Five Miles Up with … Ato Essandoh

Bekah Wright
five miles up

BBC America’s “Copper transports viewers to New York City in 1865, a time rife with political and societal change. A fixture on the show, Dr. Matthew Freeman, is “…bringing sexy back to Five Points,” says Ato Essandoh, who portrays the physician. Have any of the good doctor’s traits rubbed off on Essandoh? Take a peek in his carry-on and decide. Sad this season of Copper is drawing to a close? No worries. You can catch Essandoh on CBS’ “Elementary” playing Alfredo, Sherlock’s Narcotics Anonymous sponsor.

What’s something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?
First aid kit, ‘cause you never know. Condoms for the same reason.

Carry-on or check-in?

Window or aisle?
Even though I’m a tall man, I like the window.

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
No muss, no fuss. I like to immerse myself in the culture, so look for a good place in the neighborhood, where I can stay and make friends that I’ll still be emailing years later.

Tell us about a vacation you’ve taken that’s come close thus far.
Last year, I went to Costa Rica for a yoga and surf retreat with a pair of shorts, flip-flops, four pairs of underwear and a T-shirt. That’s how I roll. I stayed in this bare bones hotel, where I made a lot of friends who were all same age and had similar interests.

Favorite hotel you've ever stayed in?
When I was in Bahia, Brazil, I stayed at the Ambar Pousada. It’s this pretty basic hostel where you get a bed, bathroom and a fan over the bed. It’s well managed by Christine, who’s become a dear friend. The hostel has a courtyard where all the guests, an international crowd, hangs out, drinks, mixes together and moshes it up. If I’m in this type of situation, where I can meet people and form lifetime friendships, it’s the best time ever.

What’s the worst vacation you’ve taken?
When I was 17, much to my mom’s chagrin, my dad said I could go scuba diving alone in Cancun one weekend. It was awesome, until I caught Montezuma’s Revenge, which was like the flu times a thousand. I literally couldn’t get out of bed and had to call my mom. To this day, she still talks about it. I always say, “Mom, I’m alive.” Then she says (he mimics her Ghanaian accent), “I thought you were dying.” She’s awesome, but a worrywart.

Where’s your favorite destination for shooting on location?
Mozambique, where I shot “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio, was really beautiful. I speak Portuguese, the national language, so when I wasn’t shooting, I went into the neighborhoods and met people, who introduced me to their culture. I also loved Tokyo, Japan, where I visited Kyoto Buddhist temples. I love how the Japanese are so diligent about keeping their environment beautiful. And then there was Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I was working with Theatre of War, an outreach theatre project for troops stationed out there.

Ever try a food you wished you hadn't?
I’m strictly a vegetarian, so when a nice lady at a restaurant in Okinawa brought me the vegetable stir fry with these delicious little bits in the mix, I asked if they were soy-based or seitan. She said they were pork and looked at me like I was a weirdo. Apparently, pigs are vegetables in Okinawa.

Favorite restaurant you’ve discovered while traveling.
After my best friend and I graduated from high school, my dad took us through Italy and France. We stopped at this nice French restaurant -- insert any restaurant name here, they’re all good in France and I can’t remember the real name -- that had herring, which I refused to try. My dad said (the Ghanaian accent returns), “Son, just taste the herring.” It was the nectar of the gods.

Biggest regret you've ever had while on vacation.
When I was in Costa Rica, a bunch of friends I met there took a daytrip to this volcano. I decided to stay behind and surf some more instead. When they returned and showed me the pictures, I thought, “Why didn’t I go to the volcano? How many volcanoes are there in New York?! Next time you say yes.”

The one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else.
I play guitar, so any cool, exotic instrument. If somebody says,” This is the Fijian guitar that belonged to the God of Yor,” I’d say, “Yes, I will buy that!”

What's the most unusual souvenir you’ve ever brought back from a trip?
A kora from Ghana, where my parents are from. It’s this beautiful, big instrument made out of a gourd that looks like a sitar. It’s very delicate and I was trying to bring it home in one piece. The airline didn’t care and just threw it on the plane. During the entire 14-hour flight, all I could think about was it being destroyed. It survived.

Three artists on your travel playlist?
Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Michael Jackson.

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown for the first time?
My current hometown is Brooklyn. I’d take them for a walk to Fort Green Park on a weekend in spring when the flowers are in full bloom. There are so many kinds of people there mixing together, bouncing and careening off each other, you never want to leave. It’s just such a lovely place.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?
Mars – I used to want to be an astronaut. Otherwise, Nepal, Himalayas kinda stuff, or Australia.