'I was very scared!' Romesh Ranganathan on going to a voodoo ceremony

Romesh Ranganathan
(Image credit: BBC/Rumpus Media)

Comedian Romesh Ranganthan shares his hair-raising travel exploits from his new BBC2 series The Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan....

"My idea of a good holiday is sitting on a beach in Portugal doing absolutely nothing", admits comedian Romesh Rangathan, "My capacity to do nothing is breath-taking, it’s next level!" So his new series, in which he finds himself scaling mountainsides, jumping off cliffs and patrolling for wolves is something of a change of scene for the laid-back dad of three.

Over the course of three programmes in The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan,  the 40-year-old comedian is well and truly ejected from his comfort zone as he immerses himself in the daily life and culture of, Haiti, Albania and Ethopia, countries not known for being tourist hotspots.

First up is Haiti, the Caribbean island that hit the headlines in 2010 when it was crippled by an earthquake and later in 2016 was struck by devastating Hurricaine Matthew.

Here  40-year-old comedian, Romesh Ranganathan,  tells What's On TV  about his adventures including nerve-jangling voodoo ceremonies, encounters with guns and how he found himself getting a tattoo.....

WOTV: What were your preconceptions of Haiti before you went?

Romesh Ranganathan:  "The only thing I really knew about it was the earthquake and they’re into voodoo. When I told people I was going, everyone kept telling me how dangerous it was. Even on the plane on the way out, a couple of Haitian people were telling me how unsafe it was and how careful I needed to be. I’m not going to lie, I arrived at the capital, Port-au-Prince feeling very nervous."

Romesh Ranganathan

Romesh with Voodoo Priest, Cyvadier in Haiti  (C) Rumpus Media - Photographer: Production (Image credit: BBC/Rumpus Media)

WOTV: And you soon felt even more nervous going to a voodoo ceremony!

RR: "Yes. In Britain we all think voodoo is insane and that black magic is terrifying but in Haiti it’s part of their culture, it’s ingrained in them, so I was keen to get involved and see for myself. If I look back there was nothing actually that scary happening, there were some funny smells, it was a bit dark, there was drumming, some dancing, I mean, it’s a night out really! But because of all my preconceptions about voodoo, everything became massively ramped up in my head and I was very scared. It was like going into some woods after you’ve just watched a horror film set in a forest."

Romesh Ranganathan

Romesh on edge at a voodoo ceremony in Haiti (Image credit: BBC/Rumpus Media)

WOTV: How else did you immerse yourself in local life?

RR: "My guide, journalist Jeremy Dupain, took me to a few bars, we went to the local markets and did some socialising. I also got to meet a musician, a rapper  who makes what is Haiti’s answer to grime. I’d heard him on the radio there and was really looking forward to meeting him. He’s very eloquent on his records but wasn’t so chatty when you meet him face to face. Monosyllabic! I was thinking, ‘Do you have a ration of words and you can’t use them up in normal conversation?’"

WOTV: What was the most eye-opening part of your stay in Haiti?

RR: "Visiting the Cite Soleil which is the poorest district of Port-au-Prince. Haiti was poor before the earthquake but now it’s even worse. Cite Soleil is essentially 400,000 people living on top of each other in total poverty. The living conditions were horrendous, I have never seen poverty like that before in my life and to see children living like that was heart-breaking. There were people walking around with guns and I was on edge the whole time but you can totally understand why, living in such conditions, crime is so rife."

Romesh Ranganathan

Romesh visits a market in Haiti and makes some purchases  (C) Rumpus Media - Photographer: Production (Image credit: BBC/Rumpus Media)

WOTV: You’re a vegan. How did you find the local cuisine?

RR: "I was fine when I went to Ethiopia because they had a menu for when they’re fasting and don’t eat any dairy or meat. Not so great in Haiti, I pretty much had the same meal twice a day which was spaghetti with some kind of tomato sauce. On my last day when I came across some pumpkin soup I was exhilarated! But I have to say I think me being a vegan was beneficial to the chickens used in the voodoo ceremony. God knows what would have happened to them if I hadn’t told them I was a vegan beforehand. However, I’ve got to be honest and in the interests of total transparency, I haven’t checked in on the chickens since getting back to the UK. I was promised they’d be ok…"

WOTV: What would your advice be to anyone considering a trip to Haiti?

RR: "It’s a Caribbean island so it’s got the weather, some very beautiful parts and some lovely beaches especially down in the south, but when you land at Port-au-Prince, you will see some overwhelming poverty. It’s a country that needs money going into their economy. Everything I saw was run by locals. It’s not a place where big international companies have come in and set up hotels. So from an ethical tourist perspective, if you go there, at least you’ll be putting money directly into their country."

WOTV: What was one of the high's of the Haiti trip?

RR: "Surviving what I consider to be a near-death experience was pretty euphoric. I visited the waterfall Bassin Bleu in Jacmel where I had to jump off some rocks into the water below. I knew logically it should be fine, people have done it before, but all I could visualise as I stood 30 feet up was me splatting like brown chutney onto the rocks that seemed to be jutting at every angle. I was petrified but after doing it I felt amazing. I had to stop myself from being one of those really annoying people who bangs on about the adrenaline-fuelled thing they’ve just done. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I'd become one of them,  so I had to hide my over- excitement."

romesh ranganathan

Romesh before his scary dive at Bassin Bleu, Haiti  (C) Rumpus Media - Photographer: Production (Image credit: BBC/Rumpus Media)

WOTV: What do we see you get up to in Ethiopia?

RR: "I visited a church that is built into a 200m high cliff. To access it you basically have to go rock-climbing and when you get to the top there’s this very thin, Indiana Jones-type ledge to get into the actual church. The priest climbs up there every day. He’s 35 but looks about 235. All I can say is rock-climbing ages you. Climbing up I was terrified. I had the safety-ropes, helmet the full works and then you’d see 8-year-old kids cartwheeling past, frolicking like mountain goats on the hillside making you feel like a total idiot. ‘Alright there are ya mate? with your ropes and your special grippy shoes?’"

WOTV: And how about Albania?

RR: "There are lots of bunkers left over from civil war and one of things I did was go and visit one of them where this guy who was an ex-con was living. He’s an artist now and he showed us around. He was very nice but I also found him very intimidating. As we were about to leave he asked me if I wanted a tattoo and I just said 'yeah ok'. I felt pressured and it was almost like when someone offers you a cup of tea and you say, ‘Go on then, now I’m here I suppose I could’,  I was like that about a tattoo!  The result is I know have the Albanian flag tattooed on the inside of my forearm. How big is it? Listen, I'd say any size at all would be too big."

The Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan starts on BBC2 on Sunday, July 1, 9pm, BBC2

Tess Lamacraft
Senior Writer for What's On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite week, Whattowatch.com

Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.