Kuantan Firefly Park, Malaysia

“Please don’t use flash photography,” said the man who’d offered his hand to help me get into the boat. The moonlight bouncing off the water seemed to cling to his teeth as he grinned heartily and waved our little boat off into the dark water.

“Of course!” I replied, easily smiling back as I casually twisted my camera’s settings into No Flash mode.

Scooting to the edge of the bench I looked off to the far side of the river so I wouldn’t have to peer between the couple sitting in front of me. We’d been organized into four people per boat with one oarsman standing at the back, tugging the oars to his chest as he propelled us around.

I’d hoped to nab the front seat, but all was forgiven as I earnestly peered into the low trees hugging the river’s sides.

As we drifted closer what I’d see next wasn’t at all what I’d expected.

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When my Malaysian friend had told me we were going to go see fireflies at Kuantan Firefly Park next my mind had immediately zipped to movie scenes like this.

Well, I wasn’t exactly picturing dancing beetles singing and streaming down the marsh, but I was dreaming big.

This is the moon... Boats and slow shutter speeds are not friends.
This is the moon… Boats and slow shutter speeds are not friends.

“They look like LED lights,” I murmured as I nudged my friend. And they seriously did. Our 50RM boat (a ticket to split among us) hovered before the shadow of a tree as the water quietly lapped at the wood.

There were hundreds of glimmering, twinkling pinpricks silently flickering in the leaves. The kelip-kelip, or “twinkle-twinkle” in Malay, were hard at work attracting mates with their tiny glowing bodies.

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“You don’t think they are LED lights do you?” my friend replied after a moment, his eyes wide. “Could these be all fake?”

Chuckling I lifted my camera, “I’ll raise the exposure when I get home and we can check for wires.”

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Dodging our scepticism, we melted back into the experience.

It was as surreal as the animated movies, but in a subtler way. There wasn’t a whirlwind of light or a flurry of whimsical shapes. There was the moon, the fireflies and us quietly staring at each other. The magic of the moment was its nakedness I suppose. With a gleeful shriek my imagination ran wild through the forest of black.

With the moon casting its light to the earth and the trees blinking their delicate delight as the river whispered by, the scene was ripe for a mischievous sprite to greet my imagination.

Our oarsman brought us right up to the low mangrove trees. The young couple in front of us gasped and whispered as their hands hovered just short of the leaves and pulsing lights. Shifting my view over their shoulders my sight hovered on the tree, patiently, expectantly waiting for twinkling eyes to blink open and smirk bac—FLASH.

What the…?

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Tugging my focus away from the tentative welcome beside me I narrowed in on the couple in front. A phone hovered before them, fingers pressed to the screen as they stabbed another photo. FLASH. Growling under my breath, I tapped them on the shoulders.

“Hey they asked us not to use our flash.”

That prompted a double glare and no request for assistance from me seconds later when they asked my friend to take a photo of them. We were crossing the river to the other bank so my friend courteously snapped their picture, even after the woman gave him a short lecture on how to use her phone “properly”.

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I was pouting now. Here we were, getting 30 short minutes to witness a wonder of the natural world and these two goofs were glued to their phones after just five minutes of it.

Apparently they were too anxious to tell their friends and family what they were “doing” to actually spend their time doing it.

And they had the front row seat with its personal, uninterrupted view. That irked me. Why push for the best line of sight if you aren’t going to appreciate it? Please, if you are a cellphone addict, move over so us camera addicts can get our photos and take in the rest of the experience in peace.

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You can snap your selfie in the back, maybe the oarsman will photobomb it with a cheeky grin and thumbs up. That’ll drive your ratings through the roof.