|Managaha island, off Saipan's WNW coast|
If you've ever seen the Nicholas Cage film Windtalkers then you've heard of Saipan, in the Pacific Ocean. The film wasn't filmed on the island, but was set there during WWII.
Saipan is the largest of the fifteen islands that belong to the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Everybody there speaks English, but some also speak Chamorro, which is the native language of the islands. The reason they are called the Northern Mariana islands is that there is another Mariana island further to the south, Guam, which has a different political status.
|Saipan car number plate; Hafa Adai means Hello in Chamorro.|
|Grotto dive spot|
Much of the recent history of Saipan is overshadowed by the Second World War, notably the three-week long Battle of Saipan in 1944 when US forces landed on the island to secure it from the Japanese who had been governing the island since the First World War. Many of the Japanese civilians feared being slaughtered by the US troops and preferred to commit suicide by jumping off Suicide cliff or Banzai Cliff - 20 000 died.
|Memorial at Banzai Cliff|
|Last command post|
The island also has some other tourist sites that are not linked to the war, such as Kalabera cave and Bird island.
One of the trip highlights was a trip to Tinian, a slightly smaller neighbouring island. As it is only 8 km from Saipan the flight there is very short.
|Plane to Tinian|
One of the main tourist sites on Tinian is the House of Taga, which is an important limestone Latte stone site (nothing to do with coffee!).
|House of Taga|
Latte stones are pillars capped by a hemispherical capital with the flat side facing up, found only in the Mariana islands. In ancient times they were used as building supports, and are now often seen as a sign of Chamorro identity.
|House of Taga|
Of twelve large Latte structures at the House of Taga only one is still left standing.
|Last one standing|
Tinian is perhaps best known for being the base from which the US launched their atomic bomb attacks on Japan during World War II. Strategically important, the island was captured by the US in 1944 and they installed two airfields : the West airfield (still used as Tinian's airport today), and the North airfield, now abandoned but visitable for its historical significance. The atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were loaded on planes at the North airfield.
|loading pit of the world's first atomic bomb|
|loading pit of the world's second atomic bomb|
Afterwards we headed to the north-east coast (never far away on an island this small).
|The old bell tower|
|Tinian coast, Saipan on the horizon|
|half-flower, beloved of honeymooners|
|Saipan sunset on our last evening|