When I first started planning my travel itinerary, the Philippines was a destination that I said, “I’ll make it there if I have time.” Well, after spending nine days there, I realize that if I knew then what I know now, I would have put the Philippines at the top of my list.
There are many reasons why the Philippines is so amazing but, what made my trip so special was the Tao Expedition. This trip was strongly recommended to me by a friend and although slightly steep for my backpacking budget, it seemed to be worth the cost considering everything it entailed. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. I invited my friends Jon and Jess to join me, and as difficult as coordinating international trips with friends can be, this somehow worked out perfectly. The three of us met in Manila, flew to Coron and started this epic journey together.
Simply put, the Tao Expedition is a boating excursion through the remote islands of the Philippines. But, what we realized is it is SO much more than that. The Tao is essentially a social movement.
We started in the small town of Coron and made our way via sea towards El Nido. We sailed for about five hours each day and stopped along the way at various islands to snorkel, kayak, swim, explore, and meet the local people in the villages.
We landed at our base camp each day around 5 PM. After arriving, we would choose a hut, set up our mattresses and bug nets, and then head to the beach to watch the sunset with a “sundowner” (rum and pineapple juice). Once the sun had set, dinner was served and friendships were formed. The mixture of people on board made the time around the dinner table that much more interesting… we even had a magician amongst us!
Every day we were fed delicious food for breakfast, lunch and dinner that was freshly prepared in the boat’s kitchen by the Head Chef, Jeff and the other crew members. The produce came from Tao’s organic farm and the seafood was bought off of the local fisherman. I have never eaten so much fresh seafood in my life and it was delicious. I think we had over ten different types of fish alone.
There were many things about the Tao Exhibition that made it an authentic experience. The fact that we got to wake up to the beauty of the Bacuit Archipelago every day was just the tip of the iceberg. We did without the comfort of our western standards such as electricity and running water. We made do with candlelit dinners and showers which were buckets of water and a ladle. Some of my favorite moments were playing patty cake with the local village children, interacting with the spirited crew members whom were native islanders themselves, and foregoing my wave sound maker for the real deal.
To take it even further, we had the best captain in all of the Philippines, and I may even argue the world. His name is Oli and his vibrant character was an attraction on its own. Oli has been on the sea for over 20 years and knows the islands like the back of his hand. He wasn’t one of the six sons chosen to go to school, so he was required to fish with his father at the age of 12, which is how he learned the islands. He was discovered in a market by the founders of Tao and was convinced to drop everything and climb aboard. I believe his determination and passion is what allowed him to rise to the top and man his own boat after only a short of period time. Although he was only educated to grade five, he is now working in a leadership role where he not only inspires and influences his crew, but also the entire community.
As I mentioned earlier, Tao is not just an excursion, it is a social movement. They give back about 50% of the money they bring in to the local villages. They have nine schools that they have built over the years and they also employ around 300 people, men and women from the islands. They continue to create a sustainable micro-economy where they strive to fully support their operations. Their mission is to share the beauty of the Philippines and its people. I’d say they are doing a pretty awesome job.
I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. I feel really good about spending my money on an organization so determined to make a difference in their community.
If you want to learn more, or plan your own adventure, you should check them out!