In January ABC screens Stephen Fry in Central America, a 4 part series in which the actor-presenter travels through Mexico and the entire Central American isthmus to the Panamanian border with South America.
This screened on Pay TV a year ago.
Stephen starts his journey on the Sante Bridge that separates El Paso in Texas from Ciudad Juarez, an important transit point for the drug cartels and considered one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico.
He meets up with his converted school bus and heads towards Chihuahua. En route his driver takes him to see some of the local cowboys before experiencing the enduring patriotism of the local hero, the revolutionary Pancho Villa who lead the army of the North in the revolutionary war of 1914. Boarding the El Chepe train he heads into the Sierra Madre Mountains and the magnificent Copper Canyon, where he overcomes his fears and takes one of the longest zip wire rides in the world two kilometres down to where the Tamahumara people live.
Leaving the canyon, he arrives in the old silver mining town of Real de Catorce in time to experience their annual fiesta to celebrate the Revolution of Pancho Villa and importance of the donkey to both miners and revolutionaries. During the festivities he is persuaded to join in a pointy boots techno tribal dance group, but manages to avoid taking hallucinogenic peyote cactus with a Huichol shaman.
Nearing Mexico City he takes to the air in a balloon to witness the vast ruins of Teotihuacan, the greatest city of pre-Aztec Mexico and with archaeologist Sergio Gomez explores the excavations under the temple of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.
In the Xochimilco canals built by the Aztecs to feed and water their city he learns of the axolotl, an extraordinary species of salamander, worshipped by the Aztecs, which has the power to regrow any part of its body…an animal literally made up of stem cells.
A small role as a butler in a Mexican soap [telenovela] gives him an insight into the most important form of Mexican popular culture but it’s smashing up the papier-mâché piñata that allows him to let off steam in truly Mexican fashion.
An emotionally charged demonstration in the capital to protest against the ongoing drug wars that have claimed over 100,000 lives in the last 8 years, and most recently the ‘disappearance’ of 43 students drives home to a visibly upset Stephen just how messed up the country is yet full of a desperate kind of hope.
In the mountains of Michoacan Stephen witnesses the extraordinary migration of millions of Monarch butterflies who overwinter here after a 3000-mile flight from North America. Doctor Pablo Jaramillo explains how the butterflies are the great grandchildren of the ones that were here last year – the only multi-generational migration on the planet. Stephen is moved beyond words by one of the greatest natural history phenomena.
Ending this first part of his travels he heads to the Pacific coast and the once glamorous resort of Acapulco, where he meets cliff divers and marvels at their extraordinary bravery as they plunge 115 feet into 12 feet of water.
Tuesday 17 January 8.30pm on ABC.