Best Trip Ever: My Tao Expedition Experience
"Leave the princess at home" warned our expedition leader, Bong. There is only one rule onboard, the 50-50 rule. It means Tao will provide the opportunity for us to enjoy the island life, but we as travelers, explorers, as they call us, should be up for it. How much you enjoy is definitely up to you. We were on board the paraw. Paraw is a traditional Filipino fishing boat with a shallow hull powered by the wind. Tao's paraw, Balatik, is believed to be to only traditional boat of its kind in the Philippines. If you are going to Palawan, this is the way to go. Our trip took us from Coron to El Nido for five days and four nights, stopping at islands and reefs along the way and camping in some remote island in between for the night.
Going in, we already knew that this is not a luxury cruise. There will be days when there is no electricity, no cellular (much more internet) connection, running water for showers is not guaranteed, toilets don't have a flush, mosquitoes are extra-large. What we did have, we had the best. We did not lack company of the most amazing and diverse group of people, from the crew and explorers alike. The conversations we had on the boat while going to the next destination or while waiting for the food are the most hilarious and enriching conversations I've had in my life. We were spoiled with food. It couldn't get any fresher than what we were eating. Sometimes, we feast on what we caught during the day or barter with the locals. Food was very simple, but it was beyond delicious. It was clean, fresh, healthy, organic and sustainable. One of our fellow explorers even declared that the dishes can compete with Michelin-starred restaurants across the globe. It was THAT good. The nights are the darkest I've been thorough but it was also lit by the brightest stars I've seen.
Of course you go to Palawan for the islands, and we were not disappointed. On any given day, we snorkeled, gone caving, kayaked, lazed on a strip of beach all to ourselves, or even just stay on the boat. There is really no way to fully capture the beauty of the islands in words, even pictures. There are majestic limestone rocks that hides a tiny strip of beach, the coral reefs teeming with variety of fish and huge, beautiful corals. I didn't have to go deep to see them. Sometimes, there are so close on shallow reefs, that I get scared I might hit them. Jaysen and I are not strong swimmers. When we stop in the middle of the sea and it's choppy or the currents are strong, we'd opt to wear life vests. Yup, we were the only ones in our group to ever use them. No shame. :) If the drop-off is far from the coral garden, I'd ask for a "taxi". :) Hahaha. The crew readily gets on the kayak with me and brings me to right to the site. Some would like to take the "taxi" to the beach if they just plan to sunbathe. Going to trips like this, it's important to be fully aware of our capabilities. We were upfront with the crew, and they were very supportive and made sure someone was close by. We felt very safe. It doesn't hurt that some of the crew are trained by the Philippine Coast Guard and are WASAR (Water Safety and Rescue) certified.
You might ask: What makes it so special? You can go see most of the islands on your own for probably half the price. For us, more than the places we went to, it was the whole atmosphere of the group. The remote camps we slept in. The explorers and the crew, all went with the goal of having fun and just let it be. No one was rushing to see another island or go off to the next reef, it was all "island time". We get there when we do, we might see that island or maybe not. On a regular day, this would drive me crazy, but on this adventure it was liberating. Best of all, the paraw crew was just exceptional. The young men were charming: Hilarious, sincere, caring and very capable. They are beyond professional. After the trip, they became our friends. It's so hard to describe and put into words what makes it so wonderful. The islands, the beaches and reefs, the paraw, the people, the timelessness, the food, the jungle juice and rum coke that starts flowing by mid-day, the conversations and laughter we shared late into the night. It's everything and so much more. One thing for sure, we would do this trip over and over again.
Bring everything that are listed as "optional". You'll thank me for it ;)
It is not uncommon for people to get sick on the trip. This might be due to several factors: Too much heat, fatigue, too much alcohol, dehydration, your body not used to the food/water. There are first-aid meds on board, but if you have go-to meds better bring that as well.
At the last minute, we decided not to bring our drone and we're glad we left it. Just to much hassle to assemble, disassemble, and having to dry bag it every time.