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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The Women’s Prize for Fiction winners, ranked (24-11)

There are so many book awards out there, and they all have different characters. By this, I mean that there are some whose winners I generally find aren’t to my personal taste (the Booker), there are some whose winners are a real mixed bag (the Pulitzer), and there are some whose winners I, with only a few exceptions, absolutely love (the Women’s Prize). The Women’s Prize was formerly known as the Orange Prize, the Bailey’s Prize and, as the current name would suggest, it is awarded to a woman (for the best original full-length novel published in English in the UK).

I’ve read all of the 24 Women’s Prize winners and at least 20 other shortlisted titles, and there’s only one I can pick out as being a book I really didn’t enjoy (hint: it only made the Women’s Prize shortlist, but it did win the Booker a few years ago). Most of the winners I’ve liked, really liked, or absolutely loved, but there were some I loved more than others. In anticipation for the 25th award being announced next week, I’ve ranked all the winners and split it up into two posts. Catch my top 10 on the day of the prize announcement next Wednesday, and here are my choices for 24 to 11 (but even these books on the “bottom” half of the list are still well worth a read!).

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On Never Walking Alone

Just over two months ago, a few days before I moved to Ireland, I was sitting in the living room of my parents’ home watching Manchester City play Chelsea. There were no fans in the stadium, hadn’t been since the Premier League had restarted after a long, coronavirus-induced break. Stakes were fairly high for each team. A win for Chelsea would boost their Champions League qualification hopes, while a win for City would keep them in the title race for one more week. Chelsea’s young American Christian Pulisic opened the scoring, then City’s Kevin De Bruyne equalised. In the second half, a handball saw Fernandinho sent off and Willian step up to the penalty spot to bury a second goal for Chelsea. Twenty minutes later, the game was over… and suddenly Liverpool were champions.

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On Top of Ireland… Again

A few weeks ago I found myself standing on the highest point in Ireland after hiking to the summit of Carrauntoohil for the first time. Then, two weeks ago, I made the ascent again. When Steve and I did the hike the first time, heading up the Devil’s Ladder and down the ZigZag route, we had gotten talking to a gentleman near the summit who, it sounded, had done just about every trail on the mountain. He recommended that next time we give the mountain a go, we head via Beenkeragh and Caher, the second and third highest mountains in Ireland, for a more difficult but equally rewarding hike. When we had a string of sunny, summery days, we did just that.

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The Best Debuts I’ve read This Year

Every author has to start somewhere, but while some writers take a few books to find their stride, others manage to create incredible works straight out the gate. Or, perhaps, these authors haven’t even hit their peaks yet, and these debuts are that good but there’s something even more amazing to come. I can’t wait to find out. Here are five of the best debut novels I’ve read so far this year. 

Note: These are not all 2020 debuts, just my favourite first novels I’ve read so far in 2020.

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Off the beaten path around Barley Lake

Most of the trails I hike on are fairly clearly marked, whether it’s the luxe wooden boardwalks of New Zealand’s Great Walks or the rough gravel of a well-trodden route up Carrauntoohil. But sometimes I think it’s fun to leave the comfort of a clear path and get your feet dirty, and luckily I have friends who feel the same way. When I originally moved to Ireland for grad school, Medb was one of my very first friends, and now after international moves and much travel on both of our parts, we are finally living in the same country again. She and her partner Callum are currently on a trip from Dublin to gorgeous West Cork, so yesterday Steve and I headed out to meet them. Medb suggested the Barley Lake walk, but there was conflicting info about it online so none of us really knew what to expect.

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