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Tao Philippines - an expedition from Coron to El Nido, Palawan

· Travel

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous for this trip before we went, even after we’d booked it. We’d heard from a few of our friends that it was one of the best things they’ve ever done, but that wasn’t quite enough to convince me… Did I really want to spend 3 days and 2 nights on a boat with people I didn’t know, in a place I know barely anything about (other than the fact that it’s pretty easy to get sick) with no signal or wifi? Not to mention the fact that the trip isn’t exactly cheap (you’re looking at +- £300pp for the 3 day trip). It was a bit of a leap of faith for me, that’s for sure.

With all of these doubts still present, Sarah and I found ourselves in Coron the night before the start of the expedition for our briefing. Before he started, our expedition leader Papa Papaya gave us all a cup of Jungle Juice (a concoction of rum and pineapple juice, which we’d later grow to love). He then proceeded to give us a half hour talk about about the company, the crew, our journey, essential packing list and all of the logistics. Only then did I realise that I’d signed up to an exceptionally well organised program, which very much put me at ease.

The morning after we got to the pier at 8.15am, with our dry bags, valuables and everything else all in separate bags. Our valuables were then locked away on the boat and nobody was able to access them for the duration of the trip. We had dry bags so that we could transport things between the boat and islands safely, great system.

We were a team of 18 travellers (being joined by 10 more that day from our first island stop) and 9 crew members. Each member of the crew came to introduce themselves and their role. They were all really charismatic, spoke great english and we all got to know each other pretty well.

The boat was an old finishing boat that they’d adapted for tourist expeditions. We learned on our way that most of the locals here come from generations of fishermen, who in the last 50 years have seen immigration and tourism increase the islands’ population by tenfold. In order to keep up with the demand for seafood, fishermen were turning to increasingly dangerous methods of fishing (both for humans and animal ecosystems involved) that were against the law. Tao offered these fishermen education and safe alternative career prospects. The company also designates part of its earnings to building schools and supporting local communities around Palawan.

The days were generally structured as follows:

  • Breakfast (which was always absolutely out of this world delicious)
  • Drive to remote island #1
  • Stay and explore for an hour or so
  • Drive to remote island #2
  • Lunch (again, yum)
  • Hang out for a bit
  • Drive to remote island where we were staying for the night
  • Dinner
  • Showers, drinks, games and fun

We were able to take proper showers on the islands every night, then were assigned small huts overlooking the sea to sleep in in pairs. There wasn’t much in the way of electricity, but when your phone is in the bottom of your dry bag somewhere and you haven’t looked at it for two days you realise just how little you need electricity. On our last night, 10 of us decided to go to a local fiesta with Papa Papaya, full story is up here on my Instagram.

The food was absolutely out of this world amazing. Our chef Jeric and his sous chef sourced local produce from the islands we visited and cooked a delicious mix of vegan dishes, fresh fish, shell fish, meat (pretty rarely though) and lots of filipino power (rice!). Whatever your dietary requirements, there was an abundance of food at all times. They even made us snacks between lunch and dinner (think banana spring rolls, yum!).

As for alcohol, we’re all equipped with a cashless bracelet which we topped up before boarding the boat (like being at a festival. You can imagine how shocked we were when we discovered that half of Palawan didn’t have wifi but these guys had a cashless bar system). We got one jungle juice on the house every evening and after that we could purchase whatever we wanted from the bar (when I say bar I mean 2 big coolers with beer and rum in them, beer was around £1 and a 33cl bottle of rum was £2.50).

I’ve come away from this three day trip armed with,

  • A new found appreciation for dry bags
  • Brand new dance moves (and the confidence to bust em out)
  • Knowledge of Filipino politics and culture
  • Friends from all over the world
  • Serious love for rum and mango juice

If you’re still hovering over the ‘book now’ button on their website, here’s what you need to ask yourself in short:

Am I ok with being completely off the grid for 3 days? Am I ready to be social, meet and spend time with new people? Am I happy to shower outdoors in close proximity to the occasional dog and goat? Am I eager to learn things about the Philippines from people who have lived and worked there their whole lives?

If the answer to all or most of those questions is yes, pull the trigger. It’ll be one of the best experiences of your life.

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