'Caribbean with Simon Reeve':
Last updated: 13.02.2015 at 11.43
Category: BBC Two; Factual
Simon Reeve travels around the edge of the Caribbean Sea for a stunning new 3x1hr BBC Two series that blends travel with wildlife, issues, adventure, and incredible insights into a glorious region of the world.
With thousands of beautiful islands and a long mainland coast, the Caribbean is a vast area spanning a million square miles. It is home to some of the most dangerous places on the planet, but it’s also one of the most vibrant, exciting and extreme regions on Earth.
Simon crosses the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Barbados, St Vincent, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Jamaica with his characteristic insight, humour and warmth, shedding light on this extraordinary region and some of the most pressing issues facing the people of the Caribbean. Alongside stunning footage from land, sea and even a flying dinghy, the series promises to bring to life the unique stories and beautiful landscapes of the Caribbean.
Episode One – Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico
Simon begins his journey on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, travelling from the Dominican Republic with its idyllic scenery to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, before reaching Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island on the cusp of becoming America’s 51st State.
From flying boats to drug busts, Simon explores both the light and dark sides of the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destination. He joins the Police Anti-Narcotics Division on the front line in the war against international drug cartels in Santo Domingo before crossing the border to Haiti where he visits the notorious tented camps of Cite de Soleil. These slums remain home to many of the survivors of the worst earthquake to hit the island in two centuries. From Voodoo ceremonies to dolphin-watching, Simon also discovers a vibrant, colourful and thriving side to life in Haiti born out of the country’s unique history.
Finally, Simon reaches Puerto Rico, an island with close ties to the USA. He visits the tiny, paradisiacal island of Vieques, billed as the Caribbean’s next major tourist destination. However, not everything here is as it seems as Simon examines the impact six decades of bombing and weapons testing by the US Navy and Army has had on the landscape of this tiny island and on the people who live there.
Episode Two – Barbados, St Vincent, Venezuela, Colombia
Barbados is one of the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean, a playground for the rich and famous with an economy reliant on high-end tourism. Here, Simon learns how the influx of tourists is forcing locals off Barbados’s most desirable beaches, and joins a marine biologist on the hunt for lionfish - one of the biggest threats to marine life and coral reefs in the Caribbean.
In St Vincent, Simon scales a volcano and meets farmers using the fertile volcanic soil to grow marijuana. With support from St Vincent’s Prime Minister, they hope trading of the weed will soon be legalised, allowing this small island nation to cash in on the ‘green gold’ growing on their hillsides.
Despite possessing some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, Venezuela is a poor nation. Simon looks at the mismanagement of the nation’s natural resources and explores an abandoned skyscraper, home to more than 3,000 people displaced through poverty. He meets the inventive people running businesses from the ‘shanty town in the sky’ and travels with nationals crossing the border into Colombia to illegally trade in a precious commodity.
In Colombia, Simon meets the banana farmers who are still living with the scars of decades of civil conflict but discovers a country that is well on the road to recovery. Simon’s final stop is in the magnificent Sierra Nevada National Park, the highest coastal mountain range on Earth and home to a culture who have lived in seclusion since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. The Kogi people have almost never allowed camera crews into their villages but fearing for the future of the planet, Simon is granted access to his indigenous hosts who pass on a message to him and the rest of the world.
Episode Three – Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica
Simon begins his journey on the remote Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, travels to the beautiful Honduran island of Roatán and encounters extreme violence on the mainland of Honduras before finishing his adventure on the iconic island of Jamaica.
Nicaragua is a country on the brink of monumental change. It will soon be split in two by the world’s biggest construction project: a new transoceanic waterway set to rival the Panama Canal. Simon visits the Rama-Kriol people who face losing their ancestral homes and, in the nearby town of Bluefields, he meets the city-dwellers who believe the canal will bring long-hoped-for prosperity and wealth to the country.
In Honduras, Simon dives the crystal waters of the world’s second-largest barrier reef and conducts an unusual underwater experiment in the dead of night. He discovers that the island is not just a haven for marine life and tourists, but for people fleeing unimaginable violence on the mainland. Hondurans live in the grip of some of the most violent criminal gangs in the world; its second city, San Pedro Sula, has the world’s highest murder rate. Simon meets migrants who fled to the USA only to be sent back to an uncertain future, and in the extraordinary San Pedro Sula Prison he comes face to face with the gang leaders themselves.
Simon’s journey ends in the stunning Jamaica, where he discovers a country confronting its violent reputation head-on with a police force cracking down on corruption. Here, he spends time with young people who have rejected gang life, offering a model of hope for future generations, making the island safer and more prosperous than it has ever been.
Q&A with Simon Reeve
Why the Caribbean?
Well who wouldn’t want to travel around the Caribbean? Obviously it’s stuffed with beauty and beaches but it’s also a vast area of more than one million square miles, with an incredible history, extraordinary characters and also some of the most extreme and dangerous places on the planet.
The idea behind the journey was for me to travel around the edge of the Caribbean Sea, so I went clockwise around from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, through some of the islands and along the Caribbean coast of South and Central America through Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and Honduras, and I finished on the stunning Negril Beach in Jamaica. We always try to include the light and the shade on my journeys, so we don’t shy away from the problems of the Caribbean region, and that took me into some pretty bizarre and terrifying situations on the journey.
What was your favourite experience?
It’s a tough call, because in truth I find even the upsetting experiences fascinating and strangely life-enhancing because they remind me just how lucky I am and we are on our little island off the coast of north-west Europe. But if you twist my arm I’d probably say for sheer wonder it has to be when we get up in the air and see the planet from above. Right at the start of the series in the Dominican Republic I hopped into what I’d been told was a flying boat, but turned out to be a flying dinghy, and we raced across the water and then soared into the sky, circling a beautiful beach and the stunning Caribbean Sea. That was an experience to treasure.
What was your most shocking experience on the trip?
We were at the scene of the murder of two policemen in Honduras. That was pretty shocking. We were in San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the world outside of a war zone. Two local cops were driving home from work when they were sprayed with bullets. It was pretty horrific. There were just a few other people with cameras there, but it wasn’t really national news in Honduras because it’s something that’s happening regularly. We were trying to understand why much of the country is being ravaged by violence, so we also went into a prison and met some of the most terrifying-looking men I’ve ever encountered. Inside the prison it’s the inmates who run the show, so we had to go onto the gang wings with the Bishop of the city, who helped to guarantee our safety. The gang leaders were all polite and welcoming, but of course not all of them wanted to be filmed. The place was teeming with inmates, many more than the prison was designed for and it felt like an other-worldly place. There were tiny cafes inside, barbers, tailors, little factories making anything from candles to shoes. It was a mind-blowing place in a part of the world that is suffering so much strife and unrest and endless violence.
Are you still learning new things about travelling?
Absolutely! I’m learning and discovering new things every single day we’re on the road. That’s one of the many things I love about travelling and about my job.