What is your favorite place on Earth?
Travel writer and book author Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., posed this question to 75 celebrated men and women. “Their choices are fascinating and quirky,” he writes in the foreword to his book “My Favorite Place on Earth” (National Geographic Books, April 2009, $22.95).
“A lost city in Sri Lanka. The Emily Brontë landscape of England. The Pasadena Rose Parade. A private island
in the Caribbean. A wild dog research camp in Botswana. The Moscow Country Club. A surfing paradise in Fiji. The Left Bank in Paris. A softball field in New York’s Central Park. A winding road on Maui … Remarkable places, seen through the eyes of remarkable people,” Dunn writes of the responses he received from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, George Lucas, Donald Trump, and the Dalai Lama.
“I think we fall in love with places in the same way we do with people,” Dunn writes in the foreword to the book. “It may happen at first sight, or develop slowly with time and familiarity. But in some mysterious way we recognize a spirit that is simpatico. We feel inexplicably complete and happy. A place, like a person, is a great gift.”
The book is interesting on at least two levels. First there is the pop culture aspect of what the rich and famous find endearing, and why. And then there is the matching of the places that the celebrities love with the places that we, the obscure mortals, know or aspire to visit. Either way, the essays make a great read.
Humor columnist Dave Barry selects the Virgin islands in the Caribbean as his most favorite place.
“You lie in the sun, listening to the soothing sounds of the wind and the surf and the precancerous lesions forming on your skin,” he writes. “The only remotely alarming thing I saw during my visit occurred at a small outdoor bar at a place called Sapphire Beach, where a wedding reception was going on, and the bride’s bouquet was partially eaten (I am not making this up) by an iguana.”
Author-playwrite Ray Bradbury is a fan of Paris.
“Once I was traveling by train from Calais to Rome and had a stopover in Paris until 6 p.m.,” he writes. “I took a taxicab with some friends to Les Deux Magots, the café where Hemingway used to go. Paris and the twilight seized and held me immediately.
“It was the blue hour, the hour of enchantment. As we motored past the Louvre, it was painted ancient gold by the sun. Every leaf on every bush and tree was bronzed with twilight illumination. As we rounded the Place de la Concorde, to
our right the church of the Madeleine was a fiery temple, and yet farther on as we rushed, the Arc de Triomphe burned with fading light, and the Eiffel Tower was a great pure torch.”
In visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, I wanted to re-create in my consciousness a history that goes back almost four thousand years,” writes Deepak Chopra, M.D. and author of some 50 books, including the best-selling The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, The Book of Secrets, and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, as well as The Third Jesus and Beyond Bethlehem. “To enter the old walled city is to travel back in time.
There are four separate quarters — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian — all within walking distance. As you stroll from one place to another, despite what we hear about violence in that part of the world, the everyday scene is just the normal hustle and bustle of the marketplace. Everything from raw fish to carpets to antiques is being sold, and it’s so crowded with people that there’s hardly a place to walk.
“You can drink Turkish coffee in the Muslim quarter, then within five minutes walk across to the Jewish or Armenian quarter, where the energy shifts, the atmosphere changes, and the smells and food and dress are different, along with
“There are pilgrims in the Old City from all over the world. They come to see places important to their religion, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, the Western Wall for Jews, or the Dome of the Rock for Muslims. The
pilgrims all have this look of absolute awe on their faces, and you can tell that they
T h e Am a z on, P e r u, is the No. 1 destination for explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau. “We have no sense of how big the Amazon is and how much impact it has on every one of our lives every day,” he writes. “The Amazon Basin is as big as the continental United States. The Amazon River has ten tributaries that are as big or bigger than the Mississippi
River, and the system pours out 20 percent of the world’s freshwater.”
We are all connected to the Amazon, Cousteau adds. “The frame of the sofa you’re sitting on may have come from the rain forest. The steak I eat in Paris may have been raised on soybeans from the Amazon, because trees are being cleared to raise cattle and plant soybeans. Every year, they clear-cut an area as big as the state of New Jersey.
The Dalai Lama names the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, as his favorite place. “Even after living in it for years, one could never know all its secrets,” he writes. “It entirely covers the top of a hill; it is a city in itself.”
The central part of the building contained the great halls for ceremonial occasions, about 35 chapels richly carved and painted, four cells for meditation, and the mausoleums of seven Dalai Lamas — some 30 feet high and covered in solid
gold and precious stones.
“My own apartments were above the offices, on the top story — 400 feet above the town. I had four rooms there. The one which I used most often was about 25 feet square, and its walls were entirely covered by paintings depicting the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama, so detailed that the individual portraits were not more than an inch high. When I grew tired of my reading, I often used to sit and follow the story told by this great and elaborate mural which surrounded me.
For National Geographic Explorer in Residence Sylvia Earle the deep ocean is her sacred place.
“The ocean is the biggest ecosystem on the planet, and I love taking the plunge into any piece of it. My favorite part is below the ‘twilight zone, where light completely disappears,” she writes. “Down there it’s night all the time. Yet you’re surrounded not by absolute darkness but by firefly light — living light, the light that is emanated by 90 percent of the creatures that live in the deep sea: jellyfish, sea cucumbers, little fish, bacteria.
“Most of the life in the deep sea has the capacity to flash or sparkle or glow. It’s like diving into the Fourth of July.”
Actor Morgan Freeman has a passion for the Caribbean. “The British Virgin Islands may be the most beautiful set of islands anywhere in the world,” he writes. “I’m a sailor, and I love the channel that stretches about 30 miles between the islands of Virgin Gorda and St. John, like a little inland sea. The water is perfectly clear. And the color! It’s mostly deep blue, but in the shallows the water turns aquamarine because of the white sand below. In some places, the water is green.”
Another place Freeman likes to sail is the Grenadines, starting at the island of Grenada and heading north to St. Vincent. “I gunkhole the islands (to gunkhole means to go from anchorage to anchorage). You just stop where you like, throw out a hook, and catch your dinner. Or maybe someone comes along in a little boat and offers you a fresh catch.
I don’t like to cook, but a sailor who wants to eat has to cook. If I can get crew who are willing to do the cooking, why, they’re very welcome — although I’m so much of a loner that this doesn’t happen very much. Most of the time, I sail solo. It’s terrific, the best way to live.”
Where would the doyen of travel writers, Arthur Frommer, find his idyllic spot?
“The town of Ubud lies in the central highlands of the island of Bali — and at the epicenter of the island’s life and culture,” Frommer writes. Far away from the big resorts along the coast, Ubud is largely unaffected by the harsher, more commercial forms of tourism.
“The shoreline has been inundated with beachloving, nightclubbing sorts, a hard-drinking, hard-living crowd. But Ubud is away from all that. It gets a gentler sort of tourist who is genuinely interested in absorbing the culture, the religion, the life of Ubud.
The editor of National Geographic magazine, Chris Johns, knows the world like few other people. His favorite place of all is a wild dog research camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
“I met wildlife biologist John McNutt, nicknamed ‘Tico,’ and went out to his Wild Dog Research Camp on the edge of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta,” Johns writes. The camp has nice double-roofed tents and a community kitchen outdoors. During the day, baboons wander through, and a lot of nights we’d have lions.
“My tent folds out on top of my Land Rover, so I sleep up there and some nights I’d hear this BDRRRbdrrbdrr sound, quite loud. I’d wake up, look out through the bug netting in my tent, and be eye to eye with an elephant — literally inches away.
“Occasionally, elephants would bump the Land Rover and rock it a little bit while I was sleeping. The Okavango is truly a wild place.”
Filmmaker George Lucas names Monumental Valley, Arizona, as his favorite place.
“I had grown up in farm country, on a walnut ranch in Modesto, California,
next to vineyards and a peach orchard,” Lucas writes. “The ranch in front of us had horses and alfalfa fields. So I was outdoors a lot, and I like fresh air.
“But the desert is like a multiple of ten of the place where I grew up. It’s just a picture-perfect environment, all the time. I loved watching everything change with the sun. So I made a short, abstract film, called 6-18-67 because that was the date when I started shooting it. It’s kind of a tone poem, showing all the things I saw out there.
“There’s a certain kind of peace that comes over you when there’s nothing happening, or at least very little. If you stand in the desert for only a second, you don’t see much. But if you stand there for a long time, you get to see all the details–all the little things going on, the movement and the changing
shadows, the changing light, the different smells.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor selects Arizona. “L grew up on a cattle ranch in eastern Arizona and still have a clear picture of a way of life that you’re hard-pressed to find these days,” she writes. The cowboys were
colorful characters with names like Jim Brister and Bug Quinn — real-life cowboys in the 20th century.
“In that part of the Southwest, any place that had water was thrilling. The ranch went down to the Gila River, where there was a canyon filled with cottonwood trees. The river ran underground most of the year, but you could dig in the
sand about a foot, and the hole would fill with water. As a little girl in that arid part of the state, I thought water was magical.
“On the canyon walls were Indian pictographs and, farther along, little caves where Indians once stored food; you could climb up on ladders. The Indians were from very old tribes that moved with the seasons, making temporary camps, hunting
game, and moving on. We used to find arrowheads — the correct term is projectile points, but we called them “arrowheads” — tiny ones for birds, bigger ones for rabbits. And we found lots of potsherds. Those places meant a lot to me as a child, and as an adult I found others all over Arizona.”