How many of us can say that we have been to places we never knew existed? And by that, I mean places so obscure and undiscovered, they have not even been named.
In 2015, my travel buddy and I took a leap of faith from our usual intensive pre-travel planning and dived into an expedition in Palawan. The year before, we had heard about this Tao Expedition from a fellow backpacker in our Boracay hostel and we were intrigued by her narration of this atypical “tour”. A 5D4N sea expedition that included 4 nights of lodging, freshly cooked meals by chefs on board, and wait for it - nothing else. Wait, what?
There is no itinerary to follow and every single expedition is unplanned, unpretentious but overwhelming. Just the epitome of “You don’t know what you signed up for” and is very much needed by slaves of concrete jungles.
In a natural twist of fate, I had drowned my phone in a bogus waterproof pouch (no points for guessing that I bought it from one of the numerous cloned vendors in Boracay) when swimming in Kayangan Lake before embarking on the expedition, only to realise it was a blessing in disguise for the digital detox. The key to maximising your experience, according to our expedition leader, is never ask what time is it (they go by after or before breakfast/ lunch or dinner), what will we be doing and where will we be sleeping. Simply because, they don’t have the answers to them as well.
A typical day involves snorkelling with a school of jellyfish en route to a deserted sand bar with a group of Bajau children waiting for their fathers for the day’s harvest, or our expedition leader spotting a limestone cliff off an island and egging us to do impromptu cliff dives into the vast sea before heading back on board for some sweet treats of honey-drizzled fried bananas.
I had my very first alien invasion episode (with myself as the alien, duh) when we disembarked from our boat and snorkeled to an inhibited island village, only to stumble into an ongoing action-packed basketball tournament with boombox blasting the latest pop hits. Am I dreaming? I thought to myself as the locals studied me in my snorkels, flippers and swimwear, or lack thereof.
Tao Expedition believes in giving back to the local communities by eco-tourism, especially so for the women in the communities. They are equipped with new skills such as body massaging, extracting coconut oil for sale and interacting with visitors, not conforming to passé stereotypical gender roles as a homemaker. We had our body massage done on a sequestered beach under the sky full of stars, taking it to a whole new level so much so that I will never step foot in a massage parlour. Ever!
I have since been proclaiming to my peers that I am the unofficial ambassador of the Philippines by narrating all my exhilarating adventures and encouraging fellow Singaporeans to travel beyond the typical beach destinations *coughs Phuket* *coughs Bali*.“Oh, is it safe there? I heard it’s dangerous, why would you go there?” are just some of the responses I get which triggers my reflex action of some cheeky eye rolling before whipping out my phone to show them the untouched paradise.
I then realised I am no hero against the negative media portrayal of neighbouring developing Asian countries which amplifies misconceptions about them within my community.
I am looking forward to creating a community and platform to reach out to like-minded millennials and invite them to come forward and out of their sheltered lives behind their 20-inch LED screens. I envision a world where we, as millennials, can expect, execute and explore beyond being spectators and passive participants through social media. Fun fact: Singapore has the world’s strongest passport - what are you waiting for?
Photos credit: Fellow travel buddy Michael John Cruz