Friday, February 15, 2013

When inspiration turns into a trip... lost in Palawan's islands

5 days of exploring deep blue seas, remote islands with no names, white sandy beaches lined with swaying coconut trees and many sunsets. From Coron to El Nido, Palawan.

It was one of the busiest, intense times at work – I can’t remember when exactly – and I was taking a moment to decompress, flipping through NY Times when I read about vacationing on a bunka (boats), off the islands of Philippines. The author wrote – “We were in the middle of nowhere, paradise-style: a sea of high-definition azure stretching to the horizon, dotted only by distant uninhabited islands. After a few days of sailing, life had become a hazy routine: eat, snorkel, chill out. Repeat. We were in the middle of nowhere, paradise-style: a sea of high-definition azure stretching to the horizon, dotted only by distant uninhabited islands. After a few days of sailing, life had become a hazy routine: eat, snorkel, chill out. Repeat.” And I remember thinking that this is how one ought to explore islands. This is exactly how I wanted to explore islands! And that is how the trip to the Philippines came about… I considered different destinations and kept discarding options, I recalled this article, which had seemed like a dream then and thought, why not?

Unlike the popular variety of 1-day island hopping trip that were offered by tour operators in Palawan, TaoPhilippines offers a 5 day expedition starting from El Nido or Coron. My introduction to Tao itself was there website, which is extremely forthright in stating that ‘This is an expedition… we don’t promise that all will go well. And if you aren’t prepared for this or for camping and roughing-it-out, this is not your thing’. Which was exactly my kind of thing. Tao itself was started when 2 friends ran out of money exploring the islands of Philippines, so they decided to take other travelers on their journey’s to make money.

Untitled Our trip started at Coron (in the North of Palawan) and over 5 days we sailed towards El Nido (a beach in the South of Palawan). We were 22 of us along with around 10 from the crew. I had read it would be 5 or 6 people on board, and in my mind this number was a big crowd. But it turned out to be perfect – in many of the islands, there were almost none others but us. There was no set itinerary and each day we would set sail, with the expedition leader deciding the route and destination for the day. Through the day we would stop at different spots to snorkel or enjoy a beach or visit a small village. At nights, we docked at an island and we stayed in open huts or cabins. Sometimes the islands had big settlements; sometimes it was an island that was 15 minutes wide, walking. Dinners were simple and were around a big table where we came together and kicked back over beers.

At one island stop, the boys-on-board played basketball with the local kids. At another, one of the village houses had an age-old karaoke plugged into a TV, and we whiled away the night singing all from Bryan Adams to Elton John to Billy Joel. On one of evenings, as I was enjoying the sunset, I was surrounded by the local kids, and unlike the usual ones who tend to be shy of strangers, demanded I take photos of them. On the last day, the boats rudder broke and we had to sail straight through the day while the crew was manually guiding the boat.

I imagined I would have loads of time on my hand during the trip to idle away. Idle away, I did, but time flew too quickly and looking back those 5 days have meshed together to one long image of the sun, sea, starry nights and happy faces. It was a trip like no other for me!

Read the NYTimes article here. For more details of the trip, go to TaoPhilippines. Don't forget to check their FAQ page which has quite a lot of details about getting to Coron/El Nido in Palawan.

PS: Now that I do go back to article to link it here (funnily enough, I hadn't read through it for my planning), it sounds very very similar to my experience, including the karaoke!


H.S. said...

Nice :) There have been travel articles that has moved me to book that overnight flight to far,far away too. The power of words, heh. Sometimes the experience may not live up to the words, but half the pleasure is in the anticipation of travel as well, isn't it :)

Ms.N said...

@Hema... yes, the power of words that can inspire you to feel and almost touch and taste!!!

Having said that, I sometimes hate it when travel writers try to make EVERY experience into something more than what it is. Possibly, I am at fault on that account too.

having said that, this author and NYtimes usually does a good realistic job which inspires and i luv 'em for it.

Abid said...

Well...I always go for travel articles and reviews of people, before going on a trip. I had my last vacation in India after reading blogs about a wildlife sanctuary in Sariska and a resort called Gulmohar Sariska resort, and eventually it turned out to be great.

Roopal said...

Even I went to India, after reading an article about Dera Mandawa hotel in Jaipur, India, which was quite the way it was described in that article, and I really enjoyed my trip there.