Iwahig River Palawan

By the River Iwahig, I Sat and Wept and Watched Fireflies

Tuesday, July 03, 2012Ryan Mach

As the guides paddled the boat idly away from the wharf, we accustomed our eyes to the darkness. The crescent moon overhead was not enough to light our way but it provided the perfect setting for this one-of-a-kind experience. It's almost seven in the evening; we arrived in Iwahig just in time for firefly watching.

The stillness of the river was creepy, I couldn't shake off the thought of crocodiles lurking beneath the placid surface. "There aren't crocodiles in here, right, Kuya?" asked one of my friends as we carefully hopped on a boat that can only accommodate 5 people including two guides. Apparently I wasn't the only one with a hyper-active imagination. The guide snorted and assured us that the whole stretch of the river is free from crocodiles. Half-relieved, we sat back, observed and listened to the guide as he introduced us to the main protagonists of the night's affair - fireflies.

Fireflies or lighting bugs are light-producing insects that belong to the beetle family. They are commonly found in temperate and tropical environments, usually in marshes or wooded areas where there are abundant sources of food. The fireflies in Iwahig River are drawn to thickets of nipa and mangroves that line the brackish water. They come in droves and groups, swarming in trees and plants where there are flowers.
At the boat station.
Their beauty and power comes in unity, our guide explained to us as he pointed out his red light at a tree near us bearing a small number of fireflies. The lights erupted into hundreds more, making the mangrove glow like a Christmas tree. "They think this light belongs from their predator, so as a warning they would respond to it by emitting more powerful lights together," the guide told us.

"Don't they get stressed out, with all the lights directed at them every night?" I mused. If they feel they're being threatened every time, it's not impossible that they will leave the place and look somewhere else where they feel safe. The guide seemed to see the question coming and he gently explained that as much as possible they don't use the red light. "Although," he quickly added, "they must have gotten used to it that's why they're still here."

"How long is their lifespan anyway?" Dan, one of my friends, asked. Not very long. They only live for a 2 months tops, according to the guide. But they can be seen all year long as long as there are mangroves and nipa in the Iwahig River.
The 45-minute trip was illuminating, to say the least. We learnt loads of stuff about fireflies and the river itself, thanks to our funny guide (I don't remember his name, shame). Most importantly, we realized how Palawenos value nature and the great lengths they do to preserve it. We all stepped out from the boat feeling revitalized. I've never felt so much peace.

*Picture taking during the trip is not allowed, unless the flash is off. 
*Wearing of life vest is a must
*Rate per boat is 600. It can accommodate 3 tourists.
*Van rental to Iwahig river can cost P1,200 per pax. Not recommended to take trikes during this time of the year because of the ongoing road construction.
*Travel time to Iwahig River from downtown Puerto Princesa is about 45 minutes

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