The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Archive for the tag “outdoors”

WPC: Symmetry


Something magical happens when the air becomes still and the sun shines brightly above. Sky becomes water and water becomes sky. The forest becomes two and we are left to gasp in wonder.

To see how others interpret the word ‘symmetry’ visit the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Photos from the Shoebox: Overland From Kathmandu to Lhasa 1990

If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.

Often the journey is as interesting as the destination. My best friend and I had been in Nepal for almost two months. We had done the obligatory mountain treks and explored the city and its surroundings to its extent. We started to get that feeling. You’ve probably felt it too, the feeling of itchy feet, the need to move. It was November in Kathmandu and winter would soon arrive.


The Friendship Highway

“Why not journey into Tibet?,” we mused. We found a tour operator who had one last overland trip to Lhasa before snow made the highway impassable. Back then in the 1990’s you had to join an approved tour. There was no opportunity for lone, off the beaten path type of travel.


Life along the highway

We spent days in line-ups getting our visas and cashing in some traveller’s cheques to join an eclectic group of geriatric Americans, mid-aged Brits, a pair of young Swedish female backpackers and a couple of mysterious lone travellers.


The pass

The best place to sit in a bus? Front seats. From this point of vantage the windshield becomes your big screen TV. On one leg of the journey we drove for about seven hours over stark scenery that was beautifully barren and monochromatic.


Curious nomad

What started out as a black dot on the horizon soon materialized into flesh and blood. A curious nomad left his herd to come and check us out. It was not often they came across foreigners.


The arid land looked like a moonscape

As hours and kilometres ticked by we had the luxury of immersing ourselves in personal reflection. It was the perfect condition for an introvert like myself.


On the road again

Every Tibetan we came across greeted us with an excited exuberance, always laughing and asking for the same thing. They all wanted a picture of the Dalai Lama, forbidden by the Chinese.

Tibet children

Curious Tibetan children

The locals were peculiarly the same colour as the landscape – mottled shades of brown, blue and grey and often covered with dirt.

On the raod again

Life passes by

I can’t imagine living in this environment. It may be a simple life but it’s a harsh existence.


Our bus took a beating

Our bus took a beating breaking two springs and putting up with a bunch of progressively cranky travellers confined inside its metal box.

Beautiful Yamdrok Lake

Beautiful Yamdrok Lake

On the fourth day the browns and greys gave way to a beautiful turquoise. We’ve made it to sacred Yamdrok Lake, one of Tibet’s three holy lakes.


One last stop before Lhasa. Boiled eggs for lunch again.

Time always seems to pass slower as you get closer to your final destination. Patience is in short supply. Anxiousness takes its place. Finally, we reached Lhasa where a nice Holiday Inn greeted us with a hot shower, comfortable bed and decent food. After a long, tiring journey who doesn’t like a little pampering?

Photos from the Shoebox: Rafting on the Trisuli River, Nepal 1990

If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.

My months long trip to Asia began with the desire to seek adventure. Back in the 90’s, without the influence of the internet, the world was still a huge mysterious place. The pages of the National Geographic, with its colourful, glossy photos sparked the imaginations of those seeking the exotic. And so, with my like-minded best friend, I left Canada to explore the far side of the world.


A broken axle gave us the opportunity to hike ahead

One of those exotic places was Nepal. We thought a nice and easy introduction would be to take a white water rafting trip down the Trisuli River. We would plunge into the unknown with the help of a guide and fellow travellers. Getting out of Kathmandu was easy. Traversing the chewed up, pot-holed dirt road was another thing. Read more…

How to Survive a Visit to the Taal Volcano

No visit to Tagaytay would be complete without a hike up the world’s smallest active volcano, the Taal Volcano. Described as “a volcano within a lake within a volcano” it’s one of the most visited tourist spots in the Philippines. Only about 2 hours from Manila it’s easily accessible but does have some downsides.

The Bangka

Read more…

Weekly Photo Challenge: CONTRAST

I’m a sucker for sunsets.

What I like about them is the CONTRAST that happens between colour and light. As the sun descends on the horizon you never know how it will end. You never know what Read more…

TAO EXPEDITIONS: Adventure of a Lifetime

If you are thinking about visiting the Philippines and want an adventure of a lifetime I highly recommend Tao Expeditions.

Approaching an uninhabited island.

Tao, pronounced tah-oh (Filipino for ‘people’), is not your normal tour company. Started by a couple of passionate young guys who love to travel they came up with the idea of seeing the Palawan area by way of native bangka (boat). Their point of view is to expose you to the beauty and culture of Palawan while taking you on an adventure of your own choosing. There is no set itinerary, just the daily plan of your guide, the captain and yourselves. The boat expedition winds through remote islands in the north. Palawan is known as the last frontier of the Philippines.

Our boat the Krisolo.

After months of planning and research “The Chef” and I book a private expedition on the Krisolo. This boat is small and fast and able to get close to the islands. Each day is full of wonder as we island hop, snorkel, kayak, and explore. Each night we bed down at a remote camp or village on a different island. We rarely see another traveler.

The aftermath of drinking with the Captain.

Our Captain Lolong is an old salt. He’s quiet and reserved but now that the rum is flowing he begins to loosen up. In his limited english, he tells us about his dad in World War II, his kids, and his hope for his own business. He admits to dynamite fishing when he was young but now understands how wrong it is. Working with Tao has shown him how ecotourism can bring prosperity to the area. The Captain has been around for 60 years and is so refreshingly ‘old school.’ I listen and I laugh but after hours of sitting on a hard wooden bench I excuse myself and stumble to bed. “The Chef” and Captain continue to pour rum.

Jem gets ready to anchor as we approach the ‘Bat Cave.’

The next morning we leave the village and the hangovers behind and follow the rugged coast of Culion Island. We’ve reached the ‘Bat Cave.’  It’s been discovered only recently and only a few villagers have ventured inside. We’re about to make history. We will be the first foreigners to set foot inside the cave.

Donning our snorkel gear we enter the water from about 50 feet away. “The Chef” sees me struggle against the sea swells, takes my hand, and gets me to the entrance of the cave. I’m not a strong swimmer. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

For a moment I feel trapped in this spot. Out of breath, I’m treading water and hoping not to smash against the rocks. I don’t think I can swim forward and I don’t think I have anything left to swim all the way back. Some of the purist moments come when we face intense situations. There’s no time for inconsequential thoughts, only the here and now. For me, this becomes one of those moments.

“The Chef” has been guiding me by the hand but now he’s catching his own breath. He passes me over to Jem, our guide. I instinctively take his hand and he leads me to the end of the dark cave and on to a small pebble beach. I’ve never been so happy. I made it!

The first thing that hits us is the smell. The stench of guano is overwhelming. “The Chef” arrives and I see his silhouette against the faint light of the entrance. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bats are flying inches around him. The whole cave is filled with bats. I feel like I’m living in the pages of a National Geographic magazine. It’s scary, fascinating and mind blowing.

Happiness in the sand.

I will always remember the ‘Bat Cave’ adventure. If you like the sun, water and the outdoors you will love this trip. Sleep in a bamboo hut, walk barefoot in the sand, channel your inner child and let your heart take you places you will never forget. This trip had such an impact on “the Chef” and I, it’s one of the reasons we are planning on moving to Palawan.

If you want to know about Tao Expeditions you can visit their website at


We went on our expedition in 2012. Tao has grown alot since then. Here’s what you can expect now.

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