The Tao Experience

Trip Start Feb 10, 2013
Trip End Sep 18, 2013

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A new beach every night!

Flag of Philippines  , Palawan,
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Magandang gabi (good evening)

Well, where do I start?  Last time you heard from us we were in Coron about to embark on one of the most amazing journeys of our lives: The Tao Experience.  You know what it is in a nutshell, however that nutshell does not come close to the experience we had, 5 days and 4 nights...on a boat or an island in the Licapacan Straights between Coron and El Nido.  We were summoned for a meeting on the Saturday night where we met most of the 25 other guests who were joining us and we were given a briefing by our team leader Ollie.  despite the English name, Ollie is a local boy from Coron island, one of a series of protected islands where indigenous tribes still habitate, and as expected we were off to a bang.....a rather stuttered briefing where the health and safety aspects of quite a potentially dangerous excursion were overlooked and Ollie cracked out 4 bottles of local rum called Tanduay (bearing in mind he had walked into the meeting drinking a bottle of beer!) and mixed it with pineapple juice to then pass it around in the seering candle lit heat (the electricity had cut out again, no surprise) and regail us of stories of him falling off his, as he called it, "sexytime" motorbike and one time when they had to bring a pig onboard the Tao boat and slaughter it on board with the crew holding the pigs snout so it did not squeal and upset some guests!  This was the introduction, and boy did the rest of the trip live up to Ollie's character.

I could go into detail about the pristine coral we snorkled, the paradise islands we stayed on each night, sleeping on a white sand beach under the stars, the organic farm we went vegetable hunting in, the local village on a tiny island, the eagle kept in captivity so it wasnt shot by poachers, the huge outrigger boat we were on, the unsuccessful fishing, the absolutely spankingly amazing food cooked up on the boat in a tiny kitchen, the endless bottles of rum (which by the way is 1.30 for a litre), a very heavy night of videoke (6 hours on a small strip of beach, weird), the rather crazy outdoor showers and open air toilets and much much more...however I can't.  The reason is simple.  The word Tao in Tagalog (the most widely spoken of over 100 dialects in the Philippines) means "people".  Put that into context and that is the Tao "Experience".  The people we met.  Much of it was the other guests on board, a mix of from all corners of this earth who seemed to just get on and have a good time, being supportive, friendly and some incredibly interesting during the whole exhausting experience.  But, and this is what Lucy and I realised during our final night of Rum and beach, it was the crew on the boat, the staff at the base camps and the people who make this experience happen who were the diamonds set in pearls.  Let me start from the top:

We had the pleasure of meeting the two founders of the Tao trip, Jack (a basildon born fella who had the most interesting and deep personality) and Eddie (half british, half Pilipino who was equally deep, although a little less intense!). They had bought a boat together and wanted to sail it from Coron to El Nido and see what they could find in between, however they realised that the cost of the diesel for tis trip would be too high so they went into local bars and asked a few people if they wanted to share the cost and go to El Nido....a few did and so the Tao Experience was born, 7 years ago. One of those people was Ollie. Previously a fisherman who went out to the South China seas for weeks on end to risk his life for pittance, was asked by Jack and Eddie if he wanted to sail the boat back to Coron with a few guests and a captain?and so he did. He has so many stories to tell of falling off motorbikes, broken fingers from basketball, making rings out of old coins and when he got hit in the face by a broken fishing line and also when one of the Tao boats sank....with him and two other crew members on board including Tiger, our boat dog(who was absolutely flipping mental!)...all these stories though involved rum....and lots of it. Yet all these stories were told with a smile on his face. He is a happy man. He knows he is lucky to have such good work in such a poor economic area as Palawan is. It was almost upsetting and heart wrenching at times listening to him and how difficult his life was before he got work with the Tao boats. Unfortunately (and fortunately) the heart wrenching appreciation did not stop with Ollie. There were 6 other crew members on board, each with their own story of having nothing until the Jack and Eddie came along. Jeff, Ollies younger brother, taught me Tagalog phrases and words and I taught him English to help him on trips, using sand to draw and spell. Jun-Jun, only 18, did not finish school and had no work before he got found by Ollie. Toto, the boat chef cooked us phenomenal food in a kitchen the size of most people bathrooms, and there was Lito, the captain, also been with Tao since the start and the quiet two, Jay-R and Charlon. These guys were incredibly hard working, up before sunrise to cook breakfast, kayaking huge loads back and fore from the boat, constantly making coffee and snacks (sweet potatoes in fried caramel!) Always carrying 5/6 rucksacks at a time, up trees to get fresh coconuts, cleaning, working...yet every night on the rum and partying and chatting with us, and more impressively, all the time singing! They were all so happy to have good work, and so humble and happy to introduce us to their culture they truly did touch our hearts.

I could sit here and write for days about Tao but I will leave you with one thought instead: life is not about what we do or even where we do it, it is about the people we meet and the things we learn from each other that truly make us fulfilled.

Until next time, salamat po, bahllam.

Henry & Lucy
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Colin E on

I desperately need to know how the Pale Rider's hair is holding out without a hairdryer?

D & M on

Happy St. David's Day, wherever you are! XXXX

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