Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tao Cruise (by Juli)

We woke up at 6:00am to take a private boat to join up with the Tao Philippine trip that had left the day before.  We originally had scheduled to join a trip that was starting the following day, but the boat leaving that day had "document problems" and they offered instead for us to join an earlier trip (which we could not do on-time since we wanted to dive). I was nervous that we were going to join a group that had already spent one day and night together and we would be the outsiders. My fears were unfounded, everyone on the tour was super nice and welcoming. We quickly made friends with both the travelers and the staff. In total there were 20 travelers (16 Europeans, 1 Filipino and 3 Americans) and 6 staff, including our fearless leader Ollie and an even more fearless terrier, Harry.

Crew and passengers on our Tao trip
Harry - he swims out on his own, but usually looks for a ride back to the boat!

We joined the group in time to grab breakfast and had amazing fried fritters made out of the flower from the banana tree.  Surprisingly, they tasted just like a sausage (here's a link to a recipe if you want to try them) - definitely the best vegetarian meat substitute we've ever tried! Then we were off to board the boat for our Island tour.

Boarding our Tao boat, Aurora 2, for the first time
We visited a number of islands and snorkeling spots (a sunken barge, Paradise island) that day and enjoyed fresh caught fish and "Filipino power" (white rice) for lunch.

A typical snorkel stop on the Tao trip - from above
A typical snorkel stop on the Tao trip - from below

We headed to Anaconda River for our camp that night. The camp consisted of two large bamboo houses.  Todd and I quickly chose a room in the house by the water (hoping for a breeze on the hot night) and the staff set up our mattresses and mosquito tents. We enjoyed happy hour drinks, one of many rum and pineapple cocktails and got ready for dinner. We had a long day from our 5:30am wake up call, so after dinner we called it an early night.

Ollie, Paul, and Anne charting a course for El Nido

The next day, we set "sail" again and headed out for snorkeling.  The reefs were amazing, huge brain corals and great colors.  We also saw rays, large batfish and even a small reef shark.  Along the way Ollie picked up various fresh sea critters - mangrove crabs, squids, and tuna, for our later mealtime enjoyment.

Lining up on the boat for a lunch of fresh crabs

We stopped for some cliff jumping after lunch. Juli was the only woman on the boat to make the climb and take the plunge...Todd didn't like the look of the surface that had to be climbed to get out of the water, so he made sure to get good photos of her instead.
Juli takes the cliff plunge during our lunch stop

Camp that night was in a small beachfront bungalow for two at the "Gold Camp".
Our sleeping quarters at Gold Camp

View from our sleeping quarters at Gold Camp
We watched the sunset and then took a ladle (no, that is not a mis-spelling of 'little') shower.  After another fresh seafood dinner, we sat at the long communal table and started playing different games including cops and robber with two scarves and a hand slapping game. We had tons of fun and really got to know our fellow travel companions.
Hand slapping game at Gold Camp

After a late night, we woke up for another day of island hopping, snorkeling and hanging out on the boat.  We made camp that night at the self sustaining Tao Farm.  After an amazing fresh water shower, everyone (well, everyone except Todd) received a free hour long massage.

Dinner at the Tao Farm camp - whole roasted pig
After 4 days and nights eating fresh fish, the pork tasted so good.  We continued games late until the night.  When it got too late, everyone headed to bed except for Todd and Paul from the UK.  They decided to finish off the last bottle of rum and stayed up most of the night.

Passing time at the Tao Farm with feats of strength

On our last day of the tour, we got a tour of the Tao Eco Farm.  The farm includes pigs, goats, chickens, farmed fish, rice paddies, etc.  The goal of the farm (and the Tao enterprise as a whole, including the cruises) is to be self-sustaining and they are well on their way.

After a breakfast of oatmeal (not Juli's favorite), we shoved off for our final day on the boat, making our way to El Nido. Unfortunately, the last day on the water we had poor visibility and none of the snorkel spots could live up to the awesome reefs from the day before. But we still enjoyed our final hours with the group, taking in some lagoons and beaches before arriving in El Nido town.

Kayak wrestling with Chef on the last day of the Tao cruise

Final sunset at the Tao Farm camp

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