Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.

Name: Marcus Sakey
Title/bio: Suspense novelist and host of Travel Channel’s Hidden City, premiering 6 December
Twitter/website: @MarcusSakey,
Born in: Flint, Michigan
Currently living in: Chicago, Illinois

1. Where would you rather be right now?
Hiking the altiplano in Peru. No, wait: driving a convertible across Tuscany. No!  Sailing the New England coastline, tracking autumn southward. Climbing Kilimanjaro. Camping alone in Utah. Sigh.

2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
I’m a Hemingway fan, so in a manner of speaking, I’ve been fishing with him already. But man would I love to board Pilar in Key West and head south until we have a day-long battle with a tarpon, haul that bad boy up, then celebrate by telling lies over rum on a Cuban terrace.

Of course, if Scarlett Johansson wanted to join, she’d be welcome.

3. Material thing you miss the most when away from home:
My hammock. My wife and I live in a small frame house in Chicago with a postage-stamp backyard, just big enough to sling a hammock between the deck and a birch tree. The branches form a bower that screens the light, and you can smell the earth and a neighbour’s grill. Add a drink and a cigar and a book, and it’s a recipe for pure and simple contentment.

4. Most unusual item you have travelled with:
When we were filming the Florida Keys episode, I went diving for pirate treasure. The gang I went with are some of the most successful treasure hunters in history; they’ve found more than half a billion dollars of gold, silver, emeralds - you name it.

Me, I found a rock. It was like Charlie Brown trick-or-treating: “I got a chocolate bar!” “I got gum!” “I got a rock.”

It was a ballast stone from a 17th-century galleon; a 20lb river rock that would have been collected by slaves or peasants and loaded into the keel to help balance the ship on its voyage across the endless blue. It had no value whatsoever -- none. But I’d personally found it, recovered it from 70ft of water and beneath two feet of silt, and I thought it was incredibly cool. 

TSA not so much.  You should have seen the conversation.  “Sir, are you checking your… rock?”

5. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
A couple of months ago I got to drive a fan boat through the Everglades. They’re ridiculously fun — responsive, fast and wide open to sun and wind. This one was the baby of a long-time guide. Thing pretty much had a jet engine mounted on the back.

After cruising for a while he spotted this hidden path through the mangroves. We went down it slow and found ourselves between the nests of two massive alligators, each a dozen feet long and battle-scarred. They looked like dinosaurs, primordial beasts that always seem to move slowly because if you see them move fast, you’re not around to talk about it anymore.

I killed the fan and we just floated, them looking at us, us looking at them, as the sun set over the bayou.

That was a good day.

6. The place you don’t want anyone to know about but are willing to divulge here:
There’s a boutique hotel called Jake’s on the south coast of Jamaica, near Treasure Beach. My wife and I found it by accident; we’d flown into the country without a plan, just rented a car and started bouncing around.

It was one of those stars-align kind of magic moments. We’d been driving on the wrong side of the road for hours, we were dusty and road sore and had no idea where we were going to stay, and then we rounded a corner and there was this place.

It’s a handful of gorgeous oceanfront cottages, the decor open-air and gauze, sparkling glass and bright textures. There’s a magnificent saltwater pool where you can float and watch the sun set. The moment it dips below the horizon, the bugs and frogs all start calling, like a symphony that has been waiting for the conductor’s baton. Then you get out, towel off and wander over for a four-star meal under glowing lanterns and Caribbean stars.

7. The travel story you’ll never stop bragging about:
I learned to dive in Belize, which is sort of like learning to drive in an Aston Martin. The reefs and refuges are some of the most dramatic in the world. But the real reason I went was to dive the Blue Hole, a 400ft sinkhole near Ambergris Caye. Google it and you’ll see why.

It’s not a technical dive, but you go to maximum depth, about 120ft. The colour has all drained away, leaving you to drift through Gothic cathedrals of submerged stone. It’s magnificent.

The problem is that it was my first certified dive and I was a wee bit ambitious. There’s a condition called nitrogen narcosis that occasionally hits at that depth. The reasons are technical and I don’t fully understand them, but the net result is that you feel light-headed and anxious. A mad vertiginous claustrophobia sets in. 

As a bonus, at that depth, you can’t just head for the surface; you have to come up slowly with several long pauses or you’ll get the bends, which is pretty much the most awful thing that can happen.

So there I am, at a depth where you simply cannot leave in a rush, desperate to take the regulator out of my mouth, feeling trapped and buried alive and lost in the dark, with no choice but to suck it up and ride the panic.

And that was before the sharks came visiting.

8. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:  
Look for local bars. Not ones that cater to tourists; a place the people who live there actually go. If you leave your guide book behind and stand a drink or two, it’s easy to make friends, even if you barely speak the language. Next thing you know, you’re at a house party on a dock, or eating at a magnificent restaurant without a sign.