We spent three months house sitting on the banks for the beautiful Boteti River in Botswana. We lived about 40 kilometres outside of Maun, gateway town to the Okavango Delta, one of the top safari desinations in the world. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
Well, in some ways it was, but in other ways it provided some serious challenges.
One problem we hadn’t anticipated was the lack of exercise options. Vanessa and I are both active, and enjoy walking in the mountains, cycling, and the occasional scuba dive. My personal favourite for health and fitness is swimming. With access to a decent pool I like to swim a kilometre a couple of times a week.
Where we lived in Botswana we couldn’t really get out and walk too much. The house was surounded by deep sand, and progress was slow to say the least. We did go out for a couple of walks, but never managed to get too far.
There’s also the (admittedly slight) danger of running into a wild elephant, or getting eaten by a hungry lion.
Swimming was a definite no-no. We never saw the 3m crocodile that lived just down-river from us, but we saw plenty of hippos. Maybe you know this, maybe not… hippos are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal. Swimming in the river would not be a good idea.
Coupled with the lack of exercise options, we discovered that town offered a wide range of great food supplies. Maun is the supply town for all the tour operators in the area. Because so many of the camps and lodges in the Delta are very high-end – like $2,000 per person per night high-end – food standards are very high.
Shopping in town was a gourmet delight. And prices were surprisingly reasonable. We ate very well for three months. And drank quite a lot of wine too!
When we returned to England after three months away my mum, in her usual brusque northern way, didn’t beat around the bush. “Looks like you’ve put on a bit of weight!”
I had to agree.
And I decided I had to do something about it.
House sitting in Barbados
We’re now in Barbados on another three month house sit, and I have no excuses. I’m not going to get eaten by a lion anywhere on the island, and the swimming pool poses no threat whatsoever.
After our home owners departed I found a book on their bookshelf called “The Walking Diet” by Les Snowdon and Maggie Humphreys.
Walk back to fitness
“Walk back to fitness in 30 days”, the subtitle suggests.
I can do that, I thought.
So I committed to walking every morning for an hour for the first 30 days of our stay here. As the book suggests, this isn’t any easy-going ramble. This is hard, fast walking that gets the lungs pumping and the legs aching.
The first few days were a bit tough, but I soon settled into a routine. Vanessa joined me most mornings too. 30 days passed quickly, and I was proud to have stuck to the promise I had made to myself.
We’ve also found that we have been eating a lot less here, almost as much out of necessity, rather than simply by choice. Compared to Botswana – in fact compared to most places – food here is very expensive. Fortunately the cheapest options are also the healthiest, and we have been eating lots of fresh fish and lots of vegetables.
At the end of the first 30 days, the bathroom scales offered great news. I had shed over 8 pounds (more than 3.5 kilos). I could see in the mirror that I was getting back in shape.
Buoyed by success I have continued to walk almost every morning. I believe that exercise early in the day sets you up well for a good day of eating less too, because you are keen not to undo the morning’s good work.
Now, over two months into our sit, I have lost over 14 pounds (more than 6 kilos), and am feeling much fitter.
Freediving in Barbados
So when I discovered a freediving record-holder runs a course here on the island, I thought it was time to treat myself for doing so well.
Having done quite a bit of diving and snorkeling, I have always fancied trying freediving – swimming under the water for as long as possible on a single breath. I booked a two day course, and started practicing my breath-holding.
The longest I have ever managed to hold my breath is 2 mins 15 seconds, so I was hoping with some training and correct technique I might be able to beat that.
The targets set by the AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) 2-star course are a static breath-hold of two minutes, an underwater swim of 40 metres (horizontal) and a dive down to 16 metres.
When I spoke to Alex, who runs the course, he told me that with training and practice over two days, all of these should be achievable.
On the two-day introductory course, the maximum depth is set at 20 metres. I like a challenge, so obviously I mentally set my sights on reaching 20 metres, instead of just achieving the required 16 metres.
The first day involved quite a bit of theory and safety training, then we spent some time in the local pool, where we practiced relaxation and breath-holding. I was amazed to achieve a breath-hold of 3 minutes 34 seconds, and a distance of 55 metres swimming under the water.
Later in the afternoon, in open water, we got our first real taste of freediving, where we practiced some safety drills and got a taste of diving down to about 10 metres.
On the second day we covered more theory, then during a longer session in the sea we gradually increased the depth of our dives in two metre increments. By the end of the day we were getting to 20 metres, and the rescue practices to 10 metres now seemed comparatively easy.
On my last dive I really tried to relax, and pulled down the rope as calmly and gently as I could, trying to remember all of the tips and techniques instructor Alex had taught us. I easily reached the bottom of the rope and touched the seabed at 20 metres, feeling relaxed and confident enough to stay there for a few seconds to have a look around, before calmly heading to the surface.
I am incredibly proud to have a achieved what I did on the course, and feel sure I’ll be back for more some day. Instructor Alex was fantastic, and had just the right mix of relaxed coaching, coupled with pushing you to achieve what he knew you could.
If you’re ever in Barbados, and enjoy a challenge, take a look at his website. He also offers spearfishing courses:
My next goal would be to get to 24 metres, one of the requirements of the 3-star course, but they set a maximum depth of 30m. Hmm, I do like a challenge!!
Ultimately I would like to be confident enough to achieve 33 metres, as I would love to be able to freedive to the bottom of the amazing Nemo 33 pool in Brussels in Belgium.
Maybe one day…
I am convinced that if I had tried this a couple of months ago, at the start of our three months here, I wouldn’t have done so well. Two months following the simple, easy-to-follow Walking Diet have certainly produced pleasing fitness results.
In this month’s issue of House Sitting Magazine you’ll find lots of other articles on health and fitness for travelers and house sitters.
We hope you enjoy it.
Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting and getting fitter in Barbados)