Tao Expedition Part 1 – Beers, Boats and Beaches in Palawan

Sunday, January 7, 2018

We arrived on Busuanga Island around 3:30 pm and were quickly ushered into a van by a guy with a sign with Marissa’s name on it. We arrived in Coron town which is a busy little grid of congested streets and exhaust fumes on the water, with no beach to speak of. This place is mainly popular because of the great diving sites in the area. We are here because it’s the departure point for our five day Tao Expedition. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we walked over to the Tao office to check-in and get our booze pre-order sorted. I’m sure you all can imagine how important booze is when spending five days on a boat and camping on islands at night. On the scale of survival it ranks just below clean drinking water but just above food.  A few of Marissa’s friends have done this trip before and they all told us the same thing – make sure you pre-order enough booze, and buy extra because it’s on the honor system and cheap ass holes will drink your shit. I had already made peace with the fact that we would be buying extra to carry the collective weight of the other passengers who can’t do simple multiplication of beers x people x days.

Luckily for us, Tao has a new nifty system where everyone gets a scanable wristband that you pre-load with cash and then you just buy beers and other drinks from the “bar” on the boat and the islands for about $1.20 – $2.00 each with a swipe of your wrist. So now I don’t have to talk shit about random people behind their backs in my blog who can’t properly provision while making idle chit chat with them daily as they drink my beer. Phew. There was a welcome briefing scheduled for 5 pm, so we broke in our wristbands and had a few beers on the roof while we waited for the others to arrive.   For those of you planning a trip to the Philippines – Red Horse beer is the way to go.  Mar scanned the check-in list and notice that we were the only Americans on the boat, which bodes well for us. There is nothing worse than being trapped at sea with a ton of obnoxious Americans.  I call that Saturday at home, I don’t need to travel around the world to do it.  I think it’s also called “yacht week” and I’ve been there and done that.  We began to get our hopes up. We should have’t.

The first to arrive was Tom and Lotti, a British couple on their honeymoon. You’ll all remember from my backpacker bus through New Zealand that I don’t really understand the low-budget group trip thing for a honeymoon, but to each their own. Tom and Lotti seem very normal so luckily for them they will probably escape this blog unscathed. The next person to stumble in was Dave – an Aussie who showed up completely shit faced to the briefing. It was obvious he was cut from the same cloth so we have adopted him as one of our own. Next to come in was an Australian family with two young boys (18 and 17 yrs) and, of course, mom and dad. Completely unoffensive. Which is a synonym for boring, but I’m still going to mark this one in the win column.  At this point we are still waiting for the big group of hot Dutch guys to walk in.  Well, I’m still waiting. The big group of seven on our trip is a bunch of middle aged Dutch women that filed in one by one, dashing our hopes at some eye candy with each step. Our group is rounded out with another Australian couple and a creepy Italian guy. I might be forgetting someone, but it’s not my fault if you are forgettable.

We met two of the Tao employees from our crew – Joy, who is super sweet and seems like she’ll make sure we don’t die. And The Juan, a young Rastafarian Filipino guy who is in the process of going for a full head of dreadlocks. His name actually isn’t Juan, it Aying, but he introduced himself as “the One” so we just kind of ran with it and now we refuse to call him anything but the “The Juan”. Try to get cheeky with us and you will pay the price.

After the meeting we ran out in search of some last minute necessities (bug spray, sunscreen, vodka and champagne). The rule is that you can bring your own booze if the boat bar doesn’t offer what you want. And since this isn’t a Russian boat cruise, vodka is BYOB. Now, you can find Absolut vodka in a whole in a wall store in just about any country in the world – trust me, I know – but champagne is a bit more tricky. Numerous people told us to just give up. But Marissa refused to accept defeat. We ran into Dave outside a bar (shocker) and enlisted his help in our search. He grabbed a Canadian buddy of his from the bar and they took Mar and Kristie on their motorbikes down the street to find champagne. I volunteered to sit this one out and instead get a drink at the bar, because that’s just the kind of selfless person I am. They came back victorious, having found five bottles of champagne and vodka. Each.

We grabbed a bucket of beers with our new friends before heading down to dinner. There was a super cute restaurant made of bamboo and lacquered wooden tables that was bbq’ing skewers of meat. I was about to be fed fish for the next five days, which essentially means I’d be eating vegetarian, so I put my foot down and demanded some meat on a stick. It ended up being my favorite meal of the trip so far. We shared a table with a nice Brazilian couple who were on their honeymoon and also doing a Tao trip – but just the three day excursion on a different boat. After dinner we showered and packed our dry bags for the trip tomorrow before heading out to a bar to get a few more drinks. Kristie headed home first, but Mar wanted to keep drinking, so I escorted her back to the Canadian bar to find some familiar faces before heading home. One of the Canadian guys brought his seventeen year old sons with him on a big boys trip, and they were each about ten minutes away from scoring with some super drink backpacker chicks. I haven’t seen grins that big on frat boys with a pocket full of roofies. I suggested they be given condoms, because one never knows with hostel girls, and then took my leave. My guess is those little boys still managed to blow it and went to bed with their dicks in hand. Mar stayed and had more beer and some tater tots with her Canadian motorbike rider in shining armor.

Monday, January 8, 2018

We were up bright and early at 6 am to finish packing. It’s actually quite tricky trying to anticipate what you’ll need in the next 24-48 hours to put in your small dry bag, and then what items you’ll need for the next few days to put at the top of your big backpack, so that it is easily accessible to replenish your dry bag. We grabbed breakfast and checked out, at which point we were told the hotel doesn’t accept credit card. Everyone says that in the Philippines. In actuality it just means they don’t want to accept credit card. I dug my heels in on this one and the surly front desk girls were forced to actually plug in their fucking credit card machine. So sorry to inconvenience you by asking you to do your job. We grabbed some tricycles down to the port where we sat around in the ferry terminal for about an hour with our Tao boat mates and crew, waiting for the coast guard to give us the all clear. Or so we thought. Turns out we were actually just waiting for Guido, the Italian guy, to show the fuck up. I’d like to say he’s on my shit list for eternity, but I have friends that waste my fucking time on the regular so this is nothing new. How on earth he thought his time was more valuable than that of twenty other fucking people is beyond me, but at least I’m not the designated ass hole today.

Here is where things are going to really start to slow down. The general plan is this: motor out to a beach or snorkel site, chill for a while, move on to another, chill for a while, repeat over and over again until the sun is about to set and we make it to a base camp. Then The Juan and some other crew sets up our bed and mosquito netting in assigned open air huts, we have dinner and socialize a bit before bed. Weave into that about ten beers, a bottle of champagne, some sunset jungle juice and whatever the hell else strikes your fancy (in my case, vodka) and you’ve got yourself a Tao Expedition. I should also mention that the food is fabulous and plentiful, but mainly fish, so I’m the queen of the side dishes. For the record, being a vegetarian is fucking boring. I’ve heard there might be a roasted pig one night if we’re lucky, but I’m trying not to get my bad Jew hopes up.  Also, the bartender’s name is Dong.  Which means I am finally in a situation where it is perfectly acceptable to see who can scream “Dong!” the loudest while drunk.  Although it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game, doesn’t it?

Our first stop was a snorkel site with site with a World War II shipwreck just a few feet below the surface. Let the record show that we made it to the first stop before breaking out the beer. The group of Dutch women started doing flips off the boat as best they could. Apparently they all met in college in a gymnastics club about thirty years ago – they claimed it was twenty years ago, but I’m calling bullshit. If these girls are gymnasts, time has not been kind. Which is why I have decided to refer to them from here on out as the “Gym-nots”. Yeah, I know, my bitchiness knows no bounds.  Trust me, these women are as annoying as they come.  And they talk incessantly.  To anyone who will listen.  About themselves.  And their kids.  And their gymnastics club that they were a part of in the 90’s.  Girlfriend, unless Bela Karolyi himself forced you to do a hand stand on a balance beam with a broken arm to win an Olympic medal, I don’t give a shit about your decades old cartwheeling hobby.  Please shut the fuck up.

Our second stop was what they call a “drift snorkel”. We all hop off the boat and snorkel down a reef along with the ocean current, and the boat comes and picks us up at the other end. The coral here is actually stunning. None of that dead shitty coral that you find outside resorts, having been murdered by ass hole tourists. But you all know my view of snorkeling – unless you have a turtle or a stingray or perhaps a merman to hold my interest, I’m done after ten minutes.

Next, we stopped at one of Tao’s other base camps where the shorter three night expeditions stay. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s called camp Ngey Ngey. Our favorite name in the Filipino language. We had some beers and explored the island and the girls played a little bocce ball. I watched a group of people play beach volleyball while looking on with serious FOMO, since I’m still out of commission due to my shoulder. There was probably another snorkel stop at some point, but honestly I just can’t remember.  Once we start hitting the beers, there is no point in stopping.

We arrived at our camp for the night at a small island with all the running water you can use – which is apparently quite a treat because you can take a real shower.  Newsflash – even if the water is plentiful, a cold shower still can’t last more than three minutes.  I got pretty sick around 7 pm – I still can’t seem to totally shake this bug – so I took a xanax and went to bed. Apparently Mar got shit faced and fell off a dock into water infested with box jellyfish, so I’m pissed I missed that shit show.  Luckily I’ve seen her taken a drunken stumble off a boat before so envisioning that scene is not difficult.  There were some pretty cool bio luminescent plankton (that means glow in the dark shit in the water), but I missed that while puking into a hole in the ground.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This morning I woke up feeling much better. Breakfast was fucking awesome and I was in high spirits. I just realized I have not yet regaled you with intricacies of relieving your bowels on a Tao Expedition.  Brace yourselves, you’re in for a treat. A flushing toilet is laughably out of the question. We have what are called “wet toilets”. It’s a normal toilet with no toilet seat, and you use a bucket of water to basically drown your own shit.  Who needs plumbing when you have Newton’s law of gravity? There is more squatting going on here than a Richard Simmons thigh burning video. They claim that it is perfectly hygienic to sit on the toilets, but how you sit on a wet seat-less toilet bowl and not automatically assume that you are lounging directly on someone else’s piss is beyond me. It takes a little getting used to. Or so they tell me – it’s day 4 and my quads are looking pretty tight and right.

I honestly can’t remember exactly what we did today. I mean, we did the usual island hopping, snorkeling, eating combo, but I started hitting the vodka pretty early today so if you’re looking for island names, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Most of my boat mates find it odd that I spend all day laying out baking in the sun. I find it odd that they spend the day with rash guards on trying to avoid it. At least my modus operandi isn’t an exercise in futility. But I’m the weird one?

Kristie claims we went to a marine sanctuary for some snorkeling. It must have been more of a coral sanctuary or I would have remembered it. We stopped for some cliff jumping after lunch and ran into another Tao Expedition boat. You know how I was wondering the other day where all the good looking people were? Well, they are on this other boat. They even mooned us. It was an odd feeling, to be on the B-team boat getting mooned by the fun, hot boat. I’m usually on the other end of that equation.  I think the problem was that I filled out my Tao Expedition form using my real age, instead of my travel age.  Next time I’m marking the 20-30 yr old box and doubling up on botox before I leave so no one calls me on my shit. I also can’t help but notice that seven spots on our boat are taken up by a bunch of gym-nots in mom bathing suits which significantly brings down our boat’s metrics. I’ll refer to the other boat as Chlamydia, but that’s only because they probably refer to our boat as Birth Control. There is a silver lining though. I still have my voice because there are no loud obnoxious drunkards to yell over for attention – other than myself and Dave, of course. Also, my appearance is of zero concern to me for five full days. Oh, and I can stuff my fucking face in my bikini without any concern for an unsightly food baby. I can even rub my full belly as I sit on the front of the boat tanning like a beached whale. Is this the kind of indifference that married people feel on a regular basis? Because if so, I might have to get a husband. I’m sure the applications will be pouring in the second this blog goes to print.

We made it to our base camp before the sun went down, and a tipsy sunset photo session ensued. Our shower tonight consisted of everyone being allotted four scoops of water from a communal bucket. Oh, the spoils! It may not sound like much, but looking cute is a such a waste of time that a few scoops of water actually goes a long way. We had dinner on the beach with a bonfire raging. I can’t remember what we ate because (1) it was fish and (2) I was drunk. My vodka sodas started at 11 am and ended around midnight. 13 hours of vodka drinking might be a record for even me. I’m a model for constant self improvement, obviously.  I forced the crew to drink a lot of vodka with me and the Filipinos got SUPER drunk.  Vodka is not their thing.  Rum is their poison of choice.  The lazy man’s booze.  Rory playing bartender with a bunch of Filipinos is basically like pitting Vladimir Putin against Jimmy Buffett in a vodka drinking contest.  They never had a chance.   Our chef, who’s name is The King declared me as his Queen.  If that doesn’t get me some extra pork rations later in the trip, I don’t know what will.  A super weird bonfire dance party ensued, courtesy of Kristie as the DJ.  The gym-nots even joined in for a hot minute.  I assume it must have been because Bon Jovi came on at some point.  Or YMCA.  It basically looked like a dance floor made up of the cast of a season of Survivor.  I’m sure the Chlamydia boat would have laughed their asses off at us, but was actually pretty fucking fun.

In the next blog, I almost die.  I’m currently back at home in California writing this blog while on bed rest and low quality pain killers.  It’s not yet funny for me, but I have no intention of depriving you of the opportunity to laugh at my misfortune, so stay tuned.

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