Lacy: Well, I hope this post finds everyone around the globe well right now as we are in very strange times worldwide. Rob and I returned to America just a couple of days after the sailing tour that is discussed in this post. It wasn’t our intention to return back to the States prior to the end of April, but as more borders were closing we decided it would be wise to return “home.” We didn’t actually know where we would go when we got back our country, but are very thankful and relieved to have a very comfortable place to reside in. Sitting at 10,000ft in Colorado we are a week and a half into our self imposed two week quarantine. Being in contact with so many tourists and travelers both while in Asia, and traveling back to the US, we felt it was the only responsible thing to do. Rob and I had a really wonderful time on this sailing adventure and enjoyed our 3 weeks in the Philippines. If anyone plans to travel there and has questions, feel free to reach out. I hope that this blog offers you a small distraction from the current events and puts a smile on your face.
Tao Experience & the Paraw Sailboat
Rob: Ever since we took a full day Jetski tour along the Malaysian & Thai coast last year we have been planning to take a sailboat for an extended trip through the islands of SE Asia. The Philippines have a magnetic pull straight to your soul to get out on the water. We knew as we got closer to El Nido that taking a boat tour, even just for one day, would be a typical and logical thing to do. The Tao Experience is well known as the pioneer of multi-day Eco tour island hopping here in northern Palawan. There is one particular boat that they hand built several years ago which is a 74 foot all wood and bamboo construction Paraw. It is simply a beautifully crafted old school, old world constructed trimaran dual masted sailboat. We were exceptionally lucky to get a ride on board at the last minute. All of our fellow passengers had booked many months ahead of time, some eve in a year in advance. We managed to sneak on 2 days before departure. Our best guess was that someone canceled their trip because of the coronavirus. Excited by our good fortune and eager to explore the islands by sail, we traded in our Honda XR150 that carried us the length of the island from Puerto Princesa north to El Nido. Aside from buying some extra sunscreen and long sleeve sun/rash/jellyfish guard shirts we were otherwise perfectly equipped for light packs and travel onboard. Especially Lacy who had brought 3 1/2 bikinis! 😁
We met our fellow sailors early the following morning, 24 of us in total, and were quickly underway. It was easy to find a comfy place on deck to stretch out and enjoy the view out into the bay while getting to know everyone a little. Being a trimaran, there was ample space aboard for everyone to stretch out. Over the five days we wandered from the bamboo chaise, to the seats, sunbathed on the bow, lounged on the aft deck, enjoyed shade in a hammock behind the kitchen and everything in between. The crew always took us to beaches and and areas away from the tourists to snorkel and swim. This was one of the best parts! The first day we enjoyed lunch of squid adobo, grilled fish, fresh veggie salad and rice. It was a great day until we pulled into a private little bay and discovered our cliff side private tiny bamboo nests that we would sleep in. Then, it became an awesome day! A thin mattress, mosquito net and clean sheets were inside our little bamboo and palm roofed sleeping pod. Outside, we had just the sound of waves and birds to lull us to sleep. Each of the next few days we followed a similar routine of being shuttled under sunny skies over turquoise waters via this amazingly crafted wood sailboat, fed like little baby birds when we were told to eat, swimming when we pulled up to a postcard white sand beach and being treated to lots of Rhum and Pineapple cocktails (Jungle Juice) each afternoon. One of our fellow travelers said it best to remark that he felt like a 5 year old child being scheduled and fed through the day and it was great!
Another privately owned beach camp, more bamboo beach huts perfectly situated for sunset and a soft evening breeze awaited us the next 2 nights as well. Huge grilled Jackfish, veggies and rice was becoming familiar for lunches and dinners, but something to be craved when the chef and crew called everyone together for meals.
On our 3rd day we pulled up along a rock faced island which was quite a sight. Sheer cliffs and deep blue water surrounded us. The crew quickly showed us a natural combination of “stairs” and handholds to pull yourself up to several high ledges. Everyone took a turn or two up the rock for their cliff jumps with everyone cheering or jeering along. My second jump was from a pretty high point that took a big leap outward and a big leap of faith from inside to be successful. Lacy may have held her breath for a moment, but a spike of adrenaline helped me clear the rock with ease. Next we all dog paddled through a small cave opening in the cliff face and the crew led us through a passage that brought us slowly and carefully through the dark and eventually out the other side of the island. It was a pretty long swim back around to the boat, but there was Jungle Juice waiting for us back on board. And the crew always graciously offered kayak taxis back and forth to any beach, snorkel or swim. On our way into our docking for the evening, all 4 sails were full of wind that quietly powered our big trimaran along the tops of the swells. Pure magic for me.
Lacy has been loving adding a little fish back into her diet after a full month as a vegetarian Yogini. One of my beautiful bride’s nicknames is Ikan (E-con) or fish in Bahasa. She has definitely lived up to that on this trip with lots of snorkeling and swimming opportunities.
Our breakfast to start day four was light fluffy pancakes served with an awesome “Bananas Foster” topping. Who doesn’t like dessert for breakfast once in a while. Today we visited the TAO Farm where the organization grows much of its own food for the tours as well as raises pigs and ducks. It did make me wonder what might be for dinner that night. Sure enough, when we arrived for our last night of beach glamping, we were shown the whole young pig that had been slow roasting all day for us. I could hear the angels singing in the background and the cheers of my fellow shipmates drowning out my own. With full bellies poking out we looked forward to the evening activities. Karaoke is a way of life in much of SE Asia. On this, our last night together, both passengers and crew joined together to sing and howl the night away. We both took our turns encouraged by… you guessed it… more Jungle Juice!
In the morning, our last day of sailing continued northward through what felt like 100 more tiny picturesque islands and brought us to a small reef called the Coral Gardens. It has been very well protected and was a jaw dropping display of coral in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was also teaming with colorful fish from tiny day glow blue to big multi-hued parrot fish and virtually everything in between including psychedelic colored clams. The crew really saved the best snorkeling for the last day. Just a short 20 minute ride away we dove into much deeper waters to swim above the wreck of a sunken Japanese gun boat from WWII. 75+ years of coral encrustation had transformed most of the boat into a haven for fish and created a little micro reef head. The sharp edges of the bow raising up from the sea floor and almost to the surface was really the only clue that it was once a warship. This was our last stop along the way to Coron City Harbor which was our end point of the sailing trip. Everyone on board seemed a little quieter than normal until we saw the harbor come into view. Hugs, thanks and pictures with the crew began the process of wrapping up a great journey.
Speaking of our crew. Every single person onboard from the Captain, Hosts, Chefs, Guides and Barman were excellent and held the highest level of hospitality from start to finish. They were a huge part of the success of the trip. Last but not least, Amo, the ship’s mascot. Four stubby legs, a cold nose, black, white and tan all over. He swam with us to beaches, jumped from kayak to kayak, took shelter in the shade during the peak of the day, raced around the sailboat keeping the energy level up and alerted us to upcoming stops by running to the bow of the boat and getting ready to jump in the first kayak put in the water.
We could have taken 2,000 more pictures than we did, but selfishly just enjoyed the views in person and not so much through the camera lens. Our sail group shared everyone’s photos on a WhatsApp group once we got back to land and service. Huge thanks to everyone aboard whose photos are featured in this blog!
Little did we know that a day after of our arrival in Coron the Philippines would begin the process to close its boarders with travel restrictions protecting against the spread of the coronavirus. An early notice helped us get a regular priced flight out to Manila and a subsequent flight to Los Angeles via Tokyo. So many of our shipmates weren’t quite so lucky, but all eventually made their way out of the country AOK. This also prematurely ended our travels for this Spring as we were only six weeks into our planned three months. Bittersweet to be home, but glad we had, yet again, the opportunity to spend time immersed in the cultures of Cambodia and the Philippines this season. Lacy successfully completed her Yoga Teacher Training class and we both met new people and made great friends with like-minded travelers whom we will surely meet again soon. Country to be named later.
Until we write again…XO