Romesh Ranganathan braves voodoo, cliff-jumping and visits a country that's heaven for vegans
In his new BBC2 show the comedian visits three countries that aren't usually on people's bucket lists - Haiti, Albania and Ethiopia
What is your idea of the perfect holiday?
To go somewhere in Portugal and sit in one place. My wife likes doing something different every day which I find unacceptable. So we do what I want to do one day, and then every other day is what she calls an adventure and I call a nightmare. But I still do the adventures because I’m a wonderful husband.
Why did you want to go to Haiti, Albania and Ethiopia?
I was conscious of the fact that certain countries have a negative public image, so it felt like a good thing to visit some of those places and see if their reputation is warranted or if it’s a good place to visit. And I felt I’d be a good litmus test because I’m not an adventurous traveller. The idea was for me to be as honest as I possibly could about my experiences.
How much did you know about Haiti before you went?
They’ve got voodoo, they had the earthquake and there’s a lot of poverty there. The only time you hear about Haiti is when it’s in the news and it’s never for a positive reason.
Port-au-Prince is very intense. There are lots and lots of people and lots of poverty, so they’re all living on top of each other. It took me a couple of days to adjust to the vibe there.
Where else did you go?
We went to Jacmel and the beaches there are incredible. And a place called Bassin Bleu where they do cliff-jumping into this beautiful blue pool, which I found terrifying but it was an amazing experience. And all of that area was very scenic and lovely.
Did you see any voodoo?
Voodoo is essentially a religion. They have voodoo saints, prayers and rituals and runs in conjunction with what we would consider a more traditional religion. They don’t see it as some sort of freaky, black magic, frightening, dark, negative thing; they see it as a problem-solver. If you’ve got an issue or an illness, voodoo can help you with that.
What's Albania like?
It’s got all of the ingredients of Croatia or Greece but it’s not as well-known. You can go and have a beach holiday or you can go up into the mountains.
Albanians are the friendliest people. I’ll give you an example - I was asking for directions but this lady couldn’t understand anything I said. Then she grabbed me by the arm, took me up to somebody else, then he asked me in English what I was looking for and she walked me to where I was going.
Any other memorable moments?
There are loads of old communist bunkers there and now they’re full of cafes and shops. We went to visit one of the bunkers and the guy who owned it was a tattoo artist and a painter. He was telling us about Albanian culture and at the end he said, very casually, "Do you want a tattoo?" I felt it would be impolite not to so now I’ve got a tattoo of the Albanian flag on my left arm. But I don’t think you have to do that to enjoy Albania.
What's the food like?
It’s kind of mediterranean. Vegan options were limited. We stayed at this shepherd’s hut and his wife made an incredible dinner. When I explained that I was vegan, they just gave me less meat than everybody else.
Is Ethiopia a good place to go if you’re vegan?
It’s incredible for vegans because they fast for part of the year. Fasting means no meat and no dairy, so every restaurant and cafe has a vegan menu. The food was unbelievable. I loved it.
Ethiopia is probably most famous for suffering a terrible famine in the 80s...
They are slightly aggrieved about the whole famine association because it happened such a long time ago. The country itself is really, really beautiful.
Did you do any more cliff-jumping?
No, but we climbed up to a church at the top of a mountain and you have to go rock-climbing to access it, and that was amazing. The last stretch was this Indiana Jones-style ledge. To the left is the cliff and to the right is a drop to your death. The priest does it every day.
We went to see these incredible salt flats and the Danakil Depression where the Earth’s crust is so thin you get sulphur breaking through - it looks like something out of a space film. It’s so close to the Eritrean border that you can’t go on your own, so we spent a night in this village and the village chief gave us armed guards to take us up to the border. And that whole experience of staying in that village and just hanging out with them was amazing too.
So you'd recommend it?
Hundred per cent. They are under a dictatorship and people who are unhappy with the government don’t feel comfortable talking about it, so there’s the ethics of that. But I asked about that and they still want people to come because they love the country.
Which was your favourite country?
They’ve all got their merits. Haiti is the most difficult one to wholeheartedly recommend because of what you see in Port-au-Prince. Ethiopia would probably be my favourite. The cultural elements were really to my taste, the food was great, the people were lovely and then on top of that, you see outstanding natural beauty.
So has this given you a taste for adventurous travel? Are you going to be the next Michael Palin?
No, but I do think that it has encouraged me to be a bit more open-minded… but I’m still going to Portugal this summer.
The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan begins on Sunday 1 July, BBC2, 9pm