herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Simon is totally tropical

Simon Reeve is insisting on carrying my bags. "Oh please let me carry them, at least to the lift," he says, his eyes pleading with me from under a scruffy mop of hair.

The TV presenter is no stranger to shifting luggage, having just been part of a film crew who lugged 300kg of kit across 18 countries for six and half months.

He's finished making the last in his trilogy of travel documentaries on the Tropics. First there was Equator, in which he travelled across the Earth's main circle of latitude. He used the same format for the Tropic of Capricorn. His last -- and most challenging -- journey was across the Tropic of Cancer.

His journey starts in Mexico, ends in Hawaii, and takes in the Caribbean, the Sahara, North Africa, Arabia and Asia along the way.

His tan may have faded, but Simon (37) is still brimming with enthusiasm about his latest voyage.

"I think the Tropics are the most interesting part of the world," he says breathlessly, now we're sitting, bags safely stowed by my feet."

"I could even argue that they're the most important. It is the area of the planet with the most natural biodiversity, the most extraordinary wildlife, plants and trees.

"It's also the area of the world with the highest concentration of human suffering -- so brilliant, beautiful and blighted, all at the same time.

"One quite stand-out place was the Ubari Lakes in southern Libya. Basically, imagine rolling sand dunes, golden sand and you've got these extraordinary lakes just nestling there. Absolutely spectacular. I'll have it for the rest of my life."

Neither will he forget Mexico in a hurry, after risking his life on two occasions. The first time, he accompanied a swat team on a drugs raid: "People literally have been shredded in these situations, so even though I had on a flak jacket I didn't feel entirely safe."

The second time was slightly more humiliating.

"Somebody thought it would be a good idea to try to lighten the mood by going to see some Lucha Libre wrestling but, of course, going to see Lucha Libre somehow changes, thanks to my lovely team, into me getting into the ring with La Princesa, the champion female wrestler.

"She beat me really quite badly actually. I had bruises from that for three and a half weeks in parts of my body that I really could not show the camera," he says with a laugh.

But the most dangerous moment of the trip was entering western Burma -- where he says BBC personnel are banned.

Simon says: "We were filming covertly. We went into an area where there are more than 50 Burmese military bases and if we'd been spotted by a patrol, it might have been bad -- but it would have been catastrophic for our guide, a very, very brave young Burmese woman who volunteered to take us even though she was living in exile."

Though he seems fearless, Simon stresses that he does think about the risk he's taking before he departs.

He says: "I wouldn't say that I sit down with my family and say, 'I might not make it back' but I work out 'is this really worth the risk?"'



Amazing

This time round he even took the bold move of inviting along his wife Anya for part of the journey.

"She's a camerawoman by background. She's amazing. She's half Danish and has that Viking toughness," he says.

Simon, who has visited more than 90 countries, has a few more places he'd like to visit but he's got a few more mundane activities to do first.

"I have got quite a lot of DIY chores that need to be done first. Painting the front door and so on. If I get them done then maybe my feet will begin to itch again," he says, his feet tapping impatiently.

Tropic Of Cancer begins on Sunday on BBC Two

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