After a few days of Bukdinon Chill, we returned to Davao, the capital of the southern island of Mindanao, to catch a plane to Coron via Manilla. Coron is an island situated in the north of the province of Palawan, which is an island group in the south west of the Filipino archipelago. We made all our internal flights with the budget airline of the region Cebu Pacific. The flight attendants of this airline definitely look better than their counterparts of budget carriers in Europe, yet delays with Cebu Pacific seem very common. On every flight they also play a simple game, with which you can win prizes in the form of free merchandise, truly giving you a ‘I- am-on-a-bus-journey-to-Spain’ feel.
Some More Island Travel
Coron has the tiniest of airports I’ve ever landed at and, like with all Cebu flights, one’s luggage arrives super quick, something their European counter parts can take a example from. Coron is another beautiful island with a slightly different landscape, of which the capital with the same name is a rather touristy affair and a sharp contrast with Bukidnon and wider Mindanao.
Embarking on an Expedition
From Coron Town we were to depart on what ended up being one of the highlights of our trip; the five-day boat trip that is the Tao Expedition. Tao means man, human or humanity in one of the Filipino languages and is the name of a business organisation set up by two Australians. These Aussies had the wish to connect travellers and tourists with the local communities of Palawan without turning the experience into a zoo. We sailed for five days along the islands of Palawan from Coron to El Nido, 200 km to the south. Our boat was a traditional vessel predominately made from bamboo and wood, that accommodated our large group of 22 Tao explores. The boat had no sail, as, funnily enough, sail boats don’t seem very common in the region. In Coron Rick, Louis and I were joined by friends and family members to form the Magnificent Seven. These Magnificent Seven consisted of Lara, a Dutch-Filipina friend of Louis and Rick and her boyfriend Jason, who is half Dutch and half Filipino. They both also live in Amsterdam; Melody, who is Lara’s cousin from her father’s side and Filipina- American living in the US; Cherry, Lara’s cousin on her mother’s side, who lives in Singapore and then Louis, Rick and I. The boat crew consisted of men from the region, who had all followed a special course to become a Tao crew member. For them it was a special experience to have so many Filipinos on board, as that doesn’t tend to happen very often. The trip is relatively expensive and one is deprived of luxuries like aircon or even a fan and hot or even running water, something most Filipinos wouldn’t go for. We slept in simple bamboo huts on idyllic islands along the route and washing was done with rain water scooped up from a large barrel. Toilets were bowls without the seats, which were flushed with water also scooped up from a large barrel. Day times were mainly filled with sailing, snorkelling, exploring islands, social interaction and eating. Evening time entertainment consisted of some more eating, socialising and taking massages. At a few of the camps there were masseuses available, who would give you an absolutely fabulous massage for a whole hour for a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe and one’s first massage was even complementary. The food served during our expedition was absolutely amazing and all freshly made from scratch, including a pig they bought to have lechon on the last evening. Tao could easily be marketed as a foodie camping/ boat trip.
What is Humanity
After having spent four nights on different islands and having been on the water for five days, during which we’ve seen fantastic sceneries- both above and under water- got to meet new people, had several fabulous massages, absolutely fantastic food and I managed to read a 600-plus-page book, we arrived in the port of El Nido. What I enjoyed most about the trip was the experience of being on water and the relaxed feel that gives. In five days I barely checked the time and as there was no wifi, no one could get lost in their small-screen world. We also got a beautiful insight in how some of the islanders live, without having the idea we were on excursion trying to discover some special human species. What I did find a challenge was being part of such a large group, as I’m not terribly good at following the herd. I think I managed it very well, which is very much thanks to the Magnificent Seven, who totally let me do my own thing if they wanted to do something else. The rest of the group was lovely, considerably younger and mainly focused on other stuff than whatever some solo-minded Dark Fairy is up to.
I would do the Tao expedition again, if only for the food and I would travel in the other direction; from El Nido to Coron. The organisation has a couple of dozen base camps on the route, so chances are high one would sleep in different base camps if one were to do the trip again. If I were to do the trip again, I’d like to be part of a smaller group that has a wider mix of ages, but I guess, one has no control over that. Unless one books a private tour, which is obviously and option.
For some Tao is a life-changing experience depending on which paradigm they have been living in. If you ask me what I have learnt about humanity on this trip, is that humans are open and kind and want to experience; whether it is new sceneries, meeting new people or enjoying great food.