Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Romance of Firefly Watching

I can't show you pictures of the fireflies, I'm sorry. Their luminance on the Mangrove trees can't be captured from the boat.   But I assure you, there's no place and time more romantic than firefly watching at Iwahig River, Puerto Pincesa, Palawan, Philippines.  In fact our boatman/tourist guide related how some of their guests proposed while they were cruising the river watching the fireflies. 

What are fireflies?

Fireflies are also nicknamed as Lightning Bugs. Do you think that they are in the family of flies?  No, Geleena, they are nocturnal luminous insects of the beetle family Lampyridae.  This beetle family consists of about 1,900 species that inhabit tropical and temperate regions. The common glowworm is a member of this family.  Fireflies are actually soft beetles which sizes range from 5 to 25 millimetres in length. Look at the underside of their abdomen:  it has a   special light organs that glows in luminous flashes.  The flattened, dark brown or black body is often marked with yellow or orange. Most of the fireflies feed on pollen and nector but for adult fireflies they do not eat. They like to live in Mangrove trees.
How do fireflies flirt?
What are their mating calls? The female fireflies will produce a short rhythmic flashes that attracts the males fireflies. The females will sit on the ground in the high grass to flash to certain male only. See, they don't flirt mindlessly at all.  The female chooses the males based on their flash pattern. 
We know how fireflies flashed is because of biomechanics, but we did not know why they flashed.

Though both males and female flash, it’s the male who make pattern in the air.   Females are either short- winged and stationery’ attached to the tips of plant stems or leaves as they carry on a flirty dialogue with roving males, trying to draw them in to mate.

However, others feel that the flashing is not to attract the opposites but as a mechanism of warning to advise predators of the fireflies bitter taste. Unfortunately, some frogs like to eat them.

How do fireflies produce their light? 
They are produced under a nervous control within special cells which are richly supplied with air tubes. Only the light from the visible spectrum is emitted.  Fireflies do not bite, do not have pincers, do not carry disease and in fact are quite harmless. They cannot even fly fast. They have a life span of two months.

Why do they flash?
Fireflies “cold light’ is made by a process known as bioluminescence or chemiluniscence, in which a substance called luciferin comes in contact with enzyme luciferase and oxygen. As air rushed into the abdomen, it reacts with this compound and a chemical reaction gives off the familiar glow of a firefly. Fireflies can regulate the airflow into the abdomen to create a pulsating pattern.
Fireflies are alone among bioluminescent insects because they can flash; other glow constantly. The process emission of the light from living things, without significant heat sometimes called “cols light”. Bioluminescence is found in species of bacteria, male and female of fireflies are used as species- specific signals for mating.

The light stick has two separate compartments with two chemicals join together. As molecules from the different chemical bind to each other they give a kick of energy to some of the electrons. But electrons never hold on to extra energy for long.
That molecule then needs to get rid of its energy in some way. It can sometimes do it by colliding with other molecules and losing it through collisions, but arrange system in a careful way, the excited product might have no other way to excite except by physically releasing the energy as photons and the photon comes out as a fire of light and we see that as the burst given off by a firefly.
Though both males and female flash, it’s the male who make pattern in the air.  Females are either short- winged and stationery,  attached to the tips of plant stems or leaves as they carry on a flirty dialogue with roving males, trying to draw them in to mate.

While each firefly species has its own pattern of flashing, some female imitate the patterns of other species. Males land next to them only to be eaten alive. So keep in mind that its flickering isn’t just a wonder of the night, it’s also a language of love.


How to go to Iwahig River:   
Iwahig river is located at Highway km. 20 Barangay Iwahig Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.  You may ride a bus from Villacorta and ask the conductor to let you off at Iwahig.  Or you may have a travel agency set up a group tour with you.  We went on a group tour at P1,100 per person.  The firefly watching is for P900 only, but it's a good value for your money to include a dinner as the dinner is a festive affair at Skylight Hotel. It's a sumptuous buffet dinner. In fact I will treat you to some food pictures as I don't have pictures of the fireflies.

I cant' show the over 100 dishes to choose from the buffet, but this is my plate with my faves - kangkong, Sushi, tofu, fried okra, sweet & sour pork, lechon, pork asado
I even went for a 2nd helping (What a pig I am :) Fried quail eggs, fried breaded mashed potatoes, lumpia, pudding and cake

If firefly watching won't awaken the romance in you, maybe the tranquility of the river  would at least relax you.


Includes FREE planning and background information. You can never escape it. Everywhere you look there it is. Whether it-s the Sulu Sea to the east or the South China Sea to the west, as much a highway as a source of sustenance, nothing defines Palawan more than the water surrounding it. The proverbial island paradise with seascapes the equal of any in Southeast Asia, wildlife, both terrestrial and aquatic, this, the Philippines- most sparsely populated region is also its most beguiling. Historically, it was always an outlier, an island apart. Known as Pa Lao Yu (island of beautiful harbour) before the arrival of the Spanish who later referred to it as paragua (umbrella) for its shape, control of Palawan was contested by the colonisers and Moros from Borneo for over a hundred years. These days the struggle is overdevelopment versus maintenance of the largely untouched environment. Gaisano, Robinson-s and SM - the signifiers of urbanisation elsewhere - have yet to make inroads. Because of its silhouette - a long sliver stretching 650km all the way from the Mindoro Strait to the tip of Borneo - there-s a certain liberating logic to travel in Palawan. Centrally located Puerto Princesa, the administrative and culinary capital, is also the transport hub. To the south, where there-s little government footprint, populated by indigenous tribal groups and Muslim communities, it-s rough but potentially rewarding travel for those with reserves of endurance. The majority of travellers go north, without question the highlight. Watching the sunset standing on El Nido-s ramshackle beachfront with a glorious view of Cadlao Island, or skimming along in a bangka around a maze of uninhabited islands in the Calamian Group feels somewhat post-apocalyptic - like the morning after the proverbial flood. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mabinay's Crystal Cave

Into the cave!
Do you like caves?  We do.   Very much, especially my hubby.  We planned our trip to Dumaguete for many months after we're availed ourselves of Cebu Pacific's promo flights. We planned to go to Dumaguete, Bacolod (where I visited my brother and his family)  and back to Dumaguete.  From Negros Oriental  we traveled by bus to Bacolod, Negros Occidental for 6 hours.  Yes one island, Negros Island, but each has a unique history.  Negros Occidental was  for so many years, the Sugar bowl of the Philipines, and now a tourist destination for its yearly Maskara  Festival, while Dumaguete boasts of having one of the oldest universities, also the first American university in the Philippines, the Siliman University. Dumaguete also boasts of having the  largest cave, the Odloman  Cave,  in the Philippines, among other things.  Bacolod is dubbed as  the City of Smiles while Dumaguete is dubbed as the City of Gentle People.   

Coming back from Bacolod to Dumaguete, we planned to pass by Mabinay Caves. While in Bacolod,  we started inquiring about the caves, and Bacolod Dept. of  Tourism gave us leaflets and also cell phone number of the Mabinay town Mayor. 

The Mayor's  phone number was also in the leaflets given to us.   I opted to send a text message to the other person mentioned in the leaflets, as I am too shy to disturb a VIP like the Mayor! When nobody responded after twenty minutes, I reluctantly sent a text message to the Mayor too. The Mayor, Mr. Jango Uy,  was more prompt in answering my text messages, and I sent him many inquiries.  Mayor Jango Uy even gave us instructions how to proceed from Bacolod to Mabinay Caves, two towns away from Dumaguete City via Ceres bus.   From Bacolod  we went to Ceres South Terminal, took the bus to Dumaguete.  We told the driver to let us off at Bulwang town, where the Mabinay caves are.  It was about 5 hours bus ride.   Mayor Jango Uy  also gave us the number of one of his tourist guides,  Rhen Rhen.  Rhen Rhen met us at Mabinay bus stop and together we went to Bulwang, another 15 minutes bus ride.  

Up  to Crystal Cave
I have an injured knee so I decided to go to only one cave, the Crystal cave, which is recommended for novice/amateur spelunkers.  In  case you don't know what a spelunker is (I had to ask my hubby, as I don't know myself), that  means cave explorer, Precilla.  Rhen Rhen, our tour guide,  is a young guy who will not tire in answering your gazillion questions, that I promise.  He is knowledgeable about the caves, about Mabinay, about the tourist spots in Negros and many other things.  Rhen has an engaging  call center agent voice, but he's not into hard sell at all.  

The Crystal Cave is the most beautiful of the  caves. It is 157 meters long and 12 meters deep with an entrance slopping 2 by 4 meters.  It used to be the  most difficult to explore because it is so full of karst formation, until they built a raft-like flooring suspended by ropes  to the cave's 'roof'.  It is like standing in the middle of a crystal house, where touching and feeling the karst formation is irresistible. Source: But please, don't touch the karst or the  stalactites, stalagmites as you'd cause them to die and it would take hundred years for them to come alive again. Can you appreciate the length of time these cave formations took so you could admire how lovely they look now? 

Aside from spelunking, there are other activities  you may enjoy in this place:  rapelling, rock climbing, swimming, underground passageways, crawling, duck walking, photographing (of course) caves, frogs (!), spiders, snakes and bats.  

Recommended gears:  hiking shoes, long pants, long sleeves, helmet - they couod provide you, change of clothing, water, candies and yes sandwiches or any food you prefer, as there is no restaurant in this place yet.  There is a restaurant about 2 kms. away, we were told. 

Rhen turned the cave's general light switch on
The Crystal Cave is so 'user-friendly', providing spelunkers  with wooden railings and floor

Formations at Crystal Cave
Rhen also regaled us a folklore of Mabinay:

The story goes this way: In an inland part of the province of Negros Oriental, there lived two powerful rival chieftains named Datu Ilog and Datu Namangyan. Datu Ilog had a very beautiful daughter named Binay whom he loved very much and Datu Namangyan has a brave and dauntless son Binto who loved to hunt wild animals.

One day while Binto was chasing a wild deer he inadvertently entered the territory of Datu Ilog accidentally and saw Binay taking a bath in the river. It was love at first sight for both of them and they started a love affair that had to be kept secret knowing that their fathers were enemies.

Secrets like smoke can't be kept from going out, especially with Binay's change in behavior, being in love. Datu Ilog, noticing the difference, decided to follow her one day and caught the lovers redhanded.

Binay pleaded with her father to spare Binto's life but an angry Datu Ilog would not be appeased knowing his daughter's lover, his hatred for Binto's father overriding all else. He struck Binto on the chest with a spear,  killing him instantly. And just as instantly, a small pool of water sprung forth in the place where Binto died, and the people called it Banintohan.

Binay, full of grief for her beloved's death and her fearing her angry father, ran away, wild and without direction, she ran like mad.

Mother Earth took pity upon the ill-fated lovers and swallowed Binay up. And from this spot came forth a body of water, known now as Mabinay Spring.

Datu Ilog, in search of his daughter met Datu Namagyan along the way. Remorsefully, he admitted what he had done and Datu Namangyan, surprised to see his proud and brave enemy meek and repentant, instead of being angry for his son's death, joined with him in his grief and they both decided to merge forces.

Where they met is now marked by the joining of the two rivers, Ilog River and Namangyan River.

Okay, time to go back to Crystal Cave for picture-taking:

Aside from Crystal Cave (157 ms), these are the other recommended caves:

Panligawan (143 ms) - for novice/amateur spelunkers
Pandalihan (282 ms) -  for novice/amateur spelunkers
Cayaso (2,222 ms) - for difficult/extreme spelunkers
Baliw (769 ms) - for difficult/extreme spelunkers
Mambajo - (670 ms) - with rapelling/medium difficult 
Odloman (8,870 ms) - for difficult/extreme spelunkers

The fee is P400 for the guided tour and P15 per person for each cave.  
And yes, Mayor Jango Uy's cell phone number is +639166792344.  another contact person is Jeffrey Dasian, cell phone number +639182427269. Happy spelunking and say hello to Rhen for us.
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