Remote Island-Hopping Expedition in The Philippines

Remote Island-Hopping Expedition in The Philippines

Three days cruising on a boat, remote island-hopping, to swim, snorkel, cliff jump (for some,) watch sunsets, sleep in bamboo Tuka lodges right on the beach, shower under the sky and connect with nature…that was the remote island-hopping expedition in the Philippines.

I love to travel! I consider myself a traveller and not a tourist. I’ve always liked to meet locals, understand their customs, traditions and of course…taste and learn about local food.

However, it had been a long time since I last slept outdoors, shared a bathroom with no running water, didn’t know the time of day, had no electricity after dinner and no internet connection whatsoever…

I got out of my comfort zone for three days and I’ll never forget the perspective I gained with the remote island-hopping expedition!

Read about my experience in a three-day remote island-hopping expedition in Northern Palawan, with Tao Philippines and see if you would be up for an adventure like this.

filipino boat
A typical Filipino boat which was our base for three days

Some facts…

What is Tao?

camp with Tuka huts
The first camp and the Tuka lodges waiting for us

Tao means human in the Filipino language.

Tao Philippines started as an adventure exploration in Northern Palawan where remote villages were explored, relationships were made, a sense of community arose, and a wonderful social enterprise was born. Today, it helps island communities in many ways.

Where is Palawan?

The Philippines is a country in South East Asia with more than 7,600 islands. The province of Palawan, located in the western part of the Philippines has around 1,780 islands and islets. Palawan Island is the largest in the Province.

islands and sea from the air
Paradisiac islands of all sizes

The remote island-hopping expedition 

Preparation before the expedition

The expedition briefing in the Tao Office in El Nido started with ‘jungle juice’ (a tropical cocktail with a generous amount of rum,) perfect to set the mood. 27 explorers from 12 different nationalities were gathered that afternoon for a comprehensive briefing that got me excited about the expedition, the places to see and the people to meet.

After the briefing, my partner and I crossed the street and went to have sunset drinks in a bar with the coolest atmosphere!

The island time concept

The concept of ‘island time’ was new to me and I ended up loving it.

During the expedition, we were not aware of time nor had a detailed itinerary. The planning and decision-making were left to the crew who had to consider things such as, the weather, the sea, sunlight, need for supplies, and other aspects to decide if we made more stops and when. This lack of knowledge felt liberating!

The island time concept reflects the relaxed and spontaneous Filipino culture and island lifestyle. They say that the islanders’ day is divided by when they eat; how simple is that!

Kayaks were the means of transport of supplies, luggage and Rosa, the dog, between the boat and the islands

Here we go fellow explorers!

27 explorers arrived at the Tao Office, early in the morning, with luggage and open minds.

We embarked on an hour-long journey to San Fernando Port in a colourful bus with the luggage tied on top and the explorers sitting inside facing each other.

I remember many thoughts going through my mind… “I hope the sleeping accommodation will be comfortable,” “I hope we don’t get bit by too many insects,” “I wonder what kind of animals will be on the beach when it’s dark and we walk around with a head torch,” “this looks like a cool group of people.” 

The boat – our base for three days

It’s all about organisation!

27 explorers plus 9 crew members and 1 dog (Rosa,) sharing a boat for three days…This is how it was done:

the boat
The boat in the open sea
  • Rule #1: Everyone barefoot on the boat at all times,
  • The toilet flushed with sea water which was available in a large container inside the men’s and women’s bathroom,
  • Coffee, tea and water were always available,
  • The kitchen area was always open to curious explorers,
The kitchen with some prep work for lunch
kitchen from another angle
The kitchen, clean and organised
  • The boat had several areas for people to spend travel time; a smoking area, top deck with sun and shade, sitting areas on the sides of the boat, a shower, a shaded sitting area with a long table on the main deck,
chilling area in the boat
The upper deck of the boat with sun and shaded areas to chill
the main deck of the boat
The main deck of the boat
  • A shell horn was used to gather everyone on the main deck to give instruction, information or when food was ready,
  • People’s belongings labelled with their names were transported via kayak to the islands on three crates; one for sunglasses and suntan lotion, another for flip flops and a third for refillable water bottles (no plastic waste was allowed,) 
  • Unless the boat was anchored by the beach, we had to swim to shore, sometimes a long stretch with high tide or current. There was always the option to get a ride to shore in a kayak.
Rosa, the dog
Rosa, a friendly and independent dog who stole the explorers’ hearts
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Socializing and island-hopping

We started to get to know fellow explorers on the first stop which was a beautiful island with white sand and crystal-clear sea. We had the beach to ourselves. 

Lunch on the boat was always lively; everyone was relaxed, disconnected from the world (no internet,) and amazed with the landscape. 

Lunch is served
Lunch is served – Filipino power (white rice) always present

The stops in remote islands were always exciting and different. Some islands had more coral reef than others, some had a small village which could be visited and others had paradisiac beaches to swim in. Mingling, snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, walking or chilling in the shade were options during the stops. 

The camps where we slept

We slept in two different camps while remote island-hopping. We had private Tuka lodges each night – bamboo sleeping huts made with locally grown materials. They give a feeling of open nature and simplicity and are more comfortable than a tent on the ground. The crew took care of making the beds and installing a mosquito net around the mattresses. 

Sleeping in Tuka lodges was really cool, we were right next to the sea so we fell asleep to the sound of the waves and nature. The bed was pretty comfortable too.

The second camp was different than the first one. It had locals living there, toilets that flushed and women with magic fingers who gave each and every one of us a relaxing massage. 

second base camp
Arriving to the second base camp at sunset

Taking a shower was fun. It was outdoors, semi-covered with bamboo walls and people queuing outside. We already knew each other and were enjoying the outdoor experience so, there were no awkward situations or uncomfortable feelings.

Morning coffee
Early morning coffee after the first night together

The first cup of coffee in the morning was pretty special; standing on the beach in the early morning light, comparing notes with other fellow explorers and starting the day with a good laugh was just wonderful.

Picture with the Tao boys
Picture with the Tao boys

Sunsets throughout the expedition

Sunsets were spectacular! We saw them from the boat, from the beach and from our Tuka lodge. We arrived at the camps before or right around sunset.

Sunset on the first day, sitting on the warm sand, already showered and wearing dry clothes, with a drink on hand and hanging out with our new friends felt really good. Simple, natural, relaxing!

contemplating the sunset
Contemplating the sunset with our new friends
the boat
Our boat resting for the night

Dinner time in the camps

Dinner on both nights was a great moment to enjoy good food, share our thoughts about the day’s activities with fellow explorers and have a good laugh. A buffet with fresh grilled fish, rice, salads, sautéed vegetables, and slow-cooked pork (on the second night) was served with care and smiles. 

I was impressed with the quality of food that they were able to make with limited resources. It was fresh, good and varied. White rice is present in every Filipino meal and the Tao lost boys called it ‘Filipino power,’ – quite funny.

Last stop of the remote island-hopping expedition

Ngey Ngey camp was our last stop before we said farewell and took a group picture. We each got a personalised tote bag painted by local women, as a gift – such a nice gesture!

Ngey Ngey is a bigger camp where some people extended their stay for two more days. It has a chilled vibe with some lounge areas, games, bars, beach and more infrastructure than the other base camps where we spent the nights. 

tote bag
A personalised gift, painted by local women in recycled flour/rice bag fabric

My takeaway from the remote island-hopping expedition

  • We don’t need too many things to be happy and comfortable in life.
  • Island time and being disconnected are so liberating.
  • I enjoyed seeing first-hand how Filipinos work together, always giggling about something – they find humour in almost everything!
  • The Tao lost boys (the name the crew give themselves) are fast, fit, strong, great swimmers and brilliant team players. It was amazing to see them multitask, help each other and laugh at the same time.
  • The feeling of living three days barefoot most of the time, being respectful and mindful of the environment, being considerate with fellow explorers when it comes to space, sharing, helping each other, etc. gave me perspective about different lifestyles and how little we need to be happy.
  • It was fascinating to hear the crew’s personal stories, how they started working in Tao and all the things that they are still learning. 

Aerial photo credit: @jimmy_leblvd

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