Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Marpo Valley - February 16, 2008

On February 16th, six of us set off to explore an old Japanese train station in Marpo Valley. This is one of the best preserved train stations from the Japanese time when they grew sugar cane on Tinian. I also wanted a short hike because this weekend was also the Tinian Hot Pepper Festival. I needed to help my wife setup her booth before the festival started.

As I sat talking to Dan and Judy, at Grace Christian School, Mitch, Erica, and Mr. Suzuki walked up with a big Styrofoam box. In the box was a birthday cake for me. On the cake, it said, "Mr. Cole Happy Bee's Day." I think it was very appropriate, especially with the number of bee stings that I have had. I was really surprised and I really appreciated the gesture. My thanks to all for the cake.

After dropping the cake off at my house, since the hike starts less than a quarter mile from there, we headed to where the hike would start from. Right next to the road, where the trail starts, is tall grass. I had already cut a trail through the grass about three days ago, to the train station. The picture below shows the the hikers following me into the grass.

Less then 50 feet from the road is the train station. In the picture below Mitch is standing next to the wall that was right next to the rail bed. There are even steps that go up this small wall, with steps that are only about 6 inches wide. The cement structure above Mitch is a water tank and foundation for maybe a small building.

Below is a picture of some of the tracks that are still found on the old railway bed.

The picture below is taken from the top of the water tank. The water in the tank is about 3 feet deep.

Below is a picture of Erica standing next to the water tank, with the rail bed being on the left side of the picture.

There is another cement structure to the north of the water tank. Between them is a cement stand. This stand is pictured below.

The northern cement structure must have held a large piece of machinery, because of the large anchor bolts embedded in it. This bolts can be seen in the picture below, next to the half-circular depression in the structure.

Mr. Suzuki found an old Japanese gas mask filter near the northern cement structure. He was able to read the writing on the bottom of it, but I don't remember what he said was written on the gas mask.

After visiting the station, we dropped down to the railway to try to follow it toward the north. Below is a picture of Judy on the railway, just below the cement structure with the half-cylinder depression in it.
Just a little to the north, the roadway disappeared, almost at the end of the modern asphalt plant that the train station is near. Below is a picture of the railway just before it disappeared.

We continued toward the north trying to figure out which way the railway went. As we walked, we came upon an old road. As we followed the road, we soon realized that the railway had reappeared and was to our right. The picture below shows edge of the road, next to the train railway.

We continued to follow the road until it disappeared into the jungle. Right before it disappeared, we found some old Japanese bottles. The picture below shows what the bottles looked like when we first found them.

I picked up a few of the bottles to see if they had any writing on them, but we found none. We left the bottles where we had found them.

Being the dry season and not having any rain for a few days, the boonie bees were out in full force. As I led the group through the jungle, besides trying to find an easy trail, I had to be on the outlook for bee nests. The nests varied from the size of a dime, with one to two bees on it, to the size of a softball, with 30 or more bees on it. Below is pictured one of the larger bee nests that we found on the hike, and luckily avoided.

Most of the hike was through secondary tangantangan forest. There were not a lot of down trees and the walking was fairly easy, except for trying to avoid boonie bee nests.

Besides some of the herbs (i.e. weeds) growing on the forest floor, the only tree that we noticed blooming was the Sumak, Aidia cochinchinensis. This plant is found from topical Asia through the Pacific islands, but not on Hawaii. It is one of the more common pioneer species in tangantangan forest, as it slowly changes into limestone forest through a process called succession. The flowers are very fragrant.

Picking the path in the jungle is sometimes fairly easy. In the picture below, you can see the path I choose between the tangantangan trees (Leucaena leucocephala). The path is straight down the center of the picture. Of course, if a bee nest is found, we would have to make a detour around it, which could be easy or not. There was one place where our path was blocked by five bee nests. That was a fairly hard area to get through and not get stung.

We hiked until we hit a fence. In the picture below, the fence is right in front of Dan, covered with vines. At this point, I decided to turn toward the east to find a road that would take us back to the truck. I had hoped that the road was closer than backtracking on the path we had taken to the fence.

Most of our path to the road, which was east of us, was through tangantangan forest. There were a lot of bee nests and hot pepper plants that slowed our progress. There were three places where we had to go through tall grass, Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum). I don't like walking through tall grass because it is very hard to cut through it or push it out of the way. Napier grass was planted on Tinian during the Trust Territory Days, when Ken Jones, from Guam, ran a cattle ranch here. Below is a picture of Dan working his way through the grass.

We stopped often to pick hot peppers as you can see in the picture below.

Finally, we came to civilization, an old watermelon field. Part of the field was still being used to grow tomatoes. A short walk across the field and we were on the road that I had been looking for. It took us a lot more time to get to the road than if we had followed our trail from the fence back to the train station.

The road we found near the agricultural field led to another road that took us back to the truck. The picture shows Erica, Dan and me walking down the main road to my truck.

Mitch had asked if we could stop at San Isidro on the way back to the village. San Isidro is very near to where we had gone hiking. It is currently used for an annual religious festival. In the past, it had also been a site for a quite extensive Chamorro village. There is still one set of latte stones there, as can be seen in the two pictures below.

During the Japanese times, San Isidro had a Japanese Shinto Shrine. This shrine was called the Izumi Shinto Shrine. Below is the picture of the torii gate to the shrine.

This cement lantern-like structure, at the shrine was damaged by a falling tree, most likely during our last major typhoon, ten years or so ago.

The path for the shrine continued down a set of steps that led to the base where the shrine's house would have been.

Below is a picture of the base that would have held the god's house for the Shinto shrine.

After the visit to San Isidro, it was a short drive back to town. The hike took a little longer than I had expected. I had hoped to be done by 10:30 A.M. but I didn't get to the Hot Pepper Festival, to help my wife, until 11:30.

Overall, as always, everyone enjoyed the hike, especially the train station and San Isidro. As for the boonie bee count, it was two, Dan and me. I got stung just above my left eye, which resulted in the eye swelling up. Yes, it was a Bee's Day for me.

The next hike will be to one of the latte sites above the Shinto shrine near Carolinas Heights. We will find latte stones this time since I have marked their position with my GPS two weeks ago. They are not the same as the ones I found last Spring, but they are still of good size and interesting. After visiting the latte stones, we will continue south along the cliff line. Meet at Grace Christian School at 8 AM.

Everyone Is Welcome On These Hikes.

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