“YO-HO-YO-HO, it’s a pirates life for me! A pirates life, with a big fat knife, a pirate’s life for me!” Grin has been humming and chortling, making up words, and swinging back and forth on his tether as though he is holding a mug of grog and sloshing it to and fro. “I can feel the treasure, it’s buried over there, I just know it!” He points to his port side where I follow his gaze across the anchorage. Sure enough, I can see the dark, gaping archway, the roof line of a cave currently filled with water. Grin ho-hums, disappointed but accepting that neither he nor Kitty can dive under water when the cave is full like this. We just have to wait.
We offer Grin a distraction to keep him from being too antsy about his treasure hunt, and ask him to take us to the wide, shallow beach glowing pink in the sunset. This cheers him, and we leave Sonrisa to rest on anchor. We enjoy beers at the “rasta bar” with Regge music playing, wondering if we are back in a territory where such song-smithing is an International Advertising Campaign for something else entirely. We shrug, watch the sunset, chat with new friends, then head off to find dinner after reaching the bottom of our nicely chilled Chang. A puppy, with soft, floppy ears tags along behind us hoping fatten himself up on our leftover scraps of curry. Unlikely outcome, but he is so cute that I sacrifice a morsel as he is a growing boy.
The next morning, Grin starts tapping on Sonrisa’s hull around 6:30 a.m. Andrew and I wake up, make our coffee and pour it in a to-go container so we can hopefully enjoy the treasure hunt before any of the tourists arrive. Grin is highly satisfied when we are stepping into his hull no later than 7:00 a.m. The sky is still grey and pink with sleep, and we are going to be the first shift into the cave.
“I am going to look for rubies. I think I might find a ruby or a sapphire, or maybe even a Piece of Eight!” I admonish Grin that no one here wants the responsibility of caring for a Piece of Eight, but he ignores me completely and continues to mutter on about all the booty he might find. Kitty putters to a stop as we enter the mouth of the cave, and I take up oar. “Faster Leslie! I can’t see anything.”
For a moment, the twists and turns of the cave block the light in both directions and the blackness of the cavern swallows us whole. We forgot our flashlight. My strategy is, of course, to slow down so that I might not crack my skull on the pointy end of a granite stalagtite. This disappoints Grin, who can’t wait to see. Soon, a pinpoint of light emerges around the corner, and I paddle toward it. Green, moss and oyster covered cave walls frame what opens up in to a central cathedral surrounded 360 degrees with jungle fringed cliffs that stretch thousands of feet into the sky. Morning sunlight drops down the shaft, a beach sparkling in the light with what seems to be a million tiny drops of gold. “Ahhh! WOW!” Our whole explorer team releases our appreciation in unison. I paddle us to the edge of the water, lapping onto the beach and anchor Grin so he won’t wander off digging further and further for treasure.
Grin is not wrong, this area of Thailand was plied in days of old by pirate ships and traders alike. The mysterious landscape provides a perfect setting to secret away treasure. About a million years ago, this area was a sedimentary sea bed made of milky brown water flourishing with coral and other marine organisms. They layered calcium rich deposits over time, creating layers and layers of sediment and carbonate bodies. At some point in time, pressure on the sedimentary rock ruptured the Earth’s crust, causing stiff limestone to either be thrust upward or to sink. During the ice age, the sea level dropped radically, and this landscape consisted of mountains until the glacial ice began to melt and this area was filled by sea again. Now, limestone cliffs jutt straight into the sky, while relatively shallow sea puddles at their base. A ship can easily sail between two of these pinnacles, enter a break hidden between layers of rock, and disappear to anchor inside a protective surround. Caves and dark passage ways that lead to these inner spaces known as Hongs provided an excellent cranny for Pirates to stash their goods and hide from anyone who might be chasing them. Koh Mok is the first of many such places we will explore.
I wander the full circle, poking at my camera’s shutter button as the mood strikes. Cicadas sing a loud morning rift, but otherwise, the Hong is silent, the jungle green and lush. It’s beautiful and mysterious; the only pirate here is Grin. He sways with the now incoming tide, digging his belly into the sand in different spots and sniffing around for his rubies. Kitty watches him in silent bemusement. “Come on, Kitty, make yourself useful.” She doesn’t though, she just drags along behind him.
Soon, we hear voices coming through the corridor, the morning hoard of Tourists has started. We gather up our anchor and rope, turn about and weave our way out of the cave as a whole line of people in kayaks start their way in.
“Found anything, Grin? We could really use a ruby or two to pay for Sonrisa’s new sails.” (I knew that would get him riled up.)
Grin “humphs” and says, “I’m not telling you, you’ll just try to steal it for Sonrisa,” but the sour look on his face indicates he did not find his Piece of Eight, yet.
“Not to worry, Grin, we just barely arrived in Thailand! You have plenty of time to look.” With this, Grin smiles at the thought of hong after hong, cave after cave to be explored. Back on Sonrisa, we pull up anchor and sail onward to Koh Lanta – a laid back tourist vibe with more beach food (the best Mango Sticky Rice we’ve found so far) and Thai Massages on the beach.
Our next sail took us to Phi Phi Island where we enjoyed some time with Sonrisa nestled right at the foot of the cliffs. Grin and I paddled around, hiding in the crevice between one giant boulder and the main cliff walls. “Captain Andrew will never find us in here!” Grin declares.
We walk the tourist town ashore and find a nice beach, extremely crowded stalls of cheap Tattoo parlors – some boasting “We use a clean needle every time!” – others remaining suspiciously silent on the topic. The landscape of the island itself is beyond impressive, but the chaos of boats zipping around, tourists, tightly squeezed stalls of Gidgets for sale, and the party atmosphere makes the Island mismatched to our Sailor Vibes. We turn around and head back out to Sonrisa, thankful to have her as our base camp when from all the way out in the anchorage, we can listen to the pumping of club music as though we were sitting with our heads directly next to the speakers. “You Old fuddy-duddies!” Grin says, “A pirate needs shore leave to dance with the ladies.” He’s not wrong, I guess. We forbade him to wander over there alone, nonetheless.
And our final leg takes us to Phuket where we settle in for Christmas. Maybe Santa can bring Grin something to help him find his Piece of Eight?