Let’s get down to it, why was my recent trip with Tao Experience island hopping in the Philippines between El Nido and Coron so good? So good that I can’t stop talking about it, and probably never will?
1. No Wi-Fi
I never knew how freeing having no Wi-Fi would be until we got back to it in Coron. The fact we’d all just gone 5 days cold turkey meant we were all sat around in the bar scrolling up and down Facebook at the first opportunity. So sad. On the trip there was no Wi-Fi, no 3G and so no online distractions. This meant that we all talked to each other, really talked. As a freelancer I’m obsessed with checking my emails and having this taken away from me was so freeing. You could actually concentrate on the here and now. The Tao expedition is a great idea if you’re looking for a digital detox with a difference.
2. No electronics
For me it was also a massive relief to hand over my laptop for this unintended digital detox. Before the trip I’d been trying to do daily vlogs and to do enough work to tide me over for the week, so I’d been on my laptop quite a bit during the preceding days. It was liberating to give it away for 5 days to the safety box and barely even think about it. Anyone who knows me will know how unbelievable that is.
Amazingly there was no separation anxiety for me and my ‘Lappy’ as I like to call him.
3. The endless rum
At the induction they’d told us we’d have a few sundowner rum cocktails at night but in fact the rum was pretty much free flowing every night. Straight up, with coke, or with pineapple – no one minded. There were a few times when me or one of my fellow expeditioners would feel totally exhausted – a rum punch served up by the Lost Boys and we’d be good to go.
4. The delicious, distraction free food
Meal times were all consuming. In fact they’d often be silent, at lunch anyway, as we were so ready for a feed and it was so good. There was no phones going off and no TV flickering in the background.
The food over the five days was basically lechon (pig), fish, rice and veggies. It was all nutritious and delicious and there was plenty of it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a fish meal I haven’t been able to finish but there was so much at our meal times it was impossible. I miss it.
5. The scenery
Every hour on the Tao Expedition the landscape would change. Whether it was a different tone of blue, or a whole new view, the fact we were on the move meant it was always evolving and there was always something new to look at. Sitting at the back of the boat just watching the limestone cliffs and disappearing islands go by was incredible. And when we got to the islands it was time to make the most of the hammocks and just admire the horizon in front of you.
6. The people
Aww I loved my Tao group. I really hope we stay in touch. It was like a group of the most awesome and interesting people came together to live on a boat in the Philippines for 5 days. I managed to have some good chats with almost everyone on my boat and a few of the others off the other one. I loved the honesty and opinions of everyone – from Burning Man to BDSM!
7. The boat
I also loved being on a boat. Sailing was on my list of things to do now I’m 30 but I envisioned it in Croatia or somewhere in Europe, never the Philippines. As I’ve said the whole Tao Experience trip was all last minute, and the better for it.
I loved how basic and functional the boat was. It was big enough for all of us without getting in the way of anyone. There was only one person who earned the nickname ‘Space Invader’ but apart from that everyone respected each other’s personal space. It was also small enough to always have someone to talk to if you needed, like I did, constantly.
8. The Tao Lost Boys
Our group leaders Mikki and Jem were awesome. It must be such a hard job keeping control of everyone and planning the trip on the fly. Their whole teams were great too – good fun, as professional as they needed to be and totally in control.
One of my favourite moments was on the last morning when I was awakened in my beach hut by Mikki slurping noodles and laying next to me where Tor had been. I was the last one up and it was time to go – this was his subtle way of waking me. I just looked at him, laughed, realised the boats were getting packed up and got up to pack my stuff away. No need for alarms in paradise.
“No hurry, no worry!” – mantra of the camp
9. The base camps
Not knowing where you’re going to sleep, but just knowing it would involve sands, sea, a beach hut and a mosquito net is a pretty cool way to live. When we spotted land from the boat we’d be eager to see the island we’d be spending the night on but at the same time not want to leave the comfort of the boat. All 4 base camps were incredible, and all very different, from karaoke island to arriving to see four massage tables set up, they were all amazing.
10. The unknown
We never knew what would happen next and the guys were pretty vague. They told us in our induction that a day was only divided by breakfast, lunch and dinner. No hours, no time, so don’t ask. It was so relieving to leave this in someone else’s hands – I didn’t have to plan or think about a thing. You never knew what would happen next on the Tao Expedition but you always knew it would be awesome.
11. Meeting real Filipinos
On the islands we were free to do what we wanted, and that could involve hanging out with the locals. The photo above is from when we went with Jem to buy some fish for our lunch. A special Filipino dish involves drying out the skins, like above, in the sun, then serving with rice and egg.
All the islanders we met were so nice and friendly. They must think we’re crazy though…
12. The money you pay goes back to the community
The Tao Experience is a social enterprise. The money you pay to join the tour goes back into making life for the locals better. From teaching them special skills like massage and farming, to building houses and learning about sustainability. We visited one of the organic farms and it was so good to see where some of the £400 I paid for trip went.
13. The basic living
All you need is somewhere to sleep, some food and some friends – the Tao Expedition was a definite reminder of this. We could take a small bag into the island with us but our backpacks stayed on board. As backpackers we were all living pretty simply already but this forced us to downsize even more. I had my phone for photos, change of bikini, sarong, tooth brush, face moisturiser and that was it. Living so basically among others that were doing the same just shows that you don’t need as much as you think you do, and it’s these possessions and expectations that weigh you down.