Eighteen Months on an Island (not deserted)!

Well here we are living on an island… and it’s been so relaxing I haven’t written a post in forever.. well, that might not be it, could just be sheer laziness about the whole writing thing and keeping up with it but whatever justifies it works!

Island living… sounds idyllic, the scenery is definitely idyllic and there are many days I have to pinch myself to remember I actually live here.  Real life doesn’t go away though, for anyone feeling particularly jealous there are still bills to pay, kids to get to school, work to do, husbands to irritate, housework to ignore. Oh and the sand in your bed!  Should have predicted that one but it’s taken me 18 months to stop getting aggravated about it.  The amount depends on exactly how much housework I’ve ignored and how many kids have been in the house and how thoroughly I sat on the edge of the bed and brushed my feet together to de-sand before hopping in. It’s a bit like camping.. permanently.

It would have been so easy to go back to the suburbs and our busy jobs and kids in every after school activity they could manage in the interest of ‘personal development’ but we didn’t.  Instead we moved here, where you have to catch a boat to do most things we used to just hop into the car for and we have a curfew – after 730 pm we are stranded on the mainland and rely on the generosity of our friends to give us a bed for the night!

It’s an interesting re-mix of life balance, we work harder to do grocery shopping or obtain building supplies (or pay more) but life is more like it used to be, kids free to roam, simple pleasures such as watching the sun go down at the beach or swimming in a beautiful lake and drinking tea admiring  the vibrant poinciana trees from our front deck.  We have been lucky enough to meet some some amazing people from all walks of life and count a number of them as friends now. That happened so easily compared to other places we’ve lived that it must have something to do with who is drawn to live here, or is lucky enough to have been born here and decided to stay.

There is also the bizarre occurrence that there are three other families living here or with a holiday home here that all used to live near us in Mt Crosby out West of Brisbane and were our crew.  The odds of that happening seem far fetched unless you know they are all sisters that unite this group including my best friend in the world – family is definitely who you choose and it makes a new place so much more welcoming to move to.

There is so much to say about this little island off the coast of Brisbane but I’m just dipping my toe back in the blogging pool… so later gators…

Cheers

Michelle

Why ?????

Why are moving to Stradbroke Island ?
 There have been a lot of questions asked since we returned from our Christmas break announcing we were moving to Strandbroke Island (I would be lying if I said the shock factor wasn’t just a bit fun!) Why would you move, why to an island, why away from family…. The flippant answer is because we can – of course there is so much more to it than that, but also it sort of sums it up nicely.  Also I’m not particularly superstitious but sometimes the universe does seem to put these opportunities smack bang in your path that are impossible to ignore.

We have visited Brisbane and caught up with our family and friends often since leaving to do our around Australia trip in 2013 (that turned into an oops we aren’t coming back now situation).  Christmas last year shouldn’t have been any different, fly in, feel surrounded by people we love, get really sad about leaving and then come home and get on with life while marvelling at how beautiful the Mornington Peninsula is and how lucky we are to live here.

Except this time my beloved best friend had moved herself and her family….to an island….. a decision which baffled and bemused us.  Although beautiful, it was isolated, difficult to get to, had limited services and what on earth do you do there? Don’t get me wrong, we have camped on Straddie in days gone by and it is truly one of the most spectacular spots in Australia, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish to living in a camping destination full time.

So we all squeezed into her tiny little house and hung out with people we loved. We piled the kids into the car and went to amazing beaches with rolling waves, rock pools and sand slides, walked around the Point trying to spot dolphins and turtles, had the most amazing Gelati (that could have been the deciding factor come to think of it), bought coffee at the groovy whole food cafe right across the street and watched the kids play on the access road under the Poinciana trees.  It recaptured some pretty warm and fuzzy feelings of how much we loved this place before and how far away the ‘real world’ felt when we were there. Admittedly we were on holiday and life always has that warm haze about it that causes you to start fantasising about giving it all away to live on a desert island (or even a dessert island – don’t forget the Gelati!)  

Then we left – waved goodbye and hopped on a plane to Vanuatu (yes I know, we were having a horrible time of it). Maybe it would have been a different outcome if we went straight home to reality – it might have just been another holiday pipe dream.  Instead the idea took root and grew while we had time on our hands to contemplate it. An opportunity for our kids to spend some of their most formative years in a beautiful natural environment that would encourage them to be outdoors and active.  To learn about aboriginal culture in a way most kids would never experience – by going to school with them, living next door, participating in their customs and traditions. To separate from our spiralling involvement in all things materialistic and online – no shopping centres or even much of anything retail, a smaller house, cheaper car, less possessions, more focus on the environment, friendship, connecting with people around us.  Kids able to walk to school from home, play in the street and be three doors down from their oldest and dearest friends in the world, everything you could see or do no more than a fifteen minute drive away. Less stress, less hurry, less spending, less busyness.

The question slowly became why wouldn’t we do it. You’re not always in a position to take this kind of leap but right at this point in time, we could. We both work from home, our kids were delighted at the thought of being near their mates and living on an island and we could make it work – so why not? It still might have slipped away from us – but we came home and without even really having that final discussion of ‘are we doing this’ we just made it happen. That’s seems to be a source of fascination for everyone as well – I’ve been told we are the most portable family ever and how on earth do we do make this work, packing up the family and moving all over the place.  I’m not even really sure, we just seem to do it – but I will try and explain that too.. but in another post as it’s late now and I seem to be keeping our ginger moggie awake – the only member of the family who doesn’t care where we live as long as there is food (although possibly that applies to our kids as well…..)

Night

Michelle

 

Travel Fatigue

I’ve found lately the blog has been a bit of a chore – instead of chronicling our trip I’ve let it slide in to a brief travel guide to each place we’ve been as it’s weeks afterwards I get to write it! It’s a shame as if I had written as I went it would be fresh in my mind – however in my defence the lateness of my blog posts is directly correlated to how much I have enjoyed the latter part of our journey and not wanting to waste a moment chained to my laptop. I know so many people would give anything to be on this journey we are on and it seems like a sacrilege to complain about a single minute of it however something that a lot of people might not know is that the excitement of travelling does actually ebb away after a while – we humans adapt to any situation quickly!

I think by the time we reached Perth, about half way through, we were all suffering a little from a lack of a permanent home and travel fatigue. Although Bali was hotly debated I am forever grateful that we took those two weeks out and got to live in a permanent room, with a real bed and nothing pressing to do but hang around the pool all day. Some people might question if we always have nothing pressing to do considering we are on holidays – but it didn’t feel that way. I was constantly reminding myself that we might never get to these places again so we felt compelled to see all there was to see in every place we went. We also still have the ever day to deal with, dishes, washing, cleaning, bed time routine for kids etc etc and doing all of this while living in a very small space and constantly packing up and travelling between destinations can become exhausting (not to mention actually being with ones loved ones 24 hours a day seven days a week…no stress there!) I can here the sound of tiny violins being played by everyone who is working while we gallivant around but remember it’s all a matter of perspective!

Bali was a turning point for me at least, I returned to Australia feeling ready to really enjoy every moment remaining to us and feeling grateful again for this opportunity. It was a close call though – Craig didn’t feel quite so zen and was keen to just head home to Brisbane to find a job and return to normality so cue marital disharmony. Luckily I used all my charms and persuasive ability (read haranguing!) to convince him we had come too far to just abandon Western Australia and we did continue. For that I am now eternally grateful – in part it’s why my blogging has been so erratic, I don’t want to miss a minute of the last part of our great adventure, even the evenings when I would normally blog, I would rather be outside star gazing, hearing the stories of other adventurers on the road like us or just relaxing and getting an early night so we can get out and about the next day. Maybe it’s the end of it all starting to loom a little closer but all of a sudden the appreciation for what we are doing has returned and it feels like we could keep doing this forever ( well me, maybe not everyone else, Craig wants a job and the girls actually want to go back to school, what is wrong with people???!)

I will do my absolute best to write the remainder of our stories with as much wonder and awe that I felt at the time, Western Australia and the Kimberley’s was nothing short of soul inspiring (hearing about it and seeing photos does not do this country justice, it makes you understand how the aboriginal people feel about their emotional connection to the land). Currently we are lolling around in the Darwin heat catching up with very old and dear friends and contemplating how soon we will be done and dusted with this unforgettable chapter of our lives. I should be able to get through Tom Price, Broome, Gibb River Road/Kimberleys and Kakadu – although I feel cramps in my fingers even talking about it!!!!

See you all soon

xx

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My Beautiful Gang

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Us – Still Travelling!

Ningaloo Reef

We departed Denham headed  for the famous Ningaloo Reef via the town of Exmouth – not that we had actually booked anywhere to stay, after perusing Camps Australia and determining that were five or six camping areas within the National Park area itself we decided that surely we would be able to find a site even during school holidays?  There had been mutterings from some of the grey nomads we had chit chatted with about having to get there first thing in the morning to wait for a site but I think we had forgotten that in between having the conversation and arriving (or completely forgotten which area they were talking about, after four months it was all starting to blend into one!)

So it was a bit of a rude shock driving into Exmouth to find a big board up on the outskirts stating the national park was full!  Mind you – so were all the caravan parks.  We were beginning to think parking on the side of the road might have to be an option (you aren’t supposed to but driving hours back or forward from Exmouth didn’t really appeal). So began the big caravan park ring around to find that two at least had overflow areas – now this is a new concept for us, not sure if it’s just a WA thing but we have discovered that the parks in these high traffic tourist areas reserve areas for folk like us that turn up in town without a clue that it’s school holidays and wonder why we can’t get a site.  I think it must be bad for tourism turning people away because they keep the overflow areas and the Lighthouse Caravan Park we checked into was only just finishing grading the new overflow area that afternoon and were even still waiting on council approval!

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Beachcombing

Anyway – crisis averted and a dirt pad is better than driving on – although it was really annoying to drive into the national park the next day and find that sites had become free! We even extended our stay here for another day, this is close to one of the most beautiful spots we had stayed so far with the clear green water, snorkelling, beach combing, massive clam shells to be collected and perfect weather.  The beach was a short walk across the road and over the dune and we spent a lot of time there while the husband attempted to catch fish – or I should say attempted to catch legal size fish as there were some throw backs!

 

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Treasure

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Beautiful Coral Bay

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Finding a Spot

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Coral Bay

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Beach Bums

 

We failed miserably at our attempts to teach our kids to snorkel however – they found the water too cold to wade in and try it at Coral Bay, where you can literally snorkel off the beach (but perhaps with a wet suit at this time of year?) We took a glass bottom boat tour out to the reef itself (after discovering the exorbitant cost of swimming with the whale sharks – unbelievable!) Where it was attempted to put the girls in the water with a pool noodle to snorkel – but this too ended miserably!  Admittedly there was quite a strong current so it wasn’t like we could just float along side them and teach some technique, it was all I could do to stay in one place while they got their snorkel and mask on – and the first mouthful of water pretty much stopped their snorkel escapade dead in tracks.  Oh well – two wet cold short people returned to the boat while the grown ups took turns snorkeling at least!  The fish and coral were beautiful, perhaps not as amazing as the Great Barrier Reef but the whole stop over in Ningaloo was a relaxing, sunny beach retreat.

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Snorkelling

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Ahh…Margaret River

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We had the unfortunate timing of arriving in this famous food and wine region of WA on the last day of the long weekend and busy was an understatement! It was a stark contrast to the peace and tranquility of the forests however also a welcome dose of civilisation – cafes and shops!!! Needless to say there was a little bit of mummy time where I escaped down the main street just to browse and revel in it all (albeit still in my hiking pants and boots but can’t have it all on this trip). There was something bitter-sweet about returning to this area as a family, Craig and I had both visited the region previously and had fond memories of winery hopping, restaurants and maybe, ahem, a slight sense of inebriation the entire trip. Visiting with kids does change the entire dynamic but in some ways make it even better – the excitement of visiting Simmo’s ice creamery (and milking the pretend cows), the overwhelming, giddy thrill they got from the chocolate factory and especially their joy walking around Cowaramup with all the cows placed around the town almost made up for the fact we only got to visit a handful of wineries!

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The Margaret River Icon

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Yum!

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Cows !!

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Simmo’s Ice Creamery

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We all scream for ice cream

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Milking Time

Another advantage of not being all cosmopolitan and hanging out in trendy places was I actually explored the Margaret River itself (the name has previously been more synonymous with vin rouge than nature walking in my memory!). Our van park was tiny and situated right by the river and after venturing out one day for a walk I discovered there were trails starting there that meandered for miles through forest and alongside the river – it was beautiful and peaceful and I covered many french lessons wandering along the water way.

Since our last visit there has also been an absolute explosion of brewery’s and although beer is not really my thing – but is definitely the husbands thing – this turned out to be the best family activity around (does that sound like irresponsible parenting?) Some of the breweries were very family friendly, featuring massive playgrounds right next to restaurants with child friendly options and we spent many hours sitting in the sun sampling their wares (with a duty driver of course!) while the kids played. It was amusing listening to the winery owners accounts of this competition, apparently there has never been any problems with drunken rowdy behaviour until the breweries became established (although I find that a little hard to believe) and the police have only started breathalising in the area since their arrival as well (once again, might be urban legend!)

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Another sign of our new family friendly status was our joy in finding Olio Bella, a little boutique farm featuring delicious, organic, cold pressed olive oils from virgin through to parmesan/lime/lemon infused oils (there were a whole bunch in between but as these are the ones we bought I remember them!) There little cafe area was peaceful and serene – when our children were absorbed in their colouring books at least – and they provided a full tasting of every single oil, tapenade and olive they sold – bliss.

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Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

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The entire trip around Australia our children have been disappointed when we visited lighthouses.  Not because they thought they were boring, or because we usually had long, windy, cold walks out to where they stood watching the ocean, but because they couldn’t go inside one!  When we discovered that you could go on a guided tour of the historic lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin on the most South Westerly point of Australia, this was our chance to fix this small issue.  Not only was this site absolutely stunning, with the backdrop of two oceans meeting at the Cape – Southern and Indian – and the lighthouse shining white in the sun (which led to me madly taking a thousand photos while the sun peeped out around rain clouds) but I actually learnt a lot about Australia’s history – which I’m not going to bore everyone with on here! Needless to say there were a LOT of steps and I was quite proud of the little people for making it all the way to the top and our jolly guide regaled us with stories of ship wrecks and facts about mining the limestone locally to build the lighthouse itself.  This is still a fully operational light house as well and the light is on continually so it was fascinating to see.

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Wild Weather on the Cape

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Hello Sunshine

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Grand Old Lighthouse

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They Never End

Great Southern Forests of WA

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I’m finally catching up on blog posts after a very lazy month (that included two weeks in Bali so that one is yet to come as well!) In the interest of catching up I’m lumping all of our time in the forest areas into one, as it was really just a case of wandering from one patch of really tall, old and beautiful trees to the other in this lush and ancient area 300 kms South of Perth. We started camping in the Shannon National Park and despite being a long weekend (maybe because it was a particularly freezing long weekend!) there was only a scattering of campers here. We loved it – there were fabulous hot showers, clean toilets and pre-cut fire wood (the ranger here needs a medal).  Nights were pitch black other than the one of those amazingly thick star fields above (which fascinated our city living kids) and so peaceful and quiet we all slept like the dead.

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From here we explored all the old growth Marri, Karri and Jarrah tree forests of Walpole, Pemberton and surrounds, finding what felt like secret circles of giant trees (the Karri grows up to 90 metres high!), buying local honey harvested from the aforementioned trees – which tasted like nothing you’ve ever bought in a store and generally  just wandering around feeling awe-struck. It’s not like I haven’t been in forests before, but to be surrounded by these absolute behemoths of trees in the complete silence of the wilderness was almost (almost!) a spiritual experience…until the five year olds emerged from the Prado and completely shattered the peace of course and then it became much more of a guided nature walk again.  As a quick aside, I think silence is the thing I miss the most since becoming a parent!

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Goodness

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Big Tree Grove

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Big Tree Grove

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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There were a couple of highlights from our forest sojourn… in particular the massive “fire tower” trees of the area that have previously been used as look out points to check for forest fires – complete with cabins built at the top of these 60+ metre high trees! Even more astounding is the fact tourists can climb three of these trees just for fun – using metal stakes driven into the trunks…yikes.  Despite being employed in safety I often think that public safety regulation has become a little ridiculous but it does seem brave of the WA government to encourage thousands of tourists to precariously climb a massive tree using nothing but footholds and with the odd bit of fencing wire for protection!  We watched with fascination as groups of tourists went up – and down – the same rungs and negotiated their way past each other  A sign advised there were a maximum number of climbers allowed at any one time but there didn’t appear to be any actual control on that.  Funnily enough one of our shorter family members was keen to get  climbing herself, despite the fact I had to ‘rescue’ her from the 2 metre high playground equipment the day before….that bright idea was quickly vetoed by the taller members of the family. We did let them climb a short distance for a photo opportunity – and of course to make all our friends on Facebook think we are totally irresponsible parents for letting our children climb ridiculously tall trees. I also had to exercise all of my social restraint after witnessing the groups of tourists blatantly feeding the wild birds (from a bag of bird seed – who carries bird seed around?) right in front of the “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign.  I’m sure the birdies were happy about it…but still….

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Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!

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Local Visitors

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Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it

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Putting it in Perspective

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Forest Moment!

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Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot

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Although not the hubby’s cup of tea, one of my favourite activities here was the “Understory” walk in Northcliffe, a winding walk through bushy forest populated by large outdoor artworks including sculptures, music and writing.  It was also one of the most peaceful – husband remained behind so there was no grumbling about the ridiculousness of art, the girls were given an iPod each so they could listen to children’s stories about the forest and its animals and plants and I was able to wander through reading the brochure about the artworks as I went and soaking up the atmosphere.  All three of us returned relaxed – although there was much giggling from the short ones about the little ‘people’ statues they discovered in the undergrowth!

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Understory Trail

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My Favourite

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Forest People!

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Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!

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Listening to the bush stories

 

As peaceful and beautiful as this area is pretty soon we had all had enough of tree watching and driving through forests – particularly as the next port of call was Margaret River and the red wine was already calling to us!

Valley of the Giants

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Heading to Shannon National Park (between Albany and Pemberton) we stopped to see one of Australia’s National icons, the Valley of the Giants and its tree-top walk. Even if you aren’t a tree hugging hippy this site makes you understand the urge they have to climb a tree to protect it.  The massive red tingle trees that have given this area it’s name apparently hark back to when we were “Gondwana” land and are now only preserved in this small niche in Western Australia where conditions remain similar to ancient times – they are gnarly, often holllowed out at the base and totally fascinating. The tree walks (one suspended 40 metres above the ground in the tree tops and one winding it’s way past mammoth tree bases) lets us visit these giants without trampling them to death.  One huge tree has previously been ‘loved to death’ from it’s shallow roots being trampled and fell over – that would have been a terrifying site to behold!

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The suspended walkway through the tree tops was surreal – looking down at these huge trees but also looking up where they still continued way above our forty metre vantage point as the metal grid swayed gently under our feet.  Even with other tourists winding their way around the walks the lush forest absorbed so much sound you felt totally isolated – I didn’t want to leave but eventually decided it would be a little uncomfortable to sleep on.  The engineering for this birds eye view is incredible and has won a bunch of awards – apparently the actual foot-print on the forest floor only occupies 3-4 square metres (depending on which brochure you read) supporting six, 60 metre suspended spans – not something to think about while you are hanging around forty metres in the air swaying in the breeze!

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Seasoned tree walkers

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We didn’t do much…

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Awesome views

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Tranquil

 

The winding path through the forest floor was just as breath-taking in it’s own way, standing at the bottom of the giants gazing up into the tree tops you feel tiny and unimportant – but also incredibly lucky to be able to see a glimpse of history like this. I also just loved that the girls were so interested in all the botanical signs and what they were seeing – Sophia in particular seems to have an avid interest in all things natural and stated that she would much rather be out in the trees than watching a movie.  Considering we are on a six month nature tour (essentially) that bodes well.  I’m not convinced Layla is as enthusiastic (our princess) but she is at least willing to be a good sport about it and not be outdone by her sister in the outdoorsy stakes!

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