Simon Reeve's latest series took him to the Indian Ocean

Intrepid travel presenter Simon Reeve encounters everything from pirates to penguins and paradisiacal islands for his latest BBC2 Indian Ocean series starting this Sunday. The dad-of-one reveals personal highlights from his epic journey spanning 16 countries and more than 6,000 miles

Why did you choose the Indian Ocean region for your latest travel show?

It’s a very exotic and interesting part of the world. The idea of the journey was not just to focus on the sea, but life around it. The Indian Ocean is a fascinating place because it’s the first ocean that humans properly explored. You get a real spread of life and a lot of history and culture. There are pirates, poverty, conflict and places of staggering beauty. We wanted to show the Indian Ocean, warts and all.

Of the 16 countries you visited, perhaps the most dangerous was Mogadishu where you had to dodge bullets. Tell us more

One of the issues in the region is the piracy epidemic affecting the waters around Somalia so we wanted to go to the epicentre of that plague which is Mogadishu. Somalia is still a very dangerous and unstable country ruled by warlords and Islamic militants. It’s very tricky to get there. We got in because we were being protected by African peacekeepers trying to take back Somalia and stabilise it. We were staying in a protected fort and making forays in armoured vehicles. They took us up to the frontline where there was active combat. Militants were attacking and firing back. It was very frightening.

What were you thinking at that moment?

In truth, we really are thinking about what we need to get on film to tell the story. But a part of your brain is also very conscious of the sheer bloody risks. We are all aware of the fundamental dangers but we try to get on with what we are doing.

At the other extreme, you visited some of the world’s most beautiful beach destinations such as the Maldives and Seychelles? Did they live up to their perfect picture postcard image?

gorgeous maldivesSimon's latest series took him to the idyllic Maldives
Digital Vision / Thinkstock

Before this trip, they were not the kind of places I would choose because I have an aversion to straight forward beach holidays but they exceeded my cynical expectations. They really are spectacular. We filmed on islands in the Maldives that were obviously the most beautiful tropical heavens in the world. But there is more to the Maldives and Seychelles than just beautiful beaches. Seychelles, the main island is big with forested granite mountains. It’s visually very impressive.

Were there any extraordinary moments on this trip?

I met an 86-year-old Yorkshireman called Brendan Grimshaw, who bought an island in the Seychelles in the 1960s for £8,000. He’s still there. He is living the dream. He has made the island into a wildlife sanctuary, and has planted 16,000 trees. It’s the smallest national park in the world.

In Mozambique, we went to what used to be one of the grandest hotels in Africa in colonial times in Beira. It is now home to around 3,500 refugees. The wood panelling and the marble floors have been sold off but there is a still an air of grandeur about it. And the people have organised themselves into committees and they have elected a mayor to resolve disputes. Although the country has got problems such as civil war and corruption, it’s uplifting because in a difficult situation, humans can build a better future. They can create order out of chaos.

You had some incredible wildlife encounters with lemurs, penguins, dolphins, elephants and manta rays? What was the most memorable?

Dolphins groupSwimming with wild dolphins in Australia
Hemera / Thinkstock

Swimming with wild dolphins off Rockingham, south of Perth. We swam with a kind of torpedo that had an engine that got us to a speed that was similar to the slowest dolphin. It made me fast enough to be of interest to the dolphins and there was real engagement with them. You got pale blue eyes, almost staring at you in amusement. They are about as extraordinary as marine animals get.

Which was your favourite destination in this series and why?

I am a huge fan of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis are very friendly, and an inspiring lot. They struggle against adversity; they are hammered by the sea and river delta but they adapt, struggle and endure. In the east of the country is the longest natural beach on the planet called Cox’s Bazar. It was like Baywatch, a very wide, beautiful sandy beach. We pitched up there and found the country’s first surf school where local lads – having been taught by an Australian traveller – were training other teenage boys and girls to surf.

You’re an adventurous traveller for your job. When you go on personal holidays, where do you like to travel?

I am not mad on beach holidays. It’s crazy to sit by a pool with an Ipod; look around, explore, eat local food, meet local people and have adventures. For selfish reasons, I want to have memorable holidays that last longer than a tan and get out rather than be a pool muppet. My wife is half Danish so we see the in-laws in Denmark and we go to Simi, a Greek island which I think has the finest harbour in Greece. It’s lovely.

What’s your favourite mode of transport?

The train. I love the hypnotic effect you get when juddering along the rails. I remember a train journey in Madagascar. It was very ramshackle and it was so staggeringly late that the electricity immediately went out on the train and it had to be lit by torches and candle,  that seemed to attract every single insect in the western Indian Ocean. They allowed us to stand at the front of the train and we had a Titantic moment standing at the front, going down a hill in darkness. 

You have been to over 100 countries.  Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet that’s on your travel wish list?

city lights JapanJapan is high on Simon's travel wish list
WTG / Coralie Modschiedler

Russia, Japan, New Zealand, West Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.

What has travelling taught you?

That the world is actually a safe and welcoming place. The media publish scare stories but it’s fantastically welcoming out there and foreigners abroad are more hospitable and friendly than Brits are.


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