In the company of fireflies: night lights in Iwahig

Cruising by the river at night seems kind of scary, but not when you’re surrounded with twinkling lights and you have the brightest and clearest night sky above you.

firefly watchin

Excited to see the fireflies with my younger brother, sister and our boatman.

We paid to see these fireflies. And if you truly were a fan of nature trips, you’d consider this “attraction” to be worth every cent.

In this quiet town of Iwahig, just a few meters from the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, you will find this long stretch of the Iwahig River surrounded with different kinds of mangroves. These trees are home to thousands of fireflies, which is a must-see in Puerto Princesa all year round.

As our boatman paddled through the calm waters, he reminded us of a few things. He told us we could use our camera, but we should turn its flash off. Fireflies were sensitive to any kind of light, which would either scare them off or threaten them. When our boatman pressed his red laser light and pointed it to one tree, the fireflies began to glow even more, as if they were intimidated by an enemy.

I never thought this activity would be very informative. It was as if I was in a science class and the boatman was my teacher. He began the tour by identifying the kinds of mangroves that surround the river. There were nilad and pagatpat. Then, he directed the red light onto one tree again, prompting one firefly to go to us so we could take an up close look at it. We had one more passenger until we almost reached the end of the tour. I asked our boatman why we did not reach the end of the river before we turned back. He said that there were no more fireflies out there. During the first half of the year, these fireflies would only be settled near the dock. Then, they would just transfer and live farther away from the city towards the end of the year. He also mentioned how fireflies produce and emit light. There was this chemical reaction that happens in their lower abdomen, which I could not even pronounce, or spell. Like an active student, I told the boatman the only thing I know about fireflies, that they live to find their soul mate; and if they fail, they would cease to light up and eventually die. I was not sure if this is true, though. I guess I heard it from someone and just believed it. It was such a beautiful thought, or a tragic one, however one wishes to see it.

Half-way through the tour, he started pointing his green laser light to the sky. It was the brightest night sky I’ve ever seen in my entire life. That was the first time I saw the Milky Way in its entirety. I was in awe. Here in the city, I was used to seeing only the North Star and Orion’s belt. The positioning of the stars (or the earth’s) was also mentioned in this science class. He also showed us all the other constellations visible that night.

Among all the many new things I witnessed that evening, it was the boatman who totally caught my attention and amazed me. I was stunned at how he, and all the other boatmen, managed to study all these information they tell their passengers. Yes, it was part of their job. Still, it did not seem like he struggled, even for a second, to muster his thoughts and to give an answer to every question. He was truly brilliant.

I don’t mind taking the same tour by the end of the year if it means getting as much bright sky, seeing more fireflies till I reach the river’s end and having an equally enthusiastic boatman to tell me new things again.


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