Ever since we saw a photo of the Tao Philippines sign taken in El Nido (cheers Phil & Laura!), Jack and I had been wanting to take one of their open expedition boat trips. We checked out the website and got even more excited. These trips sound amazing – 5 days and 4 nights on the open water sleeping on uninhabited islands in the Palawan region, eating freshly caught fish and other yummy stuff and chilling out with a mix of other lovely folk. TripAdvisor reviews were through the roof too, with nothing lower than ‘Very Good’ and very few below ‘Excellent’ – people were literally raving about it. Despite this being above our budget, we decided we had to do it, so we planned our time in the Philippines around the trip leaving from Coron on the 26th May heading for El Nido.
Here is the sign that started it all:
We were excited to check in the day before our trip, we were finally here! We were told to be at the office for a briefing at 8AM the next morning before we departed. When we asked how many people were on the expedition we were told 27 which was a bit of a surprise as we expected around 12, we just hoped the boat was big enough! We ordered a couple of cases of beer and a bottle of local rum, all sold at local prices, which would be stored and chilled on the boat for us to drink during the trip. Once you set off there are no shops so we decided to stock up to avoid running out!
We arrived for 8AM sharp and sat with a coffee meeting the various other guests on the trip. Everybody seemed lovely and there was a great mix of ages, from early twenties up to late 50s at a guess. Ollie, our tour leader, gave us a briefing and shortly after we went to the pier and boarded the boat. Everybody was excited to be setting off. The weather was beautiful and it was a great start to a wonderful trip. We were given an amazing breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh bread and fresh fruits on board the boat – the website hadn’t exaggerated, the food was awesome!
It would be impossible, not to mention very longwinded, to go through all of the great things about this trip and to tell you what happened every single day. Instead I’ll tell you about some of the memorable highlights for me.
Our days were spent on board the boat spotting flying fish and dolphins, stopping every now and then to jump in the water for some of the best snorkelling we’ve done or because one of the crew, or guests, had caught a fish. On the first day Ollie dived down and picked up a huge live clam. Ollie was a fisherman for ten years so he knows exactly what he’s doing with all sorts of fish. He prised open the shell and started cutting up the meat. Apparently if you eat any of the green/grey bits you will trip out for a couple of days, he likened it to very strong magic mushrooms. Once he had cut that away he made little chunks of clam which he passed around for people to try, it actually had a really delicate flavour and crunchy texture that was really nice.
Ollie cutting up the raw clam meat:
On another occasion Ollie caught a really big fish. After posing for a few photos with it he announced he would be making sashimi and told us he had wasabi, lime and soy on board just for this kind of occasion – AMAZING! I watched as he expertly filleted the fish before carving out delicate thin slices of sashimi. Combined with the wasabi and soy this tasted incredible and I’m afraid I hung around the buffet table like a greedy guest at a party!
Catch of the day:
Ollie making sashimi:
In general the food was incredible, on one day we had huge fresh crabs for lunch which were a real treat. I was amazed at the high quality food produced from a tiny kitchen on a boat. It was all so fresh, from the sashimi on day 2 to the chicken curry on day 5 where the chickens were literally killed over the side of the boat – not for the faint hearted!
Jack giving it all that:
We also had the best breakfast ever, fruit porridge served out of a fresh coconut shell that the crew climbed palm trees to get for us. We also drank the coconut water.
I went coco-nuts for these:
Crew climbing for breakfast coconuts:
We floated past hundreds of uninhabited islands with picture postcard beaches surrounded by clear blue water.
This is what I’m talking about:
Aside from the snorkelling and fishing we also got to try cliff jumping. I gave it a miss but took this photo of Jack mid-jump.
The base camps we visited on the islands were all very different. On the first night Jack and I had our own little hut (I say hut, it had open sides and just a roof) and everybody had to wash using a bucket and well water – interesting but all good fun! Whatever you say about the facilities, the view as we pulled in to our first base camp was breathtaking:
The second night was memorable because Tao Philippines decided this base camp would be the unlikely venue for a karaoke shack! Everybody tucked in to the rum before attacking the karaoke and we sang our hearts out until after 3AM. The last night was the most beautiful base camp. This island was also the venue for the Tao Philippines organic farm, this is where most of the fruits and veggies you eat on board the boat are grown. Some of the little luxuries on this island included two open air showers (no bucket washing!) and slightly more private huts. There was also a volleyball court for a crew vs. tourist match. The beach was just beautiful.
The final night was also the night we got to eat some meat. Don’t get me wrong, fresh fish is a real favourite of mine but after 4 days you do start to crave something a bit different. One poor guy on the trip didn’t eat fish so he was desperate for some protein. Ollie had teased us that we would be buying a pig for the last night and it turned out he wasn’t joking! Whole roasted pig is a Philippino speciality, only cooked for festivals and celebrations, so we were all really excited to try it. I wandered over to where the pig was being cooked over burning coconuts and took this photo (vegetarians look away now!).
It tasted absolutely amazing and despite the size of the pig there were no leftovers at all! We also discovered glowing luminescent plankton in the shallow bits of the sea here, these are described as ‘little stars’ in Philippino and this is what they look like. If you splash the water around little sparks will light up, it’s something really special.
There is so much more I could say about this trip but I’ll try hold it there, apart from to thank the crew – they were fun, upbeat, full of energy and couldn’t do enough for us all despite the long days and hard physical work they do. We were also lucky to have a brilliant group of people on board with us. It says a lot that we all met up for dinner the first night we were back on solid land at El Nido instead of enjoying a night of peace and quiet – and we’ve since had drinks with some of the guys on other occasions. A great group of people really did make the experience so much better.
Tao Philippines Expedition May 2013:
If any of you are planning a trip to the Philippines I can’t tell you enough how amazing this experience is. BOOK IT, DO IT! You won’t regret it