Featured Writer: Maria Feist
If you are thinking about visiting the Philippines and want an adventure of a lifetime, I highly recommend Tao Expeditions.
Tao, pronounced tah-oh (Filipino for ‘people’), is not your normal tour company. Started by a couple of passionate young guys who love to travel, they came up with the idea of seeing the Palawan area by way of native bangka (boat). Their point of view is to expose you to the beauty and culture of Palawan while taking you on an adventure of your own choosing. There is no set itinerary, just the daily plan of your guide, the captain and yourselves. The boat expedition winds through remote islands in the north. Palawan is known as the last frontier of the Philippines.
After months of planning and research “The Chef” and I book a private expedition on the Krisolo. This boat is small and fast and able to get close to the islands. Each day is full of wonder as we island hop, snorkel, kayak, and explore. Each night we bed down at a remote camp or village on a different island. We rarely see another traveler.
Our Captain Lolong is an old salt. He’s quiet and reserved but now that the rum is flowing he begins to loosen up. In his limited english, he tells us about his dad in World War II, his kids, and his hope for his own business. He admits to dynamite fishing when he was young but now understands how wrong it is. Working with Tao has shown him how ecotourism can bring prosperity to the area. The Captain has been around for 60 years and is so refreshingly ‘old school.’ I listen and I laugh but after hours of sitting on a hard wooden bench I excuse myself and stumble to bed. “The Chef” and Captain continue to pour rum.
The next morning we leave the village and the hangovers behind and follow the rugged coast of Culion Island. We’ve reached the ‘Bat Cave.’ It’s been discovered only recently and only a few villagers have ventured inside. We’re about to make history. We will be the first foreigners to set foot inside the cave.
Donning our snorkel gear we enter the water from about 50 feet away. “The Chef” sees me struggle against the sea swells, takes my hand, and gets me to the entrance of the cave. I’m not a strong swimmer. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
For a moment I feel trapped in this spot. Out of breath, I’m treading water and hoping not to smash against the rocks. I don’t think I can swim forward and I don’t think I have anything left to swim all the way back. Some of the purist moments come when we face intense situations. There’s no time for inconsequential thoughts, only the here and now. For me, this becomes one of those moments.
“The Chef” has been guiding me by the hand but now he’s catching his own breath. He passes me over to Jem, our guide. I instinctively take his hand and he leads me to the end of the dark cave and on to a small pebble beach. I’ve never been so happy. I made it!
The first thing that hits us is the smell. The stench of guano is overwhelming. “The Chef” arrives and I see his silhouette against the faint light of the entrance. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bats are flying inches around him. The whole cave is filled with bats. I feel like I’m living in the pages of a National Geographic magazine. It’s scary, fascinating and mind blowing.
I will always remember the ‘Bat Cave’ adventure. If you like the sun, water and the outdoors you will love this trip. Sleep in a bamboo hut, walk barefoot in the sand, channel your inner child and let your heart take you places you will never forget. This trip had such an impact on “the Chef” and I, it’s one of the reasons we are planning on moving to Palawan.
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