Philippines

TAO Expeditions

If someone asked you if you would go on a sailing trip through Palawan, in the Philippines with 23 strangers, 9 crew members, sleep in open air huts on deserted beaches, no electricity, no running water, no showers, and no wifi, would you run the other way or be excited for the adventure?

Palawan is THE place to go in the Philippines for its pristine beaches and turquoise blue waters. The Philippines was the #1 place that I wanted to go from my bucket list last year but I didn’t want to just stay at a fancy resort because a) I didn’t have that kind of money and b) I was looking for an adventure.

My good friend Geena Rocero, who happens to be Filipina, suggested I go on an expedition with Tao. She said expedition and not a vacation. She said two things that convinced me to go: 1. It’s the only way to see Palawan because Tao goes to the remote islands and 2. You will never experience anything like it.

Tao in the Filipino language means human. I really had to think about how as a human, I was living my life up to that point. I lived and worked in New York City for the last 10 years; living life at full throttle. Sure, I could’ve just sat like a vegetable on the beach but I wanted to be away from all the modern distractions we live with every day. How many times in your daily life do you completely unplug? The answer for me was never. 

The booking process was unique because you have to apply to go on an expedition. I guess they do this to make sure that you know what you’re signing up for and that high maintenance people need not apply.

These are the 3 main reasons why you should go on the Tao sailing expedition:

  1. Digital detox – Seriously, ask yourself, how long can you go without your cell phone? For packing, we were each given one 5 liter bag to fill with all of our belongings. Since there was no wifi, I didn’t need my cell phone or laptop. I packed 2 bathing suits, sleeping clothes, shorts, tank, toothbrush and toothpaste, a headlamp and a book. When that’s all you have for 5 days, you realize very quickly, that you actually don’t need that much in life. Waking up every day, I didn’t get the initial reaction to check my phone: Instagram, Facebook, and emails. I would just walk to the water and watch the sunrise. I noticed that I didn’t have as much anxiety or a feeling of FOMO because I didn’t know what was happening. It was the first time in my life when I didn’t know what time it was, woke up at sunrise and lived moment to moment. I think everyone can benefit from a digital detox and just be in nature.
  2. Community – Because we didn’t have our phones, none off us were distracted by technology. From the moment we woke up to going to bed, we talked all day long. We would have meaningful conversations over dinner. Nobody was looking at their phones which is a crazy thing to point out! All we had for entertainment was each other so it ended up being a 5 day intensive bonding experience for all 24 of us. I still keep in touch with everyone I met on this trip and some of them have become very close friends. I ran the New York City marathon with Monika. Dominique, Julie and Nashville Nick came to New York to watch! Months later, Karolina from Singapore visited New York. 
  3. Sustainability – What made us love Tao even more, is that they give back to the locals and fund sustainability projects with the proceeds from their expeditions. They work with the locals in each village; oftentimes, hiring them to work with Tao. They foster their learning and growth within the Tao company. Everything they do from the bamboo architecture to micro-financing their coconut oil production is to practice sustainability. I didn’t know much about all of their conservation efforts until they brought us to their HQ camp.   

I went on the 5 day, 4 night boat expedition from El Nido to Coron. It just so happened that this was the only available trip at the time I was traveling through the Philippines so I didn’t pick it for any specific reason. After the trip was over, I felt completely and utterly grateful that I had that crew, Ollie as our guide, and all 24 of those people. I truly believe that nothing happens by accident. 

At some point midway through the trip, I realized I hadn’t looked at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t wearing any makeup, I had barely put on any real clothes but there was not a stitch of self-consciousness. This was the kind of trip I had been craving for all these years. My body finally had time to relax in a way it had never done before. A lot of my vain behaviors like doing my hair and sucking it in were gone. Above all, I experienced real and true human connection without the distractions of our modern lives. We weren’t looking at the clock and wondering what we should be doing next because this was it. It seems, that humans thrive on playing, taking time to pause, and living in a community. Thank you Tao for teaching me these valuable life lessons.

Every day after breakfast, we would set sail, dependent on the winds, towards our next camp.

As you can see, nobody is on their phones. We would just hang out all day and talk – as in having a real conversation.

Ollie our guide who is the best guide on earth!

Domi is from Belgium and Ana is from Brazil. I loved how international the passengers were.

The captain who I later found out is Ollie’s brother

The dinner horn – no joke

Ollie is drawing out our sailing route

Chef PJ making our lunch. All the vegetables and fruits are from the Tao farm.

Fresh vegetables

Tata preparing our seafood lunch

There’s nothing I love more than fresh fish.

The food was INSANE! Everything was super fresh and delicious. It was a departure from the Filipino food that’s heavily fried. I ate so much on this trip but my stomach never hurt because nothing was processed.

One of the crew members picking up laundry.

I couldn’t believe the color of the water!

Arriving at our first camp, we couldn’t believe how deserted the beach was. This was all for us!

This is not a changing hut, it’s a sleeping hut and I couldn’t be happier.

Morning views like this!

The tide came up during the night and Irvin trying to return the mattresses.

I spent 3 hours cuddling puppies.

One of many snorkel sessions and swims. It was a great way to get some exercise.

I found Nemo!

All we had to worry about was having fun and relaxing. Is this life?

Our second camp. Again no one around!

The bamboo architecture is classic Tao.

This was my hut for the night.

I think even the Brazilians were in awe of Palawan. I only say this because they are from paradise as well.

Sunsets are my favorite times of the day. More sunsets than Netflix!

Sunsets and jungle juice. If you’re a Tao alumni, you know just how much jungle juice means to us.

Sunset swim

Good morning chef! PJ our chef had the hardest job. He would have to wake up at 3:00am to start making breakfast and then right after breakfast, start prepping for lunch and then dinner and the cycle never seemed to end! He always delivered the food with a smile. Who doesn’t love that Filipino power (rice)!

Tata is making a palm platter to hold food. So crafty this bunch!

My friend Monika who’s Polish but lives in Zurich and I became really close. Do you ever have one of those experiences when you meet someone for the first time and you are kindred spirits? We ran the NYC Marathon together this past November 2017.

Look, this New Yorker can fish and the captain approves!

Ollie getting fresh coconuts. It was a lot higher than this picture is showing.

We visited the TAO HQ and education center. Part of the proceeds of the Tao expeditions is donated to the TAO Kalahi Foundation. Don’t worry we didn’t eat any of these pigs.

Ollie letting us know that it’s time to snorkel.

This was the first time we saw another boat in the water. It as day 3.

Playing volleyball at our third camp.

How cute are these local kids?

When we would arrive at a camp, I would take the first 15 – 20 minutes to sit on the beach to soak it all up.

Marvin shredding young coconut.

I helped out and by helped I mean ate as I helped.

Every Tao trip has it’s Lord of the Flies moment when a pig is killed (if it’s available). I have not eaten pork since this because the pig screaming in sheer terror of its demise was so traumatizing to me. Some people have no problem watching a pig being killed (Nashville Nick actually killed ours!) but I just couldn’t even look.

The wonderful women I met on this trip.

The whole crew!

We all became incredibly close to the crew as well. They were so kind and patient with us.

When we approached Coron, we went shipwreck free diving.

Disclaimer: You should like swimming because there’s a lot of it on this trip.

The last jungle juice 🙁