By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Media Services
April 3, 2012
Megalyn Echikunwoke lives in Venice Beach, Calif. — a long way from the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Ariz., where she grew up. "There really is nothing like it," says the actress, whose resume includes TV roles on "House of Lies," "24" and "CSI: Miami." She'll appear next in the feature film "Damsels in Distress." One of the things she loves about her job is getting to explore the world. "I've been lucky to usually have downtime whenever I travel for work," says Echikunwoke, whose father is Nigerian. "I make it my job to find the best, most interesting locals only-type things the city has to offer."
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. One of my favorite places I've visited is Havana, Cuba. On my way home from Costa Rica, I did a week in Havana. The colors, the music, the beautiful men and the cars! I love vintage and antique cars and own a couple myself. Also, I love Latin dance and everyone there knows how to dance salsa extremely well. It's practically in their DNA. It's also a very safe place to travel, even for a solo woman. You are totally fine strolling the Malecon at night. Also, in La Habana Vieja, most of the buildings are still intact with their original moldings and architecture and beautifully distressed in a way that looks deliberate. I really hope I get a chance to go for a longer stay to experience the rest of the country.
Q. To someone who was going there for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?
A. Go see the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (http://www.balletcuba.cult.cu/), have mojitos at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (http://www.hotelnacionaldecuba.com/en/home.asp) and a drink at El Floridita (http://www.elfloridita.net/pages/hemingway.php?language), where Ernest Hemingway enjoyed visiting.
Q. How much do you remember of your childhood trip to Nigeria?
A. It was the first time meeting my dad's family for my mom and my siblings and me. I remember being terrified by the masqueraders during a street festival. Masqueraders are masked spirits who come out at celebratory times to entertain, tease and chastise citizens for their naughty behavior. It is an important form of traditional cultural expression for many different tribes. I also remember the mosquitoes. My mom always tells the story of how I was munched from head to toe through my clothes and looked like a little brown puffed marshmallow.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. California has so much to offer for fun and relaxation. One of the places I love is Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort (http://www.sycamoresprings.com/) in San Luis Obispo. You can tap the mineral springs straight from the mountain right to the outdoor hot tub in your hotel room. It's really quite special and therapeutic. And after you soak for a bit, you can go out wine tasting at the great vineyard within a few miles of the place.
Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. One of my favorites so far is the very impressive Hotel Unique (http://www.hotelunique.com.br/interna.php) in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The Golden Eye Hotel and Resort (http://www.goldeneye.com/site/) in Jamaica is a very special place. I could live there. And hands down the best B and B is in San Luis Obispo called the Sanitarium (http://www.thesanitariumspa.com/). It used to actually be a sanitarium. It's a big old house that has been converted. Each room is uniquely decorated down to every detail. There is a grand piano and blank canvases for you to paint on if you want.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. This question is hard. New York, Bastia, Corsica, Barcelona, New Orleans, Amsterdam.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Reykjavik, Iceland. I'm really just curious and I want to take the waters at the thermal baths that are supposed to be very healing. Also, I still haven't made it to Mexico City. I can't wait for that.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. My iPod, both a digital and manual film camera and a good book.
Q. What would be your dream/fantasy trip?
A. I wouldn't mind spending six months a year having a private jet take me around the world to visit natural and historical landmarks like the Egyptian pyramids, Mount Kilimanjaro or the Taj Mahal.
Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. In New York City, I love La Esquina (http://esquinanyc.com/); it's my fave Mexican food place. Also, the Lobster Trap, outside Montego Bay in Jamaica and Via Venneto (http://www.viaveneto.us/) in Santa Monica for Italian.
Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. Besides finding a great place to stay, it's important for me to find at least one cultural destination to visit, other than that, I don't like to plan too much. I like to suss out the situation when I get on the ground and then go!
Q. What is your worst vacation memory?
A. Once I accidentally left my passport in Nice, France, when I was on my way to Prague. Upon arriving in Vienna, after taking an overnight, and being asked to present my travel documents and realizing I forgot them at the hotel, they kicked me off the train and sent me back!
(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.)
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