Postcards from Lover’s Leap

Nineteen years later and I’m still discovering places in my home town that I never knew existed.

Lover’s Leap is one of the forgotten gems of the Otago Peninsula, located a mere 25 minute cruise from the hub of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Those who embark on the trek will be treated to the stunningly resplendent views of Sandymount carpark before a short stroll through rolling farmland to reach the Chasm (keep an eye out for the sheep!). After soaking in the monumental (and arguably formidable) abyss, negotiate the sloping and rugged coastline towards the 225m crag of Lovers Leap.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my Dunedin vlog! As I prepare to farewell my home of nineteen years, I have been collecting footage over the past handful of months to celebrate the delightful city Dunedin is. There will be some clips of Lovers Leap thrown into the mix, so if you find yourself drawn to the jaw-dropping landscape of the Otago Peninsula, be sure to treat yourself to this upcoming montage.

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30 Seconds to Convince You to Travel to Rarotonga

Perhaps the most adventurous New Years Eve I ever spent was celebrated in the island of Rarotonga. Rarotonga – or Raro, for short – completely smashes the stakes when it comes to competing for the most beautiful tropical destination. I don’t think I could express it better than the following description from Lonely Planet below.

“The most populous of the Cook Islands is stunning in its natural beauty and physical drama. A halo of flame-orange coral reef encircles the island, and Rarotonga’s sapphire-blue lagoon is trimmed by sparkling white beaches. Beyond the reef, breakers foam and crash like distant thunder. Rarotonga’s settlements are nestled on the coastal flatlands, with the island rising spectacularly through lush fields and rural farmland to the mountainous and thickly forested interior. These silent, brooding peaks dominate the landscape from every angle. Rarotonga has plenty of history, too, with ancient marae (traditional meeting places) and monuments to explore, and some of the best-preserved coral churches in the South Pacific.”

I traveled to Rarotonga at the very beginning of 2016. At the time, I hadn’t yet gotten my shit together and created the Ginger Passports, and any footage I captured on film was eclectic and poorly executed. Because of that, I did not have enough clips to put together a full-length vlog, but the ones I did were just too gorgeous to go to waste. And so the idea dawned on me that I could create a 30 second ‘trailer’ of sorts to try and showcase the lush resplendence of Raro in half a minute (also check out my favourite song as the soundtrack).

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How To Spend A Day in Bangkok

“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”

Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always something going on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.

10am

Embrace Heights

Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌

11am

Practice Your Bartering Skills

Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.

3pm

Recline with the Buddha

There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.

As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.

8pm

Explore the Asiatique

Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!

11pm

Expand Your Palate

If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.

If all this talk about eating bugs has whet your appetite, then don’t forget to check out 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (And 5 Foods That Won’t). Also, feel free to give my Thailand Vlog a watch if you need some more convincing on how incredible this city is.

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Why Disneyland Is The Happiest Place On Earth… For Adults

To quote Buzzfeed, “… whenever you tell a person you’ve never been to Disneyland, they go through at least seven different stages of stunning disbelief before telling you that you have to — no, listen: YOU HAVE TO. Get in a car and drive to Disneyland, because every second you waste not being at Disneyland is apparently crushing your soul into tiny bits of magic-less oblivion.”

As someone who has visited the happiest place on earth both as an eight year old and as an eighteen year old, I feel that I am somewhat knowledgeable in terms of experiencing the amusement park from two very different walks of life. As an eight year old, my Disneyland experience consisted of stuffing my face with candy floss, queuing for an hour for Space Mountain, wanting to vomit said candy floss as I was hurtling through the nauseating galaxy of said Space Mountain – and repeat. It was only as an eighteen year old that I realised Disneyland is more than just a fantastical sugar rush for kids.

The Architecture

I’m a bit of a sucker for design, and — much to the delight of my friends — insist on stopping every time we pass a building so that I can take a picture. As cheesy as it sounds, ‘reading’ the Disneyland surroundings is an adventure in itself; you can learn as much from the environment as you can from the experience. One of my favourite aspects of the Disneyland architecture is that of the Main Street; here, you’ll find homage to Second Empire Victorian with a nod to Hollywood art deco.

(If this bores you, you may find yourself rethinking your appreciation for architecture when you’re waiting in line with nothing to entertain yourself except for the buildings around you.)

The Escapism

Escapism is defined as “an inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through diversion or fantasy”. As human beings, we all experiencing adversity and the pressing weight of society at various points in our lives. In order to secure a satisfactory level of well-being, we all need a chance to release and ‘let down our hair’, so to speak. If Disneyland can’t do that for you, then I don’t know what can.

Stepping through the front gates is the phenomenological equivalent of stepping through a portal and into a magical and exquisite world. Everything is insurmountably better; Disneyland even seems to defy the laws of physics. Even as a temporary relief, the amusement park is an important source of happiness for those who seek it. If you approach the experience as an opportunity to escape reality, then you can be sure you’ll be getting bang for your buck.

The Food

Downtown Disney is the cuisine hub of Disneyland. The best time to visit it is at night when you can enjoy a refreshing beer beneath the beautiful lights of the boulevards. However, that is not to say that Disneyland itself has nothing mouth-watering on offer. In fact, I have compiled a short list that you should make your mission to try the next time you hear your stomach grumbling.

BBQ Tofu from River Belle Terrace (spot the vegetarian)

Hand-Dipped Ice Cream Bars at Clarabelle’s Hand Scooped Ice Cream

Peanut Butter Sandwich from Pooh Corner

Churros from… anywhere, really!

The Rides

Come on, you can’t discuss an amusement park and miss out the rides. Plus, I’m a firm believer that you are never too old for a rollercoaster, and that anyone who claims otherwise needs a good old dose of faith, trust and pixie dust to cheer them up. Although you’ll find more adrenalised rides at California Adventure right next door, one that ranks right up there for me is Space Mountain. Think a fast-paced rollercoaster. In the dark. Surrounded by a nebula of exploding stars. It’s a Trekkie’s wet dream.

If you are more disposed towards taking it slow, I recommend you check out the highly acclaimed Pirates of the Caribbean, an indoor “swashbuckling voyage” where your boat will drift past intricately crafted gun and sword fights. On that note, don’t forget to make a reservation at the Blue Bayou. This restaurant is located within the Pirates of the Caribbean complex and specialises in Cajun and Creole cuisine.

What I’m trying to say is that if you are planning a trip to Los Angeles, don’t completely write off Disneyland as catering solely to children. If you approach it from with right attitude, there is as much joy to be experienced as an adult as when you were a kid. From the architecture to the escapism and from the food to the rides, the happiest place on earth no longer has an expiration date.

Are you an adult who has dared to put on the mouse ears and venture into Walt Disney’s fantasia? What was your experience like?

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Postcards from Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is perhaps one of the most important tourist attractions in Cambodia. Consistently topping the lists for Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s must-see tourist destination in the world, the resplendence of this temple has stayed with me a long time after visiting it.

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King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in the 12th century to honour the Hindu god Vishnu; a century later – when Cambodia converted from Hindu faith to Buddhism – the temple was converted to Buddhist use.

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The temple showcases beautiful classical Khmer architecture.
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The temple was to built to face west. This direction symbolises death, a fact which contributes to theories that Angkor Wat first existed as a tomb and for the purpose of funeral rites.
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Below; standing on the ‘centre of the universe’.
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It may have taken 37 years, 300,000 labourers, 6000 elephants and 5 million tons of sandstone, but the temple was built without machines.
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Just look at those colours! Stretching over 400 square kilometres, Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world.
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Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat that was designed to deter people from swimming into the complex from the outside.

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If you’re hungry for more Cambodia titbits, be sure to check out my Siem Reap quad-biking experience – and stay tuned for my Cambodia travel vlog!

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Vlog: Siem Reap Edition

Look what’s arrived! It may have been a whole three months since we were sipping mango smoothies in the back of a tuk-tuk, but I finally got around to throwing together a short travel vlog of the two days we spent in the beautiful Cambodian town of Siem Reap.

The ‘Deats

Name: Siem Reap

Location: Northwest Cambodia

Currency: Cambodian Riel & USD

Language: Khmer

Population: 230,000

Known For: Temple of Angkor Wat

If you fancy seeing more of what we got up to, then check out the following posts: Postcards from Angkor Wat and the Number One Thing To Do in Siem Reap That’s Not Angkor Wat (noticing a trend…? ?)

I only got to spend two days in Siem Reap, so it is definitely a place I will be returning to in the future. Do you have any recommendations for what I should do the next time I’m in Cambodia?

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel to keep updated with the latest videos!

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There and Back Again: Hobbiton in Greyscale

When I first pitched the idea of showcasing my experience of the Hobbiton set tour in black and white, I was met with sarcastic laughter.

What would you want to do that, for? my boyfriend ridiculed. The whole point of Hobbiton is that people want to see all the colours!

At first I admitted that he had a point. But then I thought; fuck it. This is my blog, and if I want to do a greyscale piece, then I will bloody well do a greyscale piece. Besides, there’s something poetically beautiful about black and white pictures. Furthermore, it seems every photograph of Hobbiton is in colour. What’s wrong with incorporating a point of difference?

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Hobbiton is the location that Peter Jackson and his crew shot ‘the Shire’ scenes in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. Tolkien fans from every corner of the globe make the pilgrimage here to experience the unforgettable authenticity of Middle Earth. Hobbiton is not just a tourist attraction; it’s its own world.

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The ‘Deats

Company: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours

Website: www.hobbitontours.com

LocationMatamata, New Zealand (2 hours south of Auckland)

Cost: $79 for adults (departing from the Shire’s Rest)

Tip: Remember to book in advance! Upon arriving, you will have to battle an army of elves and wizards (see what I did there?) to get to the front of the queue to buy your tickets. Even then, you will probably find that the tours are fully booked for the next couple of days; unless you feel like waiting on the off chance that someone doesn’t show up for their tour, it’s a long drive back. Also, don’t forget to bring your I.D. Each ticket comes with a complementary beer, and you won’t want to miss out on the Green Dragon Inn’s original brews.

If you’re hungry for some more Middle Earth visuals, check out my North Island Travel Vlog on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel, and give a cheeky subscribe!

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Vlog + Photo Diary: North Island of New Zealand

I decided to take a different approach to my latest vlog. Instead of doing the typical comprehensive travel guide to a destination, I edited together a collection of my favourite one-off moments from my latest adventure: a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand.

From waking up to the skyline of Auckland’s CBD to trying Dunkin Donuts for the first time, and from pretending to be a Hobbit in the Shire to playing the piano on the Wellington waterfront, cramming 10 days of unforgettable thrills (and 10 days of highly forgettable car sickness) into 2 minutes and 15 seconds was no easy feat.

Enjoy.

And some extra goodies…

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Flying into Auckland on Air New Zealand
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You can’t travel to Auckland and not try bagels from the Best Ugly Bagel Co.
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Savouring those precious moments whilst I was still a Dunkin Donut virgin
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If you visit one eatery in Auckland, make sure it is the Garden Shed at Mt. Eden
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There and back again… literally, this is my second time nerding out at Hobbiton
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Falling in love with Rotorua’s natural beauty
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Exploring the capital
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You know a city is pretty awesome when you find a painted piano sitting on the waterfront

So… who’s up for a South Island road trip?

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Riding a Water Buffalo in Vietnam

There are many things you can do in Vietnam. You can swim in Ha Long Bay, you can crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels, and… you can ride a water buffalo.

When I saw ‘Ride a Water Buffalo’ on my trip itinerary, I didn’t quite know what to think. So far, we had stuck to the conventional tourist activities you might see topping lists on TripAdvisor. But hey – I was up for anything!

Our travel agent hooked us up with a company called Jack Tran Tours, an environmentally-friendly family-run business in Hoi An, central Vietnam. Their mission is to expose travellers to the traditional Vietnamese culture and encourage them to engage with the local people.

And so it was that one drizzly morning, we hopped on the Jack Tran bus and were driven to where we would embark on our tour. After donning some sexy disposable waterproof ponchos, we were each assigned a bicycle which we were to cycle through a patchwork quilt of rice fields to our final destination.

We had only a rudimentary idea of what we in for. After a meet and greet with the lovely Spanish couple also in our tour group, we were introduced to the real star of the show: the water buffalo.

Having ridden an elephant in Thailand only days early, I was extremely anxious to dive headfirst into the action. As soon as our tour guide – a bubbling ray of sunshine called Yen – asked who would volunteer to ride it first, my hand shot up faster than lightening.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Water Buffalos

  1. They are typically found throughout Asia, although also in places such as Australia, Turkey, Italy and Egypt as well.
  2. They are used (among other things) for ploughing and other forms of labor; although they have been replaced by tractors in many parts of the world, they are still used in Southeast Asia for tilling rice fields.
  3. Although they are more expensive than cattle, they are favoured by rice farmers because they are stronger and ideal for working in deep mud due to large hoofs and flexible foot joints.
  4. They spend a majority of the day submerged in water to maintain a stable body temperature.
  5. They can grow to 2650 pounds and 10 feet tall.

If the water buffalo was even aware of me climbing clumsily onto his back, then it didn’t feel the urge to show it. The first thing that struck me was how it’s bones jutted out from it’s skin, and how it lazily rocked side to side as it ambled onto the rice paddies.

As one of the richest agricultural countries, Vietnam – after Thailand – is the largest exporter of rice in the world. It is also the seventh-largest consumer of rice.

Perhaps the highlighting of the experience aside from riding a water buffalo was sifting rice. This is one of the latter parts of the farming process that requires sieving harvested, dried and pounded rice kernels in a flat basket to separate the loose husks.

As you will observe below, my friend and I had varying levels of success.

This was definitely one of the experiences that has stuck with me long after I returned from Vietnam. There’s just something about sitting and looking like an echidna on the back of a water buffalo and stomping through muddy rice paddies barefoot.
If you are passing through Hoi An, I strongly recommend you take the time to pay the team at Jack Tran Tours a visit and book yourself in for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only will you gain insight into the underrated process of rice farming in Vietnam, but you will receive the epic opportunity to ride a water buffalo. Make sure you ask for your tour guide to be Yen; I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as vivacious and charismatic in my life.

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The Reality of Elephant Riding in Thailand

You can’t travel to Thailand and not ride an elephant.

Or can you?

I try to live an ethical life. I only eat vegetarian so as not to support the meat industry. I avoid buying cosmetics that have been tested on animals in a laboratory. I make a conscious effort to educate myself on global issues from a variety of sources so that I can make informed choices on things that matter. So you’d think that I would be able to resist my temptations to visit an elephant park on my trip to Thailand, right?

Wrong.

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Just why are elephant parks unethical?

There are a number of reasons. For starters, despite claims that the elephants are ‘rescued’ from the wild, this is not always the case. Many elephants are captured as young calfs, and tortured into submission. This process is referred to as ‘Phajaan’, which roughly translates to ‘Elephant Crushing’.

Furthermore, even if they were rescued, that does not mean to say that the park has bettered their situation. As Brendan van Son of Brendan’s Adventures put it: “… these animals are being exploited for the financial wellbeing of the company that rescued them.”

Many riding experiences also include mounting a howdah onto the back of the elephants for tourists to sit on. These platforms have been known to rub against their skin and cause blistering and pain. Despite their enormous size, the weight of these platforms can also be problematic and lead to permanent spinal injuries.

It is also impossible to provide the equivalent conditions for elephants in captivity as they would experience in the wild. Elephants have evolved to survive – and thrive – in an environment that parks just cannot recreate. This can lead to premature death, disease and an overall diminished quality of life.

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I know what you’re thinking: You’re a massive hypocrite, Dani! You participated and reaped the rewards of elephant tourism, and yet here you are, bad-mouthing the industry. Sort your shit out!

I know, I know. I’m the first person to admit that there are so many appeals to elephant riding. It’s sensational to get up and close with creatures that have previously only existed in films or in enclosures at the zoo. Especially coming from a country where elephants are not indigenous (*cough New Zealand cough*), this is an undoubtedly thrilling experience.

Secondly, there is an element of control that goes hand and hand with being taught how to ride an elephant. These beings are the largest land mammals on earth. Riding them is nothing less than a humbling experience.

Thirdly, it can sometimes be hard to imagine traveling to destinations such as Thailand without ticking elephant riding off your bucket list. They’re a cultural icon of Southeast Asia, and boycotting the experience is far more than a missed photo opportunity.

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The elephant park I visited in Chiang Mai, Thailand was called Baanchang Elephant Park. We learnt how to look after, feed, ride and bathe the elephants, all of which were experiences I thoroughly enjoyed.

They didn’t use howdahs, but rather invited you to ride on their backs with nothing but a loose rope knotted around the elephant’s neck and girth for stability. I have researched this, and the evidence shows that this is not nearly as harmful to the elephant as are howdahs (for more on this matter, see below). While in hindsight I would not do this again, if you are hell-bent on getting on the back of an elephant in some way or another, then this is the way to go.

I did not witness any examples of unnecessary brute force being inflicted upon the elephants at any point during my stay, even when the elephant I was riding decided to veer off the track and go walkabouts through the bush. It was lightly guided back to the group where we peacefully carried on without any fuss.

I do not have complete and unwavering knowledge of how ethical Baanchang Elephant Park is, but from my experience and research, they seemed to tick a lot of the boxes. If you are considering visiting Baanchang on a future trip to Thailand, I suggest you peruse their website to fully understand the nature of their company and their dedication to giving elephants the highest quality of life possible within a domesticated environment.

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I am not against all elephant parks. Just the unethical ones. If you are firmly planted in your plan to visit a park, then I ask that you consider the following in mind…

  • Take your time when choosing a park to visit. If you are rushing to map out your itinerary and don’t allow yourself to carefully research what each park offers, then you are far more likely to risk supporting the dark side of elephant tourism.
  • Ensure that the park only features elephants they have been rescued from abusive circumstances, and has an emphasis on educating tourists about caring for elephants as opposed to giving rides. Whilst I discussed that riding bare-back is better than riding with a howdah, refraining from riding at all is even better.
  • If you are like me and can’t keep your hands off souvenirs, check to make sure you are not purchasing ivory. Ivory’s monetary value is the primary reason elephants are poached in the wild. To put the gravity of this issue into perspective, it is believed that – since the 1900s – the Asian elephant population has halved. Halved. Let that sink in for a moment.

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The Asian elephant is now an endangered species. It is estimated that only 30,000 exist in the wild. While I do not condone parks that mistreat elephants, there are those that strive to rehabilitate and protect them from extinction. We may have to come to terms with the reality that these parks could be the saving grace for these animals, and I strongly believe that we should support them. You can find a list of ethical elephant sanctuaries to visit here.

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I would like to note that I am not an expert on the ethics of elephant parks. I am purely someone who is discussing a personal experience, has researched this issue and is passionate about the politics of animal cruelty.

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