By Camille Anne M. Arcilla
THE SIGHT of a swarm of fireflies sparkling in a dark night may seem like a scene from a fantasy movie or one of those teleseryes where the leading lady closes her eyes and whispers her wish on a firefly. But the scene was no fantasy — rather, it was the perfect finale to the first day of a media tour through the Bicol region’s Almasor (Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon).
On a five-day trip hosted by the Tourism Promotions Board, and guided by Donsol Eco Tour, we were brought to the Buhatan River in Sorsogon for an eco-adventure cruise on our first day. We were welcomed upon our arrival by bankeros (boatmen) offering snacks of different types of pili nut — roasted, fresh, candied, and in a variant of polvoron (a powdered milk candy) — and a pitcher of muscovado (raw sugar) and ginger juice. We got on what they called cabanas — floating platforms with comfortable seating under canvas canopies — and met our tour guide for the cruise, Ate Mina of Buhatan Eco-Adventure.
The 3.9-kilometer river was basically unproductive, until people from the community — whose main source of livelihood are farming and fishing — thought of ways to develop it. The river’s waters were cleaned up; the mangroves and other plants by the riverside were maintained.
Ate Mina explained that in 2014, ABS-CBN Foundation’s Regina Paz “Gina” O. Lopez (now the head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) toured the Buhatan River and saw its potential. The foundation donated material for the cabanas to replace the makeshift flatboats the locals had before. Later on, the Buhatan River Eco-Adventure Cooperative was established, with 60 bankeros and 10 cooks as members, and the Buhatan cruise was officially launched in April 2015.
Besides the leisurely cruise down river, the Buhatan River Eco-Adventure also offers kayaking.
To maintain the river’s cleanliness, there are four “bantay-dagat” men who clean up and keep watch on the river, Ate Mina noted. The fishermen even found a way to get rid of the suso (snail), which they considered pests, by cooking them “Bicol Express-style.”
Clams called tuway, she said, can also be found in the brackish waters of the Buhatan River, and are served fresh to their visitors.
After a 45-minute boat ride, we reached Buhatan River’s floating restaurant, welcomed by a sign that says “Dagos tabi! (Come in!)”
A woman in traditional baro’t saya greeted us and introduced herself as “Mommy Elsa,” then led us to a table where dinner was served — steamed shrimps, inihaw na tilapia (grilled tilapia) with soy sauce, suso cooked Bicol Express-style, raw tuway, pili pulp with fish sauce dip, rice wrapped in banana leaf, and piñalang (pineapple bits with pili nuts) for dessert. The dishes, mostly made with gata (coconut milk) had just a hint of the spiciness that the Bicol region is known for.
Visitors who want to dine at Buhatan River’s floating restaurant are advised to make reservations at least a day before their arrival to give the staff time to catch and harvest the needed ingredients.
Having filled our stomachs, and while waiting for the sun to set before we headed back, the bankeros taught us how to catch crabs with a lift net they call bintol.
By around seven in the evening, we went back on the boats to return to town. The main attraction of the trip, however, was still waiting for us.
We began to see one, then two, then a handful of flickering lights from afar. Then we finally saw the rest of them as we moved closer to the riverbanks — masses of fireflies in one of Nature’s spectacular light shows. The locals said that if we clapped, more fireflies would dart out of the tall trees. So we kept clapping loudly until we approached our destination.
Truly, it was a sight to behold that was worth the applause.
Buhatan River Eco-adventure is located at Buhatan, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon. For inquiries call (+63 939) 938-1215 or visit https://www.facebook.com/Buhatan-River-Eco-Adventure. Donsol EcoTour also offers tour packages which include Buhatan River Eco-adventure. Contact them at (+63 2) 576-5934 or (+63 2) 893-8173, or e-mail info @donsolecotour.com