Monday, October 05, 2009

Interview with Simon Reeve

Found on the Somaliland Times website:

Writer and broadcaster Simon Reeve, 37, has hosted TV travel epics Holidays In The Danger Zone, Tropic Of Capricorn, Equator and Places That Don't Exist. A season comprising episodes from the four shows started last Sunday, Sept 20, 2009 on digital TV channel Eden

You like obscure places, don’t you?

There’s a group of people who are looking for experiences to expand their minds, rather than just giving them a tan. You quickly forget the tan, but somewhere such as Georgia orSyria you will remember for the rest of your life.

Do you worry about spoiling places by opening them up to mass tourism?

Look at Madagascar – they only get a few thousand British tourists every year. I’ve been banging on about how it’s the most amazing place on the planet for a while and there’s been no noticeable increase in visitors. Very few people have been to those places and I can’t see them being deluged by package tourism. And who am I to say package tourism is a bad thing? What we have seen in the past few decades is the democratization of travel. People from families such as mine, who would never have had the chance to go abroad before, could go to Spain or Portugal. Package holidays can be a good thing: they pay for national parks, jobs and livelihoods.

When was the golden age of travel?

For normal folk like me, this is. We have opportunities to travel that generations to come will be appalled and in awe of: that we did it, sometimes without thinking of the consequences. In terms of finding new places, the [time of the] great Victorian explorers – going to places that were still gaps in the maps. There are very few wildernesses left. In Africa, most of the giant parks there are glorified safari parks.

Where do you still want to go?

Russia. I’ve been to all the former Soviet republics, but never Russia. Also Canada and Mali.

Where do you want to go back to?

Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa. It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve been to because the people there have built it up after a devastating civil war. It’s the democratic, stable half-brother to Somalia, which is a chaotic hellhole. I was nearly electrocuted in Mogadishu, I had to be protected by 12 mercenaries. Then I went to Somaliland, which has tourism and traffic lights but no country in the world recognizes it. I also enjoyed Paraguay: it’s at the end of the world and there were cannibals there until a few decades ago. That’s why I love it.

Any travel tips?

Wear a seat belt, eat the local yoghurt, get the bugs in your system. And don’t worry: people are fantastically welcoming everywhere. Go and visit those far-flung places and tell people about them when you come back.

What is the world’s worst airport?

In Mogadishu, there was a gun battle going on for control of the airfield when we flew in. Nobody else was getting off [the ground] apart from me and my BBC crew, and this very burly Russian pilot and his co-pilot toasted us with vodka – never a good sign – and just laughed at us, slightly hysterically.

Which country should we watch out for in the future?

Turkey is going to surprise people. Istanbul is my favourite city in the world outside Britain. You’ve got graffiti in the Hagia Sophia – one of the most amazing buildings in history – written by the Vikings in 900AD. Politically it is exciting – what’s happening there will go some way towards determining the future of Islam. And it’s an economic powerhouse: so much of what we use here is made in China or Turkey.


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