Sailing along the seven seas SO BLUE!

Trip Start Dec 21, 2010
Trip End Feb 05, 2011

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Tao Expeditions

Flag of Philippines  , Mimaropa,
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Here we go, our entire itinerary has been planned around the next 5 days with Tao Expeditions - travel options further north of El Nido would otherwise be limited to an 8 hour boat to Coron which neither of us were keen on. They run expeditions through the 700+ islands that make up the Bacuit archipelago, some inhabited, some not. There are 8 base camps in various villages along the way: all very basic, no electricity, no running water; but they are set in some of the most beautiful surroundings you can imagine.

As mentioned previously, the entire Archipelago area was the basis for the book 'The Beach' and our first night stop was on the biggest island, Cadlao, where the author of the book spent his time writing.

Tao have set up a village on the beach aptly called 'Tao Village'- they bought the village only a few years ago. It's mainly the crew that live there, along with a couple of elderly caretakers and family members. Upon arriving on the beach, which was done by swimming from our boat (the Aurora), you feel as if you are in a scene from 'The Beach' movie crossed with an episode of Survivor. Our accommodation was basic bamboo houses with a thin mattress on the floor, mosquito net and a pillow, and all set up by the crew just after arriving as the bedding is carried from island to island on the boat (see photos below). A barrel of water was the shower (see pic) and the men's toilet was the big blue ocean on the doorstep - the girls had a basic toilet, no flusher of course. I guess that is the price you pay to stay in untouched paradise!

Tao: day 1

We left the Tao 'office' in El Nido late morning and spent most of the day stopping at hidden caves, turquoise lagoons and snorkelling spots- all absolutely gorgeous! There are 15 of us onboard: 3 Aussies, 3 Danes, 3 Dutch, 2 Norwegians, 1 Canadian and a Brit, plus 7 crew members (Zaza, Jemuel, Lito the Captain, Anne the chef, Adrian, RonRon and Oggy). If you are reading this Ronnie, then yes, we found another RonRon princess who is just as handsome and charming as you are! :) During the initial briefing, Eddie and Jack explained how the trip is made by us, not them: it is up to us to determine what we want to do, for how long etc, and this is not a tour but an experience. Tao has been running for around 5 years and are still coming across new islands and hidden secrets on each trip- it really is an exciting and a once in a lifetime experience.

Our lovely chef, Ann, cooked us up a veritable feast for lunch whilst we kayaked in a picture-perfect, clear-blue lagoon, nothing like you've ever seen before! Crab & pumpkin coconut curry (amazing!), grilled jack fish and yellow-tail plus some pak choi. As Zaza, our expedition leader explained, whilst Ann is a great cook, the freshness of the ingredients add so much more flavour - the fish had been caught a few hours before they were caressing our palates with their fishy goodness!

We were quite a lucky group as the village had been feeding up a pig for Christmas and never got around to slaughtering it. So the morning we arrived on Cadlao the pig was slaughtered (Filipino style of knife through the heart which takes a minute for poor piggy to pass onto the next life) and spit roasted by hand! Yes, no electricity so Felix was assigned to manually turn the pig. He was too big to be roasted in one go so we had some ribs, belly and shoulder. He was a little fatty as he had grown so big but my, was he tasty!!! It was like a throwback 300 years to see everyone chewing down on large pieces of meat like carnivorous caveman! Accompanied with it was some seafood pasta, lightly battered cabbage, calamari and onion rings, washed down with local rum (50p a bottle) and coke.

We thought the way piggy was killed was a bit painful until they told us the story of how they recently killed the village goat. Firstly, they force feed it vinegar which at first it doesn't like but eventually it acquires the taste and enjoys a whole bottle before it enters a daze, stares at you and passes out, dead! Next, they slice just above the hoof and use a bicycle pump to pump air into its body which causes the skin to literally fall off. Then it's good to go! :)

Anyway, after dinner it was time for another rum and some chatting round the campfire or chilling on a hammock. If today is anything to go by... well we can't wait to see what else awaits as apparently it gets better and better the more north, and hence remote we head!

Tao Day 2

Well, an interesting night's sleep in our shared bamboo 'house'- I say house but it's more of a bamboo and palm leaf structure and the mattresses are just laid out on the floor. We shared with the Dutch couple and got a surprisingly ok night’s sleep although we were woken up by nature at around 6:30am. Everything happens very slowly around here so prior to brekkie, we took a walk down the gorgeous white-sand beach with trees reaching to the water’s edge (as Eddie said, they have a special relationship with the sea) along with 100's of little crabs, and then proceeded to have a little nap on the hammocks!

Most of the group went for a walk in the jungle to explore some caves but we decided the hammocks were far more comfortable (taking complete advantage of doing absolutely nothing!) and we got first dibs on breakfast :) Fried eggs, deep fried aubergine (huge, and still with their stalks like a lolly), papaya, tomato and cucumber, and along with the freshest, softest bread ever from El Nido bakery. The idea was to sort of make a breakfast burger out of all of that... so scrumptious!

We said our goodbyes to the Tao folk staying behind and headed off a little later than planned. Apparently, the good snorkelling comes tomorrow so today we stopped off at the most beautiful, long, untouched sandy beach you will ever see (see photos). Again, postcard perfect! It stretched for kilometres and there was nothing on it except for our few footprints, literally: no hotels, resorts, people, nothing. There were a couple of huts a bit further inland that we could see belonging to families who live there but that's it. It is still part of Palawan mainland but very far north where developers haven't reached... yet! In 5 years or so, I'm sure that there will probably be a resort or two.

We had to swim or kayak to shore, around 500m, so got a workout as all the kayaks had gone by the time Queenie was ready but it's a pleasure swimming in these waters. Later, Dodger (crazy Geordie man) and I used the kayaks to catch a few waves and Jacqui went for a jog along the beach which was just begging her to run on it. When the time came to head back to the boat for lunch, we were the last ones off shore along with a kayak; however the waves had picked up a bit and well... I was trying to use the kayak back to front which meant we got toppled and washed back in 3 times before figuring out the vital flaw in our plan! Haha! :)

Lunch was served: more freshly grilled fish (we are expecting a lot of fish this trip), a vegetable coconut curry (with pumpkin- Jacqui's fav!), and then 2 delicious dishes using the pork from the previous night - will be getting the recipe from Ann for the one (Afritada).

After lunch, we stopped off at a small fishing village to buy our fish for dinner (so cool how we support the little villages along the way) and then headed on to our overnight stop at a little seaweed-growing village of around 20 families, each with an average of 10 kids (no TV's)! The village was located on Darocotan Island. There is a sunken barge wreck just offshore in 4m deep water so we got to have a snorkel around it: lots of sea life growing on and around it as well as lots of small, colourful fish. The locals grow seaweed (they have seaweed farms) and dry it out and then sell it as raw material on to big corporations who use it mainly for beauty products. They get around 50 pesos (70p) per kilogram.

Our huts were located on the corner of the very wide, beautiful beach. The beach wrapped around us giving us an amazing 270 degree view of the clear waters, which included both sunset and sunrise- breath-taking! The shelter was even more basic than the night before- it was one big open, bamboo structure with various 'compartments' where the mattresses and nets were setup for us to sleep- like a bamboo type dorm! Tao had a small generator there so we had light until about 11pm which was a treat so managed to charge cameras etc. Dinner was a couple of fish we bought earlier, one being a huge bat fish shaped like the head of tennis racquet and probably a bit bigger than a tennis racquet, as well as some more pork- our piggy has fed us well!

It was decided that tonight was disco/party night so the Canadian guy (Michelle) setup his mp3 player and 2 portable speakers to play some tunes. We bought some more supplies of rum and coke from the local village; well we bought their entire stock! 6 bottles of rum and 4 bottles of soft drink for less than 10, bargain! We did a walk of the village and met some local kids, goats and pigs- man, what a good life for the pigs here! See pic below. The party got a little messy and involved climbing coconut trees, dancing on tables and in one instance, some cross dressing and cock-flashing (Dodger!). Not a pleasant site but still a good night. It was our favourite and most beautiful village and 'camp site' so far!
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