Who are we? Just a speck of dust within the galaxy.
I’ve been obsessed with “Lost Stars” from the movie Begin Again for a couple of months now, but these lines struck me when I watched the movie again last night after I went back home from Palawan. It was really fitting to hear those lines because just 24 hours before, I saw the milky way glowing from a very distant place. I don’t know if that was the first time I saw the milky way, but it was the first time someone told me it was the milky way. That someone was Ralph Rosales, our boatman when we visited Iwahig Firefly Watching, an ecotourism effort between ABS-CBN Foundation and the city government of Puerto Princesa.
Fear of Not Seeing
The fee was P600 for a boat that seats three people. My friends were really scared of going because you literally only see darkness, the glow of fireflies, and the twinkling stars. There was no moon, which made it scarier for them, but less scary as the experience went on.
A Mere Boatman
My friends told our boatman to never stop talking so they can focus on anything but the fear. He was kind and accommodating, telling us facts about the river, the fireflies, the stars, the city, and his life.
Ralph is a son of an employee in the Iwahig Penal Colony. He started working here six years ago, when he was only 16 years old. He starts rowing his boat at around 7:00 p.m. and only stops five to seven hours after, depending on the number of visitors. No break times for his arms, only one day off per week, and earning just the minimum wage per night. It’s a win-lose situation, really. Seeing the beauty of nature every night and how tourists get captivated by it, and getting trapped with a physically tiring job and minimum pay. However, I think the win triumphs the lose here, and that is very apparent by how he speaks and jokes around.
Light Up the Dark
Even before we saw the fireflies glowing, the stars already captured me.
I have never seen so many stars in my life. I always take time to look up every night because I love seeing the moon and the stars. In Manila, I’d feel lucky if I see even just a few stars. In Cavite, there are nights when I can see quite a handful of them. But here in Palawan, it felt like the heavens conspired to give us a grand and majestic view. The number of stars was overwhelming. Moreover, our jaws dropped when Ralph told us that the gray area we thought were clouds was actually the milky way, full of stars that shine from the galaxy where we could never be.
Wow. We didn’t expect that. It felt so surreal. The fear automatically got blown out of the water after that. The three of us were filled with so much gratefulness. We were all thinking how tiny we are compared to this universe we live in, even tinier than a speck of dust, yet we experience this life that’s full of blessings.
Two months—that’s the only amount of time fireflies have. Eat, mate, and light up; that’s what they ever only do. To inspire is there purpose, at least for me. Ralph told us that male fireflies shine brighter than female ones, and female fireflies choose the male they’d mate with based on how big their light is. Fireflies don’t talk. The only way they communicate with each other is through their lights.
Experience of a Lifetime
I can’t put into words that feeling of being worthy no matter how unworthy I actually am.
How vast is God’s creation? How lucky am I to even see some of it? How loved am I to even experience this kind of gladness in my heart? “I will never know. All I know is these stars and fireflies light up for a reason, and there’s a reason I am seeing them light up simultaneously. Right here, right now. And I will treasure this moment forever.” That was my last thought as we finished the tour.
Thankfully, I got to ask the name of our boatman just when I was standing up to leave the boat. We were really grateful to him, for being our companion during this wonderful experience. This kind of moment is rare, and you’ll never forget what you felt and who you were with. One of us actually cried, and I was near tears.
Not to Miss
The 30 minutes I spent watching the fireflies and stars glow was the highlight of my four-day stay in Palawan. Ralph said we only saw about 30 to 40 percent of the fireflies because it rained the day before we went. He said the best months to visit is from June to July, so I’d definitely go back here on my birthday next year.
Don’t miss this when you go to Puerto Princesa. Tour packages are P1,000 above, but a do-it-yourself approach is more practical. Just make sure to call them for reservations during peak season. For us, we got there and finished after about two hours without any reservations.
(Photo Credit: Tsuneaki Hiramatsu)