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.

 

Should we embrace the chaos and thus lead happier lives?

I caught a flash of a thought provoking headline the other day, it stated ‘disorganised? chaotic? This is why you should relax & embrace your inefficiency’. And, it got me thinking…

Try and picture me now, I wish I’d asked Isla to take a photograph as evidence of this…we’ve arrived home in a freezing sleet shower, the girls have ran into the house to avoid getting hyperthermia and behind them I come staggering through the slosh of mud and mush of our lane. I’m carrying: two rucksacks, my oversized handbag, a weighty bag of food shopping, plus wellies and Molly’s Forest School bag. Oh and a coat belonging to one of the girls. I feel like I’m competing in the World’s Strongest Man contest heaving and huffing, shaking arms at breaking point and all the while trying not to fall arse over tit.

This happens every day. To most parents everywhere.

As parents we feel the urge to encourage and nurture our children’s love of hobbies and interests. But with this tide of parental affection and ultimate pleasure and pride when you witness your littlest one swimming unaided for the very first time ,comes a price.  There’s no way on earth I would be able to arrive anywhere vaguely on time, with all the correct kit and equipment if I didn’t spend hours organising myself. I like being efficient and systematic, I need an element of control to know that a week of school and out of school classes and clubs are attended and enjoyed by the girls. That the fridge is stocked and that the animals have full bellies. But does this make me feel really happy?

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An example of when I ‘let go’ and let the girls decorate their Christmas tree last year..it looked worse in reality!

 

If I give myself a moment to ponder this long and hard, the answer probably is no – not entirely. Do I feel we need a little more chaos and anarchy in our lives, yes I probably do. So how do I balance our weekly juggling regime with a little more spontaneity and excitement? I’m not sure yet but it’s something that I’m going to investigate a little further….and with this in mind my mantra will be from now on ‘what’s the worse that can happen’? If Molly’s swimming hat is missing or I’ve not packed a pack of raisins for the girls to snack on, Isla’s homework isn’t completed to an exacting standard and on time – what does it actually matter? I believe we’d all learn that life isn’t always perfect and controllable, that hiccups happen and that its never the end of the world if the bins don’t go out on the right day! Could this be a new dawn in the Halls’ household? Just perhaps….

How an ordinary and normal life could be all we ever want?

I’m struggling with what to write today, but I’d promised myself to write a blog once a week and this aim is already slipping by the wayside. So I thought I’d write about how an ordinary and normal life can be one that is blissful and pretty much perfect – and that we should truly appreciate every day on earth and this is why…

On Monday I listened to a radio programme on my drive home from collecting pig feed. This was no ordinary radio programme, it told a poignant and extremely powerful story – one that I urge you to listen to too.

Jackie who’s life was being probed and investigated lives with the knowledge that she may, one day, be diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. This ‘progressive brain disorder’ had already robbed her of her mother, her uncle, her grandfather and she now cares for her brother who has it too. During the story we were invited to listen to counselling Jackie was receiving to see if she could positively cope with taking a test – one which would determine if she would succumb to the disease or not. Finally she decided she was ready to take the test, and thankfully she had a negative result for the gene.

I couldn’t possibly begin to fully fathom her fear, her hopes, her agony, or her joy – all of which you experience as the listener – but one thing she kept saying was that she has never led a normal life. All she ever wanted was to be ordinary, to live a standard, happy and healthy life. A normal life is something that I can understand and one that I feel more and more grateful for every day. We are so, so fortunate to, so far, have led a contented life. Of course this can always change but since hearing her story, and her longing for a ‘normal’ life, I promise to appreciate everyone I love, everything we do and make the very best of each and every day. This is so easy to lose when you’re caught up in the humdrum of routine, kids and work but I will try to remember this.

If you feel like life is difficult at the moment or if you’re struggling with something please listen to this – Jackie was also very keen to talk about the disease and wants people to understand it so please share this link if you can: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09ntd0k

Her incredible story will change your outlook, it will brighten the darkest of days and it will make you feel thankful for your ordinary and normal life.

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A double rainbow – seen from the top of our lane – always make us smile

 

The January blues and how to defeat them…

At the beginning of the week I found the gunmetal skies, half light and bleakness a little too much to bear. A deep and primal urge to hunker down and hibernate had definitely taken its hold on me and something quite urgently had to be done!

Mid-winter is here but with it comes the smallest and faintest signs that Spring will emerge within the next few dreary months, and just that little snippet of hope makes a huge difference to me. The tender green shoots of sun-yellow daffodils are bursting through the heavy soil around us and the afternoons are gradually becoming more bearable as the sun hovers in the sky for an extra few minutes of precious time.

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For me, the simplest and easiest way to rid the winter worries is to tie up my laces and get moving. Jogging, or slogging at times up and down the mighty South West Coast Path is an unrivalled remedy for the miseries. But the added ingredient of warming winter sunshine is what makes it totally and utterly perfect.

My route took me from Strete Gate to Blackpool Sands – it was a route I’d never ran before. It was quite simply breathtaking – in more ways than one. I traipsed up horrendous hills and slipped downwards precipitous slopes. All the way smiling – this new trail bought me many moments of contemplation – even a jog can do that to you on the coast path. Firstly – this was unfamiliar terrain so I had to persevere throughout the heart-pounding climbs, I’d not known what to expect but had to keep going. Secondly – the marked trail points were not always obvious to see so I had to follow my nose and hope I was heading in the right direction. I had to trust my instincts. And thirdly, I’m not very running fit! You do not have to be at your peak physical best in order to get outdoors and immerse your soul in the sun, the fresh air and to feel the blood moving through your veins.

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Towards the end of my circuit each clunk of the heavy wooden gates/pitstops meant I was inching closer to home. Before me lay the stunning Slapton Line – my finish line and the perfect way to end a perfect mini adventure. My medicine had succeeded in banishing my winter blues and I felt completely ready to begin my day. Whoever, whenever, wherever there is no reason not to get outdoors and discover a little bit more about you and where you live.

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Hello 2018…

Fuelled on a surprisingly delicious roasted celeriac and garlic soup (which I actually made myself for the very first time), I now feel prepared to open the lap top and write my first blog of 2018.

At the end of August last year we travelled to the Galapagos Islands, and lived there for two months. I found so little time for writing that I put it all nearly entirely on hold. Apart from hand writing a diary – such a lovely thing to do. When the kids were asleep in their beds, every few days – I got out my pen and pad and wrote down what we’d been up to. I hope in years to come that I can pull out that diary from where it has been collecting dust on the shelf and relive some of our adventures.

I’ll be able to post lots more about our time on Santa Cruz when the documentary we filmed there is broadcast in the Spring on Channel 4.

Returning from the Galapagos at the end of October was incredible – we underestimate how wonderful it is to live where we do. I had a total epiphany, an energising revelation that the UK, and Devon in particular is the most beautiful country in so, so many ways. I fell totally in love with our home, our friends, our countryside again. Distance truly does make the heart grow fonder. With a new-found respect and adoration for our home I decided to dedicate 2018 as a year of caring for our land, of trying to help protect and preserve the area we live in and to have some fun and adventures along the way.

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South West Coast Path

So hello 2018 – this is a year of change and improvement and of celebration.

‘Love where you live’ – yes I most definitely do and I’m going to bloody well look after it  too.

New Year Resolutions include…..

  1. Reduce the amount of plastics we use
  2. Whenever we hit the beach we do a two-minute beach clean every time
  3. Spend an hour a day outside – get out in nature and revel in it – bond with our animals in the paddock!
  4. Visit and walk throughout Dartmoor – this we have not done at all and it is half an hour away
  5. Start the girls cycling – and us, more time spent outside the better…

There’s so much more to add, but for now, these are achievable and fun. I’m already looking forward to doing so much more in Devon – there is no need to travel thousands of miles away to challenge yourself or to appreciate our natural world.

It is all waiting for us on our muddy doorsteps.

 

 

Finding time to do anything…

during the summer holidays is tricky. I definitely underestimated the amount of time I’d have to able to catch up on work, clean the animals, sort the house or write a blog. From two blogs a week, I’m now managing one every two weeks…

So to all parents out there who are constantly juggling work and childcare you have my sympathies and my support. I’m fortunate to share childcare with a lovely friend, so once a week I have a day off to cram all my jobs in. Tomorrow I’ll have her little ones so she has a break and can do whatever she can in the time allowed.

However much I appreciate the quiet moments during my day off parenting, I’m happy to have shared the last few weeks with Isla and Molly. I’ve left them to their own devices in order for them to create their own games and fun, but we’ve also had a talented friend teach us watercolours. We’ve visited a festival, the beach, the big city of Plymouth, many playgrounds and Woodlands. The weather has been a battle, so the welly boots have been donned regularly…. but we’ve had a great if not tiring time.

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We’re now gearing up for a rather large and exciting adventure – we’ve got two weeks left in the UK before leaving for South America and beyond. We’ll return when the clocks have rolled back, the days are shorter, darker and cool, and the smell of bonfires and fireworks fill the air. So instead of blogging I should really be packing, shifting and sorting through the quite terrifying amount of clothes, books, toys and kit we have to take with us. Hopefully my next blog will be before we go – but who knows if I’ll find the time to write anything vaguely worthwhile in the meantime. So, good luck mums and dads – only four weeks left to go!

Mermaid in training…

As a scuba diver I’ve always toyed with the idea of learning how to free dive. The peacefulness and weightlessness achieved whilst diving is one of the many reasons I took up the sport. Whilst descending slowly into the blue I feel a complete sense of calm. It’s almost meditative – I do feel totally at peace. Free diving appealed – especially as you rid yourself of the bulk and weight of tanks and regulators.  It would be just me and the water…and my breath.

I arrived at Vobster quay nearly two weeks ago now. It was the day of the huge storm that shrouded the South West. I had previously met my hugely experienced free diving teacher Emma at one of the UK’s Dive Shows – she was very impressive, full of energy and passion for her sport. I felt like I was in very capable hands. This two day course was also a chance for me to relearn some of the diving theories I had learned many years ago whilst doing my dive master course. I needed a total refresh of the physics and physiology theories behind both scuba and free diving. It was good to switch on my brain again!

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Free diving training – harder (and colder) than it looks!

After the first day I realised that I had underestimated how difficult free diving can be – especially when you’re suffering from a cold, albeit it a mild one. I’ve witnessed free divers descend and ascend on one breath effortlessly. But for me, I could just make around 3 metres before rising up due to blocked ears or my diaphragm contracting to a degree which I found really uncomfortable.

To complete the course, and become an accredited free diver, would take me longer than two days. Not only did my ears cause me a lot of issues but I need to spend a lot of time practising my breath hold. Our bodies natural reaction to the CO2 build up whilst we hold our breath is something that you need to learn to manage, to over come and to embrace. It was a shame not to fully complete the course but I will return to finish it in the New Year. I’ve still acquired new skills and knowledge, I managed to get away to do the course in the first place which is always a logistical challenge and I met some lovely like-minded divers too.

I won’t be starting up my professional mermaid business just yet then…maybe next year.