Ethical Tourism with Tao Expeditions

This site has been quiet the last few weeks as my partner and I took a break from teaching and ventured off to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year holiday. Though we spent some time relaxing in the well-traveled paradises of Palawan, the bulk of our trip was spent on the water traveling from El Nido to Coron on the Balatik–a stunning, wooden sailing vessel designed after the ancient paraw ships of the Philippines. For six days and five nights, we maneuvered across the brilliant blue waters, our captains Toto and Gener at the helm, tracing our way around remote island villages sprinkled throughout this span of sea with 24 fellow guests, nine crew members, and one fearless Jack Russell, Datu. The sights were, no surprise, completely breathtaking and oh-my-god-amazing. Though I could brag at length about the painted sunsets, intricate and ornate coral reefs, abundance of exotic neon fish, and belly busting feasts prepared by our ship’s very own Chef Jeff, I mainly want to highlight the invaluable work of the organization behind our life altering adventure, Tao Expeditions.
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Tao developed from humble beginnings as two friends with a passion for sailing and exploration transformed their remote expeditions into a business plan. From their simple dream, Tao evolved into a mixed breed of aid organization and travel group. Tao Expeditions is very explicit with guests that their trip offerings are not tours–though they take guests to beautiful sights and comfortable base camps (emphasis on camp), the experience one has is mostly up to the individual. Your day can be spent relaxing and reading on the boat, sun bathing and snorkeling, swimming and hiking at base camps, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
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With the money Tao generates from sharing some of the Philippines’ most incredible sights, they provide services and training to under-served locals residing in communities spread across the islands. These services include building and operating schools in villages, providing quality, sustainable materials for building homes and structures in their village, and assisting with garden and farming projects. Additionally, Tao plays a role in improving the economies of these small villages by not only offering locals the opportunity for training in specific skills and trades, but also guaranteeing them a market by which to generate income through the guests that visit while on expeditions.
On our expedition, a portion of our payment to Tao went to the village women who were trained masseuses and thus an evening of our vacation was spent having our sore muscles massaged beneath the starry night sky. Similarly, Tao will pay villagers to use the structures they’ve built, with materials donated by Tao, as base camps during expeditions. Tao also trains young, interested Filipino’s in the ways of the sea–providing training in all aspects of sailing and boat management–and the especially gifted end up working and earning wages as crew on Tao’s small fleet. These are just a few of many ways in which Tao has aided in improving the quality of life for Filipino people, particularly those that are outside of the common zones of government assistance.
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As an organization, Tao Expeditions has a demonstrated and palpable mission of sustainability, empowerment, and celebration of Filipino people, land, and culture. I didn’t have to look very hard or far to bear witness to the powerful positive impact this group has had on human lives and the environment. Despite the cliche, it’s no stretch for me to proclaim this adventure a life changing one and it certainly re-affirmed my passion for learning as much as I possibly can about the economics of sustainable development in order to best serve those in need. Organizations such as Tao, and the faces behind it, give me hope that we can meet our shared goals as a planet to do and be better for each other and our Earth.