After the absolute fucking debacle of our flight into the Philippines, we finally arrived in the tiny island of Coron ready to board our ship to El Nido.
Our vessel for the next four days was a small, rickety wooden ship, which to be honest looked like it could be finished off with a decent gust of wind. However, given that the hapless crew at Philippine Airlines required two attempts to successfully locate one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippines to land on during our last journey, it was still comfortably the most appealing mode of onward transport.
On TAO Sail trips there is no fixed itinerary. We had five days and four nights to make our way leisurely from Coron to El Nido, with the choice of a dozen different islands with TAO base camps on in which we could stay at on the way.
Which ones we’d stay at would depend on the weather, and how long we stopped at each spot. I had a go at putting a few of the stops into the map below, but due to the remoteness of the islands, some of them didn’t come up on a search!
Thankfully the crew also kept a rough track of our route as we went along:
Speaking of crew; our guides for the next five days were a group of adventures and fun loving local Filipino’s. Most were only in their early twenties, but they worked tirelessly to ensure that the trip was a success. Despite working fifteen hours a day, they didn’t stop smiling the whole time!
The other spots on the boat were filled with us, the tourists. There were a real range of ages and nationalities on the boat, although most were in our age bracket (late 20’s to early 30’s) and had done a fair bit of travel before. It was great to hang out and get to know these guys over the five days.
The final member of the boat was Amo the Sea Dog. He joins the TAO Crew on all of their tours and by all accounts lives a pretty bloody good life, making new friends every week and seeing the world. He was a solid swimmer too, he could probably take me in a 100m front crawl!
As the route covers some of the most remote islands in the Philippines, you’re unlikely to find the Hilton there, although this added to the charm of the experience.
Most of the huts looked like this (minus the handsome man standing in front…)
We slept on roll mats which the crew kindly transported to the meeting point of each base camp; however the job of assembling the beds each night belonged to us. Some of the camp sites didn’t have electricity which meant that putting your bed together in the light was a good idea!
Despite the lack of air conditioning, electricity, and in some cases water, we did have mosquito nets with us and when the view outside was as good as this then you don’t need much more!
Given that I was lucky to get out of Cebu Island without food poisoning, the meals were one part of the trip that I wasn’t looking forward to. Carissa reminds me on an almost daily basis how fussy of an eater I am; however in my defence I am British, and we are arguably the fussiest eaters in the world!
Nevertheless, the food on the trip was absolutely fantastic. All the food was cooked on the boat in the kitchen below. A pretty small space to feed 24 guests + 8 crew every day but the chefs did a great job.
Most of the meals came with rice, but it was always done a different way (with garlic, tumeric, etc). Bananas and eggs also featured heavily, along with fresh fish that were caught every day off the side of the boat. The thing I noticed the most was the sustainable nature of the food – no plastic! We didn’t have any waste through the whole trip, the food leftovers were happily polished off by Amo the dog!
Which brings me onto my next point – the fate of Kevin the Pig, who was picked up from one of the local farms and brought onto the boat for the day. After a day of sunbathing and sightseeing, Kevin was slaughtered on the boat and cooked for dinner that evening.
This process could be thought of as being quite confronting for our Western cultures, but the fact is that is that every country in the world eats meat. The Pig was killed humanly and every single bit of it was cooked, leaving nothing to waste.
Whilst the experience didn’t make me a born again vegetarian, it did make me think about how animals go from farm to plate. As a society, we tend to forget about everything that happens in the middle.
“If you had to kill every animal you ate, would you still eat the same amount of meat?”
Whilst the pork we had was delicious, the experience has made me resolve to think more about where my meat comes from, and to only eat free range meat from animals that have been treated ethically. Sadly means no more 3am fast food visits for me!
To wash down our fresh pork, the crew also gave us ‘Jungle Juice’ before arriving in every destination. A combination of rum and fruit juice that went down a treat after a day of swimming!
The boat cruised at a relaxing pace through the islands, stopping two or three times a day for snorkelling and swimming. In addition to seeing heaps of tropical fish, we also caught a glance of sting rays and turtles. There were a few jellyfish knocking around though, so a rash guard was an essential purchase beforehand.
The roof of the boat also made a great place to jump from; although my technique wasn’t the best, it was still marginally better than Alex, who is pictured below in the process of landing painfully on his back…
After four nights of being cut off from society, our boat finally arrived back in El Nido Port where we waved goodbye to our new friends and ventured onward to our next destination. TAO Sail was a great experience and we were very glad that we were able to incorporate this into our Philippines experience!