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splish splosh

16 Jan

“Quick, put my suncream on please!” says Ned as we dump our stuff on the sand.  He rubs it in as quickly as possible before running down to the water’s edge, and throwing himself headlong into the crashing surf.  The waves are as tall as a grown man, the white foam goes into his eyes, ears, nose and mouth as they break over his head, and as each one recedes, he emerges grinning, his long fringe plastered to his forehead.  It’s like a Guiness advert, but without the galloping horses, or the dramatic soundtrack, and it’s not in black and white, but you get the idea.  He is at one with the waves.

It’s a far cry from the timid boy who sat on the top step of the swimming pool in California, arm bands firmly in place, not daring to go out of his depth without his arms firmly clamped around an adult’s neck.

All three have made huge improvements in the water.  The elder two are now swimming properly, not very stylishly, but they can get from one side of the pool to the other and they are expert snorkellers.  Dickon wouldn’t go in the water at all the first few weeks for fear of drowning, now he’ll happily bob about, out of his depth with armbands on, and yells “I’m a surf dude” as he ducks enthusiastically under waves at the beach.

There’s no doubt that the amount of time we’ve spent in the water helps.  Some weeks we’ve swum every day and I don’t think a whole week has gone by since we left home when we haven’t swum at all.  The fact that it’s always warm and sunny must also help.  It’s a far cry from Eve’s school swimming lessons of last winter, when they’d return shivering and bedraggled, after spending all of ten minutes actually in the pool.

I hope over the next six months they’ll continue to improve and become really confident swimmers.  I also hope that their emerging love of the water will continue to grow and remain with them for the rest of their lives.

It’s not a bad beach

22 Nov

There’s really no such thing as a bad beach in Hawaii.  We’ve been to long strips of sand, pounded by crashing waves and watched the surfers tumble into the sea.  We’ve walked along  dramatic, jagged coastline created by black lava, very beautiful but would cut you to ribbons if you swam.  We’ve swum at beaches with off-shore reefs rivalling anything I’ve seen in an aquarium.  The children have played in shallow rock pools, teeming with nudibranch, urchins, brittle stars and tiny hermit crabs, which tickle when you hold them.  I’ll never forget my first turtle at The Place of Refuge, a peaceful, perfect crescent of white sand, but the beach is sacred and not a place to eat sandwiches and build sand castles.

So none of the beaches are bad, but today I think we found the best.  There’s a law in Hawaii that says something along the lines of the public must always be allowed access to the coastline, even if it means crossing private property.  Don’t quote me on this, I haven’t done my research and I shan’t be springing you from jail.  About 15 miles north of where we’re staying there’s a Four Seasons Resort.  We reckoned that they’d have picked a nice spot, and the guidebook said it was a good beach for children, so off we went.  At the entrance to the resort we told the gatekeeper we were going to the beach and he waved us through.  We parked in the carpark and followed the signs to the public shoreline, past the infinity pool and manicured garden.

We found a beautiful, long, sandy beach, shaded by noni trees with rocks a little offshore to temper the pounding surf.  There was reasonable snorkelling (it wasn’t great, but I’m being picky here), excellent digging sand, waves big enough for the children to body board, but not so big you couldn’t swim.  And turtles.  Plural.  At one point I counted eight.  They spent the day swimming in the shallow water and basking on the rocks and the beach.  We spent the day watching them.

After lunch I walked round the headland to the Four Seasons for a look at their beach.  It was nice, but I didn’t see any turtles.  I didn’t stay long.

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First week

7 Nov

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It’s hard to believe that this time last week we were kicking our heels in our local playground on Clapham Common, hoping that one of the children wouldn’t fall off the play house and end up in casualty.  It seems like a very long time ago.

Since then we’ve survived our first long haul flight, battled jet lag and won, and spent five days in Disneyland.  It’s been a very, very good first week.  Exhausting but good.

Disneyland was a huge hit with the children, which isn’t a great surprise.  They’ve shown amazing levels of stamina and walked for miles with very little complaint.  As long as they’ve had regular applications of Mickey shaped food, they’ve done well.  We’ve been on countless rides, many of them twice, watched two parades and three shows, a highlight being the Playhouse Disney one, really, and travelled by steam train, monorail and horse drawn tram.

Away from Disneyland we’ve been swimming most days, eaten a huge variety of vibrantly coloured cereal, done three washes and a little bit of school work every day.   All staying in a single hotel room, isn’t ideal, especially when you’re up at 5am with jetlag, but hasn’t been as bad as I’d feared.  The adults have got loads of sleep, far more than normal and the children have been very good about going to bed.  Being utterly exhausted helps on that front. As does bribery in the form of endless Disney keyrings.

For the next few weeks we’ll have a kitchen and a car, as well as proper outside space, so life will get easier.  No more meals created only from what we can buy in the hotel shop.  I really miss vegetables.

A week in Disneyland has been a surreal way to start a nine month trip, but I guess the whole concept of a nine month trip is fairly odd.  Next week will be the start of our new normal.  I’m looking forward to it.

Splish splash splosh

8 Feb

I’m hot, sticky and tired.  We’ve been walking through the jungle in Northern Queensland for about an hour, stumbling over knotted roots on the surface of the forest floor, brushing past trailing vines and avoiding green biting ants as they munch on foliage overhead.

We hear the rushing of water as we emerge out of the dappled sunlight into a clearing and see a rocky pool at the base of a long, narrow waterfall.  “We’ll stop for a few minutes if you want to swim, but I warn you, it’s cold” says our Crocodile-Dundee-a-like guide.  I considered myself part fish as a child, so it’s an invitation I can’t refuse.

The rocky edge of the pool goes straight down some way, making the water too deep to see to the bottom.  I jump straight in, like an arrow and surface, gasping for breath.  The water is gaspingly, skin numbingly, can’t stay in too long or you’ll drown cold.  I can feel my body seizing up as I try to gulp air into my freezing lungs, but I am hooked.  I’ll never forget my first swim in a natural pool.

Since that day, almost 20 years ago, swimming in an indoor pool has lost its allure and I swim outdoors whenever I can.  We don’t get many opportunities in Britain, although the Serpentine Lido is pretty memorable.  But on a snowy February London day, swimming in Hyde Park or Lake Walensee in Switzerland seems like a distant dream.

This time next year, we will be back in Australia and I can’t wait to plunge into the many beautiful, sandy, clear, sparkling pools that are found across the continent.  Being Australia, humans are not the only creatures which enjoy these natural wonders.  I’ll try to avoid feeding the children to crocodiles.

This post was written for Mara at Mother of All Trips and her ‘Monday’s are for Dreaming’ slot.

Fancy a paddle?

4 Sep

Walensee from Walenstadt beach

Everyone knows that you can’t have a summer holiday without plenty of swimming and coming from a small island nation, as I do, that means a trip to the seaside.  But what do you do in Switzerland, where they have no beaches?  You swim in one of the many beautiful lakes or fabulous outdoor swimming pools. 

Wherever lake swimming was possible, there were spotless changing rooms, one beautiful wooden chalet I used dating back to the early 1920’s, with loos, showers, cafes and children’s playgrounds.  They also provided a variety of diving platforms, inflatable water slides, artificial beaches and paddling pools for little children where the water was very cold.

The towns we went to that weren’t near a lake had the most amazing outdoor swimming pools which were open from May to September.  As well as the usual lane swimming pool the complexes would have a diving pool with challenging entertainment such as a climbing wall or balance beam, a shallow learners pool with slides, 10ft pirate ships with water cannons and fountains, and a toddler pool with ankle deep water and more fountains, or water channels with a dam system.  As well as the pools, there were also climbing frames, table tennis, beach volleyball, cafes and huge, spotless changing areas. 

We managed to swim six times in two weeks and my favourite place had to be Walensee (above).  It was pleasantly cool rather than freezing, gently shelved so great for small children but deep a few feet out, and the view was absolutely breathtaking.  Seaside swimming now seems rather dull.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more pictures, click here.

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