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.

My Family and the Galapagos Diary – 30th August 2017

We left home one week ago today and it already feels like we’ve been here for a month.

Our journey was pretty seamless – our flights from Heathrow to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Quito and Quito to Galapagos were on time and our pile of luggage made it to Baltra airport. The girls watched endless films on the planes, slept, ate and took it all in their stride.

Our 2.30am wake up time in Quito during our stopover due to horrendous jetlag didn’t faze the girls. They were excited and charming and crazy. All in all we were very proud albeit very tired parents.

After our two day journey, it was a delight to see the little island airport come in to view. Azure seas surrounded hundreds of islets and islands as we peered out of the oval plane window to try and catch our very first view of the Enchanted Isles.

As we stepped off the plane I could see a huge team of fluorescent cameramen and crew waiting for our arrival – and so our filming began.

Our crew are all lovely. Hugely professional, funny and totally accommodating and playful with the girls. This made me relax a little more as I felt that this whole adventure could be full of fun and giggles.

By the time we finally arrived at our new home, after a two hour car journey along one of the straightest roads in the world, we were all completely exhausted.

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The jungle tree house is set at the end of a very dusty and bumpy track on the island of Santa Cruz. Our nearest village is called Bella Vista. We are totally surrounded by cloud forest, which is a bit like a benign rainforest. There are gates leading up a slight gradient towards the house which is painted white, to reflect the equatorial heat and is two stories high. Bamboo poles support a veranda which overlooks the jungle with views down to the ocean.

When we arrived Isla found her bed immediately as the journey and excitement finally caught up with her. She crashed out snoring in her new bedroom, a stark and plain room with wide wooden floorboards and huntsman spiders as her companions.

Thankfully the house is calm and quiet. On the veranda are coloured hammocks which fit two little girls in perfectly. Finally Mont and I fell asleep, weary but happy to be in one of the most unique places on earth.

Introducing My Family and the Galapagos…

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but last year from August until the end of October we up rooted our steady but happy lives in Devon and headed 6000 miles away to a very special place.

We – Mont, myself, Isla and Molly (aged 5 and 3 at the time) travelled to Santa Cruz to film a documentary exploring what it is like to live on the Galapagos islands – to be part of the culture and to immerse ourselves in the incredible wildlife we’d so far only ever seen on television.

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Flying into Baltra Aiport

It was a huge opportunity for us as a family to spend three months together – in a totally unique and inspiring setting – surrounded by cloud forest, with giant Tortoise as our neighbours and a new world to discover.

Over the next few weeks I’ll post diary entries written whilst we lived on Santa Cruz and travelled to San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabella. It is an honest account – sharing both the wonderful highlights and the harder times. Filming and working with a 3 and 5 year old, wild creatures, equatorial sun and language barriers was definitely challenging. But we have made some amazing memories – and hopefully a thought provoking, warm and at times funny documentary about the realities of life in the Enchanted Isles.

We hope you enjoy it.

My Family and the Galapagos – airs 28th July 8pm on Channel 4

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Four days and counting…

Until the Torbay Half Marathon – this sh*t just got real. And so have my nerves…!

Towards the end of last year I decided it was about time I set myself a little challenge, a goal to work towards and the Torbay Half Marathon felt like a good one. The distance is long and challenging, but in no way totally undoable and after completing two half’s about a decade ago I thought it was about time I had another go. But this time I would take the training to new level – I would actually train properly for it and not hobble around the 13 miles in total agony swearing never to do anything like it again. I want to enjoy the experience and feel that I’m capable of running it comfortably-ish.

So the time has finally come. I’ve trained mostly on the coast path and at Slapton Sands, in mid-winter through bone-numbing freezing conditions and on the most stunningly beautiful and still summer mornings. I’ve witnessed the changes in the seasons and absorbed some gorgeous sites and I’ve been so lucky to run with several wonderful ladies who have spurred me on and have made the lengthy training runs so much more enjoyable.

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Running has many different facets, one of course is how it can improve your fitness, and I’m constantly amazed as to how our bodies adapt and develop, become stronger and leaner the further and faster we travel. But running brings a connection too – not only to the like-minded people you train with but to the area you live in – to the pathways, tracks, fields, beaches, hills and roads you pound. And, most importantly it releases endorphins – it makes you feel invincible, like you’re flying high and can make me want to shout ‘ I love my life’! Now – that is something very special in deed.

So matter how long it takes me to jog from Paignton to Torquay and back again I know I’ll be ready for it. I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other – keep smiling and be happy and safe in the knowledge that I’ve trained hard to be there…And then when Sunday is over with I’ll take a week off…and then the real training begins, what else could a girl want for her 40th birthday but to run the most celebrated and inspiring marathon in the world! Next challenge….the London Marathon 2019 – bring it on!

Good luck to all the runners taking part in the Torbay Half Marathon!

 

 

 

Hello Ivy…

Last year I wrote whether there is a good time to get a dog. We now own the evidence to say yes, there most definitely is!

Meet Ivy – our rescue puppy who is a Labrador X Springer, she’s now nearly four months old and we re-homed her when she was a tiny twelve week old. She’s now doubled in weight and size and is an absolute legend.

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Ivy had a rough and unwarranted start in life, owned by someone who thought it was acceptable to keep her in a cage by his desk whilst he worked. At least he had the courage to admit he couldn’t look after her properly and so handed her in to the wonderful Holly Hedge rescue centre at the beginning of February.

As a family we had discussed rehoming a dog for about a year. We waited a while after losing our beloved Reubs in 2016 and were all in agreement that it was about time to welcome another four-legged friend into the Halls household. Monty was particularly keen but I was a little hesitant as I was worried I wouldn’t be able to give everyone the full attention they deserve. However, it was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family and here are some of the aspects which are very much worth considering when you would like to re-home a puppy!!

  • Consider the time of year … puppies need to be let out in the garden (own a garden if possible!) every hour when they’re very little. We had to stand outside in the howling East from the Beast snow storm and winds so think about Spring or Summer for rehoming a very young dog…
  • If you have small children think about having down time for the puppy and for the kids. Having Molly in pre-school more regularly and Isla in full-time school meant everyone had some chill out time…
  • Puppies only need to be walked for 5 minutes per month old they are (twice a day). So don’t think you have to start walking vast distances to begin with…
  • Consider letting you pup sleep with you to begin with, we let Ivy snuggle down under the duvet for the first month and then gradually moved her to the kitchen. She didn’t resist and felt totally secure and settled….
  • Try and socialise your pup with as many dogs, people and places as possible to ensure they’re well balanced and not nervous of new things or surroundings…
  • Invest in recycled kitchen roll for mopping up accidents which inevitably happen…
  • Try puppy socialisation and training classes, we start our classes after Easter…
  • And, please think about contacting your local rehoming or rescue centre if you would like own a dog. There are thousands of beautiful puppies and dogs who need loving homes. We waited to find someone who would fit nicely with our family, other animals and life-style and she came along quite quickly!

Ivy is named because she was born at Christmas time and came from Holly Hedge rescue centre. She doesn’t like the snow or brooms and loves our shoes, she is incredibly food orientated and loves sleeping in her bed with Mont’s old dressing gown. She’s totally charming and bonkers all at the same time.

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Whilst I’ve been writing this she’s be tearing around the kitchen with one of our recyclable bags from Sainsbury’s and now, finally, she’s settled into her bed in front of the warm Rayburn and will slowly fall asleep. And calm and peace have fallen upon Orchard View…for a few minutes anyway.