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Michael Palin in Oz to discuss 'Brazil'

Michael Palin has arrived down under to promote his latest travel series through Brazil.

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Michael Palin got curious about the world's fifth-largest country.

There are those content with having an idea of the wider world without ever desiring first-hand experiences. Then there are the travellers: people who dream of other places and plan trips in their head. Michael Palin is many things, but for the past few decades he's been a traveller and his latest bout of wanderlust took him to Brazil.

Did you travel much when you were a child?

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No, no, no. We never went on holidays. I was born and brought up in Sheffield, and back then it seemed cut off from everything, including Nottingham. No one seemed to ever leave Sheffield. I loved the idea of the outside world. I had this suppressed desire to travel, but it wasn't until I did Around the World in Eighty Days in 1988 that I really felt like a traveller.

You must have travelled a lot for your movies.

We went to Tunisia to make Monty Python's Life of Brian and New York and Los Angeles to publicise it but, no, I really hadn't seen too much of the world. This series we did four separate visits to Brazil, and all up it took four months.

Why Brazil?

Brazil was seen as one of these ''BRICK [Brazil, Russia, India, China and Korea] economies''. Then there was the the World Cup [in 2014] and the Olympics [2016] … Suddenly it had gone from a South American backwater to this place of enormous power and potential. I developed a curiosity that's driven all my other trips.

What was it like to see the Amazon jungle?

The destruction of the rainforest is an enormous issue, and there's a much more informed debate. Twenty years ago it was seen as this vast area that was there for the taking. Now I think people are much more aware of the positive advantages of the forest that essentially irrigates the country. And of course, the people who live there have rights and they need to be addressed and considered. Most of the people we interviewed said the rate of deforestation had slowed down, so that was good to hear.

Can you pick a highlight?

It would have to be the Yanomami tribe who live north of the Venezuela border. It was fascinating to see how they live. They don't have running water or sanitation as we know it. They get their water from a crystal-clear stream that bubbles nearby. It's set in a spectacularly beautiful part of the rainforest, and they all live communally in a big circular hut. They sleep in hammocks and the women hold their children all the time. There isn't really a leader, there's a shaman but he doesn't lay down the law; it's an open and democratic society. There were no walls or furniture that denoted wealth or lack of it that might show poverty.

What were the logistical issues during filming?

It's quite difficult to film in remote jungle communities, which means you sleep in a hammock and, of course, there's no proper toilet and you wash in the stream. That's all fine. But we had to tread carefully with people who have suffered from outsiders coming in and exploiting them - we had to behave well, stand back and learn our way into different cultures. We had an amazing anthropologist and she really helped us a lot.

What about Brazil's favelas? Did you spend any time there?

This is a really interesting issue facing the government because they have a big problem. Some of the favelas have been there for hundreds of years because people came from the north and settled to try and get work in the rich south. So people used their labour, but didn't pay them or give them proper services or security. The areas grew, but they also spawned crime based on drugs, and gangs started to control the favelas. Ironically, they became the security force and kept the peace in some of these places, but the people who live there are still vulnerable. They have to do something before the Olympics because they can't alienate all these people, most of whom actually work in the city doing the menial jobs no one else wants to do. They are trying to break the gangs and build schools and clinics and a lot of money is being spent.

Is it important to stay a little bit vulnerable when you're travelling? You don't mind looking silly?

Oh yes. I learnt that on Around the World in Eighty Days, that looking foolish is actually not a bad thing. Audiences see through vanity, especially people who have travelled; you get the language wrong, or use the wrong hand when you're eating because you're sort of blundering through the world. If you show that you're learning something and have the right kind of attitude, then it's not so bad.

Michael Palin's Brazil, Sunday, ABC1.

DailyStyle