TV review: ‘Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve’ (2021)

‘If I’m not meeting people and learning about their lives, I’m not on a proper journey.’

This is not merely a compilation of clips from Simon Reeve’s previous series. It’s a reflection and commentary on the issues encountered in his visits to over 130 countries, but at the heart of it are the people he met along the way. He discusses his most powerful memories from his travels, interspersed with some bits of personal history. Here are some of the highlights, with links to reviews of the series referred to, where I can identify them.

Episode 1:

  • Jehangir, one of many child labourers whom we last saw at the age of ten, working in a glass factory, is now a grown man, married with a son. He’s a rickshaw taxi driver and wants an education for his son. Finally he sees the video clip taken of him back then. I challenge you to watch this segment and not shed a tear.
  • Simon shows off one of his favourite souvenirs, his Somali diplomatic passport he bought from a man called Mr Big Beard. The segment is shown in which his friend Fatima takes a coachload of young lads to the coast, which was very exciting for them all.
  • A look at some of the amazing guides and fixers from previous series, with the inevitable replay of the ‘zebu penis soup’ moment. And then there are the government minders or possible spies, such as the jolly mini-version of Colonel Gaddafi. He seems OK though.
  • It can be very dangerous to be a journalist or campaigner. In Mexico, Simon met up with writer Javier Valdez who has since been murdered by a cartel. Then there is Cheery, who was on the wanted list in Burma but risked her life getting Simon’s crew over the border. Years later, Simon and Cheery had an emotional reunion.

Episode 2:

  • Mogadishu, Somalia, is probably the most dangerous place Simon has visited. While reminiscing about his two visits there, he travels across Devon to meet up with Jonathan, his cameraman, to demonstrate some of their gear. This includes shrapnel-proof underwear (which he also brought along to his live tour a couple of years ago – I remember he said that it was lucky for the audience that they’d been washed!)
  • Many people do not have the good fortune to escape terrible situations. We are reminded of Fatima, a bright young Somali woman who was stuck in a refugee camp. Simon often thinks about her and how an accident of birth can determine your privileges and the direction of your whole life. It’s not known what has happened to Fatima. Refugees and migration were a central theme of the Mediterranean series.
  • Harassment by the authorities got in the way of making the series about Russia. The police took their drivers for questioning, they stopped the cameras filming, the crew were followed. These experiences gave Simon an insight into Putin’s Russia.
  • Danger can take various forms, from the cameraman hanging out of the side of a Burmese train to get the perfect shot, to getting beaten up by wrestlers. Some situations are too dangerous even to be filmed covertly. We revisit the time when Simon went into the prison in Honduras with the bishop as his security, as the only man that all the gangs trusted.

Episode 3:

  • Raising the issues affecting wildlife is an important aspect of the documentaries. Madagascar is considered to be a unique wildlife paradise but Simon was shocked to see vast plantations of sisal, rather than forest. The destruction of habitat and extinction of species is a recurring theme.
  • He has met some ‘really heroic and often maverick conservationists’ who are striving to save wildlife, such as Amur tigers in Russia (some very bad news now – the government has approved gold mining on the land), cheetahs in Namibia, giant tortoises in the Seychelles.
  • During this episode, he has been wandering around the Devon coast and gets a boat to Lundy Island, a haven for sea birds. Rats, an invasive species introduced via boats, were taking the birds’ eggs and have been eliminated from the island. Other invasive species include camels in Australia and lionfish on the coast of Barbados.
  • It’s uncertain when and how people will be able to travel again. Simon weighs up the arguments for and against travel – there are definitely reasons to holiday in your own country, but many places rely on tourism to keep afloat. Responsible travel can help with conservation and allow wildlife to be protected.

Episode 4:

  • Indigenous people have seen first-hand how their land is affected by climate change, such as the Kogi people in Colombia. Simon says that the biggest shock to him, since he started travelling extensively, has been indigenous people reporting the effects of climate change. ‘They didn’t need to be told about climate change. They were already experiencing it.’
  • The city of Yakutsk in Siberia is built on permafrost (permanently frozen ground). Simon and guide Sergey lie on a bed made of a block of ice for a weird interview. However, we see the proof that the permafrost is melting. Vast craters in the permafrost are appearing across the Arctic.
  • Simon is camping on Lundy Island. The weather is a bit grim, he wants a cup of tea and shows off his storm kettle. The Tuareg were amazed by it and offered him three camels in exchange: ‘I only turned them down because I wasn’t sure how to get them back through Customs.’
  • We revisit the beautiful Maldives and find that although they look like paradise, the coral is dying out due to rising ocean temperature. There is an island which is a massive rubbish dump where the air is thick with flies and smoke, just a small part of the global ‘plastic crisis’. Simon ends the show by saying it’s not too late for us to take action and change the way we generate energy, farm and travel, and to plant trees to take the carbon out of the atmosphere.

Here are some of the books I spotted in Simon Reeve’s bookcase! Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Collins guides to trees and wildflowers, the Complete Stratford Shakespeare, travel books on Cuba and Mexico, a book about Bob Dylan, Lustrum by Robert Harris, Atlas of Improbable Places, something by Carl Sagan, The Happy Campers, Lost Devon, and his own books.

If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for several months.

4 thoughts on “TV review: ‘Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve’ (2021)”

  1. WOW this sounds like a great show to watch! And I love Maldives. It’s really beautiful there. He should do a follow-up story on Fatima. The episode on wildlife is so disheartening 🙁

    1. It was a very good watch 🙂 I have never been to the Maldives (and most likely never will!) so I’m definitely an armchair traveller! You can always expect, in these programmes, to see the darker side of paradise – or the lighter side of the worst places.

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