In the third episode of Stephen’s Central American adventure, which airs on ABC on 24 January at 8.30pm, he visits two of its most dangerous countries, El Salvador and Honduras, and one of the ‘safest’, Nicaragua. He tries his hand at surfing, meets a real life Sweeney Todd, tastes a new breed of bananas, meets multimillionaire Sandinista revolutionaries and finally learns to dance the Maypole.
El Salvador and Honduras share the dubious honour of being overrun with gangs, drug cartels, poverty and unsurprisingly figure at the top of the global homicide league. But in El Salvador there are signs that after the years of civil war things are beginning to improve. The surfers are coming back to enjoy some of the Pacific’s best breaks and as disabled surfer and congressman David Reyes explains there’s a new generation wanting to change things.
Ingrid Gallardo is one such young hopeful who returned from her studies in Europe to look after her family’s unique book library of about 80,000 books which had been devastated not by the civil war but by an earthquake. She delights Stephen by showing him a rare first edition of all 32 volumes of Diderot’s encyclopaedia, which he enthuses about as the Enlightenment’s Wikipedia.
Meeting Eduardo Kriete one of the richest men in El Salvador proves that old adage that money can’t buy happiness. He explains how the civil war destroyed many peoples’ family life and lead to the growth of the gang culture. Parentless children sought sanctuary with the gangs. Unable to move freely around the country because of fears of kidnapping, Eduardo has retreated to the safety and comfort of his own menagerie, the tapir a personal favourite.
Honduras is, if anything, an even more perilous a place to travel but in Tegucigalpa’s Women’s prison he finds a family atmosphere with children roaming freely with their incarcerated mothers. Apart from one – Cleo is a friendly, benign looking woman in her sixties, who is locked up in her own cage for good reason. A modern day Sweeney Todd she was convicted for murdering six of her husbands, and then cutting up their bodies, cooking them and selling the meat at the market. And she seems so sweet. But all is not bleak as Stephen finds out when he goes to El Progreso slum to watch their football team play. Coached and mentored by Luis Lopez the goal is for team sports to replace the omnipresent gang culture and create a surrogate family.
Honduras was the inspiration for the original banana republic, coined back in 1904 by American writer O. Henry. And for a good reason. Honduras as well as being politically corrupt is one of the largest producers of bananas in the. At the Honduras Foundations for Agricultural Research, plant geneticist Dr Juan Fernando Aguilar is trying to find 8 new varieties of banana as there are fears that the Cavendish, a sterile variety which accounts for 95 % of all bananas sold and exported, will soon succumb to a deadly virus. Stephen is bananas about bananas and gets to try a new variety that could one day supersede the Cavendish.
Stephen Fry in Central America Episode airs on Tuesday 24 January 2017 from 8.30pm-9.30pm on ABC.