Anthony Bourdain Reflects on Using Travel to Deal With Heartbreak in Touching, Resurfaced Interview

Chef Anthony Bourdain attends the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 12, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

It’s been about a year and a half since his tragic death in June 2018, but Anthony Bourdain still has some beautiful messages about travel that we can all take to heart.

In honor of the decade coming to a close, NPR’s Fresh Air series is looking back on its favorite interviews from the last 10 years. On Monday, the radio program posted an incredible interview with chef, author, and TV host Anthony Bourdain from 2016 with NPR’s Dave Davies.

In the interview, Davies asks Bourdain about his then-new CNN show, Parts Unknown, as well as how he got his start as a food and travel host. Parts Unknown, Bourdain noted, was his fourth TV show. But there’s one special part of the interview in which he describes how travel is a particularly healing process.

Davies begins this bit of the interview by introducing a segment of Parts Unkown in which Bourdain goes to a village in Borneo, which he had visited in a previous show. Bourdain says in a voiceover in Parts Unknown, “When I first went up this river, I was sick with love — the bad kind, the fist-around-your-heart kind. I ran far, but there was no escaping it. It followed me upriver all the way.”

Davies cuts off the clip and asks Bourdain, “You know, these are part travelogue, part personal essay and a lot about food. This seemed really personal...Why did you want to go back to this little village in Borneo after 10 years?”

Bourdain’s answer is incredibly heart-wrenching, especially considering the entire scope of his life.

“The first time I went up that river, the Skrang River from Kuching up to a Iban longhouse in the jungle, I was heartbroken. I was coming off of a love affair that did not pan out the way I had hoped,” Bourdain explained, pointing to a bad breakup that had happened just before he visited Borneo for the first time.

Bourdain continues to say that he “wanted to see how things had changed.” He said, “The motivation for the show, the second one, was to see if it still hurt — you know, to see how I felt. So it was very personal, it was revisiting an old wound to see if it was OK now.”

In a way, many travelers experience places differently the second or even third time around. When it comes to traveling to places after traumatic or tragic experiences, Bourdain says, traveling to certain places can be very healing. “I think — someone said — some travel writer said that, you know... what you're really looking at when you travel is inward all the time,” he said in the interview.

Bourdain’s experience is something all travelers should remember when they visit any destination, whether it’s for the first time or the 100th time.

To listen to the entire interview or read the transcript, visit the NPR website.

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