Social icons

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Tao Philippines Experience


Daracuton Island, Palawan, Philippines
Daracuton Island


Note: Some of the photos are from the other travelers in the Tao Expedition. Thank you to Venediktos (or Ben) for giving me permission to post his beautiful photos especially the night and underwater photos. Thank you Ben!

Coron felt unfamiliar. It wasn’t like the small and sleepy town I remember from seven years ago. It was busy and crowded with so many tourists. There were now bars for partying. But we were only there for less than two days before we start the five-day boat expedition with Tao Philippines. So it was all good. I was ready for a few days of isolation and escape from the 'real world'.

Soaking wet and awake for almost 36 hours (read: do not get a hotel room that’s beside the street. forget the view), we arrived just in time for the pre-departure briefing at the Tao office. We spent the day accompanying our friends in their diving trip. Unfortunately, the rain caught up with us that afternoon. It was a torrential downpour, and for a while I thought there was a chance that the expedition won’t push through since a typhoon just entered the Philippines that day. My energy was depleted. But Oli, our trip leader, found a way to make me excited about it. Jungle juice, pineapple juice and local rum, was served. I found my new happy drink. He gave us a brief introduction of what the expedition is going to be like. What to expect and what to bring. But most importantly, he reminded us to order our drinks that night. I guess in terms of alcohol, it is always better to overestimate. Always. Nikos and the rest of the guys took care of it.

DSCF0525-2

I was finally able to sleep and recover a bit. The rain stopped just before we left our hotel. The sky was starting to clear up. It looked promising. And it did. The whole five days we had perfect weather. The two channels we crossed that were known to be rough waters were calm. It only rained in El Nido the day after we ended the expedition.

IMG_2509-38
Daracuton Island

How do I even begin to describe those five days, especially for a recovering traumatized-because-of-underwater-current beginner swimmer like myself. I am a mountain girl. I like the beach but mostly stayed near the shore. I always make sure that a swimmer friend is close to me whenever I go snorkelling (with a vest of course). I have always wanted to do the Tao expedition but always hesitated thinking I might not enjoy it as much I want to. Because well, five days exposed to deep and open water? haha But I am always grateful for Jm, who has always found a way to persuade and push me to join her travels. She tugs at my kaladkarin-at-heart side.

DSCF0596-9
Cagdanao Island

It has been one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever done. Of course, trekking in the Himalayas will always be at the top of the list. But being aboard a large boat with an amazing crew, with fun people from different parts of the world, eating delicious food five times a day, and exploring the remote islands in Palawan that not a lot of people get the chance to see – all of these has made the whole experience like no other I’ve ever done in my travels.

IMG_2485-33
Daracuton Island

So many talk to about, but let’s start with Tao Philippines, the company.

Tao Philippines: Social Entrepreneurship

Well, they’re not exactly a company in the corporate sense of the word. It’s more of a social entrepreneurship. Founded by Eddie (Filipino, also from my hometown Baguio City) and Jack (Brit). It all started when they decided that they wanted to explore Northern Palawan - Coron, El Nido, and all the islands in between (Culion, Linapacan Group of Islands, and Bacuit Bay) in their own way and in their own time. With that decision, they borrowed some money so they can buy a boat and remodel it. Found two men – Lito, a smuggler turned boat captain, and Oli (our own trip leader) the young fisherman who took charge of navigation and communicating with the villagers that lived in the different islands. And explore, they did.

IMG_2465-23
Eddie giving a brief history of Tao Philippines, very inspiring talk

DSC03835
Jaspher and Marvin giving us a tour of the Tao Village Camp 
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

Over the years, they grew the business into a partnership with the local villages where they’ve set up beach camps in. They donate some of their profits to these villages. They employ and train people from these villages, women included. Through Tao's foundation, they have been able to send children to colleges. They’ve built schools as well.

IMG_2472-27
Tao Village Camp

The beach camps are not like the typical resorts, which makes the kind of tourism Tao promotes far less intrusive. Aside from the Tao Village Camp, the other beach camps are typically on a small patch/corner of an island with a number of small huts, a couple of shower areas and toilets, and a common dining area. Some had electricity (only from 6pm to 10pm), some don’t. The crew bring everything to the island and leave with all of it the next day.

IMG_2488-34
Daracuton Island

IMG_2483-32
Daracuton Island

As much as I want to give you a day-to-day account of those five amazing days, I really can’t. I don’t remember all the names of the islands and snorkelling spots we visited. What I can tell you is that if you are willing to spend at least USD550 for five days of exploring the beautiful Northern Palawan, this is what you can expect:

A huge boat/outrigger, ours was called Palawenya, that’s spacious enough that you can find your own spot to chill and hang out. Take a nap, read a book, or enjoy a drink. I mean it was so nice and comfortable that I had to remind myself from time to time to look out the beautiful islands along the way. And as someone who’s still getting comfortable in deep and open waters, I felt very safe in this boat.

IMG_2365

DSCF0523-1

Tao Philippines
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

Tao Philippines
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

An amazing and fun crew that will take care of you and feed you delicious food! I remember the Lost Boys telling us how happy they were that they had Filipino guests on our boat. They had no idea how happy we were too that we can get to hang out with them for they are some of the happiest and most hardworking young people I know. I mean compared to the millennial brats ranting in social media right now. haha I miss them all now! 


Created with flickr slideshow.

Photos from Venediktos, Natalia, and Mauro

IMG_2673-58
Photo by Oli (our Trip Leader!)

The food. Despite being Filipino, I can honestly say that I was still surprised with the amazing dishes they served. A fresh catch on the first day was turned into sashimi. Seafood - grilled fish, crab, and squid - were served almost every meal, either caught from the boat or bought from local fishermen. Vegetables were from the Tao farm. The snacks were worth mentioning too. I spent some time with the kitchen crew serving as a translator when one of our friends wanted a cooking lesson. They cook whatever they can get for that day and whatever comes up to their mind. Another highlight was the dinner served when we stayed in Tao Village, a fusion of Asian tastes was served by Chef Ann. I tasted Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese in the dishes they served. And of course the lechon (roast pig) served on our last night.

Tao Philippines
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

Tao Philippines
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03671
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

A taste of the Island Life. What I love about Tao is that it’s not a rushed tour, there is no set itinerary. No schedule to follow, no pressure to go from snorkelling spot A to B etc. We had maybe two to three snorkelling stops a day, and we were given enough time to really enjoy them.

IMG_2517

Tao Philippines
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03775
This is Venediktos or Ben :)
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03741
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03687
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

Stunning and remote islands. I know how overused this line might be. But go to Palawan and you’ll agree with me. What makes Tao special is that it has many camps in the islands between El Nido and Coron that the other tour companies don’t normally go to. And they’re untouched.

IMG_2497

DSCF0586-7
Cagdanao Island

IMG_2495-35
Daracuton Island

IMG_2477-28
Tao Village Camp

DSCF0589-8
Daracuton Island

IMG_2595-50

IMG_2552-45
Cadlao Island

IMG_2498-36
Daracuton Island

IMG_2551-44
Cadlao Island

The sunrises and sunsets. I felt spoiled and lucky to have witnessed so much beauty in those five days. I mean I rarely see a sunrise/sunset back in the city. There’s a certain kind of fulfillment a beautiful sunset can give you. And star gazing at night. We saw at least five falling stars in one night! And in the Tao Village Camp, when some of our friends decided to go night swimming, they discovered bioluminescent planktons glowing.

IMG_2326

Patsy Island, Palawan, Philippines
Patsy Island

IMG_2375

Patsy Island, Palawan, Philippines
Patsy Island

Palawan, Philippines
Tao Village Camp

Palawan, Philippines
Tao Village Camp

DSC03797
Tao Village Camp
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03655
Patsy Island
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

IMG_2423

You will enjoy each night camp. They are set in the most beautiful islands. And if you’re with a fun group, we were lucky since most of us were in the late 20s to mid-30s range, it will also be fun and memorable each night. Yes, one night will be for karaoke.

IMG_2543-41
Cadlao Island

DSC03977
Cadlao Island
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03958
Cadlao Island
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03656
Patsy Island
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

DSC03798
Free massage at Tao Village Camp
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

You will realize how important it is to detach. May it be from the hectic city life, from work and adult responsibilities, social media, the news, etc. Then you’ll realize how much we worry, unnecessarily most of the time.

IMG_2547-42
Cadlao Island

But for me the Tao experience was a collection of small and fleeting perfect moments. Looking up the night sky filled with stars and with the silhouette of the coconut trees. Watching the sun rise with Max, the lovable island dog. Pre-breakfast stories of drunken moments that happened the night before. All the laughter shared with the kitchen crew. Reconnecting with old friends and having a laughing fit over how to spell ngey-ngey. Our last sunset dip in our last beach camp and being served beers.

DSCF0554-5

DSC03818
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

Palawan, Philippines
With Max at Tao Village Camp


Created with flickr slideshow.

Photos from Oli, Mauro, Natalia

On our last day, we had a gradual reintegration into the real world. Our stops were already on beaches with other tourists. I remember our last sail just before we get to the main town of El Nido. We decided to sit on the front ledge. Enjoying the breeze and the rhythm of the sea, with beautiful views of El Nido’s limestone cliffs. I took it all in. Just like the many other moments during the last five days. The Tao experience makes you do that. Makes you let go of expectations and worries and just asks you to appreciate where you are, the people you’re with, and whatever magnificent show Mother Nature was presenting in front of you.

IMG_2579-48

And just like that, the expedition was over. The comforts of a proper and long shower, nice bed, and clean clothes were luring us back into the real world. Over the next few days, the swaying sensation from being on a boat for five days will slowly wear off. It will be instinctual again to put on proper clothes (and not just in bikinis) before leaving our hotel room.

Two weeks since the time we left the boat, days seem to pass by fast, unlike those five days in Palawan. But every now and then I find myself smiling, thinking about those small perfect Tao moments. Now, I’m more inspired to travel and felt reassured that my life priorities are just about right – to pursue experiences like those five days with Tao.

NOTE:

The Tao experience is definitely not for everyone. The huts are very basic. There’s no complete privacy. They will give out thin mattresses, mosquito nets, pillows, and bedsheet/blankets each night. And that's it. There will be no electric fan. There will be no hot showers and flush toilets. There will be no wifi. There will be a few spots with mobile signal, but it was only in the Tao Village Camp that we got sporadic internet signal because we were already in mainland El Nido.

Patsy Island, Palawan, Philippines
Patsy Island

IMG_2766
Shower Area in Tao Village Camp
Photo by Venediktos Kapetanakis

But really, it all comes with the experience. It’s refreshing to not care about how you look for five days. And again, it is good to be off-the-grid from time to time. Read the list of things to bring, and make sure you bring all of them. Bring lots of sunblock and please use them. Don’t be lazy in reapplying. I learned my lesson the hard way. I am still peeling as of the moment. haha

Now, are you ready for this?

IMG_2480-31
Daracuton Island

Read up on Tao Philippines: www.taophilippines.com