Travel has the undeniable power to bring people together through shared experiences, similar interests, and like-minded travel philosophies.
Odysseys guests Cynthia and James Hebert and Susan and Neil Ciarfalia have firsthand experience with this. In 2010, the couples met on our Machu Picchu to the Galapagos tour and quickly became friends. They’ve since taken three other Odysseys tours together – and are scheduled to set out again on Norwegian Splendor in 2024.
We connected with the Heberts and Ciarfalias to ask them about their travel experiences with Odysseys Unlimited – and with each other. Read their story below!
Ciarfalias: We embrace the immersion into foreign (in every sense of the word) locations. Experiencing the history, art, architecture, culture, natural beauty, local flavors, and social interactions in new places has been – and continues to be – a stimulating and satisfying endeavor.
Heberts: It is fun to explore new countries. We step away from our everyday life and visit cultures we have read about or studied. We also enjoy traveling to experience natural beauty.
Ciarfalias: In no particular order:
We have traveled with several other tour companies . . . whom we have enjoyed. But when planning a new trip, we always check the Odysseys offerings for that location first.
Heberts: We meet many people who we really enjoy [on Odysseys tours] – people that have similar lifestyles and tastes, and like-minded travelers who enjoy exploring at a leisurely pace. We also found Odysseys offered a balance between touring and free time to explore.
Ciarfalias: I (Neil) had always had a fascination with the wild frontiers of Patagonia. Prior to that tour, most of our travel had been FIT (Free Independent Traveler). But we felt that we would benefit from having our hands held by a professional tour operator in this far-flung location. While poking around, we discovered Odysseys with highly rated industry ranking and an itinerary that worked for us.
Heberts: Friends of ours had just returned from a trip to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos with National Geographic and raved about how much they enjoyed the trip. But they mentioned that it was very expensive. One of my co-workers said her parents had taken the same trip with another company that was about half the price of National Geographic. I called her parents and discovered that [the company] was Odysseys Unlimited. They told me they stayed in all the same great hotels and had really good guides . . . which all sounded good to me. It was a very good decision to book with Odysseys.
Ciarfalias: On Machu Picchu to the Galapagos, our first group dinner was at La Rosa Nautica in Lima. We were seated at a long table and we found ourselves at one end opposite Jim and Cynthia. Over dinner, we discovered a bevy of common interests, common acquaintances, and roots in the Bay Area. Over the course of the ensuing two weeks, our friendship blossomed. We have met with each other multiple times over the years both on trips and at each other’s homes. We have grown to know their families and celebrated the birth of each other’s grandchildren. We also introduce each other to new card games.
Heberts: Neil takes the lead in making suggestions for our next trips. He studies the tour options and very often Odyssey offers the best itinerary. If it works with our other travel plans, we join them.
Ciarfalias: Just a few of the many memorable moments and surprises:
Heberts: A highlight on the island of Capri was hiring a driver with a convertible to take us up to Anacapri. We enjoyed a quiet lunch on the city square, toured a church with fabulous mosaic tiles, and had beautiful views of the island and over to the mainland.
Ciarfalias: While each has their own personality and style, our tour directors have all been very good. All have exhibited exceptional local knowledge. They have been attentive to travelers’ needs.
Ivan (Patagonia) was our first director and, as we had no prior experience, we were ever-so-pleasantly surprised with how capable and pleasant he was.
Rudy (Turkey) was our sole source of Turkish history, culture, politics, and society. He filled the bill magnificently. And he brought along and played his saz (a Turkish stringed folk instrument). Full of personality, he felt like one of the family.
Heberts: All of our guides were knowledgeable and enjoyable, but our guide Katia Girotto for Southern Italy & Sicily was particularly memorable. She shared great history and stories about her country. She made you stop and slow down to enjoy the experience; “piano, piano” (“slowly, slowly”) was one of her favorite expressions. Whenever we say “piano, piano,” we think of Katia.
Victor, the guide for the Machu Picchu portion of the Machu Picchu to the Galapagos tour, arranged laundry service for us weary travelers. The next morning, we had stacks of clean clothing! A blessing after the pre-tour extension in the Amazon and hiking in the mountains.
Ciarfalias: [We enjoyed] visits to local schools when the children intermingled with the travelers and often performed local songs or dances. When asked to reciprocate, the Odysseys group almost invariably sang “Home on the Range.”
Heberts: [We enjoyed] sharing meals in local restaurants and being hosted by local families.
Heberts: All the arrangements are made for you: where to sleep, where to eat, people meet you at the airport and all transportation is taken care of. English speaking guides point out the highlights and give you an overview of the local sights and culture. Plus, you tend to meet very interesting people. We have booked our own trips on occasion and it takes a long time to make all the necessary bookings. Going with Odysseys Unlimited is like having a massage before you start the vacation. The planning is done, and if something goes wrong, they take care of it.
Ciarfalias: Be prepared for the unexpected. Flexibility and open-mindedness will help you travel without unnecessary angst.
Heberts: We like to arrive a day before the tour starts to get over jet lag. Our trick is to stay awake until at least 8:00 p.m. before succumbing to sleep. Then, try our hardest to convert to the new time without saying “what time is it at home?”
To learn more about the tours mentioned in this Q&A, visit the links or browse our tour offerings on our website.