Summer Photo Series: Cheltenham Badlands

Summer is officially over. Sigh. I will be wrapping up my Summer Photo Series with a few more posts dedicated to summer road trips (which can also be enjoyed during the Autumn months!). As the temperature drops, I hope these next few posts will bring a little bit of warmth and sunshine to your day!

I discovered the Cheltenham Badlands by accident. I was on my way to meet someone and was forced to take an alternate route due to road construction. I had to do a double take as I drove by. I have never seen anything like this in Ontario. Much larger than they appear, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered this pocket of dry, distinctively red land. It looked so out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the greenery and farm land which typically flank country roads in Ontario. Once farm land, the formation is now exposed due to soil erosion from bad farming practices in the 1930’s. The Cheltenham Badlands are located about an hour outside of Toronto.

Tip: The Badlands are VERY dusty – don’t wear white shoes when you visit, they will be covered by a layer of red dust. Also, bring water and a hat – there is no shelter from the sun here and on warm, sunny day, the sun can get quite intense.

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How did you spend your last few days of summer?

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Summer Photo Series: the Toronto Zoo

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As a child, one of my favourite summer time excursions was going to the zoo.  Recently, on a beautiful sunny day, I paid a visit to the Toronto Zoo to relive some of those memories and experience the brand new Giant Panda exhibit.

Open since 1974, the zoo spans 710 acres and is separated into 7 zoogeographic regions:  Indo-Malaya, Africa, North & South America, Eurasia Worlds, Tundra Trek, Australasia and Canadian domain. With so many great exhibits to see, you really need to give yourself a full day to explore the zoo at your leisure. I like to give myself enough time to observe favourite animals.  When you’re still and patient, you usually get to witness a moment that would otherwise not have been seen if you rushed past.  This series of photos, from my Summer Photo Series, is dedicated to the many animals that showed their personality during my visit.  

The first stop I made was at the new Giant Panda Experience exhibit! Earlier this year, the Toronto Zoo received 2 breeding giant pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, as part of a 5 year conservation loan.  A very popular exhibit, you can expect a very long line up to see the pandas, especially on a nice summer day.  I waited for over an hour to see them, but for me, it was worth the wait.


Panda’s are not known to be the most active of animals – they sit and eat 22-33 pounds of bamboo a day! Da Mao looked content and relaxed, leaning back as he chomped away at his bamboo lunch.






How are you planning on enjoying the rest of your summer?

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Tales from My 2 Month Adventure: From Thailand to Indonesia

After spending the first two weeks of my solo adventure volunteering, learning to cook  and exploring the city of Chiang Mai, I packed my bags once again to take flight on the next portion of my trip, Bali, Indonesia.

When I first started planning my 2 month long journey, I knew Indonesia would be on my list. I had wanted to take a trip to Bali for a loooong time. If you asked me why, to be honest, I couldn’t really tell you.  Have you ever experienced this inexplicable feeling?  Where you become fixated on a place or something that sticks with you, nagging at you, just begging to be paid attention to? Well, that was Bali. For whatever reason, I just wanted to go there.  Sure, I had heard it was paradise, has great diving and the friendliest people – which I was about to find out for myself – but once the seed was planted I could never fully remove it from my mind.

Initially my plan was to become certified as an Open Water Diver in Bali, then move on to explore some other parts of Indonesia.  After thinking it over and making some tough choices (like deciding not to visit a highly reputable Orangutan Conservation Park), I decided to spend my entire 2.5 weeks in Bali.  It killed me saying no to the Orangutans, but in the end it would prove to be too expensive to do on my own and I did not want to spend my time here moving quickly from place to place.

So off I went, on a flight with Air Asia, from Chiang Mai to Bali with no idea of what to expect or what would be in store.


After landing in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, the first things I noticed were 1. EVERYONE wanted to help you with your bags, for a small fee of course, 2. It was bloody humid. Now this second point I was expecting as I had arrived during their hot and rainy season.  Fortunately for me, I had arranged a driver to pick me up at the airport to transport me to Amed, where I would be spending 5 days working towards my Open Water Diver certification.  I made a bee-line towards the exit, found my driver and much welcomed reprieve from the heat in his air conditioned vehicle.

Amed is a small, quiet town located 3 hours from Denpasar, in the North Eastern part of Bali.  My face was pressed against the glass of the car window for most of the 3 hour journey.  During the drive, the landscape changed from the dizzying busyness of the cities surrounding the airport to beautiful rolling mountains, vibrant green foliage and rice terraces, lush from the nourishing rains.  As we got closer to Amed, the city noise drowned out, the roads began to narrow, bend and snake, carving through the fertile countryside.




Finally, we pulled up to Geria Giri Shanti Bungalows, beautiful hillside accommodation owned by an awesome European couple (who also own Adventure Divers Bali, where I arranged to take my Open Water Diving certification course).  Upon arrival I was warmly welcomed by Liselotte, one of the owners, who was quick to make sure I had everything I needed to make my time with them comfortable and fun. As soon as she greeted me, I knew I was in for a great stay and company.



What’s coming up in my Tales from My 2 Month Adventure?  First impressions of Amed, where to eat in Amed and all about my experience learning how to dive.

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Summer Photo Series: Sunflowers

Anyone who has been bitten by the “travel bug” knows that once a trip ends, you immediately start thinking about your next one. Since I have returned from my 2 month odyssey my mind can’t help but drift and dream about the next one.

I will be staying put for awhile and enjoying fun and quick local summer day trips and mini getaways. You don’t always have to venture too far out of your backyard 🙂 I decided to create a Summer Photo Series with images dedicated to summer and local travel!

This past weekend I was out for a nice summer drive and came across a beautiful field full (66 acres in fact!) of sunflowers. I had to pull over! I immediately pulled a U-turn and whipped out my camera.

Here is a little bit of sunshine to warm up your day:


And for a bit of drama….

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Chiang Mai, Thailand – A City Guide

Located 700 km North of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a laid back city that is easy to get around, full of friendly locals and wonderful food.  As a female traveling solo, I felt quite safe wandering around Chiang Mai on my own. I decided to put together a basic city guide for anyone who has Chiang Mai on their list of ‘go to’ places.

How to Get There

MH900442499I flew from Toronto to Bangkok then used a low cost air carrier, Air Asia, to take a quick and cheap flight directly to Chiang Mai.  There are flights between Toronto and Chiang Mai, however flying to Bangkok was significantly less expensive.  There are a handful of lower cost domestic airlines that fly to Chiang Mai from Bangkok (such as Nok Air).  I found the lowest price with Air Asia.  The only drawback to flying with them is that they operate out of Don Muang; a smaller airport about an hour away (double that time in traffic) from Bangkok International. But the good news is that Bangkok International offers free shuttle service between both airports. The shuttle is located on the same level as the public taxis.

Tip: Look for international airfare early and try to be as flexible as possible with your travel dates. Personally, I have found the least costly flights this way.  Usually flights leaving during the week offer better rates. For example my departure date was late February, I started researching airfare in October and found flights for as low as $1,300 flying with Emirates! Another thing to keep in mind when researching lower cost carriers is that often times they charge extra fees for checked baggage and meals – something to be aware of when comparing prices between airlines!

If you have a lot of time, patience and are on a strict budget, you can travel by land via train or bus from Bangkok. This journey is at least 10 hours long.  Lonely Planet offers a good breakdown of transportation options between the two cities:

How to get around

During my time in Chiang Mai I mainly spent time exploring the old city.  It used to be completely surrounded by a squared wall and moat.  Today some of the original brick still remains along with a decorative moat and 4 gates into the city which face North, South, East and West.  Chiang Mai is a very easy city to navigate on foot, which was my favourite (and most economical!) way to wander around exploring the city. The best place to start is the Thapae or East Gate.  This is the gateway to the main street Ratchadomoen Road which runs west of the gate. You will find a little bit of everything on this road, several temples a quick walk apart from one another, Thai and Western restaurants, shops and cheap massages.

Thapae Gte & Moat

Another great way to travel around the city is on a bicycle which can usually be rented for the day at a very low cost.  Many guesthouses have them available for their guests to rent.

Songthaews (red covered trucks) are a great option of traveling around if you are going somewhere that’s a bit further than walking distance.  They can be flagged down anywhere along the road simply by giving them a wave. Songthaews are much cheaper (about $.80-1.00 on average) than a taxi or tuk tuk, however they carry multiple passengers at once, meaning it may take a little longer to reach your destination or you will not be able to go directly to it.

P1090979Tip: ask your guesthouse approximately how much it should cost to get to your destination – knowing how much to expect to pay will help you to bargain with the driver and know you are being given a fair price.

Where to Stay

There is a really wide selection of places to stay in Chiang Mai depending on your budget such as hostels, guesthouses or boutique hotels.  Given my budget, I stayed in a family run guesthouse on the lower end of the price spectrum. After reading reviews on Trip Advisor (my go to site for traveller reviews!), I settled on Bed and Terrace  Guesthouse situated right outside the old city moat, a quick walk into the city.  Room prices range from $15 – 45.  I stayed in the Twin room with air conditioning for $20 per night.  My room was very spacious, and most importantly clean and safe.  The room came with a small safe, comfortable bed, desk, fridge with free bottled water, free Wifi and a nice hot water shower.  The family that owns the guesthouse is very friendly, welcoming and helpful.

Bed & TerraceWhere & What to Eat

In my opinion, Thai cuisine is some of the most delicious food that I have tasted during my travels.  It has so many depths of flavour; you can literally taste numerous different ingredients in each bite. Some of the best ways to savour it is to hit the street for street eats! Eat great food while sitting elbow to elbow with locals and tourists – all part of the experience! My favourite places were the food stalls at the South Gate where you can get just about anything, including oh so good freshly blended fruit smoothie’s at Pa’s stand and the street stalls along Ratchadomoen Road during the Sunday Market. Or, take a cooking class like I did and eat what you make!  Some of the finest food I had in the city came out of this class. For a great cup of coffee, spend a quiet afternoon at Akha Ama (Hussadhisewee Rd, Soi 3 – “Soi” means smaller side street), a peaceful tucked away cafe that serves really good coffee, yummy treats and is working towards sustainable agriculture. It’s a little out of the way, but a nice place for some downtime.                          PS. It’s a good idea to take a map with you as it can be a little trickier to find.

street eats

Tip: Health and safety are always a concern when traveling and eating at food stalls.  My general rule is to avoid stalls where not many people are dining and choose those with many patrons. Try to grab street eats at the beginning of breakfast/lunch/dinner hour.  Food will be at its freshest then!

Some must try dishes:

FoodThai Iced Tea – I indulged in this drink daily!  Not everyone’s cup of tea, this creamy and sweet beverage is a mix of black tea, spices (such as cardamom and cinnamon), condensed and evaporated milk. The finished product is freakishly orange, but I love it!

Massaman Curry – a delicious rich bowl of curry with coconut milk, tamarind sauce, peanuts and potatoes with chicken, beef or tofu served with rice.

Khao Soi – Tender egg noodles in a coconut milk based curry with green onions, coriander, lime and shallots, topped with crispy fried egg noodles.  Often comes with chicken.

Mango Sticky Rice – a very sweet dessert made with sticky rice soaked in a sweet coconut sauce and topped with ripe mango.

Soups – even a regular ‘ol bowl of “chicken noodle soup” is bursting with flavor!

Where to Shop

To find that perfect souvenir or to pick up some cheap items of clothing, my top choice is the Sunday Street Market (aka Walking Street Market). Every Sunday from 4pm – midnight, Ratchadomoen Road becomes a pedestrian walkway jam packed with vendors selling everything from doggie outfits, handmade artisanal crafts to cheap must have fashion that just about every tourist is sporting.  Start at Thapae Gate and work your way West. Make sure to shop around as many vendors carry similar items at very different prices! Bargain, bargain, bargain!  If you’re not in Chaing Mai on a Sunday, you can peruse the Night Bazaar.  Open 7 nights a week it stretches 1km along Thanon Chang Khlan (or Chang Khlan Road).  I found some nice pieces of sterling silver jewelry here!

Sunday MarketWhat to Do

There is a long list of things you can do in Chiang Mai.  I was only in Chiang Mai for a short while and spent most of my time volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park outside of the city, but whether you have a few days or more time you can squeeze in some fun and memorable experiences.  Here are some of my highlights:

Cooking class with Baan Thai Cookery School – I took their full day class ($30) and made 5 yummy dishes.  Choose which dishes you like to make and take a trip to a local market to pick up the ingredients. A recipe book s included in the cost of my class – score!

Elephant Nature Park (ENP) – I volunteered for a full week at the park and came home with an unforgettable experience.  You can read all about my experience here. They also offer day tours to the park where visitors can bathe, feed and interact with the elephants staying in their park.  ENP is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre set in a natural environment.

ENPMassages – Insanely cheap, take advantage when you’re here! Massages generally range between $4 – 8 per hour.  There are literally outdoor and indoor massage establishments on every corner.  However, I recommend Pranom Health Massage located in a grassy open air square behind Wawee Coffee shop off Ratchadomoen Road.  Choose from a traditional Thai Massage which incorporates a lot of stretching, a foot massage or an oil massage.

Have any tips, recommendations or suggestions to share?  I’d love to hear them!

~ Talia

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What the hell happened to me?

After an exciting and jam packed 8 weeks of traveling, I recently made it back in one piece.  Before I left home I was excited and all gung-ho to share stories and photos from all the interesting places I would see. After my promise to blog as I made my way through Thailand, Indonesia and Australia I started off well and then…I disappeared.  What the heck happened to me you might have wondered?

Being new at blogging while traveling, I had every good intention of keeping up with my blog while on the road.  I thought I would be able to handle traveling and experiencing all that I wanted to do without skipping a beat with my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Then a series of events occurred.

I lost my cell phone in a corn field in Thailand while machete-ing lunch for over 30 hungry P1090825elephants during my volunteer week at the Elephant Nature Park.

The WordPress app on my tablet couldn’t make up its mind about whether or not it wanted to work.  Much to my ongoing frustration my work would not always upload or save. It was also proving to be very difficult to type on my 7 inch tablet.

As much as I appreciated my loved ones sending emails to check in and requesting updates, trying to respond to all of them proved to be rather overwhelming.

I found myself sitting in my hotel room in the evenings with my face buried in my tablet.

And then at some point I thought, to heck with it.  Why did I go on this holiday in the first place?  I wanted to escape, leave my life behind for awhile and to really soak up everything I was seeing and experiencing.

So I decided enough is enough and put my tablet into hibernation.

I settled on occasional Facebook posts so my friends and loved ones could keep themselves updated with my activities.

I apologize for not following through on my promise to blog my trip every step of the way.  I must admit, leaving my computer at home was very liberating and allowed me to focus on other things during the trip, which ended up being exactly what I needed.

But, the good news is that I have come back with plenty of photos and material to share now that I am home and can work on a proper computer 🙂

So stay tuned for stories about scuba diving and the best places to eat in beautiful Bali, and my first time setting foot down under.


~ Natalia

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Learning the delicious art of Thai cuisine

After finishing my volunteer week at the Elephant Nature Park, I had a couple of extra days in Chiang Mai before heading to Indonesia. I booked a full day Thai cooking class at Baan Thai Cookery School and spent some more time discovering new corners of city, including some lovely quiet walkways, new food stalls, sipped on fresh fruit smoohies and ended with $4 Thai massage.

For 900 Baht, which is about $30, students make 5 separate dishes including an appetizer, soup, curry, noodle or rice dish and dessert and recieve a cookbook with all the yummy recipes! Under each category, students have the option of choosing from 3 different dishes. The class is very hands on and sizes are kept small at a maximum of 9 people. The day begins with a fun market tour where your instructor shows and explains all the different ingredients commonly used in Thai cuisine. The walk to the market is quite nice, it only takes about 5-10 minutes, but you have the chance to walk down some quiet alleyways. The market also has a couple of tasty fresh fruit smoothie stands (large smoothies are only about 20 Baht or $0.80 and are sooo refreshing!).

During the class, with instruction, students make a couple dishes entirely on their own and the others are a group effort, having you chop up ingredients like fresh lemon grass, make a homemade curry paste and knead fresh cocunut shavings to produce coconut cream.

The class is a lot of fun and the best part is, you get to eat everything you make! They are all full portions and most of us passed around our dishes so we can all get a taste of whatever you didn’t make. The coconut chicken soup, Khao Soi and mango sticky rice were my favourites! I think the Khao Soi was the best that I had while I stayed in Chiang Mai (but to be fair, I only tried it at 2 different places).

The class is conveniently located within the old city and offers a free hotel pick up and drop off if you’re within a certain radius. Make sure to only have a snack or a VERY small breakfast. You will eat soo much food once you’re me!

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Overdosing on cuteness at the Elephant Nature Park

Ok, I just had to make a separate post about baby Navaan. I took sooo many photos during my time at the park. Not kidding, I probably have over 500 of them. Seriously. I go a little crazy taking photos anyway, but I get a little snap happy when it comes to animals…especially baby animals. I just can’t stop myself!

I was lucky enough to spend some time around this little 4 legged wonder almost every day. I literally could not take my eyes off him as he mischievously chased after dogs, nestled against his mother, auntie, great auntie and nanny (yes, he has all 4!), splashed around clumsily in the mudpit and immitated the older elephants.  Navaan is full of spirit and brings a quiet smile to everyone who watches him.

Witnessing mudpit and bathe time was extraordinary! All 5 went to the mudpit and river together. This was the perfect place to learn about family bonds, behaviour and loyalty among elephants. The older female elephants formed a protective wall around Navaan. They were always aware of where he was and would thump the ground with their trunks (which sounds like hitting hollow wood) as a warning to strangers. One of his mothers feet was damaged by a landmine. The strongest and most physically healthy of the 4 females takes on the leadership role within the group. Elephants use their trunks to spray themselves with mud. The mud is cooling and acts as a natural sunscreen.

Since I have loads of pictures,  I just have to share some of them! This is my ode to baby Navaan. Enjoy!


In the bottom left photo, Navaan is giving himself a nice scratch against a pole.



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Magic at the Elephant Nature Park

Last week I spent 7 magical days volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. I am still daydreaming about it! Located about an hour outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, this park is a peaceful sanctuary for Asian elephants who have been rescued from abusive working conditions.

Founded by a remarkable and inspirational woman, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, Lek rescues elephants who are old, lame and who have been traumatized and overworked by brutal working conditions and training methods. These elephants have been used in the illegal logging business, trained to beg, perform tricks and trekking rides for tourists. Training practices include the use of sharp and painful hooks, and a method called “the crush” which essentially invloves squeezing the elephant into a cage, torturing the animal into submission with hooks, sleep and food deprevation.

Lek means small in Thai – although small in physical stature, her heart and spirit has no bounds. As a volunteer, I had the pleasure of working in the park,  meeting the elephants, learning about their heartbreaking stories and listening to Lek speak about her commitment and love for elephants. It is really very special and touching taking in her stories. I sat quietly in awe and reflection for a long while after listening to her.

Elephants in the park are free to be themselves, play, bathe, enjoy life and make new friends with eachother. As a volunteer I was able to observe elephant behaviour, witness bonds between the elephants and help out with tasks such as prepping food which involved washing and chopping fruit, peeling and mashing bananas, cleaning up the mudpit and scooping poop (which really isn’t as bad as it sounds!).

Here is a little tour through the park and my experience….

Mornings and evenings in the park were very serene and peaceful (except when a group of over 100 dogs would start howling in unison at 5:30am…did I mention Lek rescues dogs too?). I got to wake up and unwind to this sunrise and sunset every day.

Every day we had the opportunity to meet the elephants by walking through the park, feeding and bathing them. Listening to them trumpet, beat their trunks and growl creating a low rumbling sound, was indescribable. They also have a new baby in the park, a calf by the name of Navaan who just turned 4 months old! My favourite part about my experience was learning about their pasts, each elephant has their own special story, and watching Navaan joyfully play in the mudpit and bathe in the river. It was a truly remarkable watching him be himself safely in the park.



Bottom photo from top left to top right: Meet Mae Perm and Mae Jokia. Mae Perm means to increase. She was the first elephant Lek rescued. She was born around 1945, worked in illegal logging and has digestive problems due to a previously unhealthy diet. Mae Jokia means Eye from Heaven, was born around 1960 and rescued from illegal logging and extreme abuse. Forced to work while pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage while pulling a log up a hill. Depressed over the death of her calf, she refused to work and was purposely blinded by her owner as a punishment. Mae Perm is Jokia’s best friend and her protector.
From bottom left to right: Lucky is the newest rescue. She is fully blind in her left eye and partially in her right eye. Lucky performed in the circus and was blinded by the bright spotlights. Mae Jan Peng is the oldest elephant in the park and happens to have the oldest mahout. Her name means Full Moon. Every day her mahout puts a new flower in the hole in her ear. She has 4-6 grandchildren!

The volunteers were split into 4 groups. Each day every group had a new am and pm task. Although some were hard work in the heat, they were a lot of fun. I got to chop corn stalks in a corn field with a machete…let me tell you, it was pretty awesome! Afterwards, we loaded the stalks on the back of the truck up to the tippy top, and climbed up on top for the ride come. I am sure it wasn’t the safest, but it was pretty thrilling. We got a lot of stares from the locals as we sped by.

This was our home for 7 days…shared bedrooms in a rustic cabin right next to the elephant shelter!


I miss the park, the elephants, listening to the elephants and most of all, watching baby Navaan play and enjoy life.

I would also like to urge anyone to reconsider booking tours which involve elephant riding, trekking and elephant shows. Although these may seem appealing experiences to some, elephants working in these tourist trades endure suffering and mistreatment at the expense of our entertainment.

For more information about the park, visit heir website at or take a trip to the park. They offer day and overnight trips, as well as volunteer opportunities.

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The day has come…my 2 month adventure has begun!

My trip has begun! After traveling over 24 hours and 3 flights, yesterday I finally arrived at my first stop – Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today was my first full day here, I decided I would spend the day getting acquainted with the city. Armed with a map, grumbling tummy and wide eyed wonder, I set out to explore on foot. Here is a quick little snippet of my first day:

City Streets
Always busy, the streets of Chiang Mai are full with motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars zooming by every which way. Pedestrians make a run for it, dashing across the street and dodging quickly moving motorized objects. Lining the streets are several parked motorbikes, which are a popular mode of transportation with tourists. Motorbikes are available for ren everywhere here. At first I was nervous that I would get lost, but navigating was easier than I expected. With a map and helpful locals, it was very manageable. Also, getting a little lost isn’t too bad. What better way is there to find your way around and familiarizing yourself with your surroundings?



The heart of the city is surrounded by a square shaped moat.

Chiang Mai has several ornate wats, or temples, scattered within the moat. These are all very easily accessible on foot. Within the walls of the temples, it is very common to see monks chanting,  people praying and giving offerings.





There is absolutely no shortage of yummy options here. The hard part is choosing!  For a more aunthentic experience,  I made an early decision that I would look for food stalls where locals gathered to dine. I also had set my mind to having Khao Soi, one of my favourite Thai dishes (which is also a traditional Chiang Mai.




And one of my fave Thai beverages..Thai iced tea with milk!


Sunday Street Market
Every Sunday between 4 to midnight, a 1km stretch of road is closed down and vendors set up shop.  Selling handmade goods, clothes, artwork, massages, sunglasses, shoes and street eats, you can spend hours looking around and bargaining with vendors.


And you can even find something for the dog…

Tomorrow I leave the busy city and head out the countryside to volunteer at an elephant conservation park for one full week.

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