Diary – 25th October 2017

Packing…

And so we made our way home, with heavy hearts as I’m not sure we’ll ever have the opportunity to return to Isabela, back to the misty highlands and my job of packing up our temporary lives here. As I said earlier I’m dreading flying back home, that’s three flights in 24 hours and over 6000 miles. No sleep and the fear of something terrible happening however irrational that may be it still haunts me a little. But, we will be on our way home…

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Amen for in-flight entertainment…

Saying goodbye to the film crew and to Mont/Daddy of course was so emotional. We’ve all become incredibly close and although the crew were sad to say goodbye to the girls I’m sure everyone is a little relieved that we wont have to be accommodated into the last few weeks of filming. It’s stressful enough working in the heat, with wildlife, with language differences and strict guidelines to adhere to. Now chuck in a 3 and a 5 year old and let the fun commence!! I’ll miss Mont so much when we get home but I think we will have so much to do and so many friends to catch up with that the time we fly by until his return.

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This entire experience has been fantastically inspiring and also incredibly daunting, it’s made me laugh out loud, weep with exhaustion, love my family more if that’s at all possible, it’s made my heart ache with pride and my mind whirl with the beauty and fragility of our natural world. My eyes have been opened wide to how critical our time is on earth. It is up to our generation, everywhere, to protect, preserve and celebrate our oceans, our wetlands, highlands, beaches, mangroves, volcanoes, deserts, mountains and wilderness.

We hope our documentary may move you to think how we can do this positively – for our children and their children in the future. Thank you for watching and thank you for reading.

Diary – 18th October 2017

We arrived on Isabela a day ago after a very bumpy plane ride one, which Molls fell asleep for thankfully. I’m sitting outside a glorious little b&b on the beach and all seems well with the world.

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Lollipop bribes for Molls to wear her radio mic – at Isabela tortoise reserve

We were met by our guide Pablo at the tiny airport and taken straight to the end of a small line of beach front hotels and restaurants. The b&b looks directly onto a pristine beach with soft sand which is protected by mangroves and poison apple trees to the left, and lava rocks to the right.

I’m trying to sit and watch the waves and the life they bring in, and memorise this scene so I can always take myself back there. Its lowest tide right now but at mid-tide the lava rock formations create shallow lagoons. The girls were eager to explore these so we ran to the pools and looked in. Firstly we saw lots of marine iguanas swimming in from the sea, rippling through the waves. Then Herons and Pelicans came to perch on the lava and finally once the main pool was full of shrieking children a seal pup plopped in to play!

Our first afternoon was pretty glorious, standing in the sun watching the children laugh and dive whilst a seal swam around them. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

The town is tiny – sand covers the main road and theres a very relaxed surfy type of vibe here. Our evening meal consisted of Peppa Pig viewing whilst we ate falafel outside. Its very peaceful at night and the waves send us to sleep.

The next day was spent filming at Tinonteras – a lagoon harbour area with channel formation cut through the lava which are used by White Tip Reef Sharks to rest in. We saw about 30 or so sharks from the viewing area amongst hundreds of baby Marine Iguanas! And then our incredibly brave and intrepid five year old mermaid went snorkelling through a very narrow crevasse looking channel with the crew. Mont supported her the whole way. There was no way when I was 5 that I would have done that.

The girls have loved it here and it feels like we’re almost on holiday albeit with a film crew! The filming has been less demanding so we’re home in time to jump in the sea or relax for a bit to rest and get our energy back!

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Sea lion pup and Molls

Today was spent viewing Flamingoes for the very first time. We walked to a wetland area to see them. They’re totally outrageous – luminous fuchsia pink with striking black underwings. Beautiful…and this afternoon we rode around the town on bikes with the girls sat in on child’s seats on the back. I’ve not been on a bike properly for about seven years so it took a bit of practise to balance especially with Molly on the back.

Whilst I sit here the sun is slowly going down but has been sadly swallowed by clouds so I’m not sure we will have the stunning sunset we’d like to witness tonight. Talking of sunsetting and things coming to an end; we’ve only ten days left, yes ten days. The last few weeks have flown by and I’m so pleased to have spent the last days here on Isabela. We have two more days of filming on the island  and one day to travel home, then a week so so before we fly home. And, I’m flying home solo with the girls – totally dreading it…

I’m now totally ready to get back to home soil of the UK in all it’s dark, miserable and cold glory.

I’m must start to get the girls ready for tea, Mont is running along the beach and having some time on his own. He’s worked so hard managing the filming side of things with the family whilst carrying Molly around with him all day. Its a lovely run along the beach with dog footprints dotted here and there. One set disappeared in the ocean and for a moment I felt Reubs had joined me. This is a special place but  home is even more magical and that is really saying something.

Our final volcanic day!

Today we trekked up  the Sierra Negra volcano – to the very summit so we could take in the awe of the vastness of it. Its caldera is huge and what an amazing achievement of Isla to walk 5 miles up and down in the heat of the day, totally unaided. She’s achieved so much that girl, we’re so proud of her. Molls was carried all the way…covered in orange dust from nose to toe she was not very fond of our volcanic experience…but what an awesome way to end the journey. From home to Santa Cruz, to Floreana, to San Cristobal, to Isabela and to the top of the world….

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The top of the volcano – Sierra Negra

Diary – 12 & 15th October 2017

We’ve had a quiet week really – quite a few afternoon’s off so filming is not so hectic as we thought it might be. This week we’ve managed to take the girls to school twice which the girls really enjoyed. Isla has managed to become friends with a couple of girls who are quite sweet and Molly is joining in with some of the art so they’re quite happy at the moment.

We’ve also visited the sinkholes towards the middle of the island off the main highway which are beautiful. We’ve visited Georgina’s house again and met some more residents of Santa Cruz. Some are ex-pats and all have been very friendly.

During a whole day off we drove to the eastern side of Santa Cruz and visited a new beach called El Garrapetaro – which was stunning. The sea was warm and we paddled and swam in the lagoons with the iguanas. We’ve only five more days before we set off to Isabela island. It will be great to see more of the islands, flamingoes and a volcano should feature.

Today we had a mirror box interview and we’ve already started to think about the fact that our time on Galapagos is slowly coming to end…I’ve just received two invites for Halloween parties from friends at home. It’ll be so strange to come home to a cold and dark UK. But I do love this time of year at home, the gradual build up to Christmas and the colder, crisper days.

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girls learning how to sound mix

15th October

With only 17 days to go I’m going to try and make the most of it. This is such a unique place I feel like I want to go and explore many more areas but we are restricted as to what we can realistically do due to filming. I did have a little adventure of my own this week! Katy and I visited Gordon’s Rocks. A very hairy and scary dive site – hugely renowned as a fantastic place to see Hammerhead sharks and other big animals, but with big animals comes big seas!

A channel surging with life but its very deep and the currents are very strong. We did manage to see Hammerheads and a Manta Ray plus countless fish and turtles but I wasn’t comfortable at times. Katy was super calm and helpful – you need to be experienced to dive here and it was great to have her as a buddy. And – however exhilarating it was – it was wonderful to get back in the water. Its very rare that we get to dive nowadays, with little ones and commitments at home, but there was no way I was leaving these islands without getting wet…

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random shot of filming at school

So five days to Isabela and then ten days before we go home. It’s nearly all over – we’ve looked through all the photos and the girls have had an amazing time and such an education. They can name so many birds and animals here now. They’ve been pretty well behaved, and have coped so well with all the different places we have been and people we have met. Molly has definitely had a few issues and here some of Molly’s meltdown highlights:

Refusing to wear shoes ever

Insisting that Mont carry her everywhere – its lucky he is so strong

Wearing the same two dresses every single day

Screaming fit due to no dummy during the day in Floreana

Screaming fit due to me taking away a noisy toy during a lesson at school

Screaming fit because we refused to by sugar laden cereal from the supermarket

Molly has also mostly eaten spag bol, chips and ice-cream since she arrived

And she refuses to wear her radio mic pretty much all the time…

So it all went quite well then…

Diary – 10th October 2017

We have two weeks left on Santa Cruz before our final island hop to Isabella. So far we have done a few mirror box interviews which is getting a little less awkward and embarrassing and a little more fun! We’ve also met and had lunch with a rather formidable and well known local couple called Simon and Georgina. Georgina’s son Sebastian and his wife Karolina have two little boys who the girls have played with really nicely  and it’s been so interesting to hear how she first arrived here when there was no infrastructure and no schools. Georgina is working with the local community to find ways of preserving the island whilst educating and teaching the children here how important and vital their home really is.

We also managed to get up to Belle Vista today (sunday) when lots of families come together for local volley ball matches and there was a bouncy castle and cake stalls etc. It was like turning up to a family fun day and the girls loved it. Especially the bouncy castle. I didn’t expect to find one of those in the Galapagos….

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Mirror box interviews at home

Tomorrow is Monday and both Isla and Molly are going to school for two days. The school is about 4 minutes away by car, and the teachers have been really welcoming. It gives the girls a chance to do some art, music and to try and pick up a little Spanish so it’s definitely worth going to. Mont is also doing a talk for some of the older students today.

We have printed out and stuck on the wall our filming schedule…it’s long, and at times really tiring but every day we cross of another day and now we have only three weeks to go. It has suddenly sped up…we need to arrange another trip somewhere soon so we take advantage of every day we have here, I really don’t want to waste any of our days together.

It also feels like the seasons are changing here a little bit. It seems warmer and the rain isn’t quite as frequent now. The seasons will be changing at home too and when we land in Bristol it’ll be edging into winter.

We’ve said goodbye to our director James, who coped amazingly well with everything this shoot has thrown at him. We now have Tom 2 who’s settled in well and we’ve also said Adios to Tom 1 – a total gentleman and wonderful wildlife cameraman. The crew are all brilliant – working so, so hard to make this shoot a success. Ben in particular is working tirelessly – I’m sure it will be all worth it. In fact I can’t not mention the mermaid Katy who has been a huge support to me and the girls and all the amazingly talented cameramen Pete & Donald plus Roby – our fixer who is so calm and friendly. Rich or Maui as he is now named has shot some gorgeous stuff too. Dave is a true legend, trying every day to get Molls to wear her radio mic. At now point as he ever snapped or become frustrated with her – what a guy and what a crew!

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Crew mark 2 – the later stage of filming with these guys was tiring but amazing all at the same time…

As its dark here at 6pm but the time its 8.30pm it feels like midnight. I’ll be heading to bed soon – hopefully without our resident giant huntsman spider Holly. She slowly descends from her lair every evening to hunt but so far has ignored us entirely – thankfully!

Diary – 1st & 3rd October 2017

Before we head to San Cristobal we had a day off. Our normal days off have been spent going for a swim or lunch in a local hotel in town. All the pools are really cold at the moment but the girls love them and don’t feel the chill! It was during one of these days off that I realised we were wasting our time here. I’m keen to see as much as possible whilst we’re here and so convinced Mont that we should be tourists for the day and visit Bartholomew island.

So got up super early to join a trip on a catamaran to one of the islands north of Santa Cruz – we’d heard rumours of mantas and penguins so couldn’t wait!

We had a two hour cruise past Daphne island where we spotted a small colony of Nazca boobies and lots of other bird life. The girls loved the boat and it’s large deck to play on. We finally reached our destination and hopped on a tender to take us ashore. Just before we left the catamaran we were saluted by the tip of a manta’s wing. It circled and spiralled in the water just off shore whilst we  were taken ashore.

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Bartholomew Island

Our first stop was a short but steep climb up to the volcano summit where there is a view point, and it was worth the climb. The girls held lava boulders as light as paper on the way and spotted lava lizards. Once we got down from the peak we sat on the tender to search for a small colony of Galapagos penguins. And we found them! Isla and Mont had a quick snorkel in the bay and managed to catch a good sighting of one of the penguins hunting for fish.

Molly and I played in the shallows and a beautiful, tall Grey heron landed just by us and stayed looking out to sea, admiring the view with us for about ten minutes. It was totally unfazed by us being here – just like all the animals on the islands. 

We had a lumpy journey home – fortunately the girls slept in one of the cabins and we got home safe and sound. A great day!

3rd October

The following day we went to San Cristobal in a tiny 8 seater aircraft. The flight only took about 30 minutes and Katy and a taxi were waiting on the other side of the equally tiny airport. San Cristobal is the capital of the Galapagos and has about 8000 residents, so a lot smaller and a bit friendlier than Santa Cruz. There are masses of Sealions and blue footed boobies everywhere here! They live directly on the main esplanade. The island is small so it’s compact and easy to travel around and straight away the whole crew and all of us started to feel much perkier!

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Blurry photo as the plane ride was pretty bumpy!

Our second day was spent on a lovely beach called La Loberia – where as normal now you’re surrounded by sealions and here we snorkelled with tens of green turtles. We’ve just about figured out the easiest way to get Isla in her wetsuit now – it takes some doing believe me…

I was very lucky to be asked to go on a research trip to look at plastic pollution with some of the crew and JP, a scientist working for the national park.

First of all we visited the most pristine and gorgeous beach I think I’ve ever been to and then we walked onto a beach totally covered in plastic and rubbish. It was a vast graveyard of bleached and destroyed coral and the mangroves acted like colanders catching everything and anything the sea threw at it. It was totally unbelievable – the beach was pretty much ruined. JP also showed me contents from a turtles stomach – including fragments of plastic and plastic bags plus nests made out of plastic wire and yarn. I was so pleased to have been involved with this particular sequence for the documentary as it’s powerful and though provoking stuff.

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Plastic pollution on San Cristobal

On the whole our experience on San Cristobal was quite relaxed and although Monty and Molly had a few stressful moments…including her not wanting to remove her pink dress which she had worn for days on end, and that she wanted to be carried everywhere by him we all had a good time and felt reenergised for the final few weeks.

Diary – 21st & 25th September 2017

Back in the cloud forest and the mist…

We had a two days of snorkelling with giant, gentle green turtles. The water is cool but clear and bursting with beautiful old turtles. Whilst we played in a small lagoon we were greeted by a mature sea lion who glided past us, checking us out, amazing.

We returned home after a decent boat trip but I felt a little dodgy for a few days afterwards, thankfully we are all fairing pretty well health wise though. The following day after our return the tallest tree in our garden, an invasive bolser tree was felled. It was pretty spectacular watching it fall from its majestic heights as it plummeted to the ground.

We invited Karina and her family over to watch the tree come down so the girls played with her daughter for a while which was lovely. We’d also bumped into two other families, all with similar aged children, who speak English, so we’re hoping to meet up with them again so the kids can hang out. The kids definitely need more company than just us from 6am until 8pm!

25th September

Today is a day off from filming! We decided to walk back to Tortuga bay which we visited when we first arrived. Its a long walk and by the time we arrived the red flags were flying warning us not to get into the water…Molls and Isla still jumped about in the surf for a while and splashed about. On the walk back Molly got a lot of attention from tourist and locals alike. Her flame red hair is quite striking here and she’s been asked to have a photo taken a few times. It’s a bit confusing for her but everyone is so sweet with her she doesn’t seem to mind.

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Molls – red hair is so rare over here she keeps getting papped.

I’ve definitely started to miss home and feel a bit flat at the moment. It seems we are all having a little dip, crew and us all alike. We are now half way through nearly and so the excitement has warn off and the reality is here. Some days can be really tough with the kids not wanting to do certain things, and whilst Mont is filming elsewhere we have a limited amount of stuff to do to keep the girls happy. I know this must sound ridiculous but if the weather is rubbish the beach is out…the tortoises are beautiful but don’t do very much … and sometimes the girls just want their own bedrooms and mess and stuff to muck about with. Mont has been brilliant and made cardboard box houses for some toys we’ve bought over and we’ve been given some more books.

However, we are all very much looking forward to our trip to San Cristobal in a couple of days time plus this little dip just means that we really, truly appreciate home. This is a wonderful experience but home is home.

Diary – 12th September 2017

Floreana

Our boat journey to Floreana was surprisingly painless – apart from Monty being concerned about the boat being over weighted with so much kit and crew. Thankfully the crossing was quite smooth and Molly slept for the majority of it and Isla was calm and patient.

As we disembarked a baby sea lion slept on the jetty steps! Lots of fat red Marine Iguanas basked in the sun. It was heavenly to feel the sun our our faces, unlike the misty cool of the highlands the coast is generally drier and warmer.

The Wittmer Hotel is based directly on a the beach which is negra or black due to the volcanic nature of the island. Of course the girls were desperate to get in the water so they plunged in immediately.

On our beach are lazing sea lions, herons and pelicans fly by and turtles pop up their heads above the surf to breath and look at who has arrived in their home.  It’s a pretty special place. The town is tiny, only a hundred or so inhabitants and hugely limited power, internet and phone signal. I feel totally cut off from the modern world here.

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Molly on the volcanic sand

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A labyrinth to the pirate cave on Floreana

On our second day in Floreana, whilst Mont filmed, we hired a pick up van to drive up to a pirates cave! A fantastic trek through the jungle, passed a tortoise corral, to a maze of granite pillars and finally to an actual pirates cave. Here the first explorers and settlers of the island made their home. There are seats, sleeping platforms and shelves carved out of the stone. It was wonderful to explore this area with the girls but more and more Isla is falling in love with the sea.

The beach here is quite surfy and rough but Isla has managed to get our to snorkel with Katy and Monty. She’s already had encounters with green turtles and sealions. I’m yet to get into the water properly but there is so much to see at the surface.

Today we are walking to a white sand beach for snorkelling and hopefully playing with the sea lions. The contrasting colours of the sand here is remarkable. On one side of the bay is dark and rough and on the other, pristine, soft and brilliant white.

The filming side of things for myself and the girls has been quiet on Floreana – Mont is looking at shark conservation projects here so it feels a little bit like a holiday. But today we have to strap on our radio mics and get to work.

Before we left to come here I had a whole morning filming with just me.  I’m definitely getting more comfortable on camera but at times it is all really embarrassing! This is all totally new to me, I think Isla is more natural on camera than me! But I’m getting to used to it all now.

My morning’s filming was with Karina who’s planting an organic vegetable farm. She is really lovely and spoke very good English so we were able to talk naturally about what she’s doing. She’s also hugely pregnant so I really admire her and all the work she’s doing to try and create a sustainable and organic method of producing food for the island.

Monty is working hard to shape the series which is definitely not just a holiday video. Now we’re visiting other islands we are really starting to understand the conservation efforts here and we’ve realised that there are so many important stories to tell.

The girls are enjoying the whole trip but miss their friends a bit. We’re hoping they can spend a few more days at the local school when we’re back on Santa Cruz. It’s a little challenging sometimes keeping them entertained and they love playing with other kids. So I’ll write once we are back on Santa Cruz….

Diary – 6th September 2017

Suddenly the days are flying by. We’ve visited two local and stunning beaches since I last wrote. One is called Finch Bay, a small sheltered tidal lagoon reached by a water taxi. Here we snorkelled with a juvenile Eagle Ray – the first time the girls have seen a ray in the wild.

Our second visit underwater was to Tortuga Bay. A rough and bumpy twenty minute steam by ferry took us to an enormous sweeping stretch of white sand beach. Here, along with the film crew, we filmed Isla snorkelling whilst Marine Iguanas swam through the surf back to the beach. Watching their undulating tales gracefully move through the sea was wonderful. They gave the girls a bit of a fright, a huge lizard coming towards you through the waves is something that they had never seen before!

We were also lucky to catch a good sighting of a juvenile Galapagos shark – when grown-ups these sharks can reach up 10 feet long! And, Isla took my breath away here. She stuck her head down in the water and kicked her little feet to keep up with the shark – there was no fear or trepidation. She has no misconceived ideas that sharks are dangerous or should be vilified. She thought it was fascinating. Well done girl.

Our other days have been spent trying to clear the garden as one of our missions whilst we are here is to rid the garden of invasive and introduced species. But, we have one large problem with little fire ants – who love to bite our feet. So we are using cedar tree saw dust as a preventative measure all over the garden. The ants hate this stuff so we are covering the ground with it. Let’s hope it works – the girls especially want to be able to play outside but this is really tricky with fire ants living here.

We are also visiting our local playgrounds so the girls can have a good run around and meet other kids. The supermarket has a play area in the cafe upstairs which is is really useful – I know this must sound ridiculous but on our down days, whilst not filming or travelling to other areas of the island we need to entertain the kids. And they love a playground and the play area in the cafe. We’ve only been able to bring a very small amount of toys, books and arts and crafts stuff with us so anything different or new is great for them.

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Playing in the surf with Marine Iguanas

The kids are having over two months out of school whilst we’re here. We’ve dedicated an hour or so a day to some ‘home education’…this is easier than it sounds. It appears that Mont and I are not their favourite teachers and that we probably lack the necessary patience to ensure our ‘lesson time’ is enjoyable. So, this week Isla went to the local primary school.

She was fantastic! She met other children, some of which spoke no English at all although this is a multi-lingual school. She joined in with three different lessons and tried really hard to make friends. It must have been a nerve-wracking day for her but she was very brave. She’s also enjoying playing with the crew and chatting on camera now. She comes across quite naturally…Molly on the other hand has to do everything in her own time.

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Art lessons at Thomas de Berlanga School

Who would have thought that a 3 year old wouldn’t want to have a radio mic and battery pack strapped around her waist and the mic stuck down her top?! Most days Dave, our ever patient, sound-man needs to convince Molls to where her little ‘mouse’. He’s even tried colouring the fluffy part of it pink and has bought pink and purple tape to make it more appealing to her. We have also used ice-cream bribes on many occasions. Perhaps it’ll get easier as the filming continues…

In the next few days we are heading to Floreana, our first trip away from Santa Cruz. We’ve a two hour boat journey to endure, in fairly rough conditions due to the time of year, and we’re not sure how the girls will fair…let’s hope for no sea sickness…

Diary – 1st September 2017

Today we saw, for the first time in the wild, giant Tortoises! A vast reserve in the highlands called El Chato  is home to hundreds of huge, gentle, wise old beasts. We filmed for a few hours here, always stumbling across the Tortoises wherever we trod. It was a good, positive and memorable day. These species are being protected and their habitats preserved. The girls enjoyed watching the Tortoises but it comes to a point where a massive creature which doesn’t move or really do anything becomes a little dull to watch, if you’re three. And so we stopped for a blast in a playground and a dip in a frigid swimming pool at a local hotel on the way home.

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Giant Tortoises – they don’t do much…

Our kids, are still children and however much we aspire for them to revel in the beauty and magnificence of this island nothing will beat a swing or a swim…

I write this listening to the faint noises of the jungle, watching our sticky gecko housemates climb the windows. It’s dark here by 6.30pm so night draws in and its cool and wet due to the Highland’s micro-climate. I need sleep and energy…we have a very welcome two days off now. Combining filming, settling in, looking after a 3 & 5 year old, exploring and recovering from jet-lag my mind and body is done.

Diary – 31st August 2017

The following morning we woke at sunrise and sat on the veranda trying to take it all in. We had, after many months of planning and preparations, finally arrived. We watched monochrome Mockingbirds, a variety of Finches and a very sweet Flycatcher play in our garden.

From the top floor of the house you can see straight towards the coast and the town of Puerto Ayora. And today we plan to visit the markets, stock up on food and explore the town and what is has to offer.

The Saturday morning market has a dazzling array of unrecognisable fruit and vegetables. We haggle unsuccessfully, me using my GCSE Spanish and Mont his charm – it seems that the price of living on these Islands is a big one. Due to the majority of produce being imported to Santa Cruz the cost of fresh items is huge.

We journeyed into the main area of town, which essentially is a port where tourist first arrive to the islands via yachts and cruise ships. There’s a plethora of hotels, gift shops, bars and restaurants. And fortunately for us a playground which kids enjoyed.

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Puerto Ayora residents

But more than anything this place was where we first encountered the resident Sea Lions lounging on the pier. The local jetty and lava rocks are covered by juvenile Marine Iguanas and Sally Light-Foot crabs, with their brightly painted shells. We end up dashing from one side of the pier to the other to catch site of all these incredible creatures, completely at ease with all the people and noise and mess. Living along side the fishermen and the taxi boat drivers – it was totally amazing to witness.

Puerto Ayora is not a hugely charming town. There’s a lot of half built homes, even rubbish and litter in the sea but its our portal out to the other islands and to more natural habitats – sans humans and all the problems and issues we bring with us.