A Surreal World: Fireflies Kayaking at Abatan River

Kayaking has always been my favorite activity on water.  As a runner who is used to going places, a kayak is my best friend on water as it allows me to do as such, like a bike on land.  While I may not own one personally, I never miss the opportunity whenever I had the chance.  And now that another chance presented itself, I can’t help but be enthusiastic!


Our group is composed of Christine, head of the tour; Anna and Lian, both from Cebu and first timers with kayaking; and myself, runner-non-swimmer.  As we head to the town of Cortes I can’t contain myself from telling them how much I love kayaking, from my first time in Club Manila East to my most memorable one in Honda Bay and the mangroves of Dos Palmas, Palawan.

My first open water kayaking

When we arrived at the banks of Abatan River where the kayaks were docked, Christine introduced us to Sir Buzzy Budlong, a master kayaker.  Have you heard of a group of kayakers that traversed the Philippines by kayaking from Sarangani in Mindanao, all the way to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte in Luzon?  Well Sir Buzzy is part of that group.  They make ultra-runners like myself humble as they covered distances in the thousands of kilometers notwithstanding the tides, winds, waves, and a lot more forces of the sea; whereas we usually cap around a hundred kilometers, sometimes mostly on paved roads!  Assisting him “baby-sit” us are Livre and Rey.

Sir Buzzy orienting us

Sir Buzzy would be the one to orient and teach us the “secrets of the trade.”  He asked us of our preferred kayak: either solo or double.  Having tried both, I opted to go solo.  On a double kayak your role would depend on your placement: being up front you basically pull the kayak, while being behind means you should steer.  While a double kayak could be less tiring, a single kayak for me is more fun as you get to do both.

Practice makes perfect* 🙂

All throughout this time I was thinking of open kayaks, but when we were shown the kayaks we’d be using, I was stunned!  It turns out I’d be using a closed kayak!

I’m listening…*

I’ll admit that there was a time that I thought of backing out.  On open kayaks you practically just sit on top and it balances on its own—you’d be putting effort to topple it.  Closed kayaks on the other hand are pretty narrow, just wide enough for an average person to fit in, you have to balance it, and getting into it is a skill.  I don’t swim well and I don’t have a very good sense of balance so it’s only natural for me to freak out, even just a little.  But then again my sense of adventure got the best of me and before I knew it I was inside my kayak being given final instructions, and started paddling nervously.

See how tensed I was?*

Initially I was very stiff as I struggled to balance myself, but as I got the hang of it my confidence rose exponentially and before I knew it I was doing some slightly sharp turns, zigzagging the river, and even back paddling.

Getting the hang of it and enjoying it a lot!*

Eventually I ended being the only one doing the solo kayak—the ladies partnered with Rey, Livre, and Sir Buzzy.

The river was calm but naturally, being water that flows, in certain areas there are currents.  As such it is sometimes difficult to paddle on a straight line, and as such I think I had maximized the route of the river by going from side to side.

Speaking of routes, Sir Buzzy told us that we’d be paddling a total of 10 kilometers for this tour: 5K out, rest and have dinner, and back.  It’s exciting to think that we’d be doing 10K on a river in kayaks.

Panoramic view of where we started.

This activity is called fireflies kayaking for a reason, fireflies.  As we all know fireflies glow, and we don’t see it unless it’s dark.  This is exactly why this activity is placed last in our itinerary, just before sunset.  As we paddled out in our kayaks and the sun starts to set I can’t help but think of creatures that roam in the dark.  No, I’m not thinking of supernatural creatures—I was actually thinking of nocturnal animals.  It was really assuring to know that there’s no longer a crocodile in the river (they say the last one was caught).  Imagine if there was, I’d be like Captain Hook looking out for his clock-worthy “friend”—paranoid. 🙂

I was actually very, very tired when we got to our pit stop 5K later.  En route Sir Buzzy had to exchange his lighter paddles with mine as I was noticeably resting a lot due to the weight of my earlier paddle.  I’m a runner so I naturally don’t have as much endurance in my arms as in my legs, but I did get one heck of a workout!

It was already dark when we arrived in our turnaround point.  The area was picked because it had electricity and light, a table with benches, and a natural water source.  There I was surprised when Sir Buzzy brought out our dinner that they had been carrying all this time!  It was such a delicious meal, and I wasn’t saying it just because I was hungry.  The scene reminded me of some of my trekking adventures where my friends brought food and cook it on our campsite.

Closed double kayak*

After a scrumptious dinner it was time to head back.  Despite the minutes of rest both my arms were still so sore that I can hardly raise it up.  Sir Buzzy addressed this and offered to partner me with Christine, and he’d take my kayak.  Of course I agreed because with my state it would be quite a challenge to paddle 5K on my own.  Also it would be another first for me—first time to be in a closed double kayak (which is as narrow as the solo).  Time to test my level 0.5 navigation skills!

Until this time I’ve yet seen the fireflies because I was using my headlamp.  On our way back we paddled without any lights, just merely letting our eyes adjust to the darkness and let the moon light our path.  And there it is!  An entire tree, glowing with thousands of fireflies, like a Christmas tree, only much better as its lights are moving, sometimes even greeting us.  It was a sight that can only be seen in dreams.  It was indeed a surreal experience, like you’re seeing computer graphics from a movie, only that it’s real.

Photographs don’t give it justice, you have to see it with your own eyes*

And it wasn’t just a chance encounter.  A little bit forward, another tree was also bathed in lights.  Fireflies don’t really pick just any tree—they prefer a certain tree where they probably get their food, that’s why at night you don’t see them distributed in all trees and instead clumped in only a few.

A unique feature of the Abatan River is that is has an islet which has a beach.  On this islet we docked to watch another “glowing” tree, and of course take pictures!  To those who know a bit about photography, you can just imagine the horror of taking such a picture.  It was pitch black, the subject’s lights (the fireflies) are very faint, blinking, and constantly moving!  Of course artificial lighting would wash out the fireflies’ lights so it’s not an option.  And don’t forget we should also be there in the picture!

One of our futile attempts at picture-taking, oh well it’s the thought that counts* 🙂

I don’t know about the others but I was really energized with that experience that I had so much energy when we arrived back to where we started.  I actually felt I can still do 5K more!  (Or maybe because kayaking in tandem saved my energy?)

In a way I was sad that the adventure was done, but I was extremely delighted to have seen and experienced an amazing work of God.  We were so privileged too as only a handful were able to do this “tour” prior to us.  Indeed it was an experience that is hard to duplicate elsewhere, and is so delicate that it could just disappear if the environment isn’t taken cared of.  It’s one of those “to tell the grand kids.” 🙂

I can only imagine how much we in the Metro have lost.  I’m pretty sure that back in the day Pasig River was as beautiful as the Abatan River, and we simply discarded it.  Based on what I see I know that the people of Bohol realize how important their natural assets are, and as long as they know this and we from elsewhere make them realize how blessed they are, these gifts from the Heavens are in safe hands.

To Sir Buzzy, thank you very much for showing us those otherworldly scenes, the good food, and the wonderful experience!  It’s something that I’ll truly cherish, and hopefully share to some of my friends.  I’ll definitely be back!

Right after getting back to my hotel room was when I felt all the fatigue, and despite being hungry (again) I was too tired to go out of the room, and settled for whatever food I had in the room.  I think I had one of my best sleeps that night.

* Credit: Livre Napiere Lacierda

* * *

The Great Visayan Adventure:

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Erica says:

    Great post! Were heading to Bohol in October and would love to do this. Do you have their contact details?
    Thanks in advance.


    1. dhenztm says:

      They’re still working on their website, but you can contact them through facebook: Kayakasia Buzz (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002153491209)


🎙 Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s