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So… The Philippines. I’ve heard so many opinions on the place as a whole. People have mentioned to me that it’s like Thailand was 10 years ago before the mad tourism surge.  I sat in Hong Kong in my Air BNB and pondered where to go next. I had just over a week until I was due back in training for the Leeds Rhinos to get my pre-season underway. All I knew is that I wanted the island life. The options were: Boracay or Bali to meet a pal who was kicking around there on holiday. After idle googling I came across Tao expeditions. This happened simultaneously when talking with my pal Anthony Mullally. He mentioned the idea of 5-day boat trip to me which he was actually going to do last year before injury stopped him.

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I had 7 nights to play with in The Philippines. My gut was telling me that spending a week in Boracay was too straight forward. The idea of Tao was right in front of me, not allowing me to choose the safe option of a hotel on Boracay. It was offering a chance to move around the deep waters of Palawan for 5 days, to see various different islands, to meet friends from across the globe and to let go of things which we hold on to in daily life… just for a little while.

Tao is Tagalog (Filipino dialect) for human. Everything that you know in the day to day world which most of us dabble in, strip that back. Leave the imagination of just you on a boat with nothing in your pockets, no impulses to communicate with the world which you temporarily leave behind- and live it… Go back to the raw version of yourself. A self- esteem where you don’t need to show the endless flow of exceptional views and reactive feelings to your social media pool.

Island Life In The Philippines

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‘Go with the flow’. From day one, this was a mutual understanding from everyone. Time could be verbalised as ‘3 beers after dinner’. The lack of responsibility to be somewhere, or to do something was liberating. All you needed to do was to swim yourself from an island to the boat to start the day… then you would just go with whatever the moment brought to you. Words almost don’t do the catalogue of experiences justice. They were back to back and they merged in to one valued euphoric experience.

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Fear of the Unknown

Well, after that little spiel, it seems an easy decision right? Well, I stalled before choosing Tao over Boracay. This is simply because Boracay was going to be a formidable experience, undoubtedly. But, I could foretell what it would consist of. I would be engulfed in my comfort zone. Then on the other hand I had Tao. Somewhere I would either be ‘stuck’ with new people I didn’t like, or living the life on a boat for five days.

Questions through fear:

  • What if I don’t get on with everyone?
  • What if I waste my holiday on a below par experience?
  • What if the weather is dreadful?
  • What if there is too much required from me?

These questions are laughable when I look back now. I was aware that they had nothing behind them when they were going through my head at that moment. But still, right now, could you justify them to be worthwhile? The reasoning still remains- purely just from the out of date human condition of catering for survival. It’s a shame that it reverts to comically insignificant situations…

This trip is more proof to me that it’s beneficial to just cut through the doubt. If I was in a situation where I found myself writing a review with discontent about my travels and Tao, the benefit of knowing would still be there, outweighing the constant musings of ‘what if’.

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Trip Sacrifices

  • Wifi/ social media (If you had a sharp drop in your gut right then, maybe look in to digital detox… and at yourself)
  • Constant communication with friends and family
  • A comfy bed
  • Perfect temperature to sleep in
  • Regular showers

What You Gain

  • The loss of the impulse to do the Facebook- Instagram- Twitter- Snapchat loop (We have all done it)
  • Eating, sleeping and living on the the beach
  • Life in the moment
  • A humbling viewpoint of a different culture

Millennial’s are more and more talking of how they want to mix with locals and be where other tourists aren’t. With this trip, there were limited opportunities to go and immerse yourself in their routine for more than an hour. Although, we did make stop offs and we got in the mix with the small population living on these remote islands. You also have to consider how much they want to be involved with you. But, with any common sense, you can gage how appropriate your presence is. Whether a young Filipino beams a smile and goes for a high five, or an experienced farmer wants to feed his pigs on his own without paparazzi, I was respectful of the incredible opportunity that I had.

All of the crew are Filipinos. Young or old. Palawan islanders or mainland natives. They must be living their dream, and that showed. Two things impressed me with them.

Energy

I felt like I was surrounded by energy ALL of the time. We could have a sequence of casual laughs over the running joke of the Tagalog term ‘babaero’. This banter stemmed from the crew admitting that the guide who I dubbed ‘Wan the Fuckinnn mannnn’, was a real looker… and a hit with the ladies. You might have had to be have been there… There was also the comedic presentation of the breakfast, lunch and dinner from the quite remarkable chef Aldren.

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Efficiency

The other thing was how seamless everything was. There were little things which I think make the big difference between Tao and other operators. You just had the feeling that they had your back. Some nights, I would get to my hut which peered over a still sea. I’d drop my bedding and stuff off for the night and tell myself that I’d be the one to put it up this time. I’d grab a beer, come back and everything would be done for me. Then taken down at the following morning after a coffee. They would bring flip flops off of the boat if your forgot. It was almost as if you got the whole experience of paradise island living, without having to encounter anything that could ruin or aggravate the experience. I think that that was the biggest thing which I admired of Tao. It probably stems from the crew’s hunger and gratitude. Which is an energising quality to be around.

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The snorkelling was far from formidable, it wasn’t a place where I would say “you have to go to the Philippines and snorkel”! The number of fish is ever decreasing. But being in a place where the blue sea and sky seemed to meet seamlessly was enough for me. It was an incredible atmosphere. If I had a friend who was thinking Boracay, I’d immediately respond with ‘go Tao’! But then that’s still not completely fair. I still need to do Boracay. So that could leave you with a similar decision that I had. You will get a feeling that you are the type of person that would enjoy a certain trip. OR maybe a feeling that you should enjoy a certain trip. The type of trip that you know that you would be better for experiencing. I know that island time was liberating. You come back to reality and see things as unnecessary stresses, and you admire the absolute joy that the crew and small children of the islands live in. Their life is straight forward, it’s simple but it’s also all it needs to be.