Editor's note: This is the second in a series following Rep. Sheila Babauta as she travels aboard the Super Emerald on a five-day voyage to Agrigan, Alamagan and Pagan.
SAIPAN – Rep. Sheila Babauta and the rest of the voyagers aboard the Super Emerald reached the shore of Agrigan around lunchtime on June 2.
"I was just really amazed at how the landscape of the island was so different from Saipan, Tinian and Rota," she says. "The mountains, how they're shaped, the black sand beaches, the volcanoes."
She even likened some of Agrigan's long stretch of volcanic sand to a "black Waikiki."
"It felt so familiar, but different. I thought, 'Man, I could be on Saipan,' on one part of the island. But then you see the black sand, and then you see a volcano!"
Rep. Babauta is the CNMI's first female House member to visit the Northern Islands while in office. She joined the journey north with just a day's notice.
Working on the island
According to Valentino Taisakan, operations manager for the Northern Islands Mayor's Office, the purpose of the trip was to pick up community workers Paul Santos, Mike Iguel, Patrick Santos, Jesus Santos and Ken Santos. The men were dropped off in April to repair the island's sole dispensary, a concrete structure that houses the radio and offers shelter during typhoons. The workers would later be transferred to Alamagan, along with Lerins Stole, to work on projects there.
Taisakan added that the men also built a new structure, and cleaned and repaired water tanks and water catchment systems that date back to the Japanese era.
Babauta was shown all of the recent projects and was introduced to all the islands' short- and long-term inhabitants.
"The youngest person there is a 17-year-old," she says. "He's been there for a month now and he really enjoys the lifestyle. I'm glad Mayor Ben Santos is prioritizing water systems and housing. He is prioritizing the community's safety and well-being. The residents are happy."
Agrigan resident Ed Saures even brought Babauta to the island's small cemetery.
"I requested we hike to the island's cemetery. It was important for me that we visit and acknowledge those who came before us in occupying our lands in the North," she remembers. "He showed me the graves, and there were tombstones. I could see the amount of love and attention that went into crafting the tombstones for their loved ones, our loved ones."
The tombstones, which Taisakan estimated dated back to the 1960s, are homemade and handcarved.
'So much to protect'
"Then we took the beach route heading back to the village," Babauta continues. "The landscape was so different from what I was used to. I was so proud to know that these beautiful islands were a part of our Marianas. So much to be grateful for, so much to protect."
After hours of touring the projects and sites, the workers, residents and crew members shared pork soup around an open fire.
"We all sat on the beach at night, telling stories and stargazing. It was so peaceful." she says.
Among the voyagers was J.J. Concepcion, who played a few songs for everyone.
"It was a humbling experience because you're off the grid, there's no running water or power. You just have to take care of one another," Babauta says. "You have to ask for help when you need help. You have to communicate clearly and be respectful of one another's property."
"My wish is for everyone to see it – for it to be accessible – because it is so beautiful. It gave me a new sense of pride for the CNMI. I'm so proud to be from here. Our islands are so beautiful."
Finally, around 10 p.m., it was time to return to the Super Emerald.
"Capt. Ern Rangamar and Capt. Keli Tenorio did an amazing job getting us safely to each island. I'm grateful we have members in our community who know how to sail North and back, who know our waters."
Next stop: Pagan.
Sophia Perez is a features writer for Marianas Variety.