Sunday, January 17, 2016

Palawan, Philippines

The only thing worse than paying untold thousands of dollars to go anywhere for Christmas is to stay at home, alone, just the two of us.  For that reason in July last year we made the decision we just had to go somewhere over Christmas and New Years.  Enter, the Philippines, the island of Palawan to be exact.

The Philippines contains thousands of islands

The Philippines had been on our travel To Do list since we got to Australia nearly 4 years ago.  Geographically it feels just around the corner, but in reality it took two flights, 15 hours and over a thousand bucks apiece to get us there (30% more than it would cost to fly at any other time of year).

But it had to be done!  After Christmas 2014 spent in Brisbane just the two of us we were willing to pay anything to have a less depressing holiday season.  Suffice it to say our investment paid off.

We spent 98% of our time in the Philippines on Tao Expeditions, which sailed us nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) on this:

Aurora 2
This is a traditional bangka fishing boat.  The route, if done directly from Coron to El Nido, takes approximately 8 hours.  For us it took 6 days.  We had a lot to do along the way!  Things like:


Watch sunsets

Chillax on various beaches

Get a massage from the locals

Sing karaoke

Jump off this cliff

Or more accurately, watch others jump off it.

Hang out and eat

Hang out and drink

Served out of a gas can, of course.  The spirit of choice on Tao is rum, which cost 100 pesos a bottle.

100 pesos = $3 AUD
100 pesos = $2 USD
100 pesos = 18.50 NOK

They mixed the rum with pineapple juice, and call the cocktail a sundowner.  I think that's because they make it every night at camp just as the sun is setting.  It was legit delicious!  And flowed freely nightly until everybody could take no more.

Beyond all that, there was nothing we had to do!

Well, I lied, we did have one responsibility.  We had to make up our beds each night:

I slept surprisingly well on a thin mattress with barely any bedding, with the ocean breeze flowing through the mosquito net.

Each night was spent on a different island with different sleeping arrangements.  Some huts were shared, while others like the one above were "private".  Each camp had its own charm!

Most of the islands had little to no electricity, so we quickly adjusted to the the rhythm of the sun.  The first night I went to bed at 8:30 p.m.!  This of course makes for an early start, which is perfectly fine when you've had a solid 10+ hours of sleep.  

More interesting than the sleeping arrangements, though, were the shower arrangements.  Again these varied by camp, and at one point we did have running water (shock!) in private stalls (shock!).  However the water was so cold that I was happy to stick with a dip in the ocean for my bathing needs.  More common was the bucket shower, which I would like to present to you in a step-by-step How To guide. 

Step 1: Approach the "shower" area.  It looks like this:

Step 2: Use a bucket on a rope to scoop up water from this well:

Step 3: Fill water into the blue bin shown above.

Step 4: Use these scoops to pour water over yourself as your shower:

Note one hand is occupied with the scoop, so you've got only one hand with which to clean yourself.  And you are in your bathing suit because this is a public area.

Needless to say personal hygiene was not the first priority on this trip.  Tao is not for pussies and princesses!  Do you think you could you handle this toilet situation?

I pilfered this picture off the internet, as I didn't want to be seen by others practicing toilet photography.  This is actually an upgrade from the ones we had because it's tiled!  Imagine a bare concrete floor and wooden walls.  The toilet doesn't flush, you have to use the scoop to flush (they love their water scoops there).  Using a toilet like this is a great thigh workout!

There were 22 guests and 8 crew on our bangka.  And one mutt:

This is Bergheim
Each of the boats owned by Tao has a boat dog.  He provided endless entertainment!

Bergheim loves to dig up and fight crabs.  I could write a blog post just dedicated to him because we have so many pictures!  It was ridiculously fun to have him around.

Outside of Bergheim, his crabs and various island dwelling dogs there was a surprising lack of wildlife in Palawan.  There weren't even sea birds!  Have you ever been on an ocean without seagulls before?  It was the most bizarre thing.  It seems like all of the wildlife we saw were sea creatures (not that I'm complaining).  We saw a lot of cool stuff underwater, which I will do a separate post about.

The man in charge of this whole shebang is Ollie:

Always a goof
Ollie is my age and has had two 10-year long careers.  He started fishing when he was 12, and did that for a decade.  Then he started with Tao and has been leading expeditions for the past decade.  The Philippines used to be heavily dependent on fishing, but due to various factors there are no more fish to catch that you can make a living from.  It's not good for the island people, as this is all they've ever known.  As you can see they leave school to start work young.  They have to to survive.

Funny story about Ollie's life: He joined Tao at age 18.  At least he thought he was 18.  When he got his birth certificate/identity papers (which he had never had before) he learned that he was, in fact, 20 and not 18.  He didn't know how old he was!  Which isn't overly surprising, as he is one of 11 children.

Another fun Ollie story: One night bats were flying around our heads, swooping into hanging banana bunches.  Martin dared Ollie to catch one with his bare hands, which Ollie succeeded in doing.  Well, he did use string for a trap, along with his reflexes and patience to catch this little fella:

Don't worry, he let him go unharmed.  But he could have carved it up and cooked it, had he wanted to.  Western guys just do not have these survival skills anymore!

On our very last "anchors up" the crew had all the farang (term for white people, a Thai word that Martin and I use to describe ourselves) guys do the heavy lifting to bring it up.

It was hilarious!  Not easy work for dudes who've sat behind a computer all day, everyday, for 30 years.

Needless to say we were in skilled, capable hands the whole time (with one brief exception).

Tao was a really great experience, bottom line.  My only regret is we didn't have time to go to other parts of the Philippines.  There are literally thousands of islands, some more touristy than others.  It is an exceptionally beautiful and tropical place.

To finish this post I'm going to post some random scenery shots.  I've got too many to count, but I've picked out the ones that I think are the best of the best.

And finally here's us, lookin' fine despite not bathing!

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