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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Nature & Wildlife’

Underwater wonders from the Canary Islands

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Many uphold that spontaneity is the key to a good time but sometimes a ringside seat for a natural spectacle needs to be booked in advance to avoid any disappointment.

A two-hour marine life watching voyage aboard the Spirit of the Seas off the shores of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands is one such experience.

The ship”s itinerary is barely the same twice as she leaves three times a day from the south-western port of Puerto Rico at 10:00, 12:30 and 15:00.

Spirit of the Sea has been specifically equipped as a purpose-built aquatic life search vessel and can get much closer to underwater wildlife than most vessels because of her modified ”silent” engines.

Up to 30 people can be accommodated in the two glass-bottomed keels to give guests a rare glimpse of a little-explored domain.

Because of the limited fishing allowance, the area is known for its wide variety of sea life and constant contact with other vessels practically guarantees sightings of several species such as bottle-nose dolphins and pilot and finback whales.

Spirit of the Sea dolphin cruises must not be missed but 48 hour booking notice is advised to ensure a seat.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18762533-ADNFCR

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Tranquil Butterfly Valley

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It is not an accident that the Turkish coastal resort of Fethiye has a reputation as a summer tourist magnet, a reputation which has remained intact for many years.

Along with its several cultural, historical and tourist attractions that keep the visitor numbers flocking to the area year after year, is the fact that it also provides a great staging point from which to take in the sights of the surrounding area.

One such attraction is the natural phenomenon of Butterfly Valley on the Turquoise Coast which can be witnessed all through the summer months when millions of butterflies representing around 70 different species amass here to breed.

Boats leave regularly from Belcekiz Beach in Olu Deniz every day to enable visitors to see this incredible sight or for the more energetic, hikers can access it by walking the Lycian Way.

The area is protected but hikers will be relieved to learn that camping is allowed a short distance away and a small turquoise bay with its two waterfalls provides a great way to cool off from the dusty trail.

Entry is free to Butterfly Valley where tranquillity is paramount and flash photography and loud noises are not allowed to disturb the peace.

Family – Theme Parks – Treat the family to a day at one of the Disney resorts or to a splashing day out at a Spanish waterpark.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18758348-ADNFCR

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Tenerife Zoo and Monkey Park

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Visitors to the Canary Islands are generally attracted by the guaranteed sunshine and the fact that the well known resorts there have been waving goodbye to millions of satisfied customers for decades.

But there is more to Tenerife than just European gold standard beaches and the facilities and attractions to be found there.

One little-known gem which the whole family can enjoy together is the Tenerife Zoo and Monkey Park which gives visitors the opportunity to interact with sociable primates and other animals.

Although feed can be bought for the animals at the entry kiosks, guests stand a much better chance of forming a friendship with a chimpanzee if they go armed with a bag full of fruit, and the animals appear to prefer it that way too.

However, visitors are also encouraged to bring a packed lunch and take advantage of the picnic areas as there are no restaurant facilities, as long as it is understood that there may be others interested in their lunch.

There are also cappuccino monkeys, lemurs and iguanas and the park has many areas where supervised interaction takes place and where the animals will happily sit on your shoulder or hold your hand while you feed them.

Tenerife Zoo and Monkey Park is open all year-round and admission costs around €10 (£8).

Family – Theme Parks – Treat the family to a day at one of the Disney resorts or to a splashing day out at a Spanish waterpark.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18758107-ADNFCR

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PERFECT HOLIDAY CONTEST FINALISTS

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Thanks to those who participated in the 2008 isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest! We were overwhelmed with enthusiastic responses and sincerely apologize for the delay in posting the finalists. But we’ve finally done it! Hooray! The top 5 entries have been selected, and it’s time to VOTE!

FYI: though we could only select 5 finalists, we truly enjoyed reviewing your (100!) entries. We admire your imaginative efforts; thus, the majority of this blog is dedicated to the bulk of entries that did not make it through to the shortlist. We have explained why certain types of entries were not selected and have included some relevant travel tips to assist you in actualizing your dream getaways!

If this sounds boring to you ( – it’s not, actually!), you can skip straight to the action, and:

CLICK HERE to VOTE for one of the TOP FIVE ENTRIES

…as selected by our team of travel writers and product specialists. Go ahead, do it! But remember, you can vote once, and once only!

SOME TRENDS AND TIPS:

(By the way, we’ve listed the finalists at the bottom of this blog in hopes that you will actually read the rest of what we have to say!)

…right, so we learned a great deal about your travel desires and needs from reading your entries—namely that most of you are in need of a good, long holiday! There were also some recurring themes:

1. “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are with…”
A large number you would prefer to spend your precious time away from the office on a romantic getaway with your significant other. Your descriptions of destinations were often very imaginative, but also quite vague, as you focused on the experience that you would have with the love of your life—just the two of you—isolated in paradise. These entries were fantastic (and heartwarming) but were also, unfortunately, more difficult to judge as sometimes we were not sure where, exactly, you aimed to go on your holiday! We suggest visiting the Romantic Retreats section of the isango! website to transform your, ahem, ‘daydreams’ (wink!) into reality.

2. Family First.
A large percentage of you have young children and thus face difficulties with planning to please multiple parties. For you, the ‘perfect holiday’ is one that is free of logistical nightmares: your entries thus tended to be long lists of things that you wanted to avoid (long queues, large crowds, flight delays), rather than of things you actually wanted to do. Though we can do nothing about rubbish airlines (except to complain right alongside you) we can help you to avoid ‘on the ground’ family feuds by encouraging you to plan a detailed itinerary prior to departing. Start with our list of Family Tours under the Activities section of our website, which can be narrowed down, for example, to theme parks and self drive tours.

Others of you focused on the needs of your parents and grandparents, wishing to fulfill their dreams by taking them to parts of the world that they have always wanted to see. We suggest starting with our Seniors category and narrowing your options down by country, or city, from there. (You can also always contact one of our friendly customer service reps if you have any questions!)

3. Some of you are, well, CRAZY…
Really, wow. You submitted some fantastically wild travel ‘plots’ (- you know who you are!). Check out some of our quirkier blogs for more unconventional ideas and inspiration.

Now, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

THE FINALISTS:

1. Hanlie Burger, ‘Shipwrecks, Sand Dunes and Desert Elephants’.

2. Louise Brown, ‘Northern Solitude’

3. Sarah Berl, ‘Spelunk!!’

4. Marian Redmond, ‘Campania Felix’, and

5. Sarah Stocks, ‘Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’

A huge CONGRATS to Hanlie, Louise, Sarah, Marian and Sarah—and all of our participants—for dreaming up such fabulous ‘perfect holidays’! We cannot thank you enough.

Please vote here, and to pass this email along to all of your family and friends!

You can also check out more blog coverage of the contest here.

Thanks again for participating!

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Globe trotters unite: a journey with a purpose.

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Our ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entries have been rolling in! A few of you got very creative with your responses, crafting globe trotting itineraries with inventive themes. Here are some of our favourites thus far:

1. ‘Southern Music Odyssey’, by Greg Davies

A road trip with a difference—i.e. not your usual ‘Route 66’ or ‘Coast to Coast’ American Dream. Due to my late grandfather’s musical obsession that he passed onto me, my dream holiday would be to drive the southern United States, visiting and enjoying some of the famous sights and sounds of Country music—the Grand Ol’ Opry, Memphis, Tupelo, Austin, Nashville—all in an old convertible…staying at old-style motels along the way and enjoying southern hospitality and good ol’ time music, the way it’s meant to be enjoyed!

2. ‘A Taste for Travel’, by Lydia Houghton

I’d have lobster in Cancun, cocktails in New York, A balti in Bombay, A Guinness in County Cork, coq au vin in Paris, a pizza in fair Rome, a chop suey in Beijing, and Swedish meatballs in Stockholm.

It would be such a treat to take a break from all the cooking, but the only problem is… my tummy might need tucking!

3. ‘Natural World Wonders’, by Chris Woodroofe

My Perfect Holiday would be a tour around all of the natural world wonders: Serengeti Migration, Galápagos Islands, Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, Amazon Rainforest, Ngorongoro Crater, Great Barrier Reef, Bora Bora Cappadocia and Victoria Falls. All I would need would be a backpack, a diary, and a camera…this would be my perfect holiday—very simple, but very rewarding, as the natural world wonders are being destroyed…

That’s all for now!

The official shortlist will be posted on the isango! website very soon. Be sure to vote!

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Mama Mia! Mania: Behind the Scenes in Greece

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“(I would) fly to the beautiful Greek Isles, to a quiet marina, where I could introduce my wife to the boat that would take us island hopping – sailing from fishing village to fishing village…local ports fringed with tavernas…seafood washed down with the native wine whilst the blood-red sun kisses the Mediterranean sea `good night’…”

– Fred Harper, ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest Entrant

Sparkling blue water, rugged coastal terrain, sailboats, sunshine, serenity, and fresh seafood (mmm…..)

…not to mention a strutting, overall-clad Meryl Streep, a feisty Julie Walters, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a glowing Amanda Seyfried……and, of course, a non-stop ABBA marathon.

Who’s seen Mama Mia! And doesn’t want to go to Greece?

I’m always skeptical of movie renditions of musicals, but, in this case, the big screen certainly exploits what the West End can’t: the absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Greek Islands.

Behind the Scenes in Skiathos and Skopelos

Just over a year ago, Streep, Brosnan, and the rest of the multi-talented Mama Mia! cast were staging 1970’s ABBA mayhem on remote islands of the Aegean sea…

It’s time to follow in the footsteps of the stars (and as well as the imagination of our contest entrant Fred) on the following tours:

1. Romantic Sunset Cruise in Skiathos.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a blissful, young bride or groom to be, sheltered from the realities of the world on a little Greek slice of paradise. The amorous atmosphere of the Sophie’s dream island wedding lingers on the island of Skiathos, where a Calypso fishing boat awaits the next pair of lovebirds that desire a taste of Aegean seaside culture, music, cuisine and scenery.

The Skiathos ‘Music and Moonlight’ Sunset Cruise departs Tuesdays from 15 May – 15 October and is the perfect romantic outing for the adventurous duo. Indulge in freshly prepared island cuisine, feel the rhythms of the traditional Greek folk music, and dance your way into the sunset…..

2. Tour of Skopelos

Explore the magnificent setting of Donna’s infamously ‘rustic’ hotel—‘the greenest island in Greece’—by embarking on the Sporades Island Hopping Tour, which includes a stop at ‘Kalokairi Island’, or rather, Skopelos!

Your adventure will begin as you board a boat in the harbour of Skiathos, where some of Mama Mia’s most lively scenes were created. Coast across the sparkling Aegean until you arrive at what was, just under a year ago, the central hub of ABBA action—where Pierce Brosnan’s flip flops are now on display…and where the film’s fairytale church, Agios Ioannis, juts out over the sea on a magnificent, towering rock formation.

Your day will end with a stop at neighbouring Alonissos; you will return to Skiathos in time for a relaxing sunset meal.

Mama Mia! Here we go again…

May your romantic, island hopping adventure leave you ‘stranded’ at an isolated taverna…complete with a staff that breaks out into spontaneous song and dance…

Other great behind-the-scenes film tour ideas:

The ‘Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond’ Blog

The ‘Hollywood, Bollywood and Beyond’ Blog (a favourite!)

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WIN YOUR ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ (Seriously!)

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Ok folks, it’s finally that time of year – the time when you wake up on a rainy, chilly ‘summer’ morning and realise that you were a fool for economising in ’08 and using your holidays to visit Auntie Maeve in Birmingham for her mid-August birthday…boring!

There’s still time to plan an adventure, and there’s a way to do it…and cheaply.

Here’s how:

1. Dream up your wildest, most intriguing/ creative/ exotic/ romantic/ adventurous/ whimsical holiday EVER.

2. Write it down (before you share the idea with any of your friends/family—they will just think you are crazy, thus stifling your creative genius/globe trotting aspirations. For example, my mum wasn’t so keen on my brilliant idea to become a Bollywood dancer in Bombay, so I had to settle for a 4 week course in Mayfair. If only this contest had existed then! ).

3. While we are certain that you would all make fantastic novelists—and would love to jumpstart your careers as travel journalists—we ask that you please reduce the text to 200 words or less and come up with a short, catchy title.

4. Go to the contest website, paste your text in the entry window, and enter to WIN £500 of isango! credit towards your dream holiday.

Click here to enter the Isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest.

We will be posting our favourite entries on the blog throughout July/August, with the shortlist posted here for public voting in early August.

The Grand Prize Winner of the £500 isango! voucher will be announced at the end of August!

Good luck!

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Following the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – A Patagonian Adventure!

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After a very long stint in Buenos Aires (everyone I have ever known has gotten stuck there for weeks and weeks beyond their intended stay – might have something to do with the Argentinian Men, the electric atmosphere of the city, the incredible nightlife and….well, the Argentinian Men…) I decided it was high time that I head south and see what all the fuss was about.

The vast and hostile terrain that makes up Patagonia, the southernmost point in both Argentina and Chile is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights there is on this earth. Snow-capped peaks, vast mountain lakes, glaciers, fjords, not to mention the wildlife – penguins, whales, sea lions,…and did I mention the penguins!? They are so cute – like miniature black and white people with funny stumpy legs!!

In order to get a sense of the scale of the place – it takes 50 hours to get from Buenos Aires to the tip in Ushuaia by bus (luxury bus that is) – Immense!…I cheated, however and flew down to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side (in my defense… it was only just the end of winter, and many said it was the only way of getting there at all! Turns out wasn’t, but this made me feel slightly less guilty at the time).

Punta Arenas was a rather depressing little town – very grey, crumbling and weather beaten…perhaps what you’d expect from such a harsh climate. Puerto Natales (my actual destination) was the same. From a tourism perspective, it is simply a jump off point for Torres del Paine National Park and the ferry ride back up to Puerto Mont through the Chilean Fjords (a stunning trip, so I’m told). I was on my own at this point in my travels, and there was absolutely no one else around –well, apart from 3 incredibly brave German girls – only 13 years old – that were on the adventure trip of a lifetime in their school holiday exchange break. They adopted me as a ‘big sister’, and we decided to go off trekking in the Torres Del Paine national park for a couple of days. It was spectacular – despite our 8 hour trek yielding nothing but fog-ridden views and knee deep snow. Occasionally, I would drop back from the girls and take it all in – space, as far as the eye could see (which was a long way when the fog cleared intermittently!), beauty, nature at its most powerful, and there I was – practically at the end of the world!

I soon left Puerto Natales and made my way back into Argentina, anxious to see the Perito Moreno glacier. The nearest town, El Calafate was far more bustling and welcoming and the hostel (run by friends of friends back in Buenos Aires) was a home from home (the Argentine people are among the kindest I have met in my life – generous, hospitable and above all fun!).

I didn’t have much time to spare, so I organised an ice trekking trip for the very next day – a little expensive but something I had always wanted to do! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! There I was, trekking on a real life glacier, crampons and all! My little group followed the guide in single file as he took us on a walk up and around the glacier, explaining as we went about how they worked, the dangers, etc. I have never seen ice so blue, so pure, so white – and looking out from the top of the monstrous slab of ice that was moving, living, breathing: I felt like I was in another world.

Perito Merino Patagonia

I did a bit more trekking in El Chalten National Park and then, deciding to forgo Ushuaia (another 18 hours south-west), headed north to see the whales and the penguins in Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn and the lakes and ski resorts of Bariloche.

I had never before been so close to such incredible animals – my little boat was entirely surrounded by whales as far as the eye could see – almost close enough to touch! When we got back to shore, I wanted to go out again and again! Instead, however, I headed over to a different part of the peninsula to see the penguins, sea lions and elephant seals – fascinating! I just sat and watched for hours until it was time to go home.

My final stop in Patagonia (for now, at least…) was Bariloche in the lake region. Probably the least ‘alternative’ stop of all – it reminded my of a Swiss alpine village with chocolate shops aplenty, beautiful mountain lakes and even a ski resort a short distance from the town. It was, in a word, idyllic; it was extremely hard to tear myself away from the ease and comfort of it all (I even indulged in a little spa activity while I was there!)

Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise – its raw beauty is undeniable, and this, coupled with the simplicity of life within the boundaries of the region soothes the soul (without wanting to sound too cliché or cheesy). I felt refreshed, alive, and invigorated after my stint there and would recommend it to anyone travelling in the South America region. I myself have vowed to go back one day to the very tip of the world – Ushuaia – to experience the Ferry trip and perhaps even hop on a cruise to Antarctica.

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What’s your ‘perfect holiday’?

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Ladies and gentlemen, get excited!

TOMORROW (July 11th, 2008) marks the start of our first ever ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST.

Basically, you will get the chance win a £500 isango! credit towards your dream holiday by sending us your inventive description of what, exactly, constitutes your ‘perfect holiday’.

Watch this space for more details.

***Update – 14 July 2008***

Official ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entry site:

 

http://www.isango.com/PerfectHoliday.aspx

In the meantime, to get your creative juices flowing (because I know you’ve all been dreaming of that perfect, exotic and adventurous getaway and thus will be entering the contest), here is a sample list of some perfect, exotic and adventurous ways that you could cash in that grand prize!

isango!’s 2008 Staff Picks…

1. Diving in the Red Sea

Diego’s love of wetsuits has drawn him to the warm waters, beautiful coral reefs and colourful exotic fish of the Red Sea. A haven for divers, the Sinai Peninsula coast offers some of the world’s finest underwater excursions; the chance to explore this rich biodiversity tops many travellers ‘must do’ lists. A truly unforgettable experience!

2. Golden Triangle Tour in India

This vibrant, picturesque journey takes you to three of India’s most fascinating cities, bringing the colourful history of the country to life. Delhi’s heady mix of cultures enthrals visitors, while the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur (which matches most of Bernie’s clothing—his reason for selecting this fine tour) is thought to offer the finest examples of Hindu architecture in the world. The unquestionable highlight is, of course, the magnificent Taj Mahal.

3. Amazon River Cruise

Single and sassy, Sarah likes to make the most of her (exotic!) holidays. Aside from Brazilian men, she enjoys a fair bit of rainforest adventuring.

Covering half of Brazil, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and home to over a third of the world’s species. At its heart, the lifesource of the rainforest provides the intrepid traveller with a pathway through this region’s rich ecosystems.

4. Helicopter Ride Over Grand Canyon

When he’s not lounging in his leer jet, Ranjan likes to take fancy helicopter rides across America! He reports that photos, guidebooks and superlatives cannot do justice to the overwhelming landscape of the Grand Canyon. The only way to truly appreciate the scale of this natural wonder is to soar above its cavernous depths and majestic colours on an exhilarating flight.

5. The Inca Trail: Cusco and Macchu Picchu

An anthropology geek (yes!), Carrie’s excursion of choice must be, she reports, ‘enriching’ and ‘educational’. Among millions of other culture-hungry travellers, she is enthralled by the sacred legacy of Peru’s Inca civilisation.

This fascinating journey begins in the ancient city of Cusco and continues through the most significant of Incan archaeological sites (sigh!). Its climax and undeniable highlight is the dazzling, mountain top “lost city” of Machu Picchu.

6. Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater

Ajay and Amrit are up for an African safari adventure!

Arguably the world’s finest nature reserve, the Serengeti National Park and the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater provide a refuge for a fascinating variety of wildlife. After encountering some wildebeasts, zebras, lions and elephants on a guided land excursion, take to the skies on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride! You will come to understand why the term Serengeti, meaning ‘endless plains’, is so apt.

7. Diving with the Sharks in Cape Town

This is one for the thrill seekers, like our globe-trotting Emma!

Leave behind Cape Town’s white sands, blue skies and rolling green mountains and dive deep into the ocean for an experience that is sure to stay with you forever. Nothing can prepare you for the rush of adrenaline you will feel when you come face to face with one of nature’s great predators (so we assume that she would have reported).

8. Great Barrier Reef Cruise

Like Sarah, Jess is constantly on the move. On a quest for friendly adventure (and Aussie love!), she has most recently set her sights on the coast of Queensland.

The largest single structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2000km along the northeastern Australia. Home to an abundance of plant and marine life and blessed with year-round sunshine, the reef and nearby tropical islands attract divers, snorkelers, swimmers and cruisers from around the world (providing the perfect backdrop for some romantic dinners!).

9. Adventure Cruise in the Galapagos Islands

When Daniele is out of the office, we suspect that he is hiding on an exotic island with his blackberry. It was thus no surprise that he selected this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador.

Boasting some of the world’s most unique animal species, the Galapagos were long untouched by man until made famous by Charles Darwin’s natural selection studies. And though many have followed in his pioneering footsteps to explore the islands’ unique ecosystems, the natural habitats have been well protected and preserved.

Escape the office to join Daniele, and you may encounter some giant Land Iguanas and Blue-footed Booby birds!

10. Giza Pyramids Tour

Rish’s macabre fascination with embalming fluids has made Egypt his destination of choice. His obvious starting point: the alleged tomb of King Khufu.

Travellers will delight in the mystery and legacy of the Pyramids of Giza! Surrounded by a necropolis of ancient monuments, including the world famous Sphinx statue, the Pharoah’s tombs envelop some of the world’s fascinating secrets, as preserved for over 5000 years.

Excited? Inspired?

The isango! ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST starts tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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The Peacock Parade…

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Peacock Ruffled Feathers

It wasn’t until I started writing blogs that I realized just how fascinated I am with wildlife; indeed, I spend more time staring at lizards, bugs and squirrels than I do learning about important monuments and historical landmarks. 

If you’ve already read the birdwatching blog, you know just how fascinating Bowerbird courtship behavior can be (check that blog out here  here if you haven’t!). Yet sometimes animal behavior is inexplicable—it was just last week that I experienced my most surprising, amusing bird encounter of the year: I was strolling through the Fountain of Youth Park

 …when I was almost attacked by a Peacock.

While I don’t have photographic evidence of the bird’s sweeping dive towards my forehead, I did, after coming to terms with the insanity of the situation, manage to photograph his beautiful feathers from afar:

 

Peacock Feathers Fountain of Youth

The Peacock Parade…yes, indeed…it’s on display, every day, at the Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine, Florida

You should go there and check out these beauties for yourselves:

Beautiful White Peacock St Augustine

 

Peacock Open Feathers

But be sure to watch your heads!

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