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WELCOME TO BRAZIL

I'd really, honestly, not planned to go on the road after New Europe. Europe was the last of the seven continents I'd visited and that seemed to round off the world nicely. But the urge to travel does not respond to anything as restrictive as logic. Boundaries are there to be crossed, and curiosity, though it may have killed the cat, remains an irresistible force for the traveller. Not long after New Europe I embarked on the first of three journeys to India. One was to Calcutta and Bengal for Condé Nast Traveller, another to Bhubaneswar and Orissa to research background detail for my novel "The Truth" and the third re-united me with my film crew to make "Eighty Days Revisited" in Dubai, Mumbai and Gujarat.

Retirement didn't seem to be on anyone's agenda and when curiosity led me to look longingly towards the fifth biggest country in the world, and the biggest single omission from my passport, I knew I was not the only one of my team who refused to see New Europe as the end of the road.

Brazil, and my lack of exposure to it, had been nagging away at me for some time. It was garnering much publicity as one of the BRIC countries - the potential superpowers with the fastest growing economies in the world. Then it was chosen, in a sporting double whammy, to host both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Its charms could no longer be overlooked - in fact I don't quite know why I'd overlooked them for so long. Three years after New Europe had gone out we began to make plans for one more journey.

I suggested that whereas New Europe had taken us on a whirlwind tour of twenty countries, we should confine this series to just one. Brazil, after all was a lot bigger than Europe and comprised a huge area of contrasting landscapes and cultures. The only question was whether the four programmes allotted us by the BBC would be enough. As the team assembled and sat around with books and maps and measurements it turned out that the country could be quartered quite neatly.

We began filming, in June 2011, on the north-east coast, focussing on colonial Brazil and African Brazil, where the first Europeans landed in 1500 and where the great cotton, coffee and sugar plantations were located. It was in this part of Brazil that the estimated seven million slaves brought over from Africa were settled. Their influence has stamped its mark on this noisy, vibrant, lively, often intoxicatingly beautiful, beach-blessed coastline.

Our second programme was a marked contrast. We turned away from the busy, populous cities of the coast to explore the vast rainforests and the colossal river system of the Amazon basin, which contains almost a quarter of all the world's fresh water. Here, living in remote areas were the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land, long before it became Brazil. Our visits to the Yanomami in the far north and the Wauja on the Xingu river gave us unforgettable insights into an ancient way of life.

The third programme took us to Rio and to the mining heartland of Minas Gerais. Much of Brazil's wealth lies underground and we were taken to see the great holes in the earth from which iron ore was gouged out and at the same time get a glimpse of the tough life of farmers on the plateau. Even if they did have cows with five legs.

In Rio we saw gay pride and the world-renowned beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and also went into the notorious favelas, where, alongside the dangers, there is also a growing hope.

Our final stage of the great Brazilian journey was to the richest part of the country. The South. With its booming industries, supermodels, helicopter commuters and traffic jams two hundred miles long. But even here down in the Europeanised south there is so much land that we were able to get away to the un-crowded gaucho world of the Pantanal wetlands and the spectacular waterfalls of Iguaçu.

Am I glad we went back on the road again ? You bet. Brazil was a wonderland and the Brazilians themselves as tolerant and easy-going a people as I've found anywhere in the world. A therapeutic contrast after the angst of Eastern Europe.

For me Brazil shines out as a country unlike any other. I remember this coming home to me most forcibly when I first set foot in the city of Salvador. Twenty-five years and eight series after Around The World In Eighty Days, I realised my jaw could still drop. The world was still full of surprises.

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Michael Palin, London, January 2013