Explorer Simon Reeve has branded his trek through the Congo for his new show Wilderness his toughest experience to date, and viewers have agreed that the presenter and his crew are ‘made of strong stuff’ after a gruesome start to the series.
In the first episode, which aired on BBC 2 last night, Simon, 51, treks through the Congo Basin, Africa’s largest forest spanning 1.3 million square miles, facing challenging weather conditions, biting insects and a dwindling water supply.
But perhaps the most stomach-churning scene occurs when the cameraman, Jonathan Young, discovers a jigger flea has tunnelled into his ankle to lay its eggs.
A toe-curling extraction involves the medic removing the flea and egg sac with a scalpel – in the middle of the night.
Wilderness with Simon Reeve follows the explorer as he travels across the Pacific Ocean Coral Triangle, Africa’s Congo rainforest and Kalahari Desert, and Patagonia in south America.
Simon, a bestselling author and presenter, is meeting people who live in these natural environments to learn how we can preserve these areas for future generations.
He is accompanied by Congolese wildlife activist and conservationist Adams Cassinga, as well as his crew.
The explorer says the trek through the Congo is his toughest experience to date.
However, his insect bites seem mild compared to the ordeal of his cameraman, Jonathan, who discovers a jigger flea has tunnelled into his ankle to lay its eggs.
The former marine’s ankle, which has turned a dark shade of purple, needs to be sliced open with a scapel by the team medic to remove the flea and its eggs – in the middle of the night.
Simon commends Jonathan’s ‘extraordinary heroism’ as he watches on with torches providing just enough light for the medic to perform the procedure.
Elsewhere, the group faces challenging conditions as they make slow progress through the world’s largest peat bog, estimated to be the size of England – at times, even Adams looks flustered.
Three days from the nearest hotel or hospital, an exhausted Simon frequently exclaims ‘Bloody hell!’ while wading through thigh-high deep mud for extended periods of time. He estimates the group is travelling at 1mph as every step is so demanding.
They eventually discover the nomadic Baka people, who live in the forest. The clan welcome the crew and the women build Simon a hut in a matter of minutes.
Adams explains that these people live in harmony with the forest – unlike those in the modern world, who are more materialistic.
Later on, the explorers arrive in Salonga, in search of bonobos, the great apes. The journey to find them is brutal, with Simon and his team chopping through thick bush in sweltering heat in a fog of biting insects.
Eventually, the team strucks gold and even spots baby bonobos that appear content with their laid-back lifestyle – Simon notes that one looks as though it could be basking in the sunshine in Benidorm.
Spanning 1.3 million square miles, the African forest is one of the most significant wild areas left on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Many scientists believe the Congo is now globally more critical than the deforested Amazon, since it contains enough trees to absorb more carbon than it emits.