I first learned of Baler from the former General Manager at Omni Aviation, Aljess, now a big jet pilot for Philippine Airlines.
He had pictures of a rugged coastline and a small inland airport. And stories of crab, seafood and surfers.
You would think that my Mom, in her 80s, would be fearful of flying. But she has never turned down an offer to go up in our Cessna.
Flying with Mang (as we call her) is never boring.
Mothers Day in 2004 had a solid cumulonimbus ceiling brooding malevolently across the entire airport, like one of Gore’s scary movies on global warming. We stayed on the ground and went home.
A day later we flew over Taal volcano and peered into the bowels of the earth. There is something Freudian about flying my Mom over an active volcano.
During the landing, she told her pilot in command that he needed a haircut. The jousting for authority is subtle, you see.
On a crystal day in 2006 we flew to Mt. Pinatubo (also an active volcano, Sigmund!), and then on to Vigan. The Vice-Mayor greeted us at the airport. Welcome ribbons were hung around our necks. There were no brass bands or provincial virgins, but they did enthrone us on a horse-drawn kalesa for a regal (if bouncy) transfer into town.
Every woman deserves to be the sweetheart of the parade. I tried to look like Prince Charles.
In 2008 my Mom and I flew to Baler. We never got there.
Remember how geography bored you to tears in school? Geography rears up in real life when you get lost. And you haven’t been lost until you get lost in an airplane!
Well, we didn’t really get lost. I had planned a local flight, touring Central Luzon. I flew us over Cabanatuan and showed Mang the actual prison camp from The Great Raid.
It’s only a stone’s throw from Cabanatuan to Laur, Nueva Ecija. So I flew there and showed Mang where Ninoy was imprisoned for years. Laur lies at the foothills of the Sierra Madre, the mountain range between Luzon’s central plain and the Pacific coast.
The Sierra Madres are MASSIVE mountains. Peaks at 6,200 feet, higher than Baguio and as rugged as the Cordilleras in Northern Luzon. Even in the mountain pass between Bongabon and Baler, 5,000-foot summits glare down on tiny Cessna airplanes.
The Sierra Madre is also a weather factory. Winds laden with ocean moisture roar inshore from the Pacific (now you know why Philippine typhoons are reported “East South East of Baler… “) and belly up to the Sierra Madres. Great surfing.
All that moisture then climbs rapidly up and over the mountain range. Towers of cumulus clouds build quickly, pregnant with rain.
The wind funnels through the mountain pass between Bongabon and Baler, overflows over the canyon walls and tumble turbulently over and around the peaks.
Doña Aurora Quezon was ambushed by a Hukbalahap horde here.
Mang and I flew into the mountain pass. Towering cumulus surrounded us, billowing up beyond 15,000 feet, higher than our airplane could climb. We flew around forested ridges, that loomed uncomfortably near our wings. My intrepid passenger stiffened with anxiety.
It was stupid. I had no flight plan for Baler, no weather forecast, no route briefing. The gap between the clouds, the mountains and the airplane was narrowing. Even if we broke through, we could get stuck at Baler overnight.
I turned around in a tight 180, the mountains hemming us in. Ahead, at two o’clock high, an eagle glanced back, reefed around in a vertical bank and dove at us in a head-on attack. I half-ducked from the machine gun fire that never came, and he flashed above the cockpit window and zoomed away.
Eagles are territorial, and on later trips to Baler, Carlo and I would be intercepted again.
I climbed into sunlight, headed for home. Mang took her afternoon nap.
Posted from Singapore, August 15, 2009