We don’t know about you but Netflix is running a little dry for us after four months of lockdown. Luckily, however, we stumbled upon Sony BBC Earth’s new Couch Travel Anthology, which will take you from Japan to Russia, Turkey to the Caribbean, through Cuba and Colombia all the way to Burma. Presented by Sue Perkins, Simon Reeve and Romesh Ranganathan, the journey travels through culture, socio-political issues, and terrorism to show the world as it is, but with a light-hearted disposition.
British author and TV host, Simon Reeve, has taken his misadventures around and world and turned them into documentaries and books on terrorism, modern history and travel. He has won numerous awards for his shows like Equator (2006), Tropic of Capricorn (2008), and Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve (2012), among others.
We got talking to Simon Reeve about his life, travels, and the new show. Don’t forget to check out part 2 after this!
How did you get started into the world of travel?
Well, I'm lucky, I think, more than anything. I'd like to say it was my innate talent and brilliance, but I think more than anything, it was just luck. And I think it's often underrated how important that is.
I had a slightly strange start in life. People always imagine I come from a posh, wealthy family and was travelling all my life, but I didn't get on a plane until I was an adult and I started working. I grew up in a very normal, ordinary family. We didn't go on exotic holidays and I was hopeless as a student. I dropped out of school. I was unemployed for a while and then I got a job working as a post boy on a newspaper. Literally sorting the mail. And then my world sort of started to grow from that.
I became a researcher and a journalist. I started writing books, and ultimately books led to talking with TV companies about making television programs, but it was really fortune or luck. And I suppose the big thing was saying yes, and taking chances when they were put in front of me. So, I think one thing that's been quite important for me, and I have been pretty good at, is taking the risk, getting out of my comfort zone, and letting fate or the universe give me an opportunity. And then I take it.
So, that was how I really started. It's a matter of being in the right place, being lucky, and saying yes.
Now that we’re not able to travel as much as we’d like, let’s start off with some wishful thinking. What destination would you pick for each of the four seasons to travel to?
I honestly don't think I've ever been asked about the season, brilliant! All right. Can I do it? Can I rise to the challenge? Probably not. But let's try.
Spring, I think I would choose Japan. I have never been to Japan. And everybody talks endlessly about the spring cherry blossoms in Japan, when they start to bloom. It's a very important social, almost spiritual moment for people in Japan and they come out, and they have these beautiful, not quite forests, it's certainly avenues of cherry blossom. I've seen pictures of the look of wonder on people's faces.
For summer, I like to feel like I'm somewhere which is quite extreme. So I'm happy with extreme cold, extreme heat, extreme experiences. I think for the summer, I would love to be in Greece, in the eastern end of the Mediterranean. I think it's ancient, of course, but still very interesting, beautiful part of the planet.
I would love to go to West Africa for autumn. I've never been to West Africa, I've traveled around most of the rest of Africa and I would love to go to Senegal, because I love the music and the culture. And for winter, I want the extreme cold, I want to be somewhere colder than minus 40 but wrapped up very, very warm. So I'm going to say trekking across Greenland, which I've seen some of, but mainly from the air. And it is exotic and extraordinary. And I would love to be freezing my proverbial rock in Greenland.
Of the hundreds of places you’ve travelled, can you share one remarkable experience that you still talk about?
The great joy of doing my job, and also a great pain for my friends and family, is I don't have one. I'm not sure what would be worse, if I only had one to tell people or the fact that I can bore my son rigid with yet another tale of when I was in the Congo.
I think one incident, or a beautiful encounter, that I had that has really made an impact on me was in a refugee camp on the border between Kenya and Somalia. I was traveling around the equator, following the equator around the world. And I met a young woman there called Fatima, who had been in that camp for almost all of her life. It was a it was a forgotten refugee camp, but international agencies were operating there and they'd been teaching and training people there. Fatima was really knowledgeable and worldly. And she spoke beautiful English, and she was a refugee from Somalia who fled the war. And she was so clever, and she was so interested in what was going on the rest of planet Earth. And I know that she could have been anyone, anything, anywhere, if she'd been given an alternative bucket of luck in life. But she was stuck in this refugee camp. She had no passport, and she was forbidden from traveling more than four kilometres in any direction.
And there was me, this less intelligent guy from this little island off the coast of Europe with thanks to an accident of birth and a passport, who was able to travel the world. So I think of her a lot. I'd like to think that Fatima helps to keep me with two feet on the ground.