Seattle, Washington resident, Andrew Kennelly, completed his mission of visiting all 50 US states a few years before the pandemic. “What’s next?” he asked himself. “Well, why not visit the US territories and commonwealths?” he answered! And that’s what he did! He used up all his frequent-flier miles to book a trip to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. I entered as a character in Andrew’s story when he decided on the once-in-a-lifetime, requisite tour of Tinian! I’ll let Andrew tell the story as outlined in his review of my tour on the Tripadvisor website:
I am normally an independent traveler who does not feel a need or desire to hire guides. However, I made a rare exception for my day tour of Tinian, hiring Mr. Walt Goodridge to take me around. Five years ago, when I first considered a visit to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, I had bought Walt’s book, There’s Something about Saipan. I enjoyed the book, and then I noticed Walt was also mentioned extensively in another book I bought, The Not-Quite States of America. So it would seem he is something of a local celebrity and has a fascinating personal story: An Ivy-League educated native of Jamaica who gave up a good engineering career in New York City to relocate to Saipan. And then I happened upon his website and saw that he offered tours. I figured I had to meet this guy and I bet he could give a pretty good tour. I also figured that most likely in my entire life I would spend at most one day on Tinian so I wanted to make sure I got the most out of it, and did not miss anything important.
Anyway, Walt picked me up at my hotel (the Saipan Hyatt) and then we went to the Saipan Airport. The first great part of the daylong adventure to Tinian was simply getting there – a 15-minute flight on a 5-passenger 1974 Piper Cherokee Six with a 300HP Continental TIO540. The views of Tinian from the plane provide a great “preview” of what is to come.
After arriving in Tinian, we jumped into a rental car (Walt arranged it) and we set out on our Tinian tour. The majority of a tour of Tinian will, appropriately, be focused on sites relevant to World War II. There are a number of World War II era buildings, most of them originally Japanese-built and subsequently repurposed by American forces. They are in varying states of decay, but mostly structurally sound so you can walk into and onto them. The fact that they are left to decay naturally, as opposed to being “restored”, is, in my opinion, neat.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip is viewing and driving on the actual runway used by the Enola Gay when it left on its mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Two other sites of high significance are the pits used to load the atomic bombs (“Little Boy” and “Fat Man”) onto the Enola Gay and Bockscar respectively.
Other worthy sites around the island include various bomb shelters, Shinto shrines, abandoned artillery and vehicles, Chulu Beach, a currently operational Voice of America transmission facility, life-size replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, the “House of Taga” (think of it as a tropical Pacific Stonehenge). I also found a drive past the recently-abandoned Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino to be interestingly eerie. A brief drive through San Jose, the one and only village on Tinian, where the vast majority of the island’s population lives, is interesting.
Walt obviously knows his history and is a wealth of information. If he doesn’t know something, he’ll acknowledge as such and make a note to look into it and get back to you. Perhaps more importantly, however, I enjoyed talking to Walt over the course of the day about his own story and about what life is like in Saipan. He’s an “open book”, willing to share much about himself, and there are no “off-limits” questions.
We concluded our tour of Tinian and made the short flight back to Saipan. After returning to Saipan, Walt offered to take me to one or two sites in Saipan to fill up the remainder of the day, but my jet lag was kicking in and I needed some rest so we called it a day. But it is a day I will never soon forget.
I absolutely recommend engaging Walt for a tour of Tinian. Reach out to him directly, though, no need to book through some third-party booking site.
You can tell by Andrew’s thoroughness, attention to detail, and generosity lavishing what is now my “best review ever”) that he was a fun and interesting client to hang out with! Hope we can hang out again if you’re ever back in this part of the world, Andrew!