Broadcast from August 27th - September 17th 2006 on BBC2 at 9pm and 8pm
Radio Times: “an extraordinary journey…revelatory…thrilling and thought-provoking…
hits us with jaw-dropping facts…eye-opening…delivers a string of revealing snapshots.”
Biography of Simon here
Why on earth does Simon always wear the same shirt?
For most people the equator is just an imaginary line running 25,000-miles around the globe. But the countries along the equator are among the most troubled on the planet. In this new series Simon takes a journey around the region with the greatest natural biodiversity and perhaps the greatest concentration of human suffering: the equator.
In EQUATOR Simon meets illegal loggers, father and son circumcisers, drunk villagers, and a young woman stuck in the baking desert.
Simon and the Equator film-crew are protected by soldiers in a coca field, and UN ‘peace-enforcers’ in a gold mine. They are blackmailed and abandoned by drivers in one country, and travel through another that has just 300 miles of paved roads – despite being the size of Western Europe.
Simon is drenched while white-water rafting, surrounded by a million flamingoes and swallowed by a tidal wave. After being warned about the deadly virus Ebola, Simon vomits blood and develops a temperature of nearly 40C. Diagnosed with malaria, he’s saved by medicine derived from the Vietnamese sweet wormwood.
One remote tribe takes Simon to their sacred monument, while a father from another tribe of former head-hunters decides to make Simon part of the family. After presenting his ‘father’ with a fine pair of trousers, Simon is blessed with blood, presented with a short sword, and adopted.
Simon discovers a matrilineal society where daughters are called ‘iron butterflies’, mass graves in the jungle, and islands where protesting fisherman have killed giant tortoises. He helps an orphaned orangutan into a tree, swims with sea-lions, fishes for piranha, climbs the equivalent of half-way up Everest, and discovers the city thought to be most at risk from volcanic eruptions.
Simon’s trip takes him through the nation suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western hemisphere, and the African country that’s endured the most violent conflict on the planet since the Second World War.
Travelling somewhere warm?
Check the malariahotspots.co.uk website
EQUATOR prog one – AFRICA
Produced/Directed by Sophie Todd. Filmed by Brian Green, Sam Gracey and Jamie Berry
Simon’s journey along the equator begins on a beach in oil-rich Gabon. In the capital Libreville he discovers Gabon has produced more than 8 billion barrels of oil – but the national wealth has only made a select few rich. President Omar Bongo, the longest-serving leader in Africa, leads the corrupt government of Gabon but has recently converted huge areas of the country into national parks in a bid to make Gabon an upmarket tourist destination.
Heading east along the equator line Simon arrives in a village where locals have been banned from hunting, and now perform traditional dances for tourists. The team drivers then demand £1,000 per day to continue working, and when the BBC crew refuses to pay the team is abandoned in the rainforest. Simon’s equatorial journey comes to a sudden halt when he develops a temperature of 40C and starts vomiting blood: after being diagnosed with malaria he is forced to rest before continuing his journey east.
A narrow patch of Congo-Brazzaville lies on the equator, but locals blame foreigners for an outbreak of deadly Ebola virus, and the crew are told they could be attacked and killed if they land their small plane. So Simon lands near the equator in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a vast country – the size of western Europe – where at least 4m people have died since 1998 in the deadliest conflict since WW2. Simon discovers that equatorial riches have helped fuel the conflict, along with age-old tribal rivalries. He sees how locals are struggling to survive and meets villagers who talk about the fighting and take him to a mass-grave; then he travels further east to a gold-mine which has been at the centre of conflict. Emery, Simon’s guide in DRC, talks about upcoming elections, which many hope could be a turning point for the country.
Leaving DRC, Simon heads to Uganda, where he watches a water-down-the-plughole experiment and goes rafting on the Nile. The Egyptian government further downstream has accused the Ugandans of siphoning too much water from the Nile, and threatens dire consequences against anyone who reduces Egypt’s water supply. While reading a local paper Simon notes that Uganda’s President Museveni, who once said the problem with African leaders is they don’t want to relinquish power, is now being talked of as a ‘president for life’.
A short flight takes Simon to Kenya, where he meets father and son traditional circumcisers at a bull-fight. Simon squirms as the father tells him how he gets into a cutting ‘frenzy’ and can cut 100 boys an hour. Simon visits the stunning Nakuru National Park, home to rhinos, hyenas and 1m flamingoes, but discovers that urban Kenya is butting against the park: the 400,000 people in the neighbouring town of Nakuru are jostling for space with the wildlife. Simon visits a Kenyan farmer growing a natural stimulant called miraa (aka ‘khat’) for export to neighbouring Somalia, where it causes endless social problems. News arrives that war has erupted in Somalia close to the equator and Simon realizes he cannot follow the line to the coast. Instead the team travels to a refugee camp near the Somali border. New refugees from the fighting in Somalia have just arrived; one mother tells Simon she was forced to leave two of her children in the capital Mogadishu; an eloquent young Somali called Fatima tells Simon she has been in the camp for 17 years. Simon reflects on the irony his passport means he can travel around the globe, but Fatima is stuck in an open prison.
EQUATOR prog two – ASIA
Produced/Directed by Darren Kemp. Filmed by Fred Scott.
This journey begins on a sun-kissed island on the equator off the coast of Sumatra in the far west of Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation – a collection of perhaps 18,000 islands that are home to more than 220 million people speaking hundreds of languages. Children on the island have never seen a foreigner before, but locals welcome their visitors and invite Simon hunting. At night the islanders sing of lost loves and the lure of working on the mainland.
A long boat trip along the equator takes Simon from there to mainland Sumatra, where he hears fears about bird-flu and meets the matrilineal Minang people. Men live as guests in their wives’ familial homes, and women propose marriage (Minang men call their daughters ‘iron butterflies’).
In Kalimantan, the Indonesian region of the island of Borneo, conservationists warn that hundreds of orangutans in Borneo – the only great apes living outside Africa – are killed each year as a result of habitat destruction (Indonesia has lost 75% of its original natural forest habitat). The main problems are illegal logging and huge plantations producing palm oil, which is found in thousands of Western consumer products.
Simon heads to a protected orangutan area inside a beautiful national park where an orangutan called Pen nabs his water. Wardens explain the orangutans are so intelligent they work together to steal boats and paddle downriver to get to their favourite foods. But a palm oil plantation half the size of the Isle of Wight is now encroaching on the national park and the number of orangutans in Borneo has dropped by two-thirds since 1990. Simon goes to find illegal loggers who stop working to explain they need to earn a decent living.
Simon then heads east and arrives at a funeral festival held in a village of the once-feared Dayak headhunters. In recent years there have been regular mass-killings in Borneo of immigrants who’ve arrived from other Indonesian islands (often due to a government policy of trans-migration). One of the Dayak head-men tells Simon why the killings happened and how his family were involved, then offers to adopt Simon. Not wanting to appear rude, Simon accepts, and the next day (following local customs) he gives his ‘father’ a fine pair of trousers, is then blessed with chicken blood, presented with a short sword, and adopted.
Further along the equator on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi Simon visits the site of a recent bomb blast that killed several shoppers at a pig-market, and discovers religious tensions are increasing in this sprawling country. Three Christian schoolgirls were recently beheaded on Sulawesi, which has a history of violence between Muslim and Christians. Simon hears tales from both sides and visits a camp of militant Muslims who refuse to answer any questions about their involvement in the fighting; Simon tries to break the ice by joining them for a game of football.
On Indonesia’s beautiful Togean Islands, Simon stays in a village of ‘sea-gypsies’ who live in stilt-houses by the sea. Expert divers, they take Simon fishing for octopus, then graciously let him win an underwater breath-holding contest. Simon and the crew head back to the mainland to get a flight out of Indonesia but are caught in floods that kill at least 220 locals. In a flooded town the crew are helped into a boat with their equipment. Locals pause while retrieving their belongings from flooded houses to wave and shout “Michael Owen! David Beckham!” as the crew are pushed down the main street in a boat.
EQUATOR prog three – LATIN AMERICA
Produced/Directed by Steven Grandison. Filmed by Guillermo Galdos.
This programme starts in the Galapagos Islands, where Simon goes swimming with sea-lions, and endures a boat-trip across the ocean that has the local guide, producer Steven Grandison, and then Simon vomiting over the side.
The islands might look gorgeous, but Simon discovers there are concerns the 100,000 tourists who visit each year are threatening the fragile ecosystem. Fishermen in the Galapagos also claim they are not being given a chance to earn a decent living on the island, and have allegedly killed several giant Galapagos tortoises in protest. Fishermen accuse rich tourists of spending their time on the islands staying on luxury yachts chartered from mainland firms. Simon plays cards with fishermen and hears their complaints, then loses some hard-earned money at a volleyball game.
Heading east along the equator Simon arrives in Ecuador, where he travels in 4x4 vehicles along muddy roads and across a swollen river to reach the capital Quito. Simon makes the difficult climb to the top of a dangerous volcano, where a scientist explains that Quito is the world’s most at-risk city due to volcanic activity created by geological pressures on either side of the equator.
Simon presses on to the Colombian border, passing through the most dangerous and lawless area of Colombia, where government forces regularly battle guerrilla rebels. Colombia has been ravaged by decades of conflict that has taken more than 250,000 lives. Around 3,000 civilians still die each year as a result of violence between the army, drug lords, right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas. Mired in violence and at the centre of the global cocaine trade, Colombia is enduring the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere. Simon goes on patrol with the Colombian army before trekking through the jungle to discover the other face of Colombia: endangered animals and a remote Indian tribe with a sacred equatorial monument to the ‘middle of the world’.
Simon then heads towards the equator inside the La Paya National Park in southern Colombia with Carlos, the head-warden of the park. Colombia has a rich history, amazing sights, and more bird species than any other country in South America. Just before they hang-up their hammocks and go fishing for piranhas, Carlos tells Simon that much of the park, on the far western side of the Amazon basin, has been occupied by left-wing guerrillas from the FARC organisation. Wardens face enormous challenges from loggers, poachers, guerrillas and drug-lords.
In Brazil speedboats take Simon along the Amazon river, through vast untouched tracts of the Amazon rainforest, to meet remote indigenous tribes now suffering unemployment and alcoholism. Much of the rainforest in the equator zone in western Brazil is still pristine, and there are numerous tribes living in complete isolation. Several have never had contact with the outside world. However loggers and farmers are slowly moving in their direction from the south.
Simon races east across Brazil to his final destination in time for the Pororoca wave, a unique natural phenomenon: a tide that coincides with a full moon sends a mini-Tsunami wave up the Amazon tributaries. Experienced surfers (and complete amateur Simon) have one chance to ride the tidal bore before returning to town…but Simon and the boat-crew forget the wave happens twice a day, and their large boat is nearly tipped into the river late on the closing night…
Silver Award winner at the 2007 Wanderlust Travel Awards
This equatorial journey starts in Gabon in West Africa, and takes Simon through the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Indonesian Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil.
Transmission: 3 x 60 minutes on BBC2
Starts: Sunday 27th August @ 9pm
Duration: Three weeks
Written & Presented by: Simon Reeve
Executive Producer: Karen O’Connor
Series Producer / Director: Will Daws
Produced by: Sophie Todd, Darren Kemp and Steven Grandison
Transmission and production statistics:
The Equator programmes had up to 3m viewers per episode when broadcast on BBC2. The programmes received an audience appreciation score of 82, and an audience share peaking at 13.6%. The BBC Equator website had received 910,937 hits by the end of the terrestrial tranmission.
Radio Times: “an extraordinary journey…revelatory…thrilling and thought-provoking…hits us with jaw-dropping facts…eye-opening…delivers a string of revealing snapshots.”
The Sunday Times: “Equator is presented exactly as it should be, with ingenuousness and, at times, incredulity. It showed me stuff I hadn’t previously known or imagined, and did so without condescending, excusing or lecturing. You cannot expect much more from a documentary, frankly. This is what the BBC does best, a travelogue that sometimes slips from the coffee table onto the floor; well presented and beautifully shot. I felt as though I were there, then, when I came to, was very grateful indeed that I wasn’t.”
TV Times: “fascinating…a real eye-opener”
Daily Mail: “Unmissable…spectacular and thought-provoking. The outlook in many of the countries Reeve passes through may be grim, but Equator somehow manages to be great entertainment.
Mail on Sunday: “Travel reportage at it’s most enthralling. Reeve effortlessly blends political reportage with humour…this travelogue is wholly accessible.” ***** (five stars)
The Observer: “excellent…Reeve is charming, light-hearted and funny, with a good sense of the ridiculous”
The Herald: “a journey of dramatic contrast…bore witness to the depths of despair.”
Scotland on Sunday: “a fascinating travelogue…both exciting and informative. Not to be missed.”
Time Out: “enjoyable and informative… Reeve’s genial style is a far cry from the dry manner adopted by many a serious documentary presenter…his friendly smile and unpretentious chat drawing the viewer in as if sharing the experience with him. Reeve is no lightweight, but he manages to create a very accessible screen presence nonetheless.
Daily Telegraph: “You have to admire Simon Reeve’s pluck. He approaches his subjects with tact and gentleness, an approach that endears him to the natives.”
The Scotsman: “Near the end of the African leg of Simon's trip, I realised he had charmed his way past my anti-charm defences…Simon Reeve is the future of broadcasting. You read it here first."
• The equator runs for 40,075 km, or 24,901.5 miles, which is longer than the circumference at the poles (40,008 km).
• The region around the equator is the area with the world’s greatest concentration of human poverty and natural biodiversity.
• Almost half the world’s rainforests are concentrated on the equator in just three countries: Brazil, Congo and Indonesia. Although they only account for about 2% of the surface of the planet, rainforests hold the majority of the world’s species.
• The equator is home to the smelliest fruit, the largest atoll, the widest river, the longest snake, the heaviest mammals, the biggest flower & the world’s largest freshwater lake.
• On the equator at sea-level gravity is weakest, barometric pressure is at its lowest, and the earth spins the fastest. Many sailors hate the equator because rising warm air produces lazy winds and the infamous doldrums.
• Although you can’t see the equator, you can see the results. Scales would show Simon weighing less at the equator than he does at home.
• The equator is like the warm waistband around our planet. Like many waistbands it’s been putting on weight recently – thanks to melting glaciers and shifting ocean mass.
EQUATOR 1 - a Sunday Times Travel article by Simon about his Equator travels in Gabon - here
EQUATOR 2 - a Sunday Times Travel article by Simon about his travels in Borneo - here
EQUATOR 3 - an article by Simon in the Observer about his travels across Latin America - here
Simon in the Congo filming the Equator series
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