Days 3–5. Darocotan to Coron, via Linapacan and Dicalubuan
Leaving friendly Darocotan behind, the reward for another choppy hour or so of big-boat whitetop surfing is Takling Island – anonymous speck on the map, but vivid and memorable in reality – even when just a smudge on the horizon its tell-tale electric blue halo is a long-distance hint of undersea delights to come. Under naked, high-noon sunlight, the snorkelling here was good, though I managed to go the wrong way from the famed "coral garden” much to the obvious annoyance of our guide Zaza. Then onboard and onward again – swim, lunch, beer, swim, read, rum – past more islands and the odd pearl farm, the lowering sun pushing shadows down and out towards camp, a cluster of huts on Linapacan Island, ready for another intense, high speed Palawan sunset, dinner and an unexpected visit by carolers from the village, reminding us that Christmas is eagerly awaited in this most Catholic of Asian nations.
Everywhere on our journey the close dependence of the local people on the sea is obvious. At Dicabaito Channel, nutrient-rich currents funnel between two islands, fueling a mini-hotspot of marine life and healthy coral below the surface, which in turn sustains a handful of small houses and their occupants above. Lionfish float serenely off the reef’s edge, smug in their poison-finned arrogance, daring a predator to come and play. Below them, large white plastic boxes are strapped to the seabed, ingenious holding and maturing pens placed by the locals for their catch. From Dicabaito a long run takes Aurora to anchor just as the last dregs of twilight disappear into the sinkhole of night, my kayak taxi hard to control in the bright rip tide running along the beach next to our new home. I make two trips with passengers before giving up and leaving the experts to bring the rest ashore.
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“Ashore” is the imaginatively named Banana Island Resort (the assumption being that tourists can’t manage its real name - Dicalubuan). We are only a day away from Coron Town and its airport and there’s a sense now of the wider world pushing towards us, hence the “resort” – no more villages this trip. The place is fun, but shambolic, and feels alien – each hut has a rectangular wooden panel blocking the entrance, a little over six feet in height and perhaps three wide. This, I learn, is a “door”, with access to the hut being via a magic tool called a “key” – just 3 nights of sleeping in an open-sided hut and my sense of “normal” has already taken multiple reboots. When asked at breakfast the next day if anyone had actually locked their huts, the answering blank expressions told all I needed to know about how the Tao experience had gotten under our skins.
Morning dawns bright and calm and, after pancakes with Palawan honey, a final extended snorkelling adventure awaits. There’s plenty to see and we’re in the water for well over an hour, steadily part-circumnavigating the island. Eventually, Aurora motors up to sit a hundred or metres or so off the reef – time to go. As I’m about to leave the shallows and swim out, a mid-size black-tip reef shark fins across the channel ahead - just a fleeting glimpse in the distance, but long enough to know I wasn’t imagining it, and a welcome sight - with sharks amongst the most persecuted of marine species, every siting is a pleasure.
A couple of hours later, crossing Coron Bay from the Bulacao Islands, the scent of marine diesel switches from background to foreground and unfamiliar sounds emerge from the reputedly pension-eligible engine. There’s little concern and no impatience – we’ve all long since surrendered to the voyage and the crew will do what they do, when they do it, no faster, no slower. Captain Lito sidles cautiously to a bright spot of shallow water plumb-centre in the bay for a little on-the-fly marine engineering masterclass and we settle down for read, a chat, a snooze or a drink.
I sit on deck, trying to read as Aurora gimbals gently in the swell, but my eye is constantly drawn to the Karst cliffs which fill the entire West coast of Coron Island. Coming off the back of three days of low, cartoon-cliche, palm-fringed desert islands the contrast is total – the island appears as an unbroken wall of other-worldy geological menace, awakening a submerged memory of the terrible Land that Time Forgot. At any moment I half-expect a Pterodactyl to float down from the tops of the cliffs. But no, not today. Instead, lunch is served.
Eventually, we resume course and track around the island’s coast to a final snorkelling stop at the rather underwhelming Barracuda Lake. Across the channel Coron Town marks journey’s end and the last of the rum disappears in a final toast as we pull into harbour and transfer ashore. After the solitude of the sea and a handful of lo-fi village encounters, it takes a few minutes to readjust to the relative madness of Filipino life as we walk through Coron’s bustling market, up to the Tao office and journey’s end - another Tao Philippines open expedition over.
I’m OK to be leaving Aurora and moving on - there’s only so many times you can go snorkelling and 5 days is long enough to so do, but it will be a long time before I forget how the hard-working and helpful Tao staff made this a great trip
- Fun, safe, fairly luxurious “pretend” adventure tourism through a rapidly changing part of the Philippines.
- Hardworking staff make things very easy, and just about make the premium pricing worthwhile.
- Some days you don’t actually DO that much. It takes a LONG time to get going in the mornings and there’s a LOT of hanging around.
- From comparing my experience to that of others I’ve read about, I get the impression that what you do depends on which lead guide you get.
- If you’re lucky enough to get calm seas, you’ll probably get a bit more out of each day as the open channel crossings will be faster.
If you don’t like grilled fish and cold rice, this trip is one to avoid!
Overall, a HIGHLY recommended way to get from Coron to El Nido or vice versa
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