Four weeks ago we started our journey across Brazil with Michael Palin in the steamy and tropical northeast of Brazil and over the next two weeks we journeyed across this vast country, a country spanning half a continent and 40 times the size of the United Kingdom.
This is the last week and once again we are off the well beaten tourist tracks of Brazil to the parts where we may not have been before. We met the remnants of the Brazilian royal family in a country that is solidly republican serving as a reminder of times gone and a social and racial hierarchy that it is ebbing away.
The programme threw up a question which I don’t know if most people would know the answer to? What is the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world? Did you say Brazil’s Embraer? Head to the top of the class! We have seen the vast mineral and agricultural resources that Brazil is endowed with but the country is also moving up the value chain with a growing industrial base with world-class companies like Embraer and Petrobas.
Palin took us to the Embraer manufacturing facility where we met Felipe who is arguably the happiest plane painter I have ever met, admittedly he is also the only plane painter I have met, but he has a quite a jolly outlook on life. His love for his job was apparent and his contentment with the lifestyle it gave him very commendable.
One of the challenges of a rapid industrialisation and urban growth is the waste is generates and disposing this. Palin meets Wilson Cantahla, a man who has taken the adage “there is money in muck” and spun it out into a personal fortune, and along the way elevated thousands of people who scavenged the waste dumps outside Sao Paulo in to regular jobs in his recycling plants. Further evidence of the transformation of Brazil industrial sector and the social change it spawns.
Another instrument of social change is introduced. The Brazil Telenova industry. We think of Eastenders and Coronation Street as massive TV shows imagine then if they regularly pulled in 72 million viewers, that is the power of Brazil’s telenova’s. They are essentially soap operas, but unlike their British cousins dont run for years till we are pleading to be released from our misery, they run for about 9 months before ending while not shying away from tackling a wide range of social issues.
These social changes have transformed but not completely overcome one aspect of Brazilian society and it was something that Palin only lightly touched on, Brazil’s reputation as a melting pot. The country seems blended on the surface but like cream whisk it too vigorously and it splits. As we have traveled across Brazil from the poorer North to the wealthier South although uncommented upon we have seen a subtle change in the makeup of the population.
So much so that when Palin reaches the deep south of the country in the state of Rio Grande do Sol on the border with Uruguay it is almost as if we have stepped onto the casting set for a Bavarian agricultural show awash with lederhosen, barrels of Pilsner and accordions It was a different country from the one we had arrived at. The Germanic culture and influences were strong and pervasive and in a way more authentic that what now remains in the teutonic Motherland. It may not be a testament to Brazil as a melting pot, but it is a testament to its varied heritage.
Palin was now in the southermost tip of Brazil close to his journeys end, but that was not to be without a final trip to see another of the great natural wonders this country offers - The Pantanal. The world largest wetland, spanning an area the size of holland and Belgium.
A beautiful, tranquil haven of nature. Here Palin ends the day fishing for flesh eating pinranha, which apparently are delightful for a light evening Sashimi…Just another day of contrasts in Brazil