The Island Of Guam
( Originally Published 1904 )
WE are again on the water steaming westward through the sunny Pacific below the Tropic of Cancer. Our course is a little to the south, for we are bound for the Philippines, and have planned to stop at Guam (gwam) on the way.
Our ship is a government transport carrying soldiers and army supplies to our colonial possessions, and it is only by special permit from the President of the United States that we are allowed to travel upon it. What a magnificent vessel it is! It is finer than any we have yet seen during our tour of the Pacific Ocean, so broad that it would fill a roadway fifty feet wide from fence to fence, and so deep that if the keel stood on the ground, we should be almost even with the tops of the trees as we walk the hurricane deck or climb about in the rigging.
The vessel is divided up into rooms, compartments, and quarters. There are about two thousand men on board, including sailors, soldiers, and officers, and it takes a vast deal of food to supply them. The kitchen is enormous ; there is a bakery where a score of men knead away day after day making bread for us all, and cold storage rooms where the meat, vegetables, and fruits put on board at Honolulu or San Francisco are kept fresh throughout the voyage. The ship is heated by steam and lighted by electricity. It has exercise decks and reading rooms, where are also a piano and an organ and other musical instruments.
The soldiers are of all classes, and our life on the ocean is not unlike that of a camp. The American flag floats over us. We are awakened every morning by the sound of the bugle, and the bugle calls us to breakfast, dinner, and supper. It gives the signals for guard-mounting, inspection, and exercise, and early in the evening warns us to put out our lights and get into bed.
Some of the time we live with the officers in the cabins and at other times with the private soldiers, lying on sheets of canvas so stretched between iron pipes that they form comfortable beds. The men sleep one above the other, in tiers of such bunks; and we enjoy ourselves as we lie there chatting with them, and listening to their stories of camp life and battle.
And then there are games upon deck. The men are glad to play quoits and shovel board with us when off duty, and some of them even teach us to drill, allowing us to form a little squad of our own. The days go too fast, and when, after more than a week, we see a low island of blue rising from the sea, and are told it is Guam, we can hardly believe it.
Nevertheless it is true. We might sail across the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool and not go so far as we have now come from Honolulu on our way to the Philip-pines, and we have still almost one third of the journey to make. Guam is more than thirty-three hundred miles from the Hawaiian Islands, three thousand miles from Samoa, more than fifteen hundred miles from Manila, and about thirteen hundred miles southeast of Yokohama, Japan. It is somewhat like Tutuila, a supply point for coal and other things on the highroads of the ocean. It is one of the Ladrones, an islet archipelago hundreds of miles long which was discovered by Magellan in 1521, and which belonged to Spain until our war with that country, when Guam was ceded to the United States. At about the same time the rest 'of the Ladrones were sold by Spain to Germany. Guam is the largest of these islands, but it is only thirty miles long and from three to nine miles in width. It is valuable to us only on account of its position.
Now we are nearer and can see that the island is volcanic, and covered with green. It is made up of low mountains or hills, with stretches of sand and lowlands along the coast, and especially at the north and south ends. Most of it is guarded by coral reefs, and our transport has to move slowly in entering the harbor of San Louis d'Apra (san lu'e da'pra), where we shall land. The island is shaped like the sole of a shoe, and this harbor is on the outside not far from the instep.
The governor comes out to the transport; it is in his launch that we go to the shore, and with him we drive to the town of Agana (a-gan'ya), the largest on the island, situated about seven miles up the coast. The road skirts the beach all the way, and the ride is delightful. We go under beautiful palms, whose cocoanuts make our mouths water as we think of the sweet juice within. We pass many rice fields where brown-skinned men are plowing with the ungainly buffaloes which serve as the farm and draft horses of Guam.
Here and there we see little huts thatched with palm leaves looking out of the trees, and now and then pass brown-skinned men, women, and children clad in white or colored cottons riding or walking along the road. The women have loose gowns with very full sleeves, and the men and boys wear their shirts outside their trousers. They are the natives, our little brown cousins of Guam ; they are much like the Filipinos, and are the descendants of people who have come here from the Philippine Islands.
We have but a short time on the island, our travels being confined to a day in Agana and a trip to the north and south coast. Agana has only seven or eight thousand people. It has a church or so, the government offices, a few wooden buildings, some white adobe houses roofed with red tiles, and many huts made of bamboo poles covered with palm leaves. There are a few stores and a school building or so. Many of the natives speak Spanish, and some know enough English to act as our guides.
In our travels outside Agana we now and then ride up into the mountains to hunt the deer and wild hogs for which Guam is noted. We see many birds, including starlings, crows, snipes, owls, and wild ducks. There are fruit-eating doves with rosy crowns, green backs, and yellow and purple breasts, and also the reed warbler which sings melodiously. We visit the farms on the fertile plains. They are small, for the territory is well divided among the people.
The chief products are rice, cacao, sugar, and corn. There are also groves of bananas and cocoanut trees, and some copra is made for export. All together, however, the industries are few, and the island is of no commercial importance.
The climate is hot, and at this time too wet for comfort-able travel. It rains every few hours, the showers have made the roads muddy, and we are glad when we are again back on the transport and on the way to the Philippines.