Pip J Duma

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Darocotan Island - El Nido | Shot by Angelito Delos Reyes

SO, I recently returned from 5 of the most magical days of my life island hopping in The Philippines.
This was a trip like no other, cruising on a motorised Filipino native boat you are taken from the pure white sand bays of El Nido, all the way up to the crystal blue waters of Coron. The Palawan region at it's finest.
Exploring pristine coves, swimming in the clearest oceans, sleeping in bamboo huts on the beach and eating some of the freshest most wonderful Filipino food you will ever consume!

All of this and so much more was all possible because of TAO Philippines
(You're going to want to click on that link because it will change your life 👆🏼)

Now if you haven't had the fortune to hear of this company yet, then you are in luck because I am going to be singing their praises all the way down to the very last full stop of this post.


As Tao explain it on their website the whole purpose of this expedition, is just that, an expedition. A chance to truly explore the remote regions of a tropical archipelago paradise. 
Away from the typical chartered routes of mass tourism.
This isn't going to be 5 star luxury hotels with rainfall shower heads and room service but it is going to be a real back to nature experience of how Filipino islanders live their lives. 
And isn't that really the true meaning of travel? To get outside of your comfort zone, see a culture different to the one you know and live a different way of life.

It's all about the basics of living and let's face it that's all you really need. 
Food, water, shelter. 
The glorious scenery and fantastic company is an added bonus!

My boyfriend Harry and I blew our budget a little on this experience but only because it was my birthday mid way through the trip and luckily my family had offered to put money towards it! 👌🏼 
Thanks fam. Best. Present. EVER!
So depending on your financial situation the expedition can seem a little expensive, especially if you are a budget traveller. But as you will quickly come to learn it is worth every single peso and more. All 26,000 PHP of them!
We had heard and read so many incredible things about Tao that it became a 'fuck it' scenario and we just put the deposit down for the trip.
Can you really put a price on the experience of a lifetime?

Base Camp night 1 - 21/03/17

Base Camp night 2 - 22/03/17

Base camp night 3 - 23/03/17

On the Open Tao Expedition, you spend 4 nights and 5 days cruising from El Nido to Coron (or the other way round if you fancy it!), with up to a max of 28 like minded explorers and 7 crew members.
In Tao's experience and now mine, everyone who chooses to do these trips are often well travelled, conscientious and open human beings who are just looking to enjoy life and make some incredible new friends in the process.
The amazing thing about this trip is that if you really don't want to be in close proximity to a bunch of strangers 24/7, you don't have to be. There is still plenty of room for some me time and once you dock in a bay or on an island your time is your time. Do with it what you wish. 
Chill on the beach, swim in the sea, talk to the locals, explore the islands.
This is a chance to get away from it all but it is also the opportunity to socialise and meet a fantastic group of new friends from all over the world!
So don't forget to let go and integrate with your fellow explorers! Realistically you're probably not choosing to go on this trip for 5 days of solitude.  

To say that everyone got along on this trip is an understatement, by the end of 5 wonderful days, heck even after 1 day we were all like family. Looking out for each other, creating new memories and having a ball along the way.

For example on our first night at base camp one (possibly my favourite), once we were all settled into our huts and gathered around the tiki torch lit bamboo dining table. Angelo, our jack of all trades barman, insisted we were going to play a drinking game in order to learn each other's names. This of course involved a special blend of Angelo's infamous jungle juice - if you know, you know.

I think at that point we all secretly exhaled a sigh of 'oh god a let's learn each other's name game' 😒 Here we go. 
But you know what? It worked, it was hilarious and after just 12 short hours of being with these people I will never forget their names!

(There is an intense story behind this team name, so stay tuned 😀)

Kevin, Caroline, Gelo, Cang, Michelle, Daan 1, Erica, Benoit, Sabine, Thomas, Daan 2, Linda, Marijke, Jess, Khadija, Simon, Monika, Igor, Svetlana, Joe

Special mention here has to go out to the crew that we had on our adventure, Romy our expedition leader became like our daddy. Always caring for our safety first but then making sure we were also having the time of our lives.

Angelo (The Barman, bedmaker, all round trickster, Mike 1 (The Chef), Mike 2 (The Engineer), Aaron + Jorlan (The Muscle), Panoy (The Captain)

These boys went above and beyond to curate the perfect expedition for us all, always laughing and joking with each other it never seemed like work for them but a chance to share their lives and culture with us. From Mikey 1, expertly crafting the most delicious and fresh food you will ever taste in The Philippines, ensuring the Filipino Power (rice) was always a staple in our diets! To Panoy our crazy captain and a secret expert jewellery maker! The girls came away with beautifully hand crafted shell necklaces and bracelets, specially selected from the beaches we stopped at.

Camp Ngey Ngey - Shot by Angelito Delos Reyes

I think the most freeing part about this experience was knowing there was little to no electricity throughout the trip. So no wifi and no need for your phone. I could switch off physically and mentally, from the sometimes exhausting cat and mouse game that is social media. 
What was the point in spending hours trying to make people envious with all my photos of paradise when I was here, living it. Breathing it. Soaking up every second of it. 
You wake up when the sun rises, eat when you are hungry and go to bed when you are tired. There is no concept of time, no strict schedules, you live by your body's needs and wherever the sun is in the sky at that point in the day. 
LIFE - Real life, before technology and deadlines.

I still tried to take as many pictures as possible and not because I needed proof of my travels in the form of a Facebook album but because I enjoy photography. 
Its a hobby of mine and I love nothing more than capturing a scene in a certain way through the magic of a lens.
But sometimes the camera, no matter how expensive, just cannot convey the world before you quite like your own two eyes can.
That is something you will never be able to share with anyone else because it is unique to your point of view and a mental picture you can cherish forever. 
(Until Google invent some 20/20 vision eye lenses that is 😂 I'm sure it's in the works!)


Think of the most perfect day in paradise. That's was it. Waking up, March 23rd, on a glorious tropical beach to 27 different people telling you happy birthday and not just because they felt they had to but because they wanted to, in a genuinely sincere way. 
After a sterling breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit, we set sail and landed at our first incredible private island stop for the day.

Stunning corals, crystal water, white sand and blue sky for days. At this point I don't think any of us could believe we were really here. It was like a dream. 
After a fantastic day swimming, snorkelling and beach combing, we finally landed on our base camp for the evening and watched the sun go down as Angelo machete chopped his way through some wood for our camp fire.
Another fantastic dinner of fresh fish, vegetables and Filipino power, once stuffed we all set down to some hilarious drinking games and I had Happy Birthday sung to me so many times in varying languages.
Camp fire dancing and limbo ensued until there was only a handful of us left, still not content with the thought of bed yet. 
Romy led us to a quieter side of the beach so as not to wake up our fellow camp mates and promptly disappeared into the night...Ok so at this point we thought he had just chucked us there to get us out of the way, until he returned with the cool box containing all of the alcohol! 
Grinning from ear to ear he exclaimed 'The bar is open!'

A perfect end to the best day of my life, the last ones standing just sat on the starlit beach, jungle juice in hand, talking well into the night.
If that wasn't enough the next day, on our last night, Mikey had made me a cake and the crew and all my fellow explorers sang to me once again. 
After consuming the creamy deliciousness, we were all taken to another hut where endless hours of drunken Karaoke ensued and I will never be able to get 'WE ARE SAILING' out of my head.
Tao, thank you for making my birthday the best one yet.

Bulldog - the cutest island puppy you will ever meet 😍


Day 4, Somewhere near Linapacan Island.
A particularly windy day and the sea was a little choppy in comparison to the amazing weather we had had the previous days.
We stopped off for an 'aquarium experience' as Romy called it, as the coral reef in this region was exceptional and like swimming in open aquarium. 
Now being the 21st century and all, the digital age, practically everybody has a GoPro and our dear American friend Kevin was no exception. 
Rash guard on, camera in hand, attached to what we now know is a flimsy excuse for a GoPro wrist strap 😂, Kevin jumped into the water ready to film his incredible snorkelling experience...

It wasn't until I saw him clinging to the side of boat with an empty GoPro wrist strap, shouting "Oh no, oh shit, OH NOO, NO NO NO" that I realised, the GoPro was now sleeping with the fishes.
At that point whoever was still left on the boat and in the water began frantically searching for the point where it fell.
Masks on, hopefully diving down to see how deep it really was, Romy estimated it was about 14 meters and as the only 2 people with Fins were already too far away to help, we almost gave up hope. Dear Romy used to be a diver back in the day but his poor old head could not equalise and he said it was just too far for him to try.
Once Benoit and Khadija had returned with their fins, anyone who could try gave it a go. But still the GoPro remained, a tiny spec lingering at the bottom of the ocean 

It wasn't until someone shouted 'He's gone for it!' that we all realised Angelo had sacked off the fins and leapt into the water.

We all waited with baited breath as Angelo dove down to the depths in a desperate bid to retrieve the GoPro. No fins, no tank, just 14 meters and Filipino power to aid him.
The second he began to propel himself to the surface and some of our fellow explorers raised a thumbs up, we knew. 
You have never heard so many people in your life so happy to see a piece of digital hardware emerge from the ocean. It was like a merman, triumphantly bursting through the waters, trident in hand!
We screamed, we clapped, we hugged each other. Unbelievable.
From that point onwards Angelo was hailed as a superhero amongst men. He could sing, he could dance, he could limbo for his life and now he was the GoPro Saviour and Kevin's new BFF.
This is how our team name came about and a key feature of a song we all performed for the crew at our final stop in Coron.
Probably the most hilariously cheesy performance Tao will ever hear in their expedition history! 

You snooze you lose! Volley ball champs  

As I'm writing all of this and I think back to all the incredible moments I have shared with these people, I'm not going to lie, I'm tearing up a little.
Every second was perfect and of course it had to end so I'm not sad that it's over, I'm just blissfully and incredibly fulfilled that it happened.

So if you are ever in The Philippines or are considering that once in a lifetime trip, then the one thing you must do is an experience with Tao Philippines. Just ask for Romy and his crew! 😉

Tao offers so much more than just a trip around the Palawan islands and my second post will go into more detail about how you can help the filipino communities just by experiencing a Tao expedition.