Carlo has written affectionately about the Sisters of Zambales. I myself first learned about them from fellow Omni pilots Mark from Tennessee and Mike from Hong Kong. They had spied on the beauties from the air. Then they were invited to do a touch and go on the elder sister, and they let me peek at the cellphone pictures they took.
I am, of course, talking about the Hermana islands. Carlo and I have overflown the islands, and have posted several aerial photos of the Hermanas here.
Both are privately owned. Hermana Mayor is owned by a very private family long associated with aviation. Then a member of the family, a fellow pilot and a real gentleman, invited me to fly to the island for a brief visit in October 2008.
We flew through cloudy skies near Mt. Pinatubo, then along the Bucao river valley west of Pinatubo’s crater.
The Bucao river drains its lahar-choked waters into the South China sea at Botolan, Zambales.
Busy Subic Bay, formerly a major US naval base in the Pacific, lies south of Botolan. We followed the coastline north to Iba, a historical World War II fighter airstrip, now an important training airfield in western Luzon.
When World War II started in the Philippines on December 8, 1941, Iba had the only radar station in the Philippines. The US 3rd Pursuit Squadron was based here, tasked with protecting Clark Field from aerial assault. Iba lasted all of one day, wiped out by the first Japanese bombing raid on December 8.
Palauig and Masinloc bays are like surreal art where watercolor has stained the painting in incredible shades of azure and blue, with underwater coral formations clearly visible from the air.
Finally we approached the Hermana Islands. Hermana Menor, also with its own airstrip, is 2.5 nautical miles directly west of the headland at Santa Cruz, Zambales.
Nearly four nautical miles northwest lies Hermana Mayor. My first impression was, Wow, that’s a pretty airfield! Manicured like a golf fairway, with a well-marked 1,000-meter x 60-meter grass runway.
Coming in from over water, I had to focus on the runway edge and ignore the optical illusion that I was about to land on the sea short of the runway.
I began to notice details — the main house, the breakwater protecting the runway end, stretches of dazzling white beaches. Self-confident as they are, pilots can’t walk on water, so I kept the power on during the approach.
The airplane ramp is protected by a stand of trees. The main house is relaxed, indigenous and comfortably appointed. You take a 4-wheel drive around the island, and it’s like driving around an aviary.
The island was everything I imagined. There is a boat house, guest cabanas and unspoiled interior wilderness, including jungle, a savanna, a fresh water lake, and spectacular beaches.
Like Madagascar or the Comoros or the Seychelles. Beautiful and dusky mysterious.
You could have a beautiful island wedding here. Limit the guest list if everyone has to find their own airplane ride. Mostly pilot friends. You can imagine the torches on the beach at dusk. Beige linen slacks and bare feet.
Too soon, it was time to leave. It was my host’s turn to fly, so I tossed him my keys to the airplane.
We circled the island, overflying the beaches, and then flew a low approach over the grass runway.
A wild deer ran across the grass runway.
Posted from Singapore, July 18, 2009