“Push! Don’t forget to push!”
That was our guide Rey reminding us of the right way to paddle. I sank the blade into the water and gently pulled back on my side, while the other arm followed with a push. Then, the other side, I sank the blade again, and pulled, and pushed. Firefly kayaking? Chicken! It was an easy left-right-left-right routine, all I needed was to balance on the kayak, keep the rhythm in working the blades, and cross fingers that the guide won’t stop paddling or the kayak won’t move upstream.
The location: the Abatan River in Maribojoc, about 10 kilometers away from Tagbilaran City. For the past few years, this river has been home to one of Bohol’s talk-of-the-town adventure: firefly kayaking. Travel reviews say it’s a must-do when visiting the province. Those who have tried it seem to have been blown away by the experience. It’s spectacular, fantastic, inspiring, magical, and too cool to miss, they wrote. So, on my third visit in this province, I made sure I ticked it off my bucketlist.
Transforming the Community
At 5 PM, I met Rey at the Kayakasia station. He was sporting some long hair in ponytail, and from the little swells in his arms, I could tell he’s actively engaged in outdoor sports. Indeed he is. He shared he goes to regular kayaking expeditions both in the Philippines and abroad, and his passion for kayaking was everything he started with to build Kayakasia in Bohol. Eventually, what used to be just-for-fun has now developed into a social enterprise that promotes kayaking and love for the environment.
“We engage the community and the local government. A portion of our income goes to the LGU to help fund projects for Abatan River, and we give back to the local community by giving them jobs and sending scholars to school,” Rey tells me with a smile.
I was touched by their humble cause. I realized, yeah everyone can run a kayaking adventure, give all the fun and thrill and make money. But, more than making profits, this small social enterprise wants to make a difference through their kayaks. It wants to involve the people, grow in them a genuine love for Abatan River, and make everyone take part in promoting awareness and protecting their home. It wants to transform lives.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Not so long ago, these boys just hung about by the river doing what they can to help their homes get by the day. Their world by the river had limited possibilities –or so they thought. We shared to them our paddling dreams, advocacy, philosophy, and continuously encouraged them to live within the boundaries of our passion. As the paddling company grows, these boys grow along with us. And to have them dream big is to widen their world with unlimited possibilities! –Kayakasia Philippines
Into The Mangrove Forest
At 5:30 PM, the group left the station. The air was cold and fresh, and the sky made a reflection on the glassy water of the river. We slowly rowed upstream as we enjoyed the view of the palms by the banks. Amazon feels it was.
We’ve paddled for about 20 minutes when we reached the one-kilometer mark. Our guides declared rest. Breathing time. “You guys still OK?” Rey checked on us. I was totally fine except that my legs were starting to numb. If only I could jump off the kayak and do some stretching, I wished. On the other kayak, Mickoi was still smiling. It seemed like he let his guide do most of the paddling as he was busy taking snapshots of the breathtaking view.
And then after a few more minutes, we came to a narrow channel on the left side of the river. It’s the Postan Forest, a protected area home to about 20 different mangrove species. Our kayaks slowly pushed on the shallow waters, as we took shelter under century-old mangrove trees. At first, it felt eerie, like we were in an Amazon River movie, lost in the jungle, and all we could hear were sound of birds and crickets and animals.
“We’ll take some rest here until it’s dark,” Rey announced.
For about 40 minutes, we killed time under the mangroves and waited for the sky to get dark. It was deafeningly quiet, so Rey and Dirk had to break the silence with more trivia on mangroves and the river. When the sky was finally dark, and all we could see was a small glimmer of light, we moved out of the Postan Forest and started with the firefly adventure.
Stars, Fireflies, & Courtship
We paddled further upstream. The river was peaceful and relaxing. Only the flowing water and the gargling sound effect made by the paddles could be heard, and the large fruit bats who made some noise as they flew from tree to tree.
Finally, the clock struck seven. It’s the most-awaited moment of the tour, when fireflies start to show up in groups for a whole night’s party in their blinkers. The first two trees we checked didn’t have many fireflies. We waited for a few minutes, thinking they’d wake up soon, but still not many fireflies showed up. Rey noticed they’ve relocated to a nearby tree.
“Fireflies live only for a few days,” Dirk broke up the sad news. As he shared more stories about the “lightning bugs”, I learned that most of a firefly’s life is spent on the moist soil under the palms and mangroves, not as flying insects, but as larvae that feed on snails and slugs. After waiting for months, they become fireflies capable of producing blinking light, a stage that lasts only for as short as five days or as long as a month.
And then, they die.
So, to make the most of their life, all they do in this stage is to attract a mate and reproduce. Seize the day, I thought. Drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.
Before I took that seriously and got more sentimental, I realized we were already on the next tree. There weren’t many fireflies either, so we decided to paddle back down the river and visit the trees that have consistently hosted big populations of the lightning bugs. At that time, the sky was totally dark. We could only see the silhouette of the trees against the starlit sky. It was a relaxing, romantic moment.
And then we came to this scene. About three of these trees pulsating in the synchronized blinking of firefly lights. True enough, it’s romantic and magical that some guests have even made their marriage proposals in this part of the river. There was one night, Rey said, when there were two proposals that happened, reason for this spot to be called as the Lover’s Bend.
WORD OF MOUTH
Blogger, Cebu City
I first encountered Kayakasia on March 2015 when I gifted myself a firefly kayaking tour to Bohol. We headed out into the river at 6 PM when it was dark enough to see the fireflies. The enormous mangrove lit up by thousands of fireflies was spellbinding. It also happened that on that night, there was a flood tide. Planktons from the sea were washed into the river and that created a beautiful bioluminescence phenomenon. The river was glowing in the dark! It was an exciting experience.
Why You Should Try Firefly Kayaking
Kayakasia’s river adventure should end up in everyone’s itinerary when visiting Bohol. By all means, have the usual countryside tour that brings you to different churches, the tarsier, and Chocolate Hills. And then, before leaving the province, give about two hours of your time for this exhilarating experience.Here’s why D’YAN LANG recommends this activity:
1) Accessibility. Kayakasia’s station is right beside the Abatan Bridge, about 10 kilometers from Tagbilaran. The trip can take a maximum of 20 minutes only. You can take a jeepney from the public market in Tagbilaran and spend only for regular fare, or rent a tricycle for a round trip of about P200 depending on your haggling skills.
2) Totally fun. Two hours of paddling at your own pace, with some brief stops for rest, is a total adrenaline workout you would love. If you paddle as a group or a couple, you would surely have great moments during the whole tour. Plus, don’t miss that opportunity to propose at the Lover’s Bend.
3) A piece of cake. Yes, even when the river is dark. It’s fit for all ages, you don’t need to be Olympic-skilled to enjoy the kayaking activity. When I finished the trip, I didn’t feel any exhaustion at all, except a grumbling stomach that was solved by a hearty dinner of local dishes. We were served some noodle soup, chicken adobo, fried eggplant, puso (rice in coconut leaves), ripe mangoes, and iced tea.
5) Educational. Not only do you learn facts about mangroves and fireflies, you also learn how a true social enterprise can help uplift the lives of its host community.
6) Environment-friendly. Kayakasia, in partnership with the locals and the government, supports the preservation of Abatan River’s natural ecosystem. Kayakasia does not use pumpboats in their tour to lessen environmental impact. The noise from pumboats can disrupt the fireflies, and the strong waves created by the vessels affect the mangrove habitats of these bugs.
7) Breathtaking view. When you leave the station before dark, you get a good view of the pristine Abatan River. When it gets dark, you have the whole sky full of stars, and the mangrove trees lighted by fireflies.
8) Your money goes a long way. A firefly tour costs P1950 to cover the kayak and gear rentals, guide fee, community taxes, and food. This money goes a long way as part of it goes to the local government for their environmental programs, the locals who work for Kayakasia, and the scholarship funds of their tour guides.
You visiting us gave belief to the communities who live along our waterways that doing eco-sustainable tourism can not only help better the environment but also their lives. This is one very important step for us in mentoring stewardship & highlighting the value of our remaining fragile ecosystems that still hold such magical wildlife–whatever’s left of it.
Kayakasia Guide and Scholar
“Abatan River is a blessing to us that’s why we protect it. We get our livelihood from the river. And through the opportunity given to me as a tour guide, I’m able to go to school. That will never be possible without Kayakasia.”
M O B I L E P H O T O G R A P H Y
All photos in this article, unless otherwise captioned, were taken with a smartphone. For this post, we banked on the power of Huawei Mate S, which is a super phone for both outdoor and indoor photography. Visit Huawei’s Facebook page for more details about their products.