Simon Reeve’s exotic new documentary (Sunday 8.00pm BBC2) series sees him explore the furthest reaches of the Caribbean. “Yes, there are glorious beaches and there are dreadlocked locals offering you drinks with rum in them, but the Caribbean is a more interesting and bigger place than the stereotypes suggest,” says Reeve.
Starting in the Dominican Republic and ending in Jamaica, this three-part series takes Reeve to Haiti, Puerto Rico, Barbados and Colombia. “The idea always was to travel around the Caribbean Sea, not just the beautiful islands. It’s also about travelling up the Caribbean coast of South America and Central America, with resulting adventure and jeopardy.”
This is, after all, a presenter who has hung out with biker outlaws in Australia, investigated terrorism and traversed some of the most hostile places on the planet. Even after recounting how he donned a flak jacket and joined police in the Dominican Republic on a drugs bust in the show, Reeve remains an enthusiast for travel.
“One of the greatest surprises, since I’ve been going on these journeys, is just how warm and welcoming most of the world is. It’s not as terrifying as people imagine,” he urges. “People are generally friendly and hospitable and don’t want to do you any harm. I’d take my family to almost all the places I go to for work.”
Part of his son’s education (Jack, aged four) will include showing him the realities of life, along with the pristine tourist attractions that we see in places like the Caribbean. “I think he’ll benefit enormously from knowing that there are parts of the world where fresh water doesn’t come out of the tap,” says Reeve.
Opening his eyes to the way the rest of the world lives evokes a sense of responsibility in the intrepid presenter. “We all need to take a longer-term view of who we are, what we want to be and what we want to bring to our planet and ourselves instead of devouring the resources of Mother Nature and sucking our brains dry with social media,” says Reeve.
Between searching for lion fish in Barbados and visiting a sky-high shantytown in Venezuela, he’s keen to reveal that there’s more to desperately poor Haiti than meets the eye. “One side of the country is not really known.” He climbs 3,000 metres to an almighty fortress in the north of the country, offering spectacular views of the verdant valley below.
“Haiti has a very bad reputation, and a lot of it is utterly unfair,” claims Reeve. “It genuinely does result from a European annoyance that Haiti fought for and won independence from France. Haiti became the first free black nation in the modern world. The European powers collectively never forgave it – they demonised Haitians and voodoo.
“Yes, there is a lot of corruption and suffering there, but there’s stuff to celebrate as well. It’s important to incorporate that into the story of the country.”
Reeve urges people to get out of their comfort zones and see the world. “The most interesting and memorable experiences happen when you push yourself just a little bit further. That can be just trying a dish that you’ve never eaten before, or going somewhere where you’re going to have a raw and memorable experience. Life is so short and you’ve really got to rack up as many memora- ble experiences as you can.”
SIMON REEVE’S TOP THREE CARIBBEAN TREATS
1. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC In episode one of the series, a vertigo-stricken Reeve is persuaded to go in a flying dinghy at Punta Cana beach. He ends up rather enjoying the experience. “It’s is a two-person dinghy with a very large wing and an engine attached to it,” explains Reeve. “It zips along the sea at high speeds and goes straight up into the air.”
2. BARBADOS “Go to the Oistins Fish Fry and ask them for some barbecued lime fish. Delicious.” In this rustic setting, the sounds of Bob Marley, the Platters, Jimmy Cliff and Jamaican ska play in the background while locals eat and play dominoes. There are craft items for sale, too, including art, pottery and woodcarvings.
3. HAITI “Climb up to the Citadel Laferrière in Nord,” says Reeve. “This whop- ping fortress sits on top of a 3,000- metre mountain in Northern Haiti.” Constructed in 1820, it remains the largest fortress in the Americas, and was built by Haitian slave rebel leader Henri Christophe. “It is, quite frankly, one of the wonders of the world.”