Tropic Of Cancer

Simon should have started this final leg of his journey by following the Tropic of Cancer through the far south of China, but Beijing officials declined to provide the team with visas, a reminder that the Chinese government still has a difficult relationship with foreign media.

So, instead, Simon began this final leg of in Laos, just to the south of China, at the very centre of the infamous Golden Triangle, the tri-border river junction between Burma, Thailand and Laos. The Golden Triangle is known globally as a major centre of heroin production, but that hasn’t deterred a group of Chinese businessmen from starting construction of a vast “Golden Triangle Entertainment City” on the remote banks of the Mekong River, with hotel resorts and plush casinos, where Simon tries his hand at cards.

Heading across Laos, inside the Tropics and parallel with the Tropic of Cancer, Simon takes a boat down the Mekong river, eats grilled squirrel and caterpillars in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, and learns that Laos became the most heavily-bombed country in history during the Vietnam War.

He meets bomb disposal experts struggling to clear millions of tons of unexploded bombs that litter the country, and discovers a live cluster bomblet (which has a killing radius of 30 metres) lying in the middle of an unmade road.

After several days of mountain driving, Simon arrives in Vietnam, where he visits a sanctuary for bears rescued from bear farms, and investigates the trafficking of young women into China. Victims of the gender imbalance between men and women in China, they’re sold to Chinese husbands who can’t find local brides.

Simon then heads to Taiwan, one of the few economic success stories in the Tropics, where he travels by bullet train and visits the typhoon-damaged central highlands.

The incredible journey ends in the spectacular tropical islands of Hawaii – a paradise on earth for most people. But Hawaii has some of the dirtiest beaches in the world and is also the extinction capital of the planet, proof that even these remote islands aren’t immune from the global problems afflicting the Tropics.

As he finishes his trilogy of journeys, the issues affecting Hawaii offer Simon a chance to reflect on how the relationship between mankind and the environment has become perhaps the most important issue in the Tropics, and the entire world.

The penultimate part of the series starts in western Bangladesh with a boat trip down the mighty River Padma (the Ganges in India) and ends with a perilous jungle trek into a remote area of Burma.

Starting in Bangladesh, the country thought to be most vulnerable to climate change, Simon finds communities on the River Padma desperately shoring up the riverbank as increased melting in the Himalayas means their land is crumbling away before their eyes. And he goes night fishing with otter fishermen, clinging to their curious way of life despite dwindling fish stocks.

Bangladesh is also the most densely populated large country in the world, and in the mega-city of Dhaka, one of the fastest growing cities in the entire Tropics, millions live in terrible poverty and children work to help feed their families. In a sweltering glass factory Simon meets Jahangir, a 10-year-old worker earning around 30p a day, and learns that child labour is a harsh fact of life in Bangladesh, where nearly five million children earn vital income for their families or themselves. It is an emotional meeting and an upsetting subject.

Simon discovers that Western campaigners and fashion firms have forced Bangladeshi clothing factories to stop employing child labour, but this has meant many families going hungry, and many children have taken riskier jobs.

Jahangir then takes Simon to a charity project, one of thousands established by UNICEF, where Jahangir is one of the working children learning vital skills so they can break out of the cycle of poverty.

Leaving Dhaka, Simon joins a knockabout game of Kabbadi, the national sport, which involves holding a single breath while tagging players on the opposing team, and avoiding being wrestled to the ground. Simon escapes with just minor injuries.

Following the Tropic on to the north-east Indian state of Tripura, Simon discovers the impact of humans on the local wildlife, visiting a sanctuary for an endangered species of monkey whose forest habitat is disappearing, a huge issue in this area of the Tropics.

Simon then travels across the neighbouring state of Mizoram, a province so remote that people there call India “the mainland”, and on to the most dangerous part of his entire journey: Burma.

The Tropic of Cancer goes right through Burma, perhaps the most repressive regime in the entire Tropics, but the military regime has banned the BBC from filming in the country.

Keen to follow the Tropic of Cancer to forgotten parts of the Tropics, Simon travels to a remote section of the India-Burma border and then crosses covertly into Burma via a ramshackle zip wire across a turbulent river.

With his producer and cameraman, Simon treks through a remote area of Chin state, visited by just a handful of outsiders since the Second World War, to a village of ethnic Chin people, and learns how the Chin are brutalised and oppressed by the Burmese military, and how they rely on covert aid workers for basic healthcare.

Late at night, Simon is told a Burmese army patrol is close by and he and the BBC team have to flee, trekking through the night and pouring rain, back towards safety in India.

The fourth programme sees Simon cross Northern India under the dark storm clouds of the annual Monsoon, one of the great climactic events of the Tropics.

From the coast of Gujarat to the teeming metropolis of Kolkata (Calcutta), this journey takes him on across areas of India rarely visited by tourists.

In the east he visits the “Little Rann”, a unique desert environment and home to the last viable population of the Indian Wild Ass. These shy, beautiful creatures are impossible to keep in captivity, and are under threat from India’s vast and ever-expanding human population, another huge issue across much of the Tropics.

Nearby Ahmedebad was the home city of Mahatma Gandhi but, despite his legacy of tolerance, the city has been the scene of vicious clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Simon visits a project that works with traumatised children from both communities.

Passing through the beautiful holy city of Ujjain, the Tropic of Cancer takes Simon to Bhopal, a city notorious as the site of the world’s worst industrial accident 25 years ago. Simon is astonished to find the site still contaminated by chemicals and people living nearby complaining of severe health problems.

Just outside Bhopal is the Satpura national park, where Simon investigates the decline of India’s tiger population and has a memorable encounter bathing a huge Indian Elephant.

Following the line west takes him through the “Red Corridor” – the scene of a violent Maoist insurgency, where he joins soldiers on the frontline and visits villages caught in the crossfire.

Finally, arriving in Kolkata, Simon ponders a new car so affordable it is expected to sell millions, adding to the city’s unbelievable congestion, and sucks the eye out of a fish during a traditional Bengali meal.

This second leg of the journey is a daunting and extreme adventure, as Simon follows the Tropic of Cancer from the windswept Atlantic coast of North Africa across the Sahara, through southern Algeria and Libya, and across borders that have been closed to foreigners for decades.

The journey starts on the coast of Western Sahara, where Simon joins rugged travellers attempting the extreme and exhilarating sport of kite surfing.

But Western Sahara is a country still locked in conflict, occupied by Morocco but claimed by an independence movement that represents many of the indigenous Saharawi people. Evading Moroccan secret police, Simon meets dissidents who claim to have been beaten and harassed for campaigning for Saharawi rights.

Simon then travels through the largest minefield in the world, takes a gruelling train ride through Mauritania, and then drives for days across the Sahara to huge refugee camps in the Algerian desert, where more than 100,000 Saharawis still live – victims of a largely forgotten conflict that still lingers just off Europe’s southern border.

On the way Simon camps in the desert, bakes bread in the sand with a Tuareg Nomad and travels with the desert army engaged in a tense stand off with Moroccan forces.

Travelling on through Algeria, Simon haggles with a camel trader in Tamanrasset, then enters Libya overland through a crossing closed to Europeans for more than 30 years.

Next stop are the spectacular Ubari desert lakes, where Simon takes a swim with a Libyan Government minder who bears an uncanny resemblance to the country’s supreme ruler, Colonel Gaddafi.

After floating in the waters of lake Al Gabroun, an exotic oasis set amid a sea of sand, Simon moves on to the former oasis of Mandara Lake, which has completely dried up. Some scientists blame climate change, others blame over-farming in the region depleting the underground water table; either way, it is a disaster for the local environment, and a reminder of the vital importance of water to this corner of the Tropics.

Simon’s last stop, deep in the Sahara near the Egyptian border, is the site of one of the most astonishing engineering projects in the world: Gaddafi is using his oil-wealth to build The Great Manmade River Project, piping water from a vast aquifer under the sand 250 miles north to Libya’s coastal cities.

This leg of Simon’s journey ends in a spectacular setting in the far south-east of Libya close to the Egyptian border.

The third leg of Simon Reeve’s journey around the Tropic of Cancer takes him from the waters of the River Nile to the edge of the Indian Ocean in Oman.

At the spectacular ancient ruins of Abu Simbel he meets Nubians struggling to maintain their culture following their displacement by the damning of the Nile and the formation of the vast Lake Nasser in the Sixties.

On the edge of the desert he meets a Bedouin leader called Ali the Lion, who explains how his people are being forced from their traditional nomadic lifestyle by a seven-year drought that scientists believe is caused by global climate change, one of the greatest challenges facing the Tropics.

Reaching Egypt’s remote southern coast Simon dives in the pristine coral reefs of the Red Sea before crossing the water to Saudi Arabia.

Despite the kingdom’s strict religious culture, Simon finds a more surprising side of Saudi life, as he meets young men from the Jeddah Boyz car gang who love to pimp their rides, modifying and personalising their expensive cars.

At the Jeddah Raceway Simon tries a few tricks in a borrowed Porsche 911, and learns that the authorities are keen for disaffected young Saudi men to let off steam by playing with cars rather than joining militant groups.

Simon then heads to the capital Riyadh with his female guide to discuss high heels, underwear and women’s emancipation in a flash shopping mall.

Further east across the desert Simon discovers stalled building projects in Dubai, the surreal and spectacular mega city in the sand. But, as well as absorbing the glamour, he meets some of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from India and Bangladesh who travelled to Dubai in search of work, and hears their horrifying stories of hardship and exploitation.

Crossing the border Simon arrives in his last stop: Oman – which could not be more different from its brash neighbour. In the ancient city of Niswa goats are still traded in the livestock market and, amid temperatures of 40C, Simon takes a dip in ice-cold mountain pools.

The government of Oman is keen to protect and promote its wildlife and, at the most easterly point in the Arabian peninsular, Simon finds rare giant green turtles laying eggs on a beach and watches baby turtles hatching and heading into the surf on their own epic journey.

From Mexico’s beautiful Pacific coast to the coral paradise of the Bahamas, this first leg of Simon Reeve’s epic circumnavigation of the globe is a spectacular journey revealing much about life on the northern edge of the Tropics.

Simon starts his journey in Baja California, Mexico, where he discovers a region living in the shadow of the United States, its giant northern neighbour, and visits a new holiday resort with $12,000-a-night rooms.

It is just the first example Simon encounters of American influence on this leg of his trip, as he then takes a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to the infamous city of Culiacan, headquarters of the fearsome Sinaloa drug cartel, where he goes on patrol with an elite police unit engaged in a brutal and violent struggle against drug gangs. The war is being fought to stem the flow of cocaine to the United States, and it threatens the very stability of the Mexican state.

Simon heads east, over-nighting in a bizarre abandoned Western film set once owned by John Wayne, discovering villages emptied as Mexicans have headed north to work in the US, and visiting a picturesque community split by a huge mine.

He experiences the joys of Lucha Libre, a hugely popular form of masked wrestling, and gets a battering during a training session with a female wrestler called The Princess.

The Tropic of Cancer skirts Cuba and in Havana Simon learns how city allotments have transformed agriculture in Cuba and countered the effects of the US trade embargo against the country.

This first stage of the journey ends in the Bahamas, where Simon peers behind the wealthy poster images of these paradise islands, and finds slums inhabited by Haitians who fled violence and poverty in their homeland in search of a better life.

Finally, he discovers a hidden menace lurking in the tropical waters that make these islands famous: a plague of beautiful but deadly lion fish have escaped from American aquariums and are now devouring the local sea life in this corner of the Tropics.

Begins March 2010

Simon Reeve, best-selling author and broadcaster, embarks on his most ambitious journey yet, circling the world following the line that marks the northern border of the Earth’s tropical region.

This epic trip completes Simon’s trilogy of journeys exploring the tropics, after his acclaimed series Equator and Tropic Of Capricorn, and is his toughest, longest and greatest challenge – a six x 60-minute journey around the extraordinary Tropic Of Cancer on BBC Two.

Simon starts his journey on the paradise beaches of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, and then circumnavigates the planet, heading east across the Caribbean, the Sahara, crossing borders in North Africa closed to foreigners for decades, and then on through the deserts of Arabia and the remote jungles of Asia, to finish in Hawaii.

He visits 18 countries, meeting amazing people, witnessing bizarre and beautiful sights, and encountering spectacular and endangered wildlife.

In Mexico Simon is put through his paces by a masked female wrestler, while in the Bahamas he uncovers the suffering of Haitian refugees. North Africa is full of surprises, from a long-forgotten civil war to a vast scheme to extract millions of gallons of water from underneath the desert. In the jungles of Burma he meets villagers struggling to survive under brutal oppression.

The 22,835 mile long Tropic of Cancer marks the northern border of the Tropics, the region of the planet with both the richest natural biodiversity, and the greatest concentration of human suffering.

This new series has a strong current affairs theme, as Simon explores some of the huge challenges facing the Tropics, including poverty, the drugs trade, climate change, industrial pollution, and forgotten conflicts.

But it’s also a spectacular travelogue, taking Simon and viewers to some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.

Simon Reeve says: “Following the Tropic of Cancer, the northern border of the Tropics, was a unique opportunity to explore and witness a slice of life in the most interesting and important region of the world: the Tropics!”

He continues: “The whole point of the journey is that tracking the Tropic of Cancer took us off the beaten track, to places we wouldn’t normally visit, and parts of the world that are rarely visited by foreigners, let alone TV crews.

“It was an extraordinary opportunity and a fantastically exciting journey that was also frightening, uplifting, exhausting, upsetting, challenging and surprising.

“I heard stories, saw sights, and ate food I’ll be remembering and dreaming about till the end of my days.”

Presenter biography

Simon Reeve is a TV presenter and best-selling author. He has travelled to more than 90 countries, including troubled states in the Caucasus, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Far East and Central Asia, and been around the world three times for the BBC series Equator, Tropic Of Capricorn, and now Tropic Of Cancer. Other series Simon has previously fronted include Explore and Places That Don’t Exist.

He’s been awarded a One World Broadcasting Trust award for an “outstanding contribution to greater world understanding”.

On his travels Simon has been detained for spying by the KGB, taught to fish by the President of Moldova, tracked by terrorists, electrocuted in a war-zone and protected by stoned Somali mercenaries in Mogadishu. He’s hunted with former cannibals in South America, walked through minefields, witnessed trench warfare in the Caucasus, struggled across the country enduring the most violent conflict on the planet since the Second Wolrd War, and wandered through a radioactive-waste dump while protected by little more than a shower curtain.

Simon’s books include Tropic Of Capricorn (published by BBC Books), and The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden And The Future Of Terrorism, a New York Times bestseller, published in 1998, which predicted the rise of Al Qaeda and a new age of apocalyptic terrorism. His book One Day In September, the story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, is also an Oscar-winning documentary movie.

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