Tropic Of Cancer: Final Destination

April 24, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

TROPIC OF CANCER: Sunday 25th April, BBC2, 8pm ALERT ME

Simon Reeve returns for the last in the series of his travel documentary Tropic of Cancer and this time round it’s a compelling and sometimes shocking adventure, several steps up from the first episode.

Simon’s supposed to be in the China but the Chinese government, has in typical good grace, prevented the crew from entering the country, so he’s had to settle for neighbouring Laos (something he can’t decide how to pronounce – Lauw or Louse?).

Here Simon explores the Golden Triangle, once a haven for illicit drug production, but now home to a burgeoning casino industry in the heart of the jungle. At the Laos/Chinese border there are a huge flood of Chinese workers coming into Laos – clearly there are opportunities there that China doesn’t have.

As Laos is “the land of a million elephants? it’s appropriate that Reeve visits a charity that looks after the declining population of pachyderms. Elephants are used for logging and work long hours that often leave them injured (eye-watering shots of elephants spouting geysers of blood are not for the faint-hearted) – it’s good to see something is being done to protect them.

He also spends to with a charity dedicated to clear cluster bombs – Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history and unexploded missiles are still found regularly – a poignant reminder of the aftermath of a war 35 years since finished. You can only wonder what horrors await recent war-torn countries.

In Vietnam, there’s the most horrific treatment of animals I think I’ve ever seen. Bears are kept in tiny cells for their bile – apparently a valuable resource for spurious Chinese medicine. The bears are injected in their abdomens with a ten inch needle and the bile forcible pumped out. It’s agonising even to think of a creature being subjected to a torturous process like this, a real eye-opener to the cruelty that still exists in the name of alternative therapy.

Crossing the border to Taiwan feels like another world, full of high tech gadgetry that you’d expect to see in a metropolis like Tokyo. The contrast is incredible; Simon visits a school where the children are beyond bright- full of curiosity and intelligence, they’d put many British kids to shame.

He finishes up in Hawaiian bird sanctuary, an ark for species now extinct in the wild. Seeing the Hawaiian Crow, of which there are only 62 in existence, is sobering, especially when it’s revealed that human occupation is responsible for most of the environmental damage.

Reeve is much better when he’s talking about the places he visits – he has an obvious passion for his subject and an extensive knowledge. But it’s the human element that he lacks – when engaging with people he comes across as awkward and his feeble attempts at being funny often grate.

Regardless, it’s still a look at some areas of the world you might not otherwise get to see and an illuminating take on the socio-political aspects of areas as well. He’s not just gawping at the sites, he’s highlighting important issues which affect those places as well and that makes for an informative and entertaining travelogue.