Where I want to go in Kerry #whenwetravelagain

With more vaccines arriving and covid cases going down (by the numbers they’re plateauing, but an increased number of tests and tracking of asymptomatic spread means that the positivity rate continues to drop encouragingly), we are once more starting to feel more optimistic about summer here in Ireland.

Next week, the 5km travel limit will finally be lifted and we will be allowed to travel around our own county. Luckily for me, I live Kerry, in one of the best counties in Ireland when it comes to beautiful nature and outdoor activities. Although there are many favourite spots in Kerry I’m looking forward to visiting again once the restrictions (and the weather) allow—Carrauntoohil, the Dingle peninsula, and the Old Kenmare road, to name a few—there are so many amazing places in Kerry I have yet to see that I’m really excited to explore. Here are a few of them:

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Táim ag foghlaim Gaeilge le Duolingo

Last week I hit two milestones on Duolingo: I reached a 365-day streak, and I completed the Irish skill tree (finished all of the lessons for the language, for those who are not familiar with the app). I started doing a few Duolingo lessons a day at the start of lockdown when I first arrived back in the US from Southeast Asia and now, a year and change later and still in lockdown (although now in Ireland), I’ve managed to keep the streak going and also complete every lesson on the skill tree.

Despite being one of the official languages of Ireland, a history of oppression in which the use of Irish was forbidden by the English and Irish words and particularly place names were haphazardly Anglicised (in college I read Brian Friel’s Translations for a course and have been fascinated by this ever since) means that bilingual speakers are a minority. It is estimated that only 40-80k people in Ireland are fully fluent in the language, and in the 2016 census only 6.3% of respondents said they speak Irish weekly (with only 1.7% reporting speaking it daily).

While there are a few jobs that require a level of proficiency in Irish, for the most part you could go your whole life without ever needing a word, especially as an immigrant.

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Two days on the Mekong: taking the slow boat from Thailand to Laos

Taking the ‘slow boat to Laos’ is a Southeast Asia backpacker classic, and also a misnomer. The boat actually starts on the Laos side of Laos/Thailand border, so technically you’re not taking it to Laos.

However, it’s still a must-do when you’re in the area and heading to Luang Prabang.

You can book a trip from anywhere in the northern region of Thailand, with many starting off in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and booking a package that takes them all the way onto the boat. We decided to make our own way across the border and spend the night before the boat journey in the tiny Laos border town of Houayxay. We took a bus from Chiang Rai across the border, and then teamed up with some other travellers for a tuk-tuk to Houayxay.

A note: I know it’s been almost a year at this point since I was in Southeast Asia, but time has been mostly meaningless for the last 10 months and I still have stories to share. Hopefully this will be helpful to people who are planning their travels for when the world is open again, and entertaining to everyone else in the meantime.

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Another weekend, another hike: Mount Brandon

The Dingle peninsula is one of the biggest attractions in Ireland, and before you even arrive you’ll understand why as you drive the winding roads from Tralee or Killarney you are treated to incredible views of County Kerry in every direction. When you arrive to the small but lively town of Dingle, there is an immediate vibe of the friendliness and fun for which Ireland is known. Dingle is also known as the foodie capital of Ireland, so there are no shortage of delicious spots for seafood and more (for a casual meal, I highly recommend fish and chips at Harrington’s followed by ice cream at Murphy’s and a pint at Foxy John’s). However, when Steve and I took a drive out to the Dingle peninsula on Saturday we bypassed the town; our sights were set on a higher point: Mount Brandon.

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A banner weekend in Clare

The one thing you have to expect when you make any outdoor plans in Ireland is, of course, rain. It’s definitely a plan for the worst, hope for the best scenario—if you go in thinking, even in the back of your head, that you might be lucky, you will almost inevitably be disappointed. Whereas, if you just assume that it’ll probably rain the whole time you are wherever you’re going, you may occasionally have a pleasant surprise. Over the weekend, Steve and I went up to Doolin, in Co. Clare, to look at a wedding venue (!). We were hesitant to book a place to stay overnight as we didn’t want to spend an extra day if there was going to be nothing but rain, but by last Wednesday when the forecast was still clear, we decided to chance it, and we definitely made the right decision.

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Overnight at Elephant Nature Park: experiences, ethics, and, of course, elephants!

As you travel around Thailand on your scooter, one thing that is for certain is that you will see elephants along the roadside. On the edge of town, halfway up a mountain, just outside a temple, elephants, sometimes even baby elephants. But after your brain’s initial excitement (ELEPHANTS!!) the logical side of your mind will catch up to your childlike wonder and you’ll notice a sign advertising elephant rides, how thin and malnourished the animals look, chains or ropes around their ankles, scars indicating phajaan, or breaking the spirit. It’s hard to see and worse to notice the throngs of tourists eager to sit atop these majestic creatures without a care for their well-being. Equally as bad are the number of elephant parks that advertise themselves as “sanctuaries” to capitalise on another type of tourist’s desire for a more ethical experience, when their parks’ methods are no different than the abusive ones in the roadside attractions.

Still, I was hopeful that I could have a genuinely ethical trip to a real elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and so we went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. As we went on the weekend of my birthday, Steve treated me to the overnight trip, two days and one night staying at the park, visiting the elephants, walking some of the hundreds of rescue dogs they also care for, and learning about Thailand’s animal tourism industry.

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