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When I first learnt to surf back in 2013, I was in Australia working as a first time Nanny, wondering how I was going to make friends, or what I was going to do in my free time. After spending my first few weekends exploring the area, I quickly came to realize that everyone seemed to surf. I was in one of the most beautiful locations in Australia, sandy beaches and consistent waves surrounded me. After watching hundreds of surfers, catching waves every day and coming out of the water with a huge smile on their face, I knew it had to be good. I decided it was something I want to try, it would give myself something to do, and what better place to learn to surf than on the famous Northern beaches of Sydney.

I didn’t know a thing about surfing and being a beginner paddling out on my own, I knew I had to be cautious. I didn’t want to jump straight into buying a surfboard until I was ready to get in the water, I knew I needed to learn about the surf ethics, don’t paddle inside, don’t drop in, don’t snake, don’t ditch your surfboard, and so on. I needed to know what the flags meant, where the rips and currents were and the simplest things like, how I would even transport my board to the beach and back. I had thought about having surf lessons, but I knew they were expensive and if I’d have wanted to go out surfing, I would have had to hire a board; another cost and I’d be restricted to time limits. Anyway, teaching myself would be fun, exciting and something I could stay busy with.

I use to sit for hours on the headland in Avalon or in the car facing the water watching surfers arrive, put wetsuits on, stretch, carry their board down the steps and into the sea. I would watch how they would time getting in after each set, so they didn’t get pushed back to shore as the waves rolled in. I would ask Surfers that pulled up in the car park about the tides and currents at that beach so I knew how to stay safe. I watched how people would tie their surfboard to the roof of their car so it was secure, and I asked someone to show me how to wax a board properly. I learnt what the flags meant and when the best times to surf were, considering wind direction. While I sit here and write, it seems there was so much to learn about surfing, but really once your past the nitty and gritty, know your limits, where is safe, and how to be safe, in the end, it is all fun!

I was excited to purchase my first surfboard, I knew I didn’t want a foamy (foam board), because I wanted to learn on a board I could grow with, as I got better. Plus, I liked the idea of having a pretty patterned fiberglass board. I purchased my first surfboard from the Rip Curl store at Manly beach, after getting advice from the guy that clearly knew what he was talking about, when it’s comes to beginner surfers. It was a mini mal 7ft 2 OceanTech surfboard, with different shades of blue lines going diagonally across the board. Thinking back now, I couldn’t have got a better board, my favorite colour and came with its own storage bag, which was amazing, because it meant I could travel.

I was so excited as I carried my board out of the store and straight across to the beach. The waves looked quite small from a distance and I was keen to get in for my first ride, so I waxed up my board, put my bikini on and started paddling out.

tHe first time I experienced a ‘wipe out’… It was like being in a washing machine ! 

Was I prepared? Absolutely not! The waves were much bigger closer up and little me bobbing up and down the water, who had never controlled a surfboard before, was a recipe for disaster. Somehow, I got out the back after my tireless efforts of being smashed a thousand times as waves broke before me, I got my breath back and sat with all the other surfers looking out on the horizon waiting for that perfect wave. When a wave did come, it was huge. I paddled my hardest towards shore and as the wave picked me up I tried to stand, but of course not having learnt to balance on the board yet, I fell. That’s when I experienced my first ‘wipe out’. I was under the water with what felt like forever, I was panicking, I was being twisted, turned, stretched and bashed as the power of the wave continued to head towards shore above me, not to mention my bikini top had been ripped off. It was like being in a washing machine! I must have been deep because I couldn’t seem to reach the surface, I was kicking so hard and I had almost run out of air when I came to the surface and took an almighty breath, I was tired, frightened, and wanted someone to just grab me and take me back to the beach. I grabbed my board and another wave came crashing over the top of me again, I knew they would just keep coming so I used whatever energy I had left to kept paddling until I got close enough to shore that I could stand up.

I got out the water and just lay on the sand looking up at the sky. I was alive! That’s when I realized how powerful the Ocean really is and if I wanted to continue surfing, I needed to get ‘surf fit’. I needed to practice holding my breath underwater for longer periods, practice paddling, do full body workouts to get stronger and learn how to duck dive and turtle roll to prevent exhaustion.

I watched the film ‘Chasing Mavericks’, one of my favorite films. It taught me a lot on the power of the waves and how much fitter I needed to be, if I wanted to surf and survive. I was extremely determined; I started watching tutorials on YouTube, practiced duck dives and holding my breath in my Nanny family’s swimming pool and paddled for hours on calm days to build strength. I would also only take my board out into the white water and practice standing and getting my balance. I was desperate to be strong enough, to be able to paddle out the back and sit with all the intermediate/advanced surfers in the lineup.

That was the day, I caught my first ‘green wave’ and became hooked!

I had my first surf trip a few weeks later and was heading to Wollongong, a beautiful place off the coast of New South Wales. I went and stayed with family and they all surfed, so I was thrilled to get some tips off them and go out surfing with others.

My first wave was caught on camera, here I am… smile on my face, feeling on top of the world. As you can see my leg rope is on my front foot, that’s typical of a beginner surfer, it should have been on my back foot, but nevertheless after I came off that board, I got straight back on and paddled towards the line up again, I wanted to catch another. That was the day, I caught my first ‘green wave’ and became hooked!

My passion for surfing just grew after that, I learnt new things every day, even when I was tired, or didn’t have enough time to surf before the sun went down, I’d race to the beach to see the surfers catch the final waves of the day. During my second year in Australia I taught my best friend and was surfing every day, sometimes twice, before and after work. I’d meet Mona down at the beach and we’d surf until sunset. Some weekends we’d be in the water for 6 hours and skipped lunch, we loved it! There is something special about sharing a hobby with someone, who is just as passionate about it, as you are. Between Nannying, we would travel all over Australia with our surfboards, finding untouched hidden beaches, jungle showers and surf breaks. It really became the highlight, of my first two years abroad.

Learning to surf has been amazing, it’s taken me all over the world since then, encouraged me to reach goals, given me confidence in myself and taught me to step out of my comfort zone. Over the last 5 years I’ve now surfed in UK, Australia, USA and Mexico and am looking forward to surfing many more breaks, and will continue it into the future. I’ve had my fair share of injuries, but I know that in surfing, you will wipe out for years, but that’s how you grow and become stronger.

If you fancy learning to surf and are wanting more tips and advice, email me for more info and I’d love to help you.

So, I just spent 6 weeks in Marbella Spain as a Temporary Travel Nanny for a family with two babies.  Marbella is a part of Spain I had never visited before, so I was excited to get out and about and explore. MB (Mom boss) and I flew to Malaga and then drove 40 minutes to Marbella to their villa. The babies were great on the plane until about the last hour, they were tired as we flew at lunchtime and typically they both fell asleep as we landed.  Why do children always do that?! So, getting off the plane with two sleeping babies, 5 bags and 2 prams was a mission. What could Marbella have in store for us?

Marbella is beautiful, lots of sandy beaches, palm trees, fun markets and surf cafes. When we arrived, it was low season and so it wasn’t busy at all, the temperatures in the morning and at night were quite chilly but in the middle of the day it got up to 28c.

A lot of our time was spent at the beach, I love the beach. I would recommend taking a visit to Playa Fontanilla and Playa Nagueles, which have luscious golden sand and stunning clear waters. But we spent most of our time at the closest one, South Beach, which was so convenient with the little ones and always full of locals.

 

Whilst on my day off, I took a trip out into town and whilst at Playa Del Faro beach I stumbled across something truly special. These incredible sand sculptures!!! Wow, I stood and watched the artist as he sat high up on scaffolding sculpting the face of a mythical male figure, it was clear to me that the artist always starts from the top and works his way down the sand, which would make complete sense if you thought about it.  These sand sculptures were intellectual ownership of the sculptor and his work was not sponsored by the town hall, he worked purely for tourist entertainment and on donations/contributions.

The artist had a board with a bit of information on about his giant master pieces, so I’ve added them here for you to really understand just how much work goes into them.

 

  • He uses 22 tons of sand
  • Construction time – 250 hours
  • Material – Beach sand and sea water
  • Daily use of sea water – 3000 L
  • Maintenance – Water spray every hour during the day, every two hours at night.

Sand art really is a special talent, when most of us struggle to build a single sand castle. The artist had also sculpted the characters from ‘Frozen’ the movie.

I also went and explored Old town or Casco Antiguo, built in 1485. A place where if I told you to imagine a Spanish town in your head this is what you would picture. Old town has such a lovely feel, little streets surrounded with white buildings, old stone and flowered balconies. In the center of it all Plaza de los Naranjos or orange square. Where you are surrounded by orange trees and beautiful Castilian Renaissance Architecture. You may sit around the square at your typical Spanish restaurants, eating Spanish cuisine while enjoying the beauty and smell of the oranges hanging from the trees.

 

Things to do with children in and around Marbella

We went out and explored a few different parks and attractions to mix up our days and we discovered some great places for families. A great place to visit as a family is the Selwo Adventura in Malaga. I couldn’t believe how big this place was, it honestly felt like I was back in South Africa at the Kruger National park. It was so wild, so much space for the animals to roam, you are able to go on a guided tour in a jeep and get up close to some of the animals at an extra cost, alternatively, you can walk the park yourself. They have some amazing activities to make you feel like you’re really in the jungle, hanging bridges, zip-lines over the lake and archery are just a few. They have lots of demonstrations on throughout the day also to educate children more on the different species of animals and their habitats. This is well worth a visit!

If you don’t fancy the huge day at the safari park and wanted just a morning or afternoon doing something, I would recommend the Bioparc in Fuengirola. We enjoyed this very much. In the heart of a town you wouldn’t expect to find a jungle paradise with tropical birds and exotic pets. The park was smaller than a zoo but had lots of the usual zoo animals, in naturalistic enclosures. It was clean, well-kept and the staff were friendly and spoke great English. This is well worth a visit for anyone with small children traveling around this area, wanting to see something exciting that doesn’t consume the whole day.

We also visited the Butterfly Park of Benalmadena. Located in the heart of Costa del Sol, home to around 1500 exotic butterflies. These butterflies fly freely between the flowers, waterfalls and tropical paradises. As you explore their habitat you gain a beautiful sense of tranquility and peace watching all the different colours and patterns fly by. Children under 3 go free, so it was a cheap day out for us with two little ones.

Tip – I would recommend eating out or bringing food with you to any of the parks as most of the cafes/ restaurants sell your typical takeaway fast food and a lot of Spanish food is very high in salt which of course is not always good for children.

Marbella has an amazing coast-line and the sunsets over the water, are simply stunning. One of the best things about Marbella is where it is situated, on a very clear day as you stare across the Mediterranean Sea, you can see Gibraltar, (another part of Spain) and Morocco and the African mountains. You are able to take a short journey by Ferry across the sea to Morocco and visit the city of Marrakesh. Nothing more satisfying than ticking off multiple locations on your bucket list, in one trip.

 

Living in Dubai has felt so different to anywhere else I have lived. Not just because of the vast desert, cactus and roaming camels, but the way of life, the law, the culture and communities that make up this incredible city.

If I could describe Dubai, I would say it is definitely a playground for the rich, where everything can be done. The biggest, the fastest, the tallest, whatever it is, you can pretty much find it here.

All over the city, construction is happening and in just 20 years, they have built some of the best businesses and tourist attractions in the world. The population has grown tremendously, and currently there are more expats living here than UAE residents. Something I love the most about Dubai, is the traditions and vibrant culture that make this city so dynamic.

Living in a country where prayer and religion is so important, has been such an eye opener to me. I have learnt that nothing stops prayer, you can be driving down the motorway and cars, trucks, lorries will be pulled over in the hard shoulder, and men/women will be on the side of the road praying on the floor. Now that seems so dangerous and in the UK that would never be allowed, but here it is, which makes it so interesting to see happening all over Dubai. Muslims pray 5 times a day and every mosque calls them to prayer at certain times. You can often be laying on the beach or walking around the mall shopping and all of a sudden you hear Adhan calling Muslims to prayer. It’s such a beautiful sound.
If you are wanting to visit a mosque, I would recommend doing it in the UAE. There are so many picturesque ones, the architecture and designs are amazing, some allow tourists to go inside. You do have to cover up before entering, there will be staff at the entrance to hand you a hijab to put on, if you aren’t wearing the correct attire.

The location of Dubai definitely has its challenges, after growing up in the countryside surrounded by lush green grass, it has been such a contrast moving to the desert with sand nearly everywhere you look. I experienced my first sand storm here, it was definitely not pretty. Visibility is low, sand and dust are blown all across the city and lingers the air, you find yourself holding your breath and walking with your eyes shut if you haven’t got a mask/goggles to put on. You do try and find yourself staying indoors and avoiding going out on those days because it can be quite dangerous and sand hitting your legs at wind speed is quite painful, but never the less experiencing a sand storm has got me another tick off my bucket list.

The hardest part I have found getting use to is the way of life, this place has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in the world, and this is the city I have realized that racism exists in so many different forms. Here it is important what country you come from, social status plays a key role like no other place I’ve been too or lived in before. It’s also the first time I’ve seen special areas allocated for ‘gold members’ and ‘women only’ in public. At attractions you will find special que lines for women only, and on public transport seating areas are divided. In Dubai there is a hierarchy and when it comes to finding a job and receiving a salary, depending on where you are from, depends on what salary you can expect and if other nationalities get priority over you for the position. Once again after growing up in the UK, where everyone is deemed equal and valued no matter where you are from, this has definitely been a real wake up call. If I could take anything away from this reality check it would be to remain humble, and never take anything for granted. I have seen and heard stories of how people here survive on the little money they earn, how they need to send it to their families. The only benefit when it comes to earing money here, is the UAE does not have any federal income tax. So, every month what you earn and work for is yours, you get to keep. But never the less, I’ve learnt that it really does matter where you are from, as that will depend on if you live to work or work to live.

Dubai isn’t what everyone says it is, yes granted there are many laws/rules that are different to other countries, but it’s not what people portray it as. Many people’s concern when traveling here, is whether or not they have to cover up. Well let me tell you, it is okay to wear normal swimwear on the beaches, you do not have to worry too much about covering up when out and about. You should always be mindful about what you will wear for the day and where you are going, but unless entering a place of worship you shouldn’t worry. About the other laws, there are some I will never understand the reasons behind such as, ‘no affection in public’, this is something I have always thought is a strange restriction, but one you must respect to risk being deported, fined or being imprisoned. Also, Dubai’s licensing laws require venues serving alcohol to be attached to a hotel or private clubs. It is illegal to drink in the street or a public space. Crime rate here is so low, I actually feel safe walking around in the dead of night than I would walking down a street in the US in broad daylight. Although I don’t make it a habit of wondering around at night alone, the point is I don’t feel I’d be in any danger if I did, beyond perhaps a rude whistle from a fellow expat spilling out of a club. Horror stories do get around on the internet, or in the news about expats who get arrested and put in prison for things westerners take for granted and their own country would see as minor incidents. The easy way to avoid this is to know the laws/rules before you go, and respect the countries wishes.

The weather is hot, hot, hot! Dubai doesn’t have four seasons, it is either winter or summer and when it’s winter, it still feels like summer. It can reach temperatures of up to 50c and for 4 months of the year most people leave the country, travelling to escape the heat. A lot of the theme parks, gardens, and outdoor amusements close during this time, as it just isn’t comfortable and everyone hibernates in the day. The malls are all air conditioned and after 4pm people disburse into the shops, cinemas and any other indoor location with an air conditioner. Every mall is awesome, each different in their own way, the Mall of the Emirates has a ski slope in it! Who wouldn’t want to ski in the desert! The Dubai mall, the biggest in the world, is one everyone has to experience at least once. The giant aquarium is one you cannot miss!

Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa is 830m to the tip, the views from the top are staggering. Fun fact – The tower is so tall that residents that live above the 80th floor, have to wait an extra two minutes for the sun to go down, before they can break their dawn to dusk fast during Ramadan.
The dancing fountains and light show, has to be one of the best things I have seen here. The way the water is timed so perfectly so it dances to the music is amazing, the lights and laser show that is projected onto the Burj is awesome too. You have to get there early, to get a good spot in the crowd, the atmosphere is what makes this free show all the more spectacular.

Now let’s talk about Camels!
I’m just laying on the beach minding my own business, then all of a sudden one camel, two camel comes strolling along the beach. One of them ‘casual’ moments! Of course, the ones on the beach are with their owner, he parade’s them up and down until tourists offer him money for a ride, but just having Camels lying next to your beach towel, seems so surreal. Oh, so fascinating in the moment.

I love being able to go out into the desert on safaris, having BBQs while watching the sun go down. There’s definitely something special about watching the golden sun, sink over the sand dunes. There are so many incredible things for tourists to do in Dubai, and so many opportunities for work and business growth. I kind of see Dubai as being in the centre of the world, so travelling is made so much easier which ever country you want to visit, because it seems you’re already half way there. It really has been incredible experiencing living in the UAE, it’s definitely a country that has educated me more so on culture, religion, social status and how the other half live.

It is lonely working as a Private Nanny, it is a career where you talk to children all day who sometimes don’t have the verbal capacity to communicate back, so you always seem to be having a conversation with yourself. Also, 9 times out of 10 you are not in your home country close to friends and family and so you do have to make the extra effort to go out and try and meet new people, join different groups and classes that are just a part of what comes with this job. It is not like an Aupair position where you can talk to your ‘host parents’, cook dinner together, watch tv shows you all enjoy, it’s very much employer and employee relationship rather than a part of the family.

You are alone, it is hard but that’s where I have really learnt how to enjoy my own company and how to deal with ‘boredom’. I find that when I do feel alone or feel down it is usually because I am bored so when this happens I go out and do something. I find something new to go and visit, whether that is visiting a historical or cultural building, going for a walk or doing a fun activity like paddle boarding or visiting a theme park.

You may think ‘who would want to go to a theme park alone?’ Well actually sometimes these are the things as a Nanny you have to go and do because otherwise you would never get out and have fun. After working for 3 days straight,  I had the day off to go and do something and considering I was in Abu Dhabi for Formula 1 I decided to go and check out Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster. At first, I did feel a little out of place walking through the front doors by myself, seeing everyone else in groups with their friends or family laughing and having fun together, I thought I would walk around inside and check it all out before I decided on purchasing a ticket, I really didn’t know if I wanted to go and queue up for the rides by myself.

Roller coaster Formula Rossa

I love roller coasters, I am a real adrenalin junkie, I kept watching people getting on the rides and wanting to do it but not knowing if I should wait and come back and experience it with someone else. But then I also knew if I didn’t do it I would have regretted it and who knows when I’d be back to visit. So, I purchased my ticket, and to my surprise, being a single rider worked in my favour, I skipped most of the queue’s filling in the gaps for other people, I actually went on most of the rides twice all for the price of one standard ticket. Because the final for the Formula 1 Grand Prix was approaching people started leaving Ferrari World so a couple of the rides I was the only one riding! Ha! The staff operators couldn’t believe I was on my own and called me ‘a strong independent woman’ they just kept sending me around the track until more people turned up to ride it.

I went and rode the fastest roller coaster named Formula Rossa, it was such an adrenalin rush, we had to put goggles on to protect our eyes and it travels at a speed of 0-240km/h (150 mph) it was insane!  Another attraction I really enjoyed was the 4D cinemas, they have awesome effects and I think I enjoyed it more than the children that were there. All in all, the afternoon spent there was worth it and I am so glad I went and did it, and it doesn’t matter that I was exploring alone because I now get to say I’ve ridden the fastest roller coaster in the world!!