23 explorers, 9 crew, 1 captain, 1 dog. I recently embarked on a 5 day sailing trip from Coron to El Nido, Palawan with Tao Philippines, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Quite the statement, I know. But I’m going to tell you why if you’re heading to the Philippines then sailing with Tao is once of the most rewarding things you can do too.
‘Tao’ means ‘human’ in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines, which got me thinking. What does it mean to be human?
I think with today’s hectic lifestyle in which you’re expected to juggle a million things all at once, it’s easy to forget what being human means. You simply go about your daily existence, managing your tasks, earning your money and not really interacting with anyone in a meaningful way.
Sure, every now and then something comes along to remind you that you’re a person, and the people around you aren’t mere inconveniences squashing next to you on a crowded train, but people with real thoughts, feelings and a complex past. Everyone has a story.
I remember when the London riots happened in August 2011 and shops and houses on my street in Clapham Junction were being broken into and burned to the ground, not one person that I saw felt enough of a community spirit to stand up to the thugs (shamefully including myself).
But in the days which followed, people interacted with others in a more meaningful way. We had all been through something (admittedly horrible) together, we had shared a moment of mutual fear, and we had survived. The weeks after the riots were some of the best I had in London. People looked out for each other, and we became neighbours. Fellow humans.
Of course London has a short memory, and four years later it’s back to how things were before, but I still believe that we need to be reminded every now and again that we are not robots. We are all humans. And we are in this together.
That’s why when I booked a 5 day sailing cruise with Tao, I made a promise to switch off my mobile phone, so I could be completely in the real world again. It would force me to resist the urge to check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter every 5 minutes and to really make an effort to connect with people. And it was the best 5 days I had in the Philippines. Total relaxation and tons of new friendships.
So, why should you also take a trip with Tao? Give me 5 minutes and I’ll tell you.
It feels wrong to start with any other facet of the trip other than the boat. It really is a beautiful thing. Gener, the owner of Tao Philippines had this traditional Paraw sailboat built almost entirely from bamboo using traditional local methods which can be traced back over 1,000 years.
The 74 foot long boat is filled with tribal carvings and has two outriggers for stability (and they look pretty amazing too!), and two huge decks for sitting, reading, sunbathing, chatting to your fellow travellers and taking in the incredible island views.
It’s a traditional sailing boat, so when the wind is right, the sails go up and you glide soundlessly through the shallow waters of the Linapacan islands with only the sound of the wind rushing past your face. It really is magical.
Have you ever seen 9 Filipinos balancing on an outrigger? You haven’t lived! These guys, as well as an unbelievable talent for balance, were one of the highlights of the trip for me. Endless enthusiasm, boundless energy, and a knack for making you laugh.
One day, after snorkelling in a beautiful reef we all decided to get beers and use our life jackets as floating nappies (diapers, for my American readers out there!). The crew created a floating bar out of one of the kayaks and served us drinks right into the sea. As if that wasn’t enough they then pulled us all in a human string race around the boat. Epic.
We also had our very own pet dog on board (OK not ours, technically, but Gener’s), a Jack Russell by the name of Amo. And what a little legend he was, too!
I probably don’t have to tell you that the islands in the Philippines are just so damned beautiful, but every single stop we made was not only insanely good-looking, but also deadly quiet.
On our 4 day sailing trip we only saw two other boats until the last day when we approached El Nido, and they were both other Tao Philippines boats (not as cool as ours, I might add. Tao also organise tours on smaller boats holding about 10-12 people, which also look fun but we were all glad we paid the extra to get the massive sailing boat).
We saw anything from deserted white sand islands to massive karst structures jutting out from the sea, and oh, the SNORKELLING! SO many beautiful reefs to explore. I even found a baby Nemo fish with a couple of spritely parents taking good care of him.
Each night we moored up and made our way to one of the Tao Philippines basecamps to spend the night. I don’t know what I was expecting (the website said it was pretty basic), but I was pleasantly surprised!
Most nights we stayed in individual wooden shacks in beds made up for us by the crew. Padded sleeping mats, mosquito nets to keep off the nasties, and clean sheets. Luxury!
The toilet and bathroom situation was rustic at best. You won’t be taking regular hot showers, in fact you’re more likely to be dousing yourself in chilly water from a bucket. But it’s all part of the experience! Toilets were western style but you’d have to flush them with a generous bucket of water.
The best part of the camps was just how social they were. There was always somewhere to gather at night and talk over the day’s explorations. At our first camp there was even a karaoke machine and pool table!
I’m not sure if belting out a tone-deaf version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for 6 minutes is the best way to make new friends, but hell, it was certainly a talking point the next day! Let me tell you, that song is so freaking long. I thought I would die up there.
I am not kidding when I say that the food was one of the highlights of the whole trip. Every morning we awoke to a different experience. Eggs with banana heart patties (sound weird but OMG you have to try it), coconuts filled with yogurt and muesli, vegetable fritatas… And that was just the start!
Lunch was prepared fresh on the boat every day and was anything from fish and seafood to chicken and pork, always served with rice and veggies. It was so flavourful!
One day we had an entire seafood feast, with prawns and crabs which some of the guys on board killed with a big kitchen knife. I couldn’t do it, but then again I can’t eat seafood so I didn’t feel too much like I wimped out.
Dinner was always delicious, but special mention goes out to the final night of our trip when, sunbathing on the deck of the boat one day we heard a high pitched squeal on one of the islands. As it turns out, the crew were picking up a pig and bringing it back towards the boat in a kayak. As you do.
We named her Kevin. Kevin Bacon. And she was fated to be our dinner.
Kevin sat quietly at the back of the boat awaiting her fate and occasionally vomiting. Sea sickness isn’t ideal at the best of times, let alone when you’re about to become someone’s meal. It was not a good day for Kevin.
Toto the cook and Mimi our tour leader asked around to see if anyone would be brave enough to end things for Kevin. Funnily enough, no one took them up on the challenge and it was up to Toto to do the deed, expertly killing, skinning and gutting the animal right off the back of the boat.
Kevin was then speared up the bum and in the face and prepared for a slow roasting over a naked flame. I felt sorry for Kevin, but that didn’t stop the carnivorous animal in me getting crazy over the final product. Sweet, tender meat and more crackling than 33 of us could manage.
Poor, delicious Kevin.
Before we jumped aboard, we were all asked to put in our drinks order for the 4 nights. Not wanting to come up short, Alex and I bought 24 beers, 3 bottles of rum and 5 bottles of mixer… Just about enough for a leisurely few days at sea!
As it turned out, the rest of our group was just as boozy as we were, with a record of 22 cases of beer bought for 23 people. What was that other person doing? That’s what I want to know. On reflection, the 3 bottles of rum might have seemed a tad excessive, but at less than £1.50 a bottle, how could we resist? Seriously!?
I’m not saying we were out of control or anything, but everyone tended to start with a beer at about 4pm, and go on well into the night most nights. All good when you’re on holiday, I think!
Plus Mimi didn’t help matters with his nightly offering of ‘pumpin soup’… Not actually pumpkin soup at all, but a potent orange coloured rum cocktail.
I don’t know if we were very lucky or just that the Tao boat trip attracts a certain type of traveller, but every single person was legendary in their own way. So laid back and friendly, and it was a pleasure getting to know everyone individually over the 5 days.
Most days I kind of mingled and made my way around the boat to try to chat to everyone, and then at night tried to sit with different people to avoid clique-ness, which I absolutely hate!
Most people were between 23 and 35, and mostly couples with the odd single or pair of travellers. We had all kinds of nationalities; British, Australian, Dutch, German, Norwegian, French, Canadian… A real mix but everyone got on brilliantly.
How to do it yourself
Check out Tao Philippines and look out for the ‘Sailing Tao Expedition‘. They also offer trips on smaller boats and for fewer days, so have a look and see which one fits your dates and budget the best. For the sailing trip I’d recommend booking well in advance as they do sell out. We booked our places about 6 months ahead of time.
We paid 27,000 pesos for the 4 night / 5 day trip including all food, activities (like snorkelling and kayaking), and accommodation in what they call ‘basic’ camps. I wouldn’t exactly call them basic, personally, but the shower facilities are. Check the website for the latest prices.
As the trip is more about sharing experiences and enjoying the moment, you’ll need very little to get you through your 5 days at sea. You’re encouraged to pack one small dry bag (about 20-30 litres) with everything you need for your trip. Make sure it’s a dry bag, as they are taken from the boat to the islands every day by kayak, and accidents can happen!
You can leave your main backpack in the hold and access it any time, so you don’t have to be too militant with your packing list. However here are a few things I’d suggest taking along:
1 – 2 pairs of shorts
3 – 4 tops / T shirts
2 – 3 swimwear
1 x rash vest for protecting against the sun whilst snorkelling
1 x long sleeved top to keep the mosquitos off you at night
1 x long trousers (same reason)
1 x pair flip flops (you’ll barely need them)
1 x sarong for sitting on or sheltering from the sun
1 x sunglasses
1 x sun hat
1 x camera (and an underwater camera if you have one)
1 x large bottle of sun cream
1 x large bottle mosquito repellant
1 x pair of fins (and mask if you have one, although masks are provided)
1 x towel
1 x shampoo
1 x conditioner (ladies you may not think you’ll need this but after a day in the salt water I can guarantee you it will make your life easier!)
1 x comb / tangle tease (to avoid that salty water ‘fro)
1 x soap / body wash
1 x moisturiser / after sun
1 x refillable water bottle (all drinking water is free but it’s easier to refill your own bottle than keep track of cups)
1 x head torch, for when the electricity goes off each night.
Let me know if you have any more questions about doing this trip – I can guarantee you that you’ll have one of the most unique, fulfilling and most of all fun, experiences of your entire life. JUST GO! 🙂
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