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Crystal Blue: Phase 1

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Once Crystal Blue was safely on land, we sighed a huge sigh of relief. It had been painful to watch her laying so low in the surf, and at this point all we wanted to do was give her a good fresh water bath and to see what condition the engine was in.

While the M9 Marina workers got busy building stands to hold Crystal Blue, Danny and I ran into town to find a wet vac, a diesel can and some tools.

The Thai workers immediately began cutting and welding, and we were curious to see what they were going to come up with.

Our patch job had held up reasonably well, but seeing her completely out and lifted up, it was obvious that there were far more gouges, cracks and holes than we’d anticipated.

One of the arms on the haul out trailer had pushed against the hull where it was cracked, and left a massive dent and crack.

Her keel was so sad to look at, and we still needed to return to the beach where she washed up, and retrieve the 4800lbs of ballast. Our bill for loading her up with barrels, pulling her off the beach with the tug boat, towing her to M9 Marina, hauling her out and placing her on stands, was about $5000.

Her interior was filled with sand and the barrels used for floatation had left their mark too. The great thing about having holes in the hull, is that you can scoop that sand right out through the holes and onto the ground below! A large sheet of wood had been placed up against the ceiling to prevent more damage, but it was clear that all wood would need to be removed, cleaned, sanded and stained. What a mess.

Danny was drawn to the engine like a magnet since he’d been thinking about it all night and found it covered in mud and sand. He cleaned it all out, and poked around checking things out.

The following day we had to leave as a family for Malaysia for 3 days, to get our 90 day visas. Danny wouldn’t have time to pickle the engine, and didn’t want it to sit till we returned, so for 5000 baht ($150) a mechanic at M9 marina did the job for us…running diesel through the engine and was able to get it started. Gold star for Yanmar!!! What a champ!

We chatted with a gentleman by the name of Steve Stebbins with Oceanus Marine Services, asking advice on the best plan of attack on our new project, and he was so organized and reassuring, we instantly wanted to work with him. We told him that as a family we wanted to do as much of the work as possible, but knew that working on the boat in a marina in Thailand is illegal without a work permit, so the work we do had to be done back at our house. We also told him that we wanted to repair Crystal Blue according to Island Packet standards, and immediately got in contact will Bill Bolin, who has worked at Island Packet Yachts for 29 years, and signed up for the Island Packet Pedigree for $99. This would provide us with blueprints and tons of other info needed for a solid restoration. Bill was wonderful and told us to call anytime. We instantly felt so welcomed into the Island Packet family.

When we returned from Malaysia, we found Crystal Blue propped up on massive metal jungle gym!

Our immediate impression was that she was definitely not going anywhere!

We did worry that there were too many supports, which would make it difficult to work on the hulls. Note how bent the rudder post is!

Steve came up with a plan, and told us that Phase 1 would be to get everything out of the boat, including all wood, power washing the boat down, removing the sails, mast and rigging, and tenting the boat.
We immediately got to work…pulling the pick up close and began tossing things overboard. Aidan rinsed things off and placed them in the truck. It’s interesting taking someone else things out of a boat, realizing that these items were important to them. My heart ached once again for her previous owner.

Emma worked hard inside, gathering garbage, mud, sand and broken bits of stuff.

With aching backs, we knew that every load we removed, was one step closer to our end goal, so we continued on with smiles and good humor. It felt so good to be back working on a boat again – even if it was on land.
It was good to see that top side, Crystal Blue still looked great.

After two days of cleaning, she was looking so good inside.

Having her clean inside allowed us to see more clearly what damage there was.

I love her wood floor and want to make sure we restore that properly.

She was starting to look more alive every minute.

As each hour of work past, we felt more and more bonded with her, and could just imagine how fun she’ll be to explore with.

Steve brought a huge crane in and Aidan and Emma helped demast her – leaving her looking a bit naked.

By the following day, most of the wood had been stripped out of her,

and loaded into the pick up for us to work on at home.

Before leaving to head home I stood in her cockpit at the helm, with a big smile on my face. Progress… it’s a beautiful thing!

Saving Crystal Blue

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Usually if I stand outside our bedroom and call to the creatures first thing in the early morning, they will slowly emerge from their rooms as they wipe their eyes and yawn, and finally find their focus and reply, ‘yes, Mom?’ This particular morning was different…I had just woken to a phone call from the elders in our church, saying that a member of our church was having a rough morning and needed our help. His 30ft Island Packet sailboat had broken free from her anchor in a storm in the night, and had washed up on rocks and he was trying to get her off. Since our family had already endured a shipwreck, they thought perhaps we could be of assistance. I told him we’d head out in the next 10 minutes, then woke Danny up and explained the situation to him. When I stepped out into the hallway and called to the creatures, telling them we needed to help our friends in a shipwreck situation, Mycah, Aidan and Emma were instantly up, alert and naming off items they would grab to take with and help.

The hour drive over was an interesting one for all of us, as we chatted about possible ideas and a suggestions for the plan of attack, though we wouldn’t know exactly what we were dealing with till we saw her. We all commented on what we had felt the morning after our shipwreck, as we were driven to the closest point where our sailboat was. We felt anxious, and just wanted to get busy to keep our emotions at bay. We had learned so much from our experience and more than anything, just wanted to be a comfort and a help.

As soon as we reached the site, we chatted with Bill, the owner, to find out what his plan was and told him to put us to work. Many rocks were off to her port side, and some of them had already penetrated her hull, so tying lines and pulling her away from that was our first priority.

Aidan and Mycah swam the anchor out through crashing waves and secured it among some rocks, while Danny, the elders and Bill worked on securing other lines. Before long we had quite the spiderweb stretching across the beach and into the trees, pulling Crystal Blue to starboard. As we all worked, options were discussed on how to patch the holes and cracks in her hull so she could be floated and towed to a marina for haul out.

After a brief lunch of gas station sandwiches and potato chips, we set out to collect supplies to begin temporary repairs. Our plan was to purchase sheets of plywood, screws and expanding foam, and attempt to make her water tight, then once low tied hit, we’d work hard and fast and get her patched. In the mean time, Bill called a group of guys called Sea Gypsies, who said they could tow her off the beach.

I took a minute to have a chat with Crystal Blue. I told her to hang in there, that we cared about her and were going to try save her. She looked so sad and out of place, like a beached whale, and it made me tear up. We may not have been able to save Tanda Malaika, but we were going to do all we could to help Bill save Crystal Blue!
Bill had only owned her for about 18 months at this point, purchasing her in the US where she had been on a fresh water lake her whole life. My heart ached for Bill, and I gave him a big Belinda hug and tried reassuring him that everything was going to be okay.

The creatures scraped off any barnacles that would keep the board from laying flat against the hull.

Pieces of board were cut, a German friend named Popeye lay on his back with a drill and drilled screws through the boards at the base and into the hull, and foam was squirted into cracks and holes and between boards and hull.

We worked hard until about 9pm, and with little cuts here and there and sand and salt covering our bodies, the kids and I made our way to Bills house with his girlfriend, Toy, where we would rest for a couple of hours. Danny and Bill stayed at the boat so that they’d be there once high tide hit around midnight, to see if any water was going to leak in anywhere.

As the tide rose, Bill and Danny found that the boat rapidly filled with water, as if all our hard work had been done for nothing. Obviously there were cracks and holes on her port side between boat and sand that we hadn’t been able to see. As water rushed in, so did sand, which is the only thing worse that excessive amounts of water in a boat. We drove back, picked Danny up as Bill rode his scooter home, and we agreed to meet up in the morning once again.

The following morning, Crystal Blue had shifted to her starboard side, which gave us a good view of the large crack we had missed. It was so disheartening, and we wondered if there was any chance at all that she could be floated off, or if she would just sink. The Sea Gypsies told Bill that they had a tug boat that could pull her off, but that they would fill her with floats and barrels first so she wouldn’t sink.

We hopped on board, retightened lines that were connected to trees and rearranged some. Aidan did his stealthy ninja rock climbing stunts, carrying lines up higher on the rocks and tying her tighter from better angles.

We helped Bill as much as we could, removing all cushions and personal belongings off the boat, but knew at this point we were at the mercy of the Sea Gypsies schedule. We once again left her there on the beach after another hard day of work and feeling so bad for Bill. We would reconvene once again the following day when all the barrels arrived. Inside sand and sea water were having a jolly time.

The following morning Danny received a phone call from Bill, where he explained that he did not have the means to have Crystal Blue towed off the beach, placed on the hard in a marina, and repaired, and offered her to us for $1. We called the kids into our room for a family discussion, during which, Jude called from Alaska, so we told her about it too. She was very eager for us to take Bill up on his offer. We discussed the amount of hard work it would be, knowing that the creatures also had school to work on. We’d definitely have the hull professionally repaired, but could recover cushions and sand, fix and restain all the wood work ourselves. We didn’t know if the engine would run after being under sand and salt water for this long, and would have to replace all the batteries and electrical. We looked up what Island Packets the same age as Crystal Blue sell for, and after some family discussion, decided that it would a fun adventure to embark on as a family. We’d learn a lot and have a boat to explore the surrounding islands and beyond, with.

The following morning the Sea Gypsies had already arrived and were running thick ropes along her hulls for towing. They had dug below her to run ropes under her as well. It was clear that the keel would need to be repaired and we found the ballast from her keel on the beach – weighing a few thousand pounds.

Large green barrels were placed on the beach – ready to fill her interior. Her deck, standing rigging and mast were holding up well through all the chaos, but the longer she sat there, the more her hull was getting beaten up.

The Sea Gypsies worked hard, Crystal Blue hung in there,

she was soon busting at the seams with 33 barrels, and as ready as she could be to be towed!

We once again worked side by side with Bill, but this time – he was there helping us rather than us helping him. Life is so interesting…so many twists and turns. So many opportunities. One day you don’t own a boat and the next day you do – even if it is a project boat!

My sciatic pain showed it’s ugly face again, and Mycah’s back started acting up too. Toy was so sweet to give Mycah a good back rub during some down time.

We drove around Phuket, trying to find a marina that had lifts or a trailer of some sort to haul Crystal Blue out, and after some homework, found that M9 Marina in the Chalong area of Phuket, was our best bet. We missed watching her being hauled off the beach, but watched from a distance as she lay low in the water – held up by 33 barrels, being towed for an hour over to M9. It was a relief to see that she hadn’t just disappeared below the waves, and every minute was a minute closer to her being on land where we could begin working on her.

As she neared shore, storm clouds gathered and the wind picked up speed. Surely Mother Nature could cut this poor boat some slack and just be calm! Once she was close to shore, a long boat took her ropes and the tug boat went on its way, and the Sea Gypsies grabbed hold of the main line and began pulling her in. The more they pulled the harder the wind blew, sending a branch flying into one of the gypsies.

Danny had quite the crowd of kids around him, watching the screen as her followed along with the drone. He bent down low so they could all see clearly, and they loved it.

As the rain picked up, Toy took cover with some munchkins under a nearby dinghy.

By the time the gypsies had battled the storm and positioned Crystal Blue where she needed to be, the tide had dropped low enough to make it impossible to haul her out, so the poor thing had to sit and wait for the next high tide.

Later Danny sat at a table with the haul out guys, discussing the best plan of attack, and they told us that they simply might not be able to haul her out. Everyone knows that I call Danny my McGuiver Guy, and once again he didn’t fail us – he drew a diagram showing the haul out crew how to set up rollers to roll her from the water and onto the trailer, and they stared at his diagram shaking their heads…but tried it anyway, and it worked! After removing all 33 barrels, and with the tractor deep into the water, they were able to roll her onto the trailer and pull her safely onto land!

It was such a huge relief to see her on the trailer.

Our sweet girl had made it and now she was ready for some serious TLC.

So it is…Crystal Blue’s adventure begins with our family. I think we are all in for quite a treat!

Chiang Mai, continued…

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We continued to explore Chiang Mai, Thailand, and came across more fascinating places…the world is so full of them, if we just step outside our doors and routines to see them.

The meditation tunnels at the Umong Buddhist Temple, are 700 years old, and are deep in the forests of Chiang Mai, near the Doi Suthep mountains.

Well worn bricks and concrete formed a patchwork arch over us, providing shade and a slightly cooler temperature from the humid forests outside. The tunnels were quiet and peaceful and the tile, cool under our bare feet. Several enclaves throughout, exhibited Buddha statues and other sacred treasures.

Further tunnels opened up to carpeted areas where individuals knelt in worship, incense, whispy smoke and candlelight filling the air.

Feeling the slightly cooler air and peaceful quiet in the tunnels, it was easy to see how monks could have (and continue to) use these corridors for meditation.

We exited into the forested gardens, where a simple cemetery held remains of monks and priests who had walked the hallways and grounds we had been sauntering through.

Many statues line the cemetery walls, some crumbling with age, and covered in moss and mold. It has been said that if you are quiet enough, you’ll be able to hear the trees talking to you, whispering truths and answers to your questions. Perhaps someday I will be able to still my mind long enough to hear them speaking to me too.

We strolled down paths and through courtyards on the temple grounds, passing monks in orange clothing, curious tourists and vendors selling Thai iced tea and lottery tickets. A pond with a pretty little bridge filled with pigeons lay spread out ahead, and I walked out to see the water.

As I stood watching the open mouthed fish below me in the water, a pigeon in the tree above pooped on my head and down onto my shoulder. Aidan witnessed it and laughed so hard while trying to help me wipe the nonsense out of my hair, but finally gave up because it was just too funny!

We all moved far from the bird filled trees and sat and enjoyed a drink together, before continuing on…

After leaving the temple grounds, we walked through streets filled with wooden carvings,

colorful bags, clothing and key chains,

and old men standing by their tuktuks, chatting as they waited for customers to take a seat.

Our evening was spent at a night market, enjoying the sights of curious crowds and animated craftsmen.

I watched a sweet old lady who sat among her goods, studying the crowd. I wished I was fluent in Thai so I could sit with her for a while and hear her story.

Night markets are also a place for delicious foods, like dumplings filled with red beans or different meats,

as well as not so delicious things like steamed squid…

Then there’s those strange things that only the crazy people eat…like BUGS!!! I couldn’t believe that the creatures would embrace the challenge like they did. Aidan even ended up with grasshopper legs stuck in his braces!

They enjoyed the black beetles, crickets and grasshoppers the most, saying they tasted like tea. Their least favorite were the silk worms because they were ‘too gushy.’ All I could do was watch with the look of awe mixed with disgust on my face, and change the subject every time they offered me one.

Chiang Mai is most definitely a place we will return to, and continue to enjoy the artsy cafe’s, quaint stores, beautiful temples and friendly people. We will also return to the water park we found, as well as the cliff jumping place.
One more adventure down, several thousand to go!

Day 1 – Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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In the mountains of Northern Thailand is the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. It is overflowing with artists, Buddhist Temples and quaint shops and restaurants. The Old City area still displays remains of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. Since the pace was considerably slower than Bangkok, we were able to relax, explore and take it all in.

We met an artist from Sweden, who has amazing talent in jewelry making. Watching him work and catching a glimpse of the passion he feels for creativity, was inspiring. He displayed a sign which caught my eye and has stuck with me since, “took me a long time to become young.” As I thought about it during the day I decided that perhaps this is best achieved by not taking ourselves too seriously, not being afraid to get lost and loving freely.

The first temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist Temple in the heart of the Old City.

On the grounds are several structures, each holding sacred treasures. Some of the structures date back to the 14th century, and continue to stand tall, carrying tears and prayers of faithful followers, each brick faithfully, firmly placed and reaching heavenward.

With sarongs tied around our waists and naked feet, we climbed the steps to Chedi Luang, greeted by proud intricate serpents on either side.

The interior was carpeted in red and a tall gold plated statue of Bodhisattva with right hand raised, met us in the entry. It symbolizes those seeking enlightenment and is to motivate all to be compassionate and to encourage others to do the same.

The impressive interior with tall red ceilings and large round columns, houses the standing Buddha, known as Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha dates from the 14th century at the time of King Saen Muang Ma.

Many knelt or sat in prayer , never dishonoring Buddha by pointing their feet in his direction.

Between the exterior walls and the pillars, hung hundreds of golden prayer flags from the ceiling. These prayers of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom are believed to blow in the breeze to spread good will and compassion into all space.

We continued exploring the grounds, periodically passing by silent young monks, called Nen or Samanera, who reverently wander, seeking opportunity for meditation.

In yet another building on the premises is a 12 ft tall Jade statue of Naga Kanya, with 5 snake heads rising up behind. The cobras are sheltering the Buddha while meditating, protecting him from the elements like rain and storm. It is believed that four weeks after Buddha began meditating under the Bodhi tree, the sky darkened for seven days and it rained heavily. Mucilanda, the king of serpents, emerged from the earth and protected Buddha with his hood.

A large area closed in on three side, with pillars out front, housed a 25ft long reclining Buddha. It represented the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during his last illness, shortly before he entered the Parinivana. He is seen lying on his right side, facing west, with his head supported by his right hand.

Several other structures contained further statues of Buddha, as well as wax figures of Buddhist monks – each with incredibly detailed carving and painting.

The grounds were clean, quiet and well manicured, allowing all who entered, the opportunity to find the peace they seek in a beautiful environment. Though I am not Buddhist, I am impressed with their dedication and love to their beliefs.

We walked several miles on our first day in Chiang Mai, learning, admiring and enjoying the experience. Once evening came our feet were tired and we were anxious to lay down and think about all we had seen and learned. After some delicious street food in the form of fresh fruit and meat skewers (assuming it was pork), we lay to rest in the air conditioned hostel room, Mycah and Aidan in one queen sized bed and Emma and I in the other, and fell fast asleep after “I love you’s “ and “goodnights.”

Bangkok, Thailand

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After traveling all day from Phuket, we arrived in Bangkok around sunset, checked into our hostel and went for a walk. The humidity filled our lungs and lay on our skin like a fine mist. Vendors had closed up for the night, yet energy from the day could still be felt. A large rat hurried across the alley way, cheeks full of treasures, and a middle aged man lay sleeping in the doorway of an abandoned building. Many homes like these, lined the streets – kitchens spilling out onto the sidewalks for lack of room inside.

Morning came quickly, and with it, an eagerness to explore and feel the pulse of the city. Just outside our hostel, a lady sat resting, taking a break from her heavy load.

The streets smelled of curry, fresh noodles and frying bananas.

We passed through the Chatuchak market, where the creatures and I drank freshly squeezed fruit juice…Emma tried corn (because corn is considered a fruit here), I had watermelon, Aidan had guava and Mycah had orange. All jolly delicious and oh so fresh!

Market stalls were filled with everything one can imagine…as usual, the creatures and I were instantly drawn to the books. Though we didn’t buy any, we had a blast and a half sorting through stacks where fingers had once paged, their readers completely intoxicated with interest…or boredom, each one having it’s own personal story to tell in addition to the words in its pages.

Some stores overflowed with bright collections of brass,

and others of things that many here see as treasures and good luck charms for homes and businesses.

It’s always interesting to discover what people in different countries much on as snacks. In Bangkok, some popular items are peanuts, corn and sweet potatoes, washed down with the delicious traditional Thai tea.

Also shark fin soup and bird nest soup, both of which we will never taste.

Of course there’s always stinky Durian, the fruit that ‘tastes like heaven but smells like hell.”

Our personal favorites are fried bananas,

and fresh fruits.

Pomegranates are plentiful and the juice is so delicious.

As evening approached, vendors with more ‘dinner like’ menus began setting up, which brought on an entirely new buffet of goodies. Dried Squid anyone?

Small cooking areas line the streets and alley ways, and smell of vegetable soup, dim sum and grilled fish and meat, mix with the already thick aromas of fresh cut pineapple, lime and lemongrass.

On our second day we ventured into Chinatown, which was a fascinating congested craziness of cars, tuktuks and people – all of which have no personal bubble. The closer the better. While walking around we walked passed our truck, noticed we had a lock on the tire for parking in the wrong spot – even though we saw no signs, and ignored it all and continued exploring. We figured we had a convenient spot and what was done was done and we would deal with it later.

I suggested that we find some bolt cutters or a little saw and remove it ourselves but the creatures wouldn’t hear of it for some reason. After lunch, further exploring, a pleasant tuktuk ride to the police station and 700 baht ($25) later, we were free once again.

Streets and sidewalks overflow with people involved in all sorts of busy city like activity, like collecting ice outside restaurants,

shopping for ingredients for the days meals,

preparing fish to sell on the street,

and later, selling things on hooks with potent smells which were neither pleasant nor unpleasant – just a warm dinner kind of smell.

Bangkok is a wonderful city with a smorgasbord of things to see, smell and taste. People are happy and happy to see you. They love to try their English and wait eagerly for positive response.

What an adventure!

Elephants!

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I LOVE elephants! As a family, we love elephants. Maybe it’s because I’m from Africa and their blood runs through my veins, maybe it’s because they stir up fond memories of childhood or maybe it’s because they are my brothers favorite animal and it’s just one more connection I have with him, but no matter the reason, I love to be in their presence.

We have avoided all touristy elephant activities here in Thailand, because they are so abused and unhappy. Constantly chained, hit with sharp hooks till they bleed, forced to give rides in the heat and on the hot roads, and often stand for hours – absolutely bored out of their minds.

Mahouts are elephant trainers, who train elephants for the sake of profit, and their technique is to beat them into submission. A bullhook is the weapon of choice, and is inserted into the delicate skin around the ears. We’ve also seen many puncture wounds on their foreheads and faces from being scraped and stabbed into submission. Thailand uses twice as many elephants for tourism than any other country, and in 2016, about 3000 elephants were observed and only 200 of them were found to be in healthy conditions and environment.

As a family, we decided that even though we love these beautiful pachyderms, we would not support this cruelty in any form. I told Danny that if ever he received a phonemail saying I was in jail, it would be because I snuck out in the night with some bolt cutters and set them all free.

We were so excited to read about an elephant retirement park, where a group has made it their mission to purchase/beg for/steal abused elephants, and provide for them a place where they can live freely, be loved, and spend their days being elephants…eating, bathing, sleeping, being social with each other and pooping. We were surprised to find that this park is only 10 minutes from our house, and just had to go visit!

Elephant Retirement Park Phuket is a magical place! (When visiting make sure you go to this exact park with this exact name because many places call themselves sanctuaries but they are not) Their policies in their treatment of the elephants is extremely strict, allowing absolutely no riding, chaining or beating of any kind. A veterinarian whose job I covet, is there every day, and tourists and volunteers can pay to come spend time with the elephants, feeding, bathing and walking along side them, and all profits go to their needs and care. Because these elephants were once trained to be puppets for their mahouts, they are all tame and friendly and would not survive if set back out into the wild. This one took a liking to Danny and kissed him on the cheek.

After arriving at the Park, we walked around and got to know each of the 9 elephants. They do have a loose rope around their necks, but it does not hurt them in any way and is gently used only when they need to lead them places in emergencies etc. One of the elephants is old and completely blind and needs to be guided wherever she goes. Only one out of the 9 elephants was in a pen, because she was sick and was being closely monitored and cared for.

Danny and I adopted another daughter while there…her name is Jarjar, and she is such a sweetheart. Her father is the park manager and she was our ‘tour guide’ for the day.

After making friends with our new elephant family, we began preparing their lunch, which consisted of finger bananas (skin on),

as well as balls of rice mixed with bananas and mangoes. The twins were elbow deep in the mixture!

The balls looked and smelled so appetizing so I tasted one (much to the creatures dismay) and found it to be quite delicious.

I think I could enjoy being an elephant.

We carried the food to the elephants and they were happy to oblige and relieve us of our loads.

It’s easy to recognize personality in these guys – some being more mischievous than others – some a little more shy. One thing they had in common though, was their love for food! One banana at a time was not an option. Three or four rolled up in their cute little big trunks was about right.

They love to be hugged, patted and stroked, and we gave them all the love we could and received plenty in return.

After feeding time we watched as cute little baby ‘Pinky’ came to play in the water from a hose with her Momma. She is quite a handful and full of energy and mischief – constantly trying to pull out tent pegs and and hoses.

If I could somehow have an elephant as a support animal I’d take it everywhere with me on adventures around the world! I can just imagine one on scuba gear and on airplane and boat rides.

The fun really began when we gave the elephants mud baths. They LOVE mud baths, and we did too. Note that they are not being restrained or tied up – just standing willingly, and enjoying every second of it.

I had fun writing ‘Wash me” on an elephants butt! Check that off my bucket list!

After a mud fight with the locals, we were thoroughly muddy and were finally ready to head to the water hole…luckily this one didn’t have hippo’s and crocs in it!!

There’s not much more exhilarating than bathing with an elephant. They are playful, love to lift their trunks and splash in the water, and love to be scrubbed with brushes.

These Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants, and also have considerably smaller ears. Asian elephants weigh on average about 6 tons, where as the African elephants average 9 tons.

Elephant skin is about one inch thick, so we didn’t have to worry about scrubbing too hard and hurting them.

We spent quite some time cleaning these Sweethearts,

and afterwards…..

they rolled in the sand!
What a beautiful, peaceful setting!

Though I loved every part of our time there, and will be returning to volunteer and learn all I can, the most wonderful part, was knowing that my brother, the elephant lover that he is, was right by my side the entire time.

5 Islands!

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Thailand is well known for it’s many gorgeous islands, or ‘Koh’, as the Thai pronounce it. We figured we’d hop on a high speed power boat and check out 5 more of them.

Our first stop was Hong Island.

Koh Hong is part of the National Marine Park and we reached it within about 20 minutes after leaving Ao Nang here in Phuket. We snorkeled around, surrounded by rocky outcroppings and dense jungle, and were the proud owners of jelly fish stings all over our bodies.

Since we are seasoned sailors, we’ll take a little sting with our snorkel any day and still have smiles on our faces!

Since the rainy season is upon us, the visibility wasn’t great, but it felt so good to be in the beautiful water surrounded by breathtaking scenery – it is, after all, our natural habitat.

Our next stop was a fascinating island called Koh Panyee.

The interesting thing about this place is that it’s a floating island, with a little under 1500 villagers who live there permanently. The island consists of hundreds of huts, restaurants, houses and shacks, all built on stilts, with vertical limestone cliffs as a dramatic backdrop.

The village has its own mosque, school and health center, and the sole industry once was fishing and now half the locals service the overflowing tourism industry.

Pearl farming has become another huge source of income for this Muslim village, and as we strolled through the maze of shops and wooden corridors and docks, we were met by hundreds of store owners offering beautiful strands in all shades of white, cream, pink, blue, grey and green. Mycah especially took a liking to the pink.

We came across a sign, listing Panyee Island Rules, and number 3 especially caught our eye. “Do not bring alcohol to Koypanyee. If (so) the violation is (fine) 1 goat and 5,000 baht’ ($150). I can only assume that a goat would be instantly sacrificed and prepared for consumption, because I didn’t see a single blade of grass on the entire island.

Many homes were extremely run down, but the overall feel was one of happiness and love.

I’d love to return to Panyee and spend an entire day photographing its quaint personality and people.

Our third stop was Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island.

It is known as James Bond Island because it was one of the locations for the filming of the 1974 James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.

We enjoyed climbing around small caves, meandering through limestone pillars and stalactites and stalagmites.

The gorgeous rock formations are sprinkled with prickly pear cactus, shrubs, grasses and evergreens.

We once again boarded our trusty vessel, and made our way to our next location…

Phang Nga Bay is also known as Phang Nga National Park, and is sprawling with interesting rock formations and mangrove forests, and is a kayakers playground. I lay resting my back up against Danny, and enjoyed the relaxing ride…

We gently glided through caves that shaded us from the heat of the day, and under low lying entryways that open up into big beautiful limestone chimneys. Just as we exited a huge cave, a fruit boat was bobbing about, selling fresh local fruit to all who were interested.

The mangrove forest was magical with its raised roots, beautiful reflections and abundant life.

Birds flew in and out of muds nests and rock hideaways, reef fish scattered below us and ambulatory fish (mudskippers) perched on tree limbs as we passed by, then excitedly scuttled to the water and disappeared into the darkness below.

Our final stop in the late afternoon was by an Island called Panak.
Have you ever taken drenched sand at the beach and let it drip through your hand to create a funky Dr Seuss looking castle? Koh Panak reminded me of those castles…like sand had dripped, dried, fossilized, freezing in time.

I could imagine that at any moment the sun would melt the dripping masses and we’d see them calve like glaciers into the ocean.

What a fascinating place! I know that if we had access to a boat that we could navigate on our own here, we would be island hopping 24/7. There are an endless buffet of places to explore, and they are all so incredibly beautiful!