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?
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!