Walking Into a Bookstore
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Thank you for joining us for this last post reviewing Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever’s book, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide. In parts I and II we covered about ¾ of the alphabetically organized book. This post will take us to the end.
Bourdain had been a life-long traveler and just may have been everywhere!!! However, the book covers only 89 places in 43 countries (still an amazing journal of experiences). Oh, the places he did go!!!
Let’s continue the photographic journey.
Peru and Machu Picchu: Bourdain described Peru as “…a country that’s historically driven men mad: mad for gold, for coca, for its magical ancient, history.” He went on to say, “Born of an uneasy mix of Spanish and indigenous influences, today it’s a land of extreme contrasts: present versus past; verdant jungle, snow-capped mountains, vibrant cities; the assimilated and the not. It’s often those very contrasts that draw people here.” Bourdain, himself, was drawn to the cocoa plantations after investing in a high-end chocolate business. He wanted to meet the people and view the process at the beginning of the supply chain.
And of course, he also visited Machu Picchu. A visit to Peru just isn’t complete without experiencing the ancient wonder and beauty of this “Lost City of the Incas.” But first, you must get there!!! And that involves a journey-to and layover-in the beautiful, high-Andean city of Cusco. “And, why?” you may ask. Ahh, because of the altitude. As Bourdain explained, “In its streets, tourists rub shoulders with traditional Andean people, while gawking at Spanish colonial buildings built atop Inca stone ruins. It’s a great place to introduce oneself to both the beauty and the uneasy contrasts of Peruvian history—and to the uneasy breathing at high altitude.” Oh yes, you really must arrive about 24 hours early to acclimate. Interestingly, for an additional fee, you can arrange to have oxygen pumped into your hotel room!!! By all means—do it!!! The altitude at Cusco is about 11,000 feet. That makes the lower, 8,000-foot altitude at Machu Picchu feel much better. And roaming the ruins is, after all, what it’s all about!!!
Portugal, Lisbon and Porto:
Portugal is one of our favorite countries to visit. It is the westernmost sovereign state in mainland Europe—right there at the very end of the Iberian Peninsula. It is bordered on the north and east by Spain; but most importantly, on the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean. That vast open sea lured Prince Henry the Navigator to set out on a course of exploration. The Age of Discovery was born. Here’s what Anthony Bourdain had to say about Portugal, “…sandwiched between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, and tiny as countries go, [Portugal] has had an outsize impact on the world. During the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese went to sea in great numbers, gained fame as navigators, shipbuilders, explorers. They conquered a large part of the world, their empire stretching from Brazil to Africa to the East Indies.” Consequently, the Portuguese dominated the spice trade. So, it’s no wonder Bourdain, while in Lisbon, had this to say, “Lisboetas, as the locals are known, like their food. They talk about it a lot and have strong ideas about what visitors should eat and where.” Having eaten all over the country, including the territories of Madeira and the Azores, we can agree: The Portuguese know food!!! Whether in the markets, sidewalk cafes or fine restaurants, the food is delicious. The seafood is outstanding!!!
Colombo, Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a teardrop shaped island just southeast of the Indian subcontinent. Colombo is the capital. In 2008, Bourdain stated: “There’s a quote somewhere, describing the old days of exploration and empire, that ‘all Europe has fallen in love with Ceylon.’ The Portuguese thought they discovered the Garden of Eden, the crown jewel of the spice trade—cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pepper, mace, ginger—the object of desire of many empires.”
The Galle Face Hotel was Anthony Bourdain’s hotel of choice when staying in Colombo. He described it almost poetically, “The Indian Ocean crashes against the seawall just outside the windows of the Galle Face Hotel. There’s a crack of thunder, and lightning lights up the horizon. In the distance, the dark silhouettes of oil tankers from Indonesia and points east scud slowly toward the Persian Gulf and beyond. This is where I wake up every morning; this is where I come home to every night. This hotel is a little creepy, but in a cool, Graham Greene, ‘grand colonial hotel in a postcolonial wartime’ sort of a way.” Woolever went on to explain, “Each evening, at sunset, a bag-piper plays while the Sri Lankan national flag is ceremonially lowered from its pole between the veranda and the sea; it’s a tradition worth witnessing over a gin and tonic from the excellent bar.” We concur. We have enjoyed lunch and drinks in the Traveler’s Bar many times. But we have never experienced the Galle Face Green mobile food stalls. Woolever described them this way, “…stretched out between the beach and the street, the Galle Face Green, a historic promenade-like park, is home to a long line of mobile food stalls. Offering the likes of fish samosas, isso wade, …grilled seafood, spicy crab…” and the like. Next time, we’ll have to give it a try!!!
Hoi An, Vietnam:
Anthony Bourdain had a special affection for Vietnam. He wrote, “Vietnam: it grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever. I’ve been coming here since 2000, the first time I’d been in this part of the world, and it’s held a special place in my heart and my imagination since. I keep coming back; I have to.” There is a lot to see in Vietnam and one of our favorite places is the ancient city of Hoi An. Bourdain agreed, “Hoi An, in Vietnam’s central region, managed to mostly escape destruction during the war, surviving much as it was before the dawn of the twentieth century. Picturesque streets and ancient shophouses date back to when it was a shipping and commercial capital for wealthy Chinese and Japanese traders. There is a peacefulness here that is really specific to the central region. This is the real thing. There is no ‘improvement district’ here, there is no effort; this is it, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1999 because it retains the architecture and original street plan of the traditional townscape from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is an exceptional example of the trading ports active in the region since the 15th century.
And so, we come to the end. What does it all mean?
In the chapter dedicated to Peru, Bourdain says, “A prophet once said, ‘Don’t tell me what a man says, don’t tell me what a man knows. Tell me where he has traveled.’ I wonder about that. Do we get smarter, more enlightened as we travel? Does travel bring wisdom?”
Interesting thoughts, arent’ they? Bourdain thought it all came down to people, food, and the memories created, “So many of the good times traveling this world relate directly to finding a human face to associate with your destination, the food you eat, and the memories you’ll keep with you forever. The best times are when its impossible to be cynical about anything. When you find yourself letting go of the past, and your preconceptions, and feel yourself and your basic nature, the snarkiness and suspicion, the irony and doubt disappear, at least for a time. When, for a few moments or a few hours, you change.”
Those are words worth pondering.
Just what are the “take-aways” of travel?
Don’t know—it’s been so long, one forgets!!!!
Time to get out there and travel again.