Coron, The Philippines

Our final day in Palawan was spent exploring the lagoons and reefs near Coron. I’d seen photos of these lakes whilst researching for the trip and was keen to visit them. We have half a day free in Coron, before we flew back to Manila, so we had just enough time to explore these lagoons and reefs. Our Tao Philippines guide found us a boat to take us out for a few hours, where we visited Barracuda Lake and Twin Lagoon, as well as a small reef on the way back to Coron. Barracuda Lake was magnificent, with its crystal clear water and amazing underwater rock formations. Our next stop was Twin Lagoon. Here the boat parked on one side of the lagoon whilst we swam beneath the hole in the rock to the other side of the lagoon. The place was breathtaking (sorry I don’t have any photos as I couldn’t take my camera under water). On our way back to Coron, we stopped at a small reef for a bit of snorkelling and then headed back to the town to catch our flight.

So almost 10 fabulous days were spent in northern Palawan, giving me amazing experiences and memories I will never forget. I highly recommend a visit to Palawan, especially taking a trip with Tao Philippines.
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Tao Philippines, Day Five

Day five was both a great day and a sad day. It was great in the same way as the previous four days of the Tao Philippines trip were, but it was a sad day in that it was the final day of our trip. We woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises during the trip. After our usual serving on fresh tropical fruit and a special breakfast of mango pancakes with sliced bananas in a sugar syrup, we bade farewell to Patsy Camp, our final and perhaps nicest camp of our trip.

We were blessed today to have some of the calmest, most crystal clear water during the entire trip. Long forgotten were the first to days of windy weather and rough seas – in the morning the water was so motionless, that it almost looked like a swimming pool (but the largest, most beautiful swimming pool that you’ll ever see). On the way to Coron (our final destination) we stopped at two Japanese wrecks from WWII and spent some time exploring these wrecks whilst snorkelling. Both of the wrecks are located in shallow water. The first one, Wsong Wreck, is in such shallow water that the tip of it sticks out of the water. The visibility around Wsong Wreck was fantastic and there were many different and colourful fish to be seen around the wreck. We were not so lucky at Tangat Wreck, where the visibility was very poor that day.

Day five was also the final day of the trip for our fantastic crew. And, unlike us who were sad to leave, they were celebrating the start of their ‘weekend’. And yes, they did celebrate. As we were nearing Coron, the crew sat up on the top deck, with a bottle of rum or two, and sang and danced the afternoon away. They provided us with some great entertainment. It might sound a bit unprofessional, but I have to hand it to them, they were some of the most dedicated and hardworking people I have seen (even though they probably have one of the best jobs in the world – I wouldn’t mind being on a boat with my friends, taking a bunch of tourist around the remote islands of northern Palawan. Beats sitting in an office, in front of a computer every day). The entire trip ran smoothly and everything was done to a great standard. So, I think their early weekend was well deserved.

It was a little sad saying goodbye to the boat we travelled on for the previous five days. But we caught up with the crew and our fellow travellers in Coron that night for dinner and drinks. I have to say I was extremely impressed with the Tao Philippines trip and would highly recommend it to anyone thinking to travel in The Philippines. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to jump onto a Tao Philippines boat again sometime soon.
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Tao Philippines, Day Four

Day Four. By now I’m thinking, I could get used to this way of life. Laying on a boat all day long, with short breaks to go snorkelling, swimming or eating fresh food already prepared and served for us. Although there is usually no electricity, no hot water, only simple accommodation, no fast food, none of the comforts of ‘home’ in the westernised sense, it is kinda nice. It’s a way of life so far removed from my own, but does not feel alien. It feels normal. Our lives in first-world countries are the abnormal ones – hyper-stimulation, traffic, pollution, stress, long hours at work, with no time to relax, being caught up in climbing the corporate ladder, saving for a mortgage that ties you down for the next 30 years, trying to be better, earn more money, have the better relationship, house, car, children, pets, holidays, etc, etc, etc. The way of life in the remote islands in northern Palawan is vastly different from this strange existence we all live in the first-world. And although the people who live in these remote islands do not even have a fraction of what we have, seem much more content and happy than we do. They appreciate the simple things in life. It makes you question whether or not we are really living life the way it should be lived.

After a game of basketball with the locals and a quick stop at the local school (the children again were absolutely adorable), we set off on our boat for another day relaxing on the sea. Not far from shore, we had our dinner delivered. Not in the usual sense of delivery. Sorry for all those animal rights people out there, but we had a live squealing pig delivered to our boat. Yes, he was dinner. So we had the chance of experiencing how pork was killed and prepared on one side of the boat, whilst on the other side we had a lesson in killing and preparing crabs – which were to be our lunch today. Coconut curry crabs went down rather nicely actually. The pig was later roasted, but I wasn’t able to eat much – the squeals were still fresh in my mind.

That night was spend in Patsy Camp, on Lechon island. This was a first time seeing and visiting a typhoon affected area. I had the opportunity to visit the village close to the camp to meet the people and witness the destruction. Many people were living in make-shift houses, many of which were tilted and looked as though they were about to collapse. Many houses had tarpaulins in place of roofs (which had been donated by Tao Philippines). Many of the people’s fishing boats were destroyed, which meant that they had difficulties selling fresh and dried fish, as they greatly rely on their boats as a source of income. But despite these hardships, the people of the village were incredibly friendly and welcoming. And happy, despite their circumstance. All the children of the village were so excited to see us and just wanted to have their photos taken. I am actually planning to print a lot of the photos and post them to our ‘expedition leader’ to distribute among the village.

At the end of the day, we witness another spectacular sunset and day four unfortunately came to an end. I felt as though I never wanted these days to end. But, all great things must eventually come to an end – after a few glasses of rum and pineapple juice that is.

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Tao Philippines, Day Three

The third day of our Tao Philippines trip began like any other – waking up to a superb sunrise and fresh fruit served by Edrian (one of the crew members). There were a few weary faces that morning, due to a bit too much alcohol being consumed (the rum and pineapple juice was a little on the strong side) and a little too much kareoke being sung the previous evening. Thankfully the seas were a lot calmer today (particularly for those nursing a hangover), which made our day more pleasurable. Not that the two previous days were at all bad – we had plenty of entertainment from the crew and we spent a lot of time getting to know our fellow travellers. But it was just nice to be able to relax and not be constantly bumped around on the boat.

The highlight to this day was definitely a stop to visit Alaua village. Here we were surrounded by nearly every child in the town, who were initially wary, yet curious about us, but once they became comfortable, they were more than eager to have their photos taken and were keen to follow us as we explored the village. The people of the northern Palawan islands live very simply, without many of the comforts we take for granted. The live in small, usually thatched houses, many villages do not have electricity, yet alone televisions, computers and other electronic items. People do not have cars, wardrobes full of clothes, comfortable furniture, etc. Most people live from their own agricultural produce and from fishing. Although they don’t have much, they seem so happy and are extremely welcoming and friendly.

Today we also made a stop at Royog village to collect some ice to keep our food and supply of beer cold in the heat of the Philippine sun. It was interesting to see Ging and Edrian kayak over to the village and bring back one enormous block of ice – it was about the length and width of the kayak, which they later hacked at with meat cleavers to break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. We also stopped to purchase fresh fish from a local fishermen in the village for our dinner that night.

The day ended with a view of the sunsetting over Alaua Twin Towers and a BBQ-ed fish dinner at Kuring Camp.

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Tao Philippines, Day One

The majority of my short time in The Philippines was spent on a Tao Philippines expedition between El Nido and Coron. This company, founded by two friends, one British, the other American, is the only company that does ‘tours’ through the archipelago in northern Palawan between El Nido and Coron. While being relaxing (the majority of each day consists of soaking up the sun onboard the boat), the trips also give you an insight into the everyday life of local Filipinos, allow you to snorkel the beautiful coral reefs and WWII Japanese shipwrecks, each delicious local foods and just soak in the atmosphere of the island lifestyle. Tao Philippines also donates part of the money you pay for the trip to local communities, assisting with schools, educating locals and even helping in the typhoon relief.

The first day we set out early in the morning, about 8am, from the Tao House in El Nido. We quickly got to know of fellow travellers (15 in total) and the crew on the boat. During the first day, we left from Papaya Beach in El Nido, snorkelled at Tapiutan and swam out to Nacpan Beach. The evening was spent at The Farm (a camp and farm set up by Tao Philippines, employing local people and teaching them agriculture). Here we received a free massage (subsides by Tao) from the local women and spent out first night in little huts, only a few metres from the beach.

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El Nido, The Philippines

My first few days in The Philippines were spent in and around the small town of El Nido. And what a lovely welcome it was too. Spectacular scenery, gorgeous people and beautiful weather (apparently I missed a lot of rain back in Sydney). It could not have been any better.

El Nido is a small town, but is rapidly developing as a result of tourist flocking to the area. A few people I bumped into said that they were in El Nido a few years earlier. They mentioned that the town as grown significantly and the roads into town have been greatly improved to facilitate traffic in and out.

There isn’t much to do in El Nido itself, but there are plenty of day tours around the surrounding islands, lagoons and beaches. Named tour A, B, C and D, they will keep you occupied for at least a few days. If you want to spend a day relaxing by the beach, asked a tricycle driver to drive you to Las Cabanas beach. The trip is 150 pesos each way (approximately AU$4). Or you can make a return deal with your driver for 200 pesos. There are plenty of places to eat, with most restaurants being full in the evenings. Just remember, the entire town runs on a generator, so during daylight hours, there is no electricity, unless your accommodation runs on its own generator (we did experience an evening of pitch blackness when the town generator failed).

The reason I chose to begin my travels in El Nido, in the northern part of the island of Palawan, was to join one of the Tao Philippines expeditions, which run between El Nido and Coron. The following posts will offer more information about this amazing company.
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Essentials

Getting There:
I took a flight with the private airline Island Transvoyager from Manila. A little more expensive than the commercial airlines which fly to Puerto Princesa, but it saves you a 6-8 hour bus trip. The service before, during and after the flight is something to write home about. Also remember, they do strictly charge you excess baggage for each kilo over 10kg

Stay
I stayed at El Gordo’s Guesthouse in El Nido, which is located slightly out of the centre of town, in the village of Tandul. Run by a lovely American/Filipino couple, Gordo and Cristina, the place feels like a home away from home. And it has a lovely view out onto the bay too.

Eat
Fish and Seafood! El Nido is a fishing town, so you’re almost guaranteed to have plenty of fresh fish on offer wherever you go.