To many people, the Indian Ocean means white sand, turquoise waters and piňa coladas shaded by swaying palm trees. But for Simon Reeve, the presenter of BBC Two’s new series about the world’s third-largest ocean, the region turned out to be as challenging as it did idyllic. We talk to him about his latest adventure and the 110 countries he’s travelled to so far.
Your new show “Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve” sees you travel through 16 countries – what were the highlights?
All 16 countries were amazing, every single day we saw something different, extraordinary and mind blowing. I think for me the best experience was underwater in the Maldives when 12 giant manta rays in a perfectly stacked formation were swimming towards me. I’ll take that with me until I leave this earth. And Bangladesh was a big highlight for me. There aren’t many foreign visitors who go there, but I just love the people and the place.
It sounds like an amazing experience – were there any downsides?
There was no time for chilling out – we’re not there to sit by the pool! Each programme takes a month to film and we get two days off, which we mainly use to catch up on emails. It can be quite draining – obviously it’s an amazing experience, but all of your senses are tweaked and tingled all the time.
Some viewers might be surprised that you’ve covered Somalia in the series, but that was quite important to you to include, wasn’t it?
Absolutely – we had to go to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It’s important that the world knows what’s going on there, as it’s very much part of the story of the region. But it is fantastically dangerous. The piracy epidemic needs to be solved on land, but we saw how difficult it will be to stop. We went in with the Ugandan peacekeepers, who are trying to stabilise the country. There are hundreds of sailors from India and Bangladesh being held hostage all along the coast and their fate will be determined by whether the tins can be rattled at home.
How can we encourage responsible tourism in this age of austerity?
Responsible tourism sounds like the sort of thing only people with time and money on their hands do, but it really isn’t. You can incorporate it into your holiday quite easily and get more bang for your buck. Research is the start of responsible tourism. Get a guidebook and read up about where you’re going before you get there. Your holiday should not just be a foreign tanning centre. Get out of the hotel, drink, eat and meet locally and put money directly into the community. Open your eyes to the reality of what life is like there and tell people when you come back. It will be a much more rewarding experience.
You’ve been to some pretty wild places in your career – what are your favourites?
I’ve been really blessed. There’s nowhere I’ve been that I wouldn’t want to go back to but my favourite places in the world are Somaliland, Bangladesh, Australia, Greece, Denmark, Britain and Brazil. Lakes and mountains are two of my favourite things and I just think that Greece is as exotic and beautiful as anywhere else in the world.
What do you always take with you?
Masses of kit – you have to be prepared for any situation. Always a couple of torches each, because you never know when you’ll be catching a croc in the dark, or digging the jeep out of the sand; a Leatherman Multi-Tool; teabags; stuff to read and a local SIM card.
How do you relax when you come home?
Just by living a normal life really. I’m lucky enough that I get my travel and adventure fix with my day job. Back home, fresh water from the tap and supermarkets are wonderful things. I mainly see family and friends – I miss them a lot when I’m away, which is an obvious downside. I’m London born and bred but my favourite spots in the UK are Devon and the West Country. When I was growing up we didn’t travel much – I didn’t even get on a plane until I’d started working – but our family holidays were to Studland Bay in Dorset, which I still think is one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain.
What would you say to those inspired by your series to get off the beaten track?
There are so many ways to do that. If you follow a random line, you’re forced to go to parts of the planet people don’t go to. You could follow a river or trace the edges of a mountain – I’ve travelled along the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer – there are endless journeys you can come up with. But really, everyone can start closer to home. Take a map of your local area, draw a circle around an upside down cup and explore the area to death. Learn how to explore with your eyes open.
“Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve” is on BBC Two on Sundays at 8pm, and available on the BBC iPlayer.
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