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Celebrity Travel

Go away with Kambri Crews

By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Media Services

February 21, 2012

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When bill collectors called the Crews house, they talked to Kambri, the hearing child of deaf parents. Today, Kambri Crews, a 40-year-old author, having watched her charismatic father beat her mother, tells her compelling life story filled with love, hope and fear, in her thoughtful and sly memoir "Burn Down the Ground" (Villard, $25). One of the more unique places that Crews travels to is the Texas prison where her father is serving a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of a girlfriend.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. I've been flying on my own since I was five years old. I flew Braniff Airlines from Houston to Tulsa where I spent summers with my deaf grandparents. When I was 12, they took me on my first real vacation: a road trip to San Antonio, Texas to visit the Alamo and the Natural Bridge Caverns in New Braunfels (www.naturalbridgecaverns.com). We saw wild bat colonies, rode inner tubes down the Guadalupe River, toured an anti-gravity house and ventured deep inside the caverns on a guided tour of sheer natural wonder. We were learning, laughing and experiencing things for the first time together. Before that trip, my grandparents were just some old people my mom was fond of. By the end, we were true friends.

Q. What would be your dream trip?

A. In sixth grade Social Studies class, Kenya was my choice for a required report on a foreign country. I've always had a fascination with animals and African safaris in particular. I'm not sure I could handle watching a real hunt and kill, though. I sob uncontrollably at National Geographic. I'd likely ruin the food chain by shrieking like I do at horror movies: "He's right behind you! Run!"

Q. What are your favorite hotels?

A. I once lived in a one-room tin shack, so it doesn't take much to impress me. Offer me warm cookies, free newspapers and lemon water in the lobby, and I'm ready to move in. My top three hotel memories are of the Topaz (http://www.topazhotel.com) in Washington, D.C., they are pet friendly, offer you free wine in the late afternoon and are within walking distance of the DC Improv (www.dcimprov.com) where my husband performs; the Biltmore Hotel (http://www.providencebiltmore.com) in Providence, R.I., their pillows were so divine I purchased four for myself, and the Hotel des Academies et des Arts (http://www.hotel-des-academies.com/uk/), a boutique hotel in Paris, that made me want to live there as an artist in residence, even though I can't draw a circle.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. Peru. It has the perfect combination of spectacular natural beauty, rich history, friendly people and affordability.

Q. To someone who was going there for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?

A. The lost city of Machu Picchu is the obvious choice with its jaw-dropping beauty and unusual origins. But we also stayed at the Tambopata Eco Lodge (http://tambopatalodge.com/), where we hiked through the rain forest and camped in a tent in the jungle with our guide named Elvis. We saw every species of monkey native to Peru and had a very long staring contest with a herd of wild boar. I won. It was a slightly dangerous, yet completely thrilling experience.

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?

A. There's no place like home. But with my unconventional life, I actually mean it. Camping in the rain forest in Peru would probably be the closest. Not bathing, relieving myself in the woods, sleeping on the hard ground, using lanterns and flashlights and hoping not to be killed in the middle of the night? Yep, that about sums it up.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A. The hotel mini-bar and room service. I like to order anything that supplies me with more miniature things to take home: mayo, ketchup, mustard, jelly. I could have a curio cabinet filled with them.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. A good book, sunblock, sunglasses and a fridge stocked full of overpriced tiny stuff. I don't know what it is about mini-sized things that I love so much. Maybe my husband can tell you.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., is a short drive or train ride from New York City and a lovely village with iconic American historic sites. If you're a runner like I am, they offer fun, yet challenging, races, including a 10K on Halloween weekend. Seeing the Headless Horseman along the trail adds some incentive to run a little faster. They also have fantastic antique stores, if you have a way of getting your purchases back home.

Q. What is your best vacation memory?

A. When I was nine, my friend Sally and her family let me join them on a road trip to Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast. Her family drove school buses and had converted an old one into a makeshift travel trailer. For some unknown reason, we had the entire beach to ourselves. Seeing miles of vacant gulf and sand and sky was overwhelming. We threw a net into the ocean and later pulled up our catch to find so many crabs you couldn't see the string. We camped, swam in the surf, ate freshly boiled crab and swapped stories around a fire. They didn't care about fancy pillows from the Biltmore or stocked mini-fridges, they just loved each other and, by default, me. It was magical.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)