Day 2: Tao Retreat to Necpan and then on to Darocotan Our island-hopping first day with Tao had taken us less than 10km from El Nido, so time now to get some nautical miles underneath Aurora's keel, which limited the morning's entertainment to a single swim stop in the waves off Necpan's long, curving beach. Then, nearing the rounded northern tip of Palawan, it was time to hold on tight and watch the bow pitch into a lively sea, speed dropping as the captain jockeyed the throttle wave by wave, threading his way through the swells.
Midway around the point, one of the younger crew members appeared on the sundeck to sit and look forlornly ashore as his home village passed by – a tentative plan to buy fish here had been stymied by the sea state. Instead we continued on and Aurora eventually turned South towards Darocotan Island, camp, and an overnight glimpse into local life.
Even at a distance, Darocotan stands out - insanely saturated green palms and a thin beach strip lifted rather than dulled by a backdrop of temper-black storm clouds, all coated in the area’s signature late-afternoon deep and warm light. Once more it was a mass snorkel ashore via a small wreck, near invisible in the murky shallows, then through low surf onto the beach and into camp.
Tao have access to a dormitory on a private plot at the edge of the village which would be our home that night – a large, open-sided hut with multiple sleeping platforms and a communal dining area. Having missed our shopping stop earlier, it was fried eggplant omelet (a version of Tortang Talong I think) which accompanied the rice and vegetables that evening. By that time, enough Tanduay had gone down to head off any possible complaints from the carnivores, not that there would have been any - am not a great fan of aubergine, but this was blissful stuff.
Each day you awake with the dawn, teased gently from rum-fuelled sleep by the morning light flooding past absent curtains, windows and walls, content not resentful with the hour. It was these early starts which gave insights into how people live in the remoter parts of Palawan province. The first order of business for the residents is a steady brushing of the sand around your home, to disturb the sandflies and prevent them hatching. This work is done, predictably, by the women, although the men were already up and working on boats or nets. Today on Darocotan was a Saturday, so no school and by eight, a handful of children were busy collecting seaweed from the previous night’s high water mark. The weather picked up speed as breakfast approached, skating from cloudy and dull through to the blue skies you feel the palm trees and white sand demand for the cameras, then back again. No fish available to buy, so Zaza went to Plan B, and a cute little pig met its maker for $50.
As we waited for the unfortunate little swine to be butchered, Zaza took us on a stroll around Darocotan village. The island is home to some 17 families whose lives are grounded in their surroundings - fishing, seaweed or copra (coconut farming). Midweek, school-age children journey across the strait to the mainland, and Tao have built and funded a smart little daycare centre for the pre-school kids to give their mothers a break in the middle of the day.
It’s always tough to work out the economic circumstances of places like this - Zaza described the village as “middle class” - the children looked healthy and well-nourished, had some education opportunities and the village had a clean water supply. But, ultimately, it is what it is - a small, remote village almost off the radar of the State – so no primary health care and I imagine some pressure to get out of school young and into work. I never did quite get to the bottom of what the “escape routes” might be from somewhere like Darocotan - is it a job in the tourism industry across the peninsula in El Nido? With just one Tao boat passing though each week, and then only during the dry season, it didn’t seem as if our arrival was something resented and Tao’s social project work will hopefully be a positive for the communities they touch.
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