Blame it on Rio
OF THE scores of countries Michael Palin has visited, the comedian and travel writer always knows when he's in Australia. At book signings, he says, everyone claims they're named 'Bruce'.
And so it goes for the former Monty Python star. Through eight BBC travel series he has become the world's most recognised professional traveller, yet he can't quite shake his sillier past. Fans may expect a Spanish Inquisition, but Palin is well and truly focused on his career's second act.
“Python was a very short period of intense activity,” he says. “It was just great. But the travel is much longer-term satisfaction. It really is about adding knowledge all the time.”
“I'm as curious about the world as I ever was.”
For his latest adventure, the 69-year-old decided to address a 'black hole' in his previous travels and went to Brazil.
“It's the fifth-biggest country in the world, and I reckoned there was so much to film there,” he says. “North and south are very different, African Brazil, European Brazil, the rainforest... so I said let's just stick to one country and do it thoroughly.”
Among the trip highlights was his first encounter with indigenous tribes deep in the country's northern rainforest, a meeting he approached with a fair amount of caution.
“I think you've got to be careful how you go,” he says . “You can't just sort of poke your finger at people and say 'look, there's a sort of primitive person', because they're not primitive in a sense, they're very sophisticated in the way they live in the rainforest.”
In his four-part TV series and accompanying book, Brazil, Palin takes armchair travellers from the Iguazu Falls on the border with Argentina to the festival atmosphere in Sao Luis, and from the country's mining heartland to the cultural melting pot of Sao Paulo.
With Brazil now checked off his list, Palin is in Australia promoting the series and will be holding public events at Melbourne's Wheeler Centre on Friday and the Sydney Opera House on Saturday.
Being back in Australia has aroused fond memories of “the hardest day filming I ever did”, when he tried his hand at camel catching near Alice Springs for the 2006 series Full Circle.
“I was standing at the back of the vehicle with a little lasso and had to get as close to the camel as possible,” he says.
“Oh god. I was bruised and battered in the end, but I did catch two camels.”
As for doing another grand journey, Palin says he'll keep going as long as audiences keep watching.
“It opens the world to people. It opens the world to me, so I'm quite happy to keep doing it.”