“I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy travel and documenting my photographs at the moment,” says Simon Reeve over phone from London where he is in lockdown. “It’s difficult to say how travel will play out post-pandemic,” he adds.
But until the world opens up again to the wanderer, Reeve, British author of books on international terrorism, history and travelogues, and two other presenters will give us exotic places to discover from the safety of our homes.
Sony BBC Earth’s Couch Travel Anthology will take viewers to well-known and not-so-known countries across the globe and go beyond the tropes of happy tourist sites to discover the mystique of these places.
This is nothing out of the ordinary for Reeve, 48, who has made a career travelling to dangerous destinations. He has found himself folding his 6’3” frame into the back of a gun-mounted open truck while rebel gangs challenged each other on the war-torn streets of Mogadishu, hunted with the bushmen of the Kalahari, cried at the sight of Rohingya camps, ziplined into Myanmar from Manipur, and roamed the forgotten citadels of Central Asia. He has visited nearly 130 countries, made 22 travel programmes for television, authored three best-sellers among his many books, and received a One World Broadcasting Trust award and the Ness Award in 2012 from the Royal Geographic Society.
Alongside Reeve, who will present Russia, Turkey, the Caribbean, Cuba, Colombia, Cuba and Myanmar, Couch Travel Anthology also has British comedian and actor Sue Perkins(Japan), and stand-up comic-actor Romesh Ranganathan(travel misadventures).
Doing it his way
- Simon Reeve, who did not come from privilege, spent his childhood holidays in Dorset and travelled abroad only in his late teens. He worked odd jobs at supermarkets and charity shops, researching when he had the chance. While he worked at the post room of The Sunday Times, he caught the eye of the then editor who moved him to the newsroom. Reeve has never looked back since, honing his education to become an expert on terrorism with his first book The New Jackals on the al-Qaeda, years before they became known across the world. Post-9/11, he worked as a TV analyst and made his debut with BBC’s Holidays in the Danger Zone in 2003. He continues to present places that have fallen off the map, with an unrelenting enthusiasm to showcase lesser-known facts.
“For Couch Travel Anthology I chose some of the countries, the producer chose others. It includes an incredible variety of places,” says Reeve. Travelling with a cameraman, producer, director and a local guide, Reeve admits that it sometimes takes three weeks to film an hour of television. “It takes longer if I need to strike a rapport. That’s where local guides or fixers help. They sort out permits, translate and help curate the travel; they enrich your experience,” he says.
Reeve admits that travelling to present unknown facets of a country takes many visits and an eye for experiences that fall through the gaps. “Travellers like to tick off how many countries they have been to. But you could go to places like India or Brazil 20 times and still find new experiences. I’ve been to India nine times and found dramatically different stories, and not in just terms of geography or culture. Finding extraordinary human beings is the real beauty of travelling. There are seven billion people on the planet and all their stories can be beautiful,” he adds.
To decipher the focus of the series involves a lot of research. “We do loads of it,” says Reeve. “You can turn up in a place and enjoy the experience but it’s not the same when you are filming a series. There is a joy when you prepare in advance, in reading up; you savour the place. We talk to our guides and plan what you may be allowed to film and who will be in it. Sometimes, the filming is spontaneous. You see something and stop; the schedules are not set in concrete.”
For the series shot in Myanmar, Reeve says he was on the move every day. “It took us a month to cover Burma, moving across Malawmyine, Yangon, Naypyitaw, Bagan, Mandalay and the Shan state. Travelling around the Caribbean was action-packed with incredible beaches that hide the harsh reality of these places,” he says.
Reeve adds that travelling enables him to see the world in shades of light and dark. “Writing doesn’t come easy to me, I’ve had to shed sweat and blood for my books,” he says. “I have had an incredible education through travel. I love my job but I’m away for five months a year. I miss my nine-year-old son then. One day I hope to be able to stand on a hill and share the view with him.”
Couch Travel Anthology is on SONY BBC Earth on July 13 at 10pm