Discussion in 'The South of the USA FAQ' started by trilingual, Jan 2, 2005.

  1. trilingual

    trilingual Marquess

    Many travelers to the lands South of the U.S.A., especially first-timers, are interested in the services of a local guide/travel agent. A number of guides/travel agents have been discussed in these postings. You should be able to find comments and information about them using the "Search" function within this board, looking for keywords like "guide," "travel agent" and the name of the city/country you plan to visit.

    Some travelers haven't used such services before, so here are some general things you need to know before you contact any of the guides/agents mentioned here:

    Contact a guide/agent and make definite plans as early as possible, particularly if you intend to travel during the high season, when demand for these services is very high.

    Speaking of making definite plans, gentlemen, please remember that guides/travel agents earn their livings providing their services. Even if you decide not to use their services once you're South of the U.S.A., it's only fair to reimburse them for their time and expertise if you take up a lot of their time via phone or e-mail prior to your trip. ($/€ 50 would be a fair minimum honorarium if you've taken up more than an hour or so of their time.)

    I understand from some guides/agents that at least a few people have contacted them from this board, taken up quite a bit of their time, then never appeared, or if they did arrive, never bothered to contact them. As those who have met them know, most guides/agents South of the U.S.A. are far too gentlemanly ever to make an issue of it. Trilingual, on the other hand, is more blunt: freeloading and mooching is unattractive behavior in any language and in any country. Please have the courtesy and class of contacting the guide/agent you've been using (either by e-mail, if you end up not making the trip, or in person if you do but decide to strike out on your own) and making arrangements to reimburse him for the time he's spent giving you advice and information.

    If you DO intend to use a guide's services, please be reasonable and make definite arrangements with him so he can plan his time and not disappoint other visitors who'd like his assistance. A number of guides have had to turn some M4Mers down, believing someone else was coming who never showed up or never contacted them when they arrived in the country. Most M4Mers wouldn't appreciate being on the receiving end of that kind of behavior themselves. Please don't impose on the good will and innate courtesy of the guides/agents you've contacted.

    Being independent souls, many M4Mers aren't accustomed to using guides abroad and aren't sure how much time they really would want to spend in organized touring. This is understandable (I myself have only rarely used the services of a guide when traveling, even in countries that I don't know and whose language I don't speak.) However, even if you're the independent type, if you're traveling South of the U.S.A. for the first time and contact a guide/agent for information, let me suggest the following:

    At a minimum, get together with the guide for two or three hours the afternoon of your arrival or the following morning for a general orientation (including a short walking tour of your immediate surroundings so you know what's where and how to get around the city on your own) and detailed, up-to-date information about the gay nightlife, sauna and/or escort scene. You can also discuss your other interests with him (art, architecture, antiques, theater, opera, shopping, day or overnight excursions, etc.) and decide if you want to spend more time with the guide to explore your destination in greater depth, or if you'll need his assistance for anything else.

    Compared to many destinations, Rio and Buenos Aires are not difficult to navigate on your own (São Paulo is another story), but they're HUGE cities, as large or larger than New York or London or Cairo. Each city has endless hidden corners and byways that a first-time visitor may find fascinating but will never find by himself. If you want to know where the best non-touristy shops or restaurants or art galleries are located, you need a knowledgeable local guide who knows the city intimately to show you where to find them. Particularly if you don't speak Portuguese or Spanish, you may not get the best prices, or understand the information you get from someone, or be able to figure out restaurant menus, etc. Having the assistance of a knowlegeable, bilingual guide in such situations is invaluable. That also goes for contacting escorts, who'll have no compunction in asking a foreign tourist who speaks pidgin Spanish or Portuguese for US$100 (or more) when they'd charge a local client a third of that!

    As in every huge city, there are pitfalls and tourist traps South of the U.S.A. that a good guide can help you avoid. An initial get-together with one of the guides mentioned here is an excellent way to assure that your stay will be a pleasure and that you will get the most from your visit. You'll find that more in-depth touring in the company of a knowledgeable guide will enrich your experience immeasurably, because they can help you understand local art, architecture, history and customs. Finally, there are many doors that a good local guide can open for you that would ordinarily be closed to foreign tourists. If you really want to get to know cities like Rio, São Paulo and Buenos Aires beyond their glittering surfaces, you'll find a guide's assistance, knowledge and companionship indispensable. But please, remember that a guide/agent's time is valuable. Be definite when you make arrangements with him, and reimburse him appropriately for the time he spends helping you make the most of your stay South of the U.S.A!

    Please read the information about guides mentioned in Escorts South of the U.S.A. carefully! You will note, particularly in Brazil, that some of the guides mentioned are sauna guys/escorts who speak some English and are available to accompany you during your stay, and others are professional guides/travel agents. As a general rule (to which there are always exceptions) the sauna guys/escorts are unsophisticated, poorly educated members of the working class and do not have in-depth knowledge of art, history and culture. It's fine to use one of these guys to show you around the saunas and local nightlife, acting as a contact or go-between with other guys you want to get together with, or to show you around the city in a general way or take you to obvious attractions like Sugar Loaf or Corcovado in Rio. They can also help you in taxis and show you how to use the local transportation systems and, in general, help you feel more secure.

    If you require anything more than this, you need to contact one of the more knowledgeable, professional guides/travel agents mentioned elsewhere in Escorts South and the FAQ section (like Carlo or Mike in Rio, or Roberto in Buenos Aires) who can set up tours catering to your particular interests, like art and architecture, local history, performing arts, antique hunting, fine dining, etc. These guides/agents are sophisticated, well-educated gay men of middle and upper-class backgrounds who are fluently bilingual and well-traveled themselves, so they will be able to understand and anticipate your needs. They have in-depth knowledge of their cities/countries which will greatly enrich your experience, and the time and money you spend with them will be worth every cent! Having the assistance of one of these guides while you're in their cities also gives you a local contact in case you get in a scrape or jam, or need medical attention, or lose your documents. Most visitors never find themselves in such situations, but knowing there's someone you can call locally who speaks fluent English can provide you with a lot of peace of mind!

    Please remember, though, that all of these guides/agents earn their livings doing this and need to be reimbursed appropriately for the services they provide you. Just because they are warm, friendly and personable guys (which you would expect from someone working in the tourist industry) doesn't mean that they give their time and expertise away for free. So be sure to work out in advance what they charge, depending on what you need from them, and feel free to add a generous tip if you're pleased with the help you received.

  2. trilingual

    trilingual Marquess

    Another good reason for using the services of a knowledgeable guide/agent is that even if you just get a basic orientations session you will greatly maximize your time at your destination. That's important, especially if you're only going to be staying for a few days. It's easy to forget how much time gets wasted on trips to strange cities just figuring out the most basic stuff: Where are the bars and clubs? Which are the ones I'd probably like best? How do I find the guys? Where (and which) are the best museums? What days are they open and what's the easiest way to get there? Where's the nearest subway station, and how does the system work here? Are there any unsafe areas I need to be aware of? Where's the nearest usable ATM and all-night eatery/supermarket/drugstore? How and where do I get opera/theater/event tickets? Can I get Viagra without a prescription?

    The list of such basic questions can be endless. None of them are so complicated you can't figure most of them out for yourself, if you have enough time and aren't put off by the language barrier. But especially if you're only going to be in a city for three or four days, it's very much worth your while to engage a really good guide/agent. In a short time he can answer all your questions and show you where to go, what to do, and how to manage it all, leaving the rest of your time free to enjoy the city (with or without his further assistance) and get the most out of your limited time there.