By Alex Goldyn
“We do not guarantee that you will have a nice, relaxing time. In fact, we do not guarantee anything.”
Those certainly are not the words that you want to hear or read before a vacation trip, right? Wrong! This exact attitude of Tao Philippines towards their customers’ experience is what will make for some of the best moments in your life. They will make you realize that it is you and only you that creates your own happiness. They, however, provide a wonderful canvas for you to paint your story on, in the five days you spend aboard one of their boats.
What is Tao Philippines?
It is two people with a vision; two people that saw an opportunity in the raw, undiscovered land of Palawan — arguably the most beautiful cluster of islands in the world; two people that found a connection with the native, fishing communities; two people that aimed to make a difference…and oh boy did they! Starting from just one restored boat over ten years ago, today Tao Philippines has a number of boats, from large native bangkas (local Philippine outriggers) to beautifully-designed sail boats, and involves many of the local people in a number of projects, from natural farming and fishing through sustainable usage of native building materials, organic soaps, coconut oil, jewelry production and massages. Everything involves extensive educational programs for the local community. Furthermore, all their employees receive comprehensive, detailed training and are involved in all the projects in order to broaden their skill set, so that later on they can move from one position to another and utilize their skills effectively. For example, a boatman can become a team leader of the expedition and then become a chef on board or on Tao Farm. It truly is a beautiful project that raises environmental awareness and the importance of land preservation for current and future generations of the local people, while creating wonderful job opportunities for those less privileged.
What can you, as a participant, expect from this experience? It’s best not to expect anything. Just bring an open mind and a lot of sunscreen with you! They prefer for you not to ask where, when and how. They want you to go with the flow — the flow of nature and the flow of the ocean. It’s best to be prepared for the worst and later be bedazzled by the stunning landscapes, gorgeous beaches, and breathtaking moments that are generously sprinkled along the journey. It’s best to take it all in as it is, feel it to the fullest, embrace what is odd and change your perspective as you flow.
During your time with Tao Philippines you will be cruising for five days between Coron and El Nido, stopping on inhabited or minimally-populated islands with stunning beaches. You’ll snorkel a few times a day on unspoiled coral reefs, swim alongside turtles, drink cold San Miguel beer while staring at the sunset. At night you will disembark to one of their base camps that are built in a native style with local materials, with minimal impact on the environment. Facilities are very simple but enough to make your night’s sleep extremely comfortable. I loved showering from small buckets or from old pumps. Simple also means that there are no mirrors. The first time you will look at your reflection after five days (no, selfies don’t count!) will provide for the most bizarre sensation…as though you are not you anymore, but that you are looking at yourself with the eyes of another human. Truly wonderful!
Sleeping arrangements depend on the particular camp and are different every night. It may be one communal hall with thin walls separating couples and boys and girls, or beautifully designed, arching, bamboo huts, or small huts built into the dramatic cliffs on one of many El Nido islands. You will continuously be fed the most amazing food that there is. During my trip, multiple times a day our skillful chef kept bringing more and more dishes and kept surprising us with new flavors and creative presentations. As a vegan, before the trip I set my mind on the possibility of eating just rice and simple salads for the five days, but I never felt more satisfied and ‘nutritioned up’ in all of my travels. Sometimes, as a vegan, it is hard to get all the nutrients while traveling but all the amazing fruit, curries and stir fries full of fresh veggies and spices kept me going and full of energy for endless amounts of snorkeling. Needless to say, for the carnivorous types there is a greater choice. From all the sounds that my fellow travelers made around me with every meal, I take that everything tasted absolutely wonderful, too! Every morning there is never any rush to leave the base camp. All plans may change depending on the weather, group energy or the ocean conditions. The captain will take all of this into consideration and choose which route you will take and which base camp you will end up at later on. During your time with Tao you will be immersed in the raw, unspoiled beauty of the many islands as well as in the beautiful island communities and simple local life. The aim is to see no other tourists and get to know the Filipino style of living to the fullest.
What stuck with me the most was the most amazing crew ever. They truly made this experience unforgettable and made me want to take another trip right away. I know that Filipino hospitality is number one in the world, but those guys really shined super bright. With their limitless supply of energy, positive and caring attitude, warm hearts, massive smiles, goofing around, playfulness and curiosity they made everybody fall in love with them. They truly are brilliant at what they do.
I almost feel as though I want to keep it all secret, all to myself. There is an internal dilemma of whether I should scream at the top of my lungs to every human I meet how amazingly wonderful this travel experience was, and sometimes I feel deeply compelled to keep it quiet, with a small hope that nobody will ever find out about it. But this place deserves all the goodness it can get! I want everybody to experience the fantastic hospitality of the Filipino culture, the beauty of their land. I want them to immerse fully in this journey and with that give back to the communities and have a chance to help make a difference together with Tao Philippines. At the same time, I am hopeful that, although accessible to everyone, it will be possible to keep this part of the country free from mass tourism. That the priority number one will be to make it all last forever for the generations to come. Big part of this experience is to immerse yourself totally and completely, have tons of fun whilst still staying responsible and respectful. Now go and plan your trip right away. One regret that I have was not singing karaoke in a tipsy turmoil. There is always next time. I am already plotting to go back…
Follow Alex’s vegan adventures in travel, health, yoga, scuba, surf, nature and critters!
Some of Alex’s VMV faves include Skin Bloom Blush in Bellini, The Big, Brave Boo-Boo Balm, Ooh-La-Lash! Volumizing Mascara, Skintangible “BBBB Cream (BB But Better!) SPF 30 and Armada Post-Procedure Barrier Cream 50+.