We capped off our visit to Ao Chalong by returning to the city and completing Santa’s gift list. We stop into the dive store where Andrew selects some bullet-proof, never-to-fail again swimming fins in blue, and we go to the custom wet suit store to complete my fitting.
There, I find Santa has arranged not for just any Sea Dragon Wetsuit, but one in bright red and bright purple with orange flames down the side. This is cool enough as-is, but I quickly realize that this will be a color shifting dragon! As any diver knows, red disappears at a depth so the red piece on the font part of the body will change from red to pink to a lavender color as I descend! “Whaooooooowwww!” I say as I try it on. “It’s perfect!”
But my Thai Wetsuit Tailor thinks not. She tisks her tongue and pinches at the fabric here and there, marking it with chalk in “V” shapes at the small of my back, the back of my knees, the inside of my elbow. She pokes at a slight fold in the armpit and shakes her head. She writes something in Thai-Squiggly on her pad. She pulls at the wrist and marks the length of the wrist zipper she will install to make the arms eiaser to manage. She pulls the Velcro strap around my neck and marks the perfect length to keep it snug. As she goes, she reads off numbers to an assistant:
“Sip-Hog-Haaaaaa” Scribble, scribble. Pinch, chalk, “Sam-Sip Gao Haaaaaaaaa” Scribble. Pinch. Chalk.
It sounds so disapproving the way she lists the numbers, then lengthens the number five or “Ha” first dipping her voice then leveling out in the back of her throat. I realize soon the “Haaaaaas” must be increments of “point-five”. It’s curious the way listing numbers sound when you are unfamiliar with the language. I’m sure an English list of numbers is similar.
I try on a sample Sea Dragon Hat, this one in blue and green, but mine will be red with purple spikes.
We go back to the fin store and I buy myself some new indestructible fins in orange to match my dragon flames with some birthday money my mom and dad sent in October. As I walk around in the scuba store with my orange fins poking sideways like a duck, I realize again I am nothing more than a much-too-tall eight year old.
We leave the tailor to finish up her artwork while we set sail to cruise through the islands of Phang Na Bay. We bring up Sonrisa’s anchor and wrestle with very light wind until we meet up with Steel Sapphire “Steely” (She who hosted Christmas Night Dinner) and her crew. As we arrive, sailing in the slightest breath of wind – that strange, high pitched hum of a drone buzzes Sonrisa. “SMILE EVERYONE!”
We lay anchor and Stand-Up-Paddle-Grin over to Steely for a chilly beer while we wait for the tide to drop in the nearby Hong. We tie Grin next to “Steel Steven” (another ding-guy!?) and before long I can hear Grin extolling the virtues of Hongs and explaining the full strategy of his current endeavor to find his Piece of Eight. Steely Steve bobs silently, unable to get a word in edgewise at this point.
Soon, we all decide it’s time to go. Too lazy to put Kitty on, Steel Stephen tows us over to the mouth of a cave gaping into the side of a sheer cliff wall. We paddle through angled sun beams, lowered on the western horizon to light the back throat of the cave at least until we take two or three twists and turns into darkness. There, we all get stuck as the outlet to the hong is still full of water until tide drops just a few feet more. “Good thing we brought road sodas,” We remark as the crack-hiss of beer cans echo against cave walls covered in bat guano and stinking seafood shells.
“GO GO GADGET NIGHT VISION” Grin declares while he scootches himself into the smallest nooks and crannies of the cave.
“Have you no respect for jagged edges?” Steely Steve reasonably inquires as he tries to keep himself hovering away from the sharper points of the cave walls.
“Hmmm, not really.” Grin says, distracted by the hunt. Good thing, too. Grin can be a bit egomaniacal about his Super Hero Power: Never Deflatable.
Eventually, tide lowers just enough and we all go through contortions to lay in the bottom of our dinghies and still paddle through the opening. When we finally pop through, we find ourselves inside a giant hong. This one is without a beach, has a deeper pool of water and a small creek opening on the left side. We paddle through the creek and find ourselves in a second orb of rock cliff walls.
We paddle around, hunt in cervices, and Grin looks below himself to see if he can find any treasure. The water is fairly murky though, especially on outgoing tide, so to his disappointment, he didn’t find anything. “Find anything Steely Steve?” Grin calls out from across the Hong.
Steel Steven rolls his eyes. “No, I’m not looking for treasure. I’m busy.” Steely Steve and his crew are circling, trying to establish GPS signal for the drone. “This hong would make fantastic photos!” Steve says, looking skyward and muttering something about “the tangent of the isosceles triangle placing three of twelve satellites directly overhead at atomic time 14:36...”
Grin shrugs and returns to wading about in the mud. Unfortunately, both Grin and Steel Steven come up empty. Steven couldn’t find any GPS signal and Grin didn’t find a piece of eight, so we all paddled through the cave feeling a bit dejected until we meet the opening and see a warm orange and yellow sunset glowing through the cave mouth. Steel Steven tows us back to Sonrisa in the fading twilight. These islands do not disappoint!
To be continued…