Wednesday, December 17, 2008


December 17, 2008

Hello! My name is Sandi Maier, and I live in Jefferson City, Missouri, USA. I’m 37 years old, and traveling is my one true passion. (Cardinals Baseball is a close second!) lol!

I recently had the pleasure to take a journey through South America for a period of about four weeks. I spent time in Peru, Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Uruguay, and Brazil. If I had it to plan over again, I would have allowed many more days for Brazil. I am so glad, though, that I had at least a little taste, to whet my appetite for a return visit in the future. I rarely repeat a destination in my travels, as my budget only allows for one trip a year, and there are so many places in the world to visit. But Brazil is definitely worthy of returning. The brief time I had there included one day at the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls, and two days in lovely Rio de Janeiro.

I was lucky enough to make contact with Rafael “Rafa” Torres during the planning stages of my trip. During some research, I learned that Rafa is a well-respected and much sought-after tour guide for all areas of Brazil. His home is in Rio, and Rio is where I was specifically hoping to hire a guide. Rafa’s replies to my many e-mails were always timely and filled with helpful information and advice. But the best part about communicating with Rafa was seeing his love for Rio and Brazil shine through. I could sense his genuine excitement at the chance to share some of his beloved country with someone like me, who had never set foot there before. I think it is truly rare to find a tour guide with that kind of passion and dedication for his work.

So arrangements were finalized for my very brief visit to Rio. Rafa had many different suggestions on how to spend my time. Looking back, I wish I would have planned to have him show me Rio by night. (Next time!) But as it was, I decided a day time visit would better serve my purpose. Rafa came up with an itinerary that really made the most of my time, to show me as much as possible.

Fast forward several months. I finally arrived in Rio (December 12th), which was the final stop on my 4-week journey. Some personal circumstances arose that I thought might prevent me from spending the day with Rafa. And I really was feeling a bit distraught about it. But when Rafa came to pick me up at my hotel at our arranged time, we sat and talked about my situation, a solution was found, and the day was saved! Thank you, Rafa! A problem solver, as well as an expert tour guide!

One thing I quickly discerned about Rafa from meeting in person was his wicked-sharp sense of humor. In our e-mail communications I could tell he was a bright and fun guy to be around. But in person, I found the humor to be the cherry on top of the sundae. Much laughter will ensue for anyone who spends time with Rafa.

And for the Americans out there, I think you will be very pleased with Rafa’s grasp of our culture, and his ability to bridge it to his own (which is very diverse, by the way). He translates not just the language differences you will encounter, but also the day-to-day way of life of Brazillians, explaining all the way. Rafa is a traveler himself. He shared some entertaining and enlightening stories about his own experiences across the world. I especially enjoyed listening to his tales as he was driving us from place to place.

Speaking of going place to place, Rafa always has a plan B or C. If the clouds are hanging low around Christ the Redeemer at the moment you are approaching, or if a traffic jam is causing delay to your route, there will be a way around it until the timing is right. As it were, the timing of our day went very well. Rafa will also take you places far from the proverbial beaten path, and you will be thankful for it. From hidden waterfalls in the forest, to a private, undisturbed section of seashore you can have all to yourself. And the visit to a local street market was a nice surprise, as well. Do yourself a favor and indulge in the sugar cane juice! If you are extremely lucky, you just might get to meet Rafa’s mom. It almost happened for me, and I was sure ready to give her a big hug for raising such a great son. But unfortunately, the lovely Estella was indisposed at the time we were near, and the meeting was not able to happen. Next time, Estella. Next time!
And lastly, if you have the time to enjoy a meal with Rafa, he will take you to a fantastic restaurant in Niteroi that only the locals frequent. It was a true treat, and a fabulous way to end the day. (Niteroi is a special place in itself, by the way. Some amazing views from a very special place there. Rafa will show you, trust me.)
I almost forgot to mention Rafa’s photography skills. He has the eye and a steady hand for framing that perfect shot. As a bit of a shutterbug myself, I appreciate that skill very much! Bottom line, Rafa will bend over backwards (literally!) to make sure you get your shot.

Another thing worth mentioning…. Rafa’s driving is top notch. I felt very comfortable as his passenger, and at times it was a bit of a thrill. Come on…. don’t we all crave a little bit of speed now and then? I know I do. lol! Rafa’s car is new and very well kept, and roomy enough for a group of 4 or 5.

Well, I believe that is a fair representation of my experience with Rafa in Rio. As I said earlier, I rarely repeat a travel destination. But you can be assured that I will return to Brazil and take advantage of Rafael Torres’ expertise and genuine passion for showing the best she has to offer. I look very forward to seeing more of Rio itself, and also a visit to the Amazon region.

Anyone reading this, please feel free to contact me by e-mail if you have questions about my experience. I am always happy to talk to a fellow traveler!

Sandi Maier,
from Jefferson City, Missouri , USA

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