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24 minute read

Q&A with Odysseys Guests: The Heberts & Ciarfalias

August 28, 2023

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!


(From right to left) Susan and Neil Ciarfalia and Cynthia and James Hebert in Taormina on our Southern Italy & Sicily tour.

What excites you about travel?

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. 



The Heberts and the Ciarfalias pausing for a photo op in Evora, Spain, on our Paradores & Pousadas tour.

You have a lot of choices when it comes to traveling and choosing a tour company. What are some of the reasons you have chosen to travel with Odysseys so many times?

Ciarfalias: In no particular order:

  1. Carefully curated itineraries that align with our tastes
  2. Quality content (hotels, attractions, daily activities, etc.) at a good value
  3. Tour directors and local guides who know their stuff and care for their travelers
  4. Nicely sized tour groups that always seem to have travelers with whom we enjoy spending time, meals, and activities
  5. Generous cancellation policy up to 95 days prior to departure

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.



The Ciarfalias with friends atop Mt. Osorno while traveling on Patagonian Frontiers.

To the Ciarfalias, why did you choose Patagonian Frontiers as your first tour with us?

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.



The Heberts & Ciarfalias sharing a laugh during their Southern Italy & Sicily small group tour.

To the Heberts, why did you choose Machu Picchu to the Galapagos as your first tour with 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.



The Heberts & Ciarfalias dining with the group in Ristorante Nadi, a cave restaurant in Matera, Italy, during the Southern Italy & Sicily tour.

How did you meet each other on tour and how has your friendship developed over the years? How do you decide what tour to take together next?

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.



The Ciarfalias celebrating a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey, while traveling on our Legendary Turkey tour.

Describe a few of your most memorable moments while traveling with Odysseys. What has exceeded your expectations or surprised you the most?

Ciarfalias: Just a few of the many memorable moments and surprises:

  1. Having an extended sundowner session on the hood of our broken-down safari vehicle
  2. Walking/sliding with the group down a Namibian sand dune
  3. A freezing trek up the Osorno volcano near Puerto Varas with our friends who were also on tour
  4. Hernan, a naturalist in the Galapagos, using his pen to assist in his colorful description of local crabs’ genitalia
  5. Zip-lining in Costa Rica
  6. Katia, our Southern Italy tour director, getting out of the bus to direct traffic on a winding Taormina road that was jammed with buses unable to get by one another
  7. Katia teaching us the use of one’s hands in the Italian language
  8. Sardine sandwiches in Lisbon
  9. Sunrise balloon adventure in Cappadocia



The Heberts and Ciarfalias enjoying an open-top taxi ride to Anacapri in Italy.

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.



Sue waiting out repairs to her group’s broken-down safari vehicle in style alongside one of the local guides and tour directors on our Southern Africa Odyssey tour.

Describe your Odysseys Unlimited Tour Directors – what have they been like? Does anyone specifically stand out and what qualities did they have that enhanced the tour?

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. 



The Ciarfalias and the Heberts enjoying a game of cards.

Have you had any particularly meaningful interactions with local people on tour or unique small group experiences that were memorable? What have those experiences been like?

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.



The Ciarfalias preparing to descend a sand dune on our Southern Africa Odyssey tour.

If someone had never traveled with a small group before, what would you tell them the benefits of traveling with an Odysseys Unlimited small group are?

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. 



The Ciarfalias and the Heberts attending a cooking class while on Southern Italy & Sicily.

After Norwegian Splendor in June 2024, what other destinations are on your wish list for future travel?

Ciarfalias: Croatia (Dalmatia), Central and Eastern Europe, Alaska, and Morocco.

Heberts: We have our short list of destinations, which include the south of France, Alaska, and Nova Scotia area.



The Ciarfalias belting out Volare at the base of the statue of Domenico Modugno in Polignano a Mare, Italy, on Southern Italy & Sicily.

I’m sure you’ve gained a wealth of knowledge and tips – do you have any helpful hints for travelers on an Odysseys tour?

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.

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