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Good TV: Simon Reeve’s travel documentaries

Recently, I got on a Central Asia kick, and snooped around the internet looking for books, video … anything I could find on the barbarians. First, I came across Colin Thubron’s new book, Shadow of the Silk Road, which looks like a good read, but would have fallen to the bottom of a very large pile.

Soon after, I came across a four-part BBC series entitled Meet the Stans (2003), wherein host Simon Reeve (wiki) journeyed “from the far north-west of Kazakhstan, by the Russian border, east to the Chinese border, south through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the edge of Afghanistan, and west to Uzbekistan and the legendary Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.” Reeve attempted to go to Turkmenistan, but the local crazy-in-charge would have none of it. Regardless, the series does an excellent job bringing the ‘stans to light, making a compelling argument for the significance and fragility of Central Asia. The series is also entertaining, thanks to the dry wit of Reeve and interesting locals.

I’ve now followed Reeve on several other adventures, including Equator, which sees Reeve follow the Equator around the world, including stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia.

I’d be remiss not to mention Places that Don’t Exist — “Reeve’s 2005 award-winning five-part series on breakaway states and unrecognised nations, broadcast on BBC2 and broadcasters internationally. Among the countries Reeve visited for this series were Somaliland, Transniestria (where Reeve was detained for ‘spying’ by the KGB), Nagorno-Karabakh, Ajaria, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Somalia, Moldova, Taiwan, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.”

Finding Reeve’s material may be tricky, but some can be found online, and is certainly worth the effort. Reeve also wrote a book in 1998 entitled The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the future of terrorism, warning “of a new age of apocalyptic terrorism,” so he’s no Mr. Bean. Peruse his homepage for more information on his many projects.

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