Small canoe. Long, winding river. Dark sky. It seemed like a bad idea.
And then I saw little flickering lights. Just a few at first. And then their number grew.
Fireflies! Probably thousands of them. They were on every mangrove lining the river.
I have almost forgotten how moments like this feel like. Moments when everything seems to stop. These moments have become too few and far between. Fortunately, we started to change that in what was supposedly a strictly business trip to Palawan.
It was a cold Thursday afternoon when we decided to take an hour-long trip to Iwahig Eco-tourism and Wildlife Park. We had just wrapped up day 2 of the Philippine Chemistry Congress in Palawan when tricycle driver told us about the place. I was there on official business but I couldn’t say no to this little side trip. It’s like seeing fairies, I was told. We just had to go.
The sky was already dark when we reached Iwahig. The moon did not waiver but its light only graced the water. We could not make out anything else at first. Gradually, the tall mangrove trees that lined the banks started to appear as we paddled closer to the bank. There we saw the flickering lights. Thousands of dancing lights! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Stars on trees. This is the best I could describe them. There was quite a number of stars in the sky that night. Our boatman expertly pointed out a few interesting ones as we paddled back to where we started. Amazing as they were, I couldn’t turn my gaze at the night sky. The attention I paid to the “stars in the trees” was not to be perturbed. I know fireflies aren’t magical creatures like fairies but that moment in the canoe was truly a magical one.
Everything came to a halt. Perhaps even my heart for a few milliseconds. We’ve managed to sneak in a few more side trips throughout the duration of the convention but none of them could compare to that beautiful night in the river.
How does that Owl City song go?
“You would not believe your eyes
If ten million fireflies
Lit up the world as I fell asleep.”
It will probably take a while before I can see fireflies in that number (or at all) but I’ll be sleeping soundly tonight knowing that ten million fireflies will light up a few favored portions of this world.
- Getting to Iwahig Eco-Tourism and Wildlife Park requires a one-hour ride via tricycle. It usually costs P600.
- At the park, pay a P600 fee for the canoe. It fits three people and a boatman.
- Wait for your turn at the briefing area. The staff will help you get into a life vest.
- No flash photography is allowed as this may disrupt the natural environment of the fireflies.
- Insect repellents are available on site but I opted not to wear any for fear that they might repel the fireflies. I regretted that decision. The river is home to these lightning bugs along with a host of other not-s0-pleasant bugs.
- The cruise will be short and slow. It took us a total of 30 minutes.
- During summer when the river is unperturbed by rain, bioluminescent planktons are abundant. Touch the water and witness them glow.
- There is an all you can eat buffet at the park. Enjoy Filipino dishes for P250. Indulge in a variety of seafood.
Other things to do in Palawan:
- Go on a city tour. Charter a taxi or tricycle for a half-day tour. Visit Crocodile Park, Butterfly Garden and Eco Village, Mitra Farm, Baker’s Hill, Plaza Cuartel, and Puerto Princesa Cathedral.
Crocodile Farm, Butterfly Garden and Eco Village
Inside the Butterfly Garden is a small hut where some tribesmen of Tribu Palaw-an would stay when they go down from the mountains to take care of business in the city. There they perform some songs and demonstrate some of her hunting tools for everyone to see. I did not particularly like this portion of the tour as I’ve felt that they were being objectified like artifacts in a museum.
Plaza Cuartel and Puerto Princesa Cathedral
- Watch the sunset at Baywalk. It is a nice place to chill with lots of option for dinner and drinks. We rented a bicycle with sidecar while waiting for the sunset. My friend Moriel and I aren’t confident with our biking skills so the sidecar was our only option.
- Visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River. It is one of the natural wonders of the world and is a UNESCO natural site. For a DIY trip, apply for a permit at the city coliseum at least a day before. Only a certain number of guests are allowed per day so make sure to reserve your slot. To get to the underground river, ride a van going to Sabang Port. Once there, proceed to the Tourism Information Center to pay the environmental fee, boat transfers, and audio guide. Reaching the site requires a 30-minute boat ride to the jump off point. The waves can be unwieldy but it is a very scenic ride. Upon reaching the shore, you will be fitted with protective gear and an audio device that will serve as an electronic tourist guide. You will then be taken to the cave opening where you will transfer to a paddle boat. The boat accommodates 10 guests and 1 boatman. The cruise inside the cave takes a little over an hour depending on the water current and your boatman’s paddling skills. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is the world’s longest navigable cave system. However, the tour only takes you to the first 2 kilometers. Exploring the caves further requires additional permits.
- Go island hopping around Honda Bay. They are several isles to explore, each with it’s own charm. Take a picture with magnificent sand castles. Swim with fishes. Get acquainted with Palawan’s coral reefs. Getting to the jump off point takes a 30-minute tricycle ride. We chartered one for P400. The boat that will take you around Honda Bay costs P1300-P1500 and accommodates 6-8 persons. Bigger boats are available by request. Entrance fees to islands range from P20-75. Don’t worry, the rates are standardized and the tourism officer will be providing you with a brochure with all the fees included so you will never get ripped off. Try the seafood buffet at Cowry Island for only P200.
- Indulge in seafood. Try a seaweed salad called “lato”. If you are gastronomically adventurous, help yourself with some crocodile meat and woodworm.
If you happen to be visiting there soon, can you please send me a postcard? I’ll reciprocate with a postcard from Cebu.