed like another world. Surrounded by steep rock walls, we climbed over or around boulders, looked for both footholds and handholds, ducked around trees and, a couple times, used ropes to get to the next level. In some places, the best approach was to just walk in the river, which got to be waist high in spots.
This section got a bit strenuous and a few hikers turned around, including the family with the dog. But soon we found a swimming hole below a convenient jumping-off rock — feet first, it’s only about five feet deep. Since this was our first break, many in the group cooled off in the water — and everybody took a welcome drink break.
We continued our hike through similar terrain, perhaps a bit rougher, until we reached another set of waterfalls, which was the final destination. During the half-hour rest stop we reenergized, ate lunch and a few people dozed off.
On the return trip, we followed the river back to the dam, a route that is a bit shorter and easier, and then headed back to the cars.
The Boonie Stompers Web site mentions their “famous lemonade” that is available at the end of each trek. I’m not sure why it’s famous, but it was sweet and ice cold and seemed the perfect end to a rewarding, if tiring, outing.
know & go
Guam Boonie Stompers has a great Web site. It provides information on the hikes — the schedule, the location, the terrain, a list of recommended gear and even offers a difficulty rating for each hike. If you plan on going, read it thoroughly. Guam Boonie Stompers is a nonprofit organization. The hikes are led by knowledgeable, enthusiastic volunteer leaders who have first aid and CPR training. But it is not a tour company; be prepared for an adventure. Guam trails are primitive — sharp limestone, thorns, sword grass and slippery conditions are common. Guam’s weather is always a concern. On clear, sunny days, protection against sunburn and dehydration is important. Rain can make trails more slippery than usual. Stormy conditions may whip up the surf. The starting time and place don’t vary — 9 a.m. every Saturday at the Paseo Recreation Center in Hagatna. It is behind Chamorro Village, just off Marine Corps Drive, attached to the baseball stadium and has a banner on the gate letting you know that it is the location for Boonie Stomp registration. The fee is $2, and participants sign a liability waver. Leaders also sell gloves for $1 a pair for those who need them. The hikes are canceled only during typhoon conditions I or II, and the leaders may modify the hike or change the destination in cases of rough surf or other dangerous conditions, according to Boonie Stompers founder Dave Lotz. The hikes are rated as “easy,” “medium” and “difficult.” At least one 52-year-old first timer who makes it to the gym fairly regularly found the three-hour, “medium” Fonte River hike to be just the right amount of exhausting. With a repertoire of more than 50 destinations, the group goes on a different hike every week and has done so since 1970. Destinations vary from coastline walks to jungle waterfalls to historic sites to mountaintops and caves. Be prepared, be safe and enjoy Guam. The Boonie Stompers Web site is: www.admin.gov.gu/dpr/boonie/home.html or Google “Guam Boonie Stomp.”