Tao Expedition Part 2 – Survivor: Palawan

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

We all woke up hungover from our bizarre Filipino deserted island vodka dance-off last night.  The Juan, our 24 year old Filipino guide who weighs about 90 lbs soaking wet, was feeling especially awful.   Getting hazed by Rory tends to take a toll on unprepared livers so I’m not surprised.   The morning was lazy and calm, until after breakfast when I was walking to the “bathroom” and one of the Dutch Gymnots informed me that she was waiting in line for the bathroom, even though she was physically in her hut about 20 yards away from the hole in the ground.  To which I replied, “oh is that how lines work where you come from”?   If I already don’t like you, I can guarantee you that disrespecting the entire social construct of what constitutes a line is not the way to get on my good side.  I knew I was going to have a problem with these women the second I laid eyes on them. I just fucking knew it.

We all swam back to the boat and headed out for more adventures around 10 am.  Kristie and I finally busted out the floaties that we packed and have been hauling around in our backpacks the entire trip.  I had my fill of snorkeling the past few days.  The coral was pretty day one, but the novely has worn off.  From here on out I’ll be reading my kindle while floating in the ocean off the side of the boat if anyone needs me.   The brilliant Kristie even had the crew find us some extra rope so we could tie ourselves to the boat to save us from floating off into oblivion.  We stopped at some amazing, secluded pristine beaches and had a very enjoyable day…until the pig showed up.


In honor of The Juan’s bday tomorrow night, we are roasting a whole pig.  I’ve been eating vegetarian the past three days so I was very excited by this announcement.  What they failed to mention was that we are picking up the very-much-still-alive pig from some locals on one of the random islands we’re stopping at, and we have to keep the pig on our boat for the next twenty-four hours.  I didn’t get this memo until my relaxed day of floating was interrupted by a terrified squealing pig being transferred via a kayak onto our boat.  Oh, that’s not all.  Not only are they going to kill the scared little piggy tomorrow, they are going to do it ON THE BOAT, and if any of us our interested, we can do the slaughtering.  It was sad, and somewhat off-putting.  I was disappointed in myself because I knew damn well I was still going to eat that pig come tomorrow.  Joy, our head guide, was concerned I was going to try to make a run for it via kayak and set the pig free.  Luckily for her, I was too hungover to snorkel, let alone break a pig out from death row.


We stopped at a cool sea cave that you can walk through (or swim through at high tide).  Our bartender, Dong, brought a cooler of beers to shore so we could drink more as we frolicked on the beach.  Finally, an excuse to yell the word “Dong” all day long and not only is it acceptable, I’m actually rewarded with a beer for doing so.  Lets hope this positive reinforcement doesn’t result in this behavior following me home.  Now that I’m thinking about it, we might have actually stopped at this cave the day before.  I wasn’t exactly taking notes, people.


We stopped for the night on an island with a sprawling white sand beach and a shipwreck just offshore.  The ship was so close to the surface you could touch it from the kayak.  As if that wasn’t enough, they also had massages here!  The Tao Expedition Company has a program where they train women from local villages on the islands to give massages, and then employ them at some of their base camps.  It gets better – we have a well on this island, so its no limit buckets of water in the showers tonight!  Oh, the spoils.  We had a mellow night and people went to bed pretty early.   Dave and I hit the rum and vodka, respectively, and tried to make it a party, but no one else was biting.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today is The Juan’s birthday!  The first stop is at the the Tao Farm, which is where the company grows most of the food that they use on their expeditions and where they train all their employees.  Most of the employees and crew are young local boys and girls from various islands that they train in English, cooking, building and other techniques to prepare them to eventually be expedition guides one day.  We had a tour around the farm to a natural spring, where we all had a mid-day refresher shower.  We then gathered around the amazing bamboo structure that housed the kitchen/bar for an awesome lunch and some drinks.  Ok, lots of drinks.  A LOT of drinks.


Our next stop was the incredible Napcan Beach, which is one of the longest and most beautiful beaches in El Nido, Palawan.  If that’s not enough, it’s completely deserted.  A few of us hopped off the boat and ran down the beach.  We found a little shack where some locals were hanging out in the middle of nothing and stopped in to make some friends.  At this point I’m pretty much shit faced and having a grand old time with my new local buddies.  I’m calling it right now – this beach will look like Borocay in a matter of years.  If anyone is looking for offshore investment, this is my recommendation.  We told Joy we wanted to buy some land, but were dissuaded when we found out (1) foreigners cannot purchase land in the Philippines, and (2) its crazy expensive.  I guess drunk Rory is not the first person to realize the investment potential here.  Shocker.


Tonight is the last night of our trip.  This is also the point where things take a VERY dismal turn for the worse.  Today will live in infamy as the day I almost killed myself on a beautiful deserted island.  I must admit, there are far worse ways to go.  We pulled up to our base camp for the night at the amazingly beautiful Cadlao island.  This place looked like a dream, with the towering karst cliffs covered in palm trees that are iconic of Palawan.   Our base camp looked like some serious Filipino Family Robinson shit.  We were all assigned to little open-air tree houses on the side of a cliff that looked out onto the water.


I’ll just cut to the chase – shortly after shower time, I took a tumble off the ladder to my tree house and fell backward onto a rock.  A really big rock.  Turns out the bottom rung of the bamboo ladder was broken and so my foot slipped through and I fell back.  Either that or I broke the ladder.  But let’s give poor Rory the benefit of the doubt on this one.  I spent the evening crying and screaming in pain, unable to move without feeling like I was being stabbed in the lower back.  Chef King brought his distressed Queen some food, which included the pig.  To be honest, it was a little greasy and I was disappointed that we killed that cute little pig for it.  Perhaps this whole incident was instant karma at its best.  Lottie came to have a look at me, since she is a Physical Therapist, which basically makes you an M.D. on an island, and proclaimed that I would survive.  I promptly gave up on the night and xanax’d the shit out of myself to sleep.

The moral of the story here – don’t get drunk and climb shit.  Some would argue the moral is “don’t get drunk”, but I prefer to set realistic rules for myself.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Today was a bit of a blur.  I woke up hopeful that last night was just a dream, or a drunk over reaction to a silly fall.  I was wrong.  This is bad.  The name of the game now is survival until I can get myself to an emergency room in the USA.

Step 1 – the Juan took took me to the boat via kayak.  Very painful.

Step 2 – I had to spend about 5 hours laying on the boat while every movement sent a stabbing pain through my back.  Luckily the crew took some of the mattresses and made me a little bed on the deck and brought me food.  I was pathetic, but I had sun and a book, so life was still worth living.  It was at this point that the Dutch Gymnots decided to make a little farewell speech in which they said something “special” about each and every person on the boat.  Not sure who declared them master of ceremonies, but I was powerless to stop it.  It was about as cringe worthy, annoying, and unnecessary as you can imagine, but I was captive audience and had no choice but to listen.  It reminded me of when someone extremely shy with no interpersonal kills has to give a maid of honor speech at a wedding and everyone, including her, is just praying for it to end as soon as possible.  I’d rather watch a snake eat a hamster with my eyes taped open.

They had some very thoughtful praises for most of our fellow passengers.  And then they got to us – the fearsome foursome.  They thanked Kristie for her portable speakers – a cop out at best.  They thanked Marissa for her lovely conversations – no fucking clue where or when these conversations happened, but I’m just thrilled I wasn’t a part of them.  Thanks for taking one for the team Mar Mar.  They told Dave that they were terrified of him at first because he is so loud and outspoken but then they “got used to it”.  How accommodating of them.  Then it was my turn.  I believe my farewell compliment went a little something like this: “Rory, we weren’t sure about you at first because of all your swearing.  But I think under all those curse words is a really nice girl”.  If you are going to try to give me a read, the least you can do is follow through.  An insult disguised in a compliment is nothing more than a poorly executed insult.  Also, you revealed the fact that I annoyed you with my foul mouth, a fact for which I’m now patting myself on the back.  I will give them one thing – they managed to use my least favorite adjective in the entire world.  You all know how much I despise when people use the word “nice” to describe me.  Nice girls don’t drunkenly fall out of tree houses.

Once their little fake and unsolicited expedition eulogy wrapped we all said goodbye and took pictures with the crew on the front of the boat.  Not me – I was unable to move, so the crew helped me sit up and all huddled around me for our pictures.  That crew was truly the highlight of our trip.  Joy is basically Mother Teresa, if Mother Teresa let you force feed her vodka.  The Juan spent half the trip towing our drunk asses around in the kayak.  Dong made sure we always had ice for our vodka sodas and cold beers everywhere we went.  The King made us delicious food and could even be counted on for a decent flirt if you got him drunk.  Hey, in a pinch.  Although the end of the trip was a bit rocky, it was still one of the most amazing weeks of my life.


Step 3 – Get off the boat in El Nido via kayak – this time as waves crashed into us.  More pain.

Step 4 – get to our hotel.  Luckily our hotel was about a 2 minute walk from where we offloaded the boat, so we made it.  I promptly died while the girls went to the Tao office to settle our tab and get our bags.  Thank god for travel buddies.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Today fucking sucked.  Don’t get injured on vacation.  Just don’t do it. Ever.  The only thing separating me and the Torrance Memorial ER was a van, four airports, three planes, and a car ride.  Marissa left early because her journey home to San Francisco started before ours.  Kristie, who will henceforth be known as My Savior, called a doctor to our room in the morning so I could get some drugs for the trip.  He also wrote me a note that said I needed medical assistance.  Our first flight was almost two hours delayed, which gave us about an hour to transfer terminals at the wretched shit hole that is the Manila airport.  We made it with a combination of Kristie running through the airport with four backpacks like the fucking Hulk, and me in a wheelchair getting us to the front of the check-in line with the doctors note.   I would probably still be curled up on the side of a road in the congested streets between terminals and MNL right now if Kristie didn’t drag me through that airport like dead weight.  I was wheeled through four airports, in total.  I got dirty looks the entire time, since I wasn’t 95 years old and suffering from some sort of chronic ailment like my other two-wheeled counterparts.  The long 12 hour flight home was basically a nightmare, but the synthetic morphine made it tolerable.

Complete and utter misery

Relief does not even begin to describe what I felt as we landed at LAX.  Little did I know I was not out of the woods yet.  To add insult to injury (quite literally), my bag did not make it.  I flipped the fuck out and started bawling my eyes out while simultaneously screaming at baggage claim employees from the confines of my wheelchair.  This was after 24 hours of travel.  I’m pretty sure I looked like Lieutenant Dan on a bender.  Here we are two weeks later as I’m writing this, and they have still not found my bag.  I hope some ass holes in China are enjoying all my go pro pictures.  I’m still injured and on bed rest, but I’m on the mend.  You can’t get rid of me that easily.

I’ll be back in April when I reunite with my yacht week nautical soul mates on land for a Japanese adventure!

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