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I was a bit nervous about our nighttime stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) tour. Swirling around my head were images of me being devoured by a crocodile — though apparently an impossibility, as the area has no crocodiles. I also imagined being feasted upon by mosquitos to the point where I’d need a blood transfusion.
Yet, I was also excited.
I was in a small town called Loboc, located on the Visayan Island of Bohol in the Philippines. Loboc is the jump-off point to top sights such as the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Sanctuary. I didn’t visit for the regular touristy stuff, though — instead, I was there for a couple off-the-beaten-path excursions with Loboc-based tour operator SUP Tours Philippines.
Expat-cum-avid-paddleboarder Frederic Soupart, one-half of the husband-and-wife team that owns and operates the small company (as well as the charming Fox & The Firefly Cottages in Bohol), later told me that SUP Tours Philippines was born out of their own experiences traveling around with paddleboards and wanting to share them with other people.
SUP Tours Philippines offers ideal alternatives to the endless stream of island-hopping boat excursions in top Philippine destinations such as Bohol, Palawan and Siargao.
“You come to a place where regular boat trips just pass by without visitors enjoying the beauty of the area,” Soupart said. “With paddleboards, you cover less distance, but enjoy every moment of it.”
So, there I was at dusk on SUP Tours Phillippines’ Firefly Tour, armed with only my paddle and a small bottle of mosquito spray. With two local guides and a few other tourists from Australia and South Africa, I made my way down the river just after dusk. Surprisingly, the evening was bright enough that we didn’t need the aid of flashlights.
The guides told us that we were on a trail of fireflies, which thrive in the area, and that our goal was to reach the mysterious “Mother Tree.”
We traveled at a languid pace, past kawayan (bamboo) picnic huts, evening crabbers and solitary boats making their way home. We paddled downstream, while making lighthearted conversation and oohing at the occasional firefly that strayed from its posse. The journey, after all, matters more than the destination — and with the twinkling stars over our heads and the drifting river under our boards, our journey was an easy thing to lose ourselves in.
After about 45 minutes of paddling downstream, we reached our destination. And, oh, what a destination it was.
The Mother Tree is as legendary as its name might suggest. It’s actually a regular mangrove tucked in a dim spot along the eastern bank of the river. But what makes it special are the millions of fireflies that flock to it every night to mate, illuminating it like a Christmas tree suspended in a herculean magical snow globe.
And it is, for a lack of better words, simply mesmerizing.
For 15 minutes or so, we sat on our paddleboards very quietly, as if any loud noise would break the illusion. We floated next to the tree and under its branches, trying to get as close as possible to the bioluminescent winged beetles responsible for the light show. And we smiled at one another, as if we now shared a precious, life-affirming secret.