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Tipping Etiquette, a Sombrero Galaxy & More Travel News

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. 

A galaxy that looks like a sombrero? Yeah, space has that. This image of the M104 galaxy highlights billions of old stars in its center, causing the diffuse glow of its “hat”:

And speaking of space, yesterday’s Endeavour shuttle launch was a wondrous thing to behold. NASA has posted the video of the launch, which will be Endeavour’s final mission.

When traveling around the world, tipping is always a question asked around the dinner table between travelers. Some countries don’t expect tipping unless you’re at a very high-end restaurant, others not only expect it but would be angry if you didn’t leave a tip before you leave. This handy infographic from Mint.com lists out the tipping etiquette in a bunch of different countries, from the USA to Argentina to China and more.

Travel + Leisure mag rounds up the best travel gadgets for 2011 so you don’t have to.

In 1909 the great-grandfather of Flickr user Cranewoods travelled to Moscow while accompanying a group of American champion trotting horses on an exhibition tour. Cranewoods has posted a beautiful set of the vintage photos from Russia, which he interited after his great-grandfathers death.

Pretty awesome: the world’s first completely digital sundial, using no electronics or electric power. Check out the post for a detailed explanation of how it works, plus the actual blueprints to build one yourself.

I absolutely loved this Octopus ballet, a high-definition deep-sea filming of one of my favourite animals, the Dumbo octopus. Surreal and graceful, its wing-like ears propel it through the dark depths of the ocean. Lovely.

. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDxBVZhZZwI?rel=0]

And finally, Colombus Ohio had its 2011 Zombie Walk this weekend, and as this video shows they seem to have it under control in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

More to come later this week!

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A Gecko about to Smack a Praying Mantis in the Face

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. 

Talk about a National Geographic moment! Following up on the Awesome Animals post on Tuesday, fellow traveler Lauren sent in this an amazing capture of a gecko about to smack a praying mantis – and most likely eat him for dinner soon thereafter – taken in Cambodia.

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Have any animal photos you want to share? Leave them in the comments!

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Awesome Animals of the World and Where to See Them

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. 

1. Land Iguana.  Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin described these yellow and orange reptiles as “ugly animals . .  from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” Stupid or not, they’re incredible to see in person and at a length of up to 5 ft (and 25 pounds), a sea of land iguanas is a wondrous thing to behold. 

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Land iguana on Fernandina Island, the Galapagos

Where? The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. Fly into Quito, and onward to San Cristobal on the Galapagos. Boat trips must be booked to see most of the islands; many are off limits because of the fragile ecosystem and can only be visited with accredited tour guides. Boat trips can be booked with a wide variety of agencies, but I’ve used Sangay Touring with great success.

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View from Bartholome Island, the Galapagos

2. Blue Poison Arrow Frog. The dendrobates azureus is a type of poison dart frog, iridescent and shimmering blue and found in the forests of Suriname and Brazil. Also known as the blue poison dart frog, it’s one of the more beautiful – and dangerous – frog species out there.

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Where? Probably best to view these extremely poisonous frogs at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where their “A chorus of colors” exhibit of the world’s most bright, poisonous and enormous frogs has been lauded as a big success.

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New York sunset from the Brooklyn Promenade.

3. Goats. I’m a big believer that goats are underrated animals, falling to the wayside while shiner ones take center stage. In my travels, I’ve had many great sunsets and quiet moments made even better by the presence of an adorable goat like this one, taken at Burma’s Bagan.

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Where? Bagan, the site of thousands of ancient Theravada temples strewn on plains the size of Manhattan. Located in Myanmar, Bagan is a lesser known but beautiful place to see temple ruins if the crowds of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are too claustrophobic. To get there, you’ll need a visa ahead of time and a flight to Yangon (most easily accomplished via Bangkok). No tour agency is needed – independent travel is the best way to see Myanmar.

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Buledi temple at dawn, Bagan.

4. Elephants. Certainly tough to see these beautiful animals in the wild, regardless of where you are in the world. The unfortunate prevalence of trekking trips that include elephant rides or elephant shows don’t afford a responsible way to appreciate these big grey beasts.

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Elephant at Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park. [Photo credit]

Where? The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a perfect solution for those who love elephants but don’t want to take tours that might be damaging to them. The Nature Park serves as a sanctuary for abused and mistreated Asian elephants, rescued from a wide variety of situations. Some were worked to the bone while logging or trekking, others were street elephants, begging with their mahouts for change. See Justin’s one-week volunteer wrap up for a personal account of a week at the park.

5. Camels. Like goats, there are many places to get up close and personal with camels on a your travels, from Jordan desert trips to Wadi Rum to the Sinai in Isreal to Morocco. But my favourite was a trip to Mongolia, staying with nomads in the Gobi Desert. Nothing like hugging a camel before you go to bed in a yurt

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Camels!

Where? You’ll have to fly into Ulaanbaatar and drive 8 hours into the Gobi desert, but it will be worth it. Alternatively fly into Beijing and take the Trans-Mongolian train into Ulaanbaatar, a slow but fascinating way to see beautiful scenery and experience local culture. Trips into the Gobi can be booked with Shuren Travel.

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Erdene Zuu monastery in the Gobi Desert.

(Note: any tour companies I recommended in this post are ones that I’ve used and are recommended on that basis. Unless otherwise noted, photos were ones I took from each of the destinations mentioned here.)

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