Michael Palin: ‘Brazil is like a fantasy world!’

Explorer Michael Palin talks to TV Times magazine about visiting Brazil for the first time…

We’re surprised you’ve never been to Brazil, Michael…

“It’s a big country I’ve just missed out. For some strange reason, on all the journeys we’ve done, even in South America, we’ve missed Brazil. We’ve gone down the borders of it, through Columbia and Peru and looked across the river at it. But we’ve never actually been.”

What do you think is so amazing about the country?

“Brazil has an appeal unlike any other country. It’s like a fantasy world – sun, sea, beaches, music, beautiful people – and then there are huge forests and rivers. But is it real? For that reason alone I thought I had to see what it was like.”

Did it live up to your expectations?

“They were very friendly to us and extraordinarily accommodating. But they’re very wary of their economy and don’t think their country is changing that fast. And there are real problems behind the sun and the samba.”

Were any of your experiences particularly memorable for you?

“In the third episode, we spend a lot of time in the favelas. It really is the big story – how is Brazil going to deal with them? None of them had any sanitation or policing. They were lawless areas and nobody cared about them, so drugs gangs came in. There are a million people living in the favelas and now the government is following a policy based on huge expenditure and infrastructure within them. So we follow some of the people who are trying to change things.”

Your travels also took you out of the cities and into the rainforest!

“That was quite a long way out of my comfort zone. We lived in a big hut, sleeping in hammocks in a communal set-up. And everyone hot-hammocks! One night there was a guy lying next to me chewing tobacco and smiling at me, and the next night someone else was there.”

Does Helen, your wife of 46 years, mind you being away for such long periods of time?

“Not at all! She’s the one pushing the atlas over the breakfast table saying ‘This looks nice, dear’. My family has been quite amazing – I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without Helen taking everything else on. I’m married to someone who doesn’t like long and intrepid travelling, so she’s not envious.”

You’re approaching your 70th year, and your taste for adventure doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding!

“I’ve always wanted to keep travelling. I’ve never really been to the Middle East and I’d love to go to Iran and Iraq, although the political situation makes it a bit tricky. I do enjoy it, but now I’m a grandfather, I don’t enjoy being away for so long. But that said, I wasn’t going to another travelogue after Around the World in 80 Days. And every one since. About eight times I’ve lied to people and said I’m not going to do another one. So clearly I’d better shut up!”

Brazil with Michael Palin starts on Wednesday October 24 at 9pm on BBC1

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