A vibrant culture: a dancer takes part in carnival. Photograph: PeopleImages/Getty Images
I will miss this continent. It has been an immense privilege to visit stunningly beautiful places such as Patagonia, Alter do Cho, Machu Picchu, Yasuni and Havana, and I am grateful to collaborators and editors who have worked with me on stories ranging from guerrilla graffiti pedants in Quito and the worlds greatest vinyl collector in So Paulo, to the source-to-sewer journey of a drop of water in Mexico City and a retracing of part of a journey taken by the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett.
Although I could never claim to blend in (Chvez took one look at me and yelled out: Hey, Gringo!), I now think of Latin America as home (particularly since I moved out of the shed and into a forest apartment). I still dont appreciate the three-plug electrical system or Brazils bureaucracy, but I have come to love the geniality of the people, the vibrancy of the markets and much of the food especially aai, caldo de cana, tapioca wraps and Amazonian fish.
I leave at a difficult time. Troubles lie ahead for Rio, Brazil and the world. This is not just because of a poor Olympic legacy (though homelessness has surged alarmingly in the host city since the Games) or woeful national leadership (Temer is the first sitting president to be charged with corruption and eight of his cabinet are implicated in bribery scandals).
In China, I came to believe environmental crises underlie much of the economic and political tension in the world. In Latin America, I found reason to hope it is not too late to do something about that. For sure, the trends are bad. But there is much here worth fighting for. Latin America may not offer a model of sustainable development, but compared with Asia it is relatively unscarred in terms of overpopulation and pollution, and compared with the US and Europe, average consumption is modest and biodiversity is rich. River dolphins in the Amazon are only a part of that wealth. The value of this natural heritage is easier to feel than to measure
I will leave Brazil healthier and happier than I arrived. As I write this, the sun is streaming through the papaya and mango trees from a gloriously clear blue sky. It is midwinter, but the temperature is a balmy 25C. This morning, I cycled through the forest up to the Vista Chinesa viewpoint. Marmosets were waiting in the garden for food when I returned a couple of hours later. A hummingbird just flew into the living room looking for the nectar water that I forgot to leave at its usual spot by the window. Before I go, maybe Ill catch a final glimpse of a toucan, a jacu or a porcupine. Perhaps the gang of capuchin will invade the kitchen in search of an egg or a banana. There will be at least one possum. Then after 21 years on the road it will be time to return to London, to a new job, to an office, to a flat, and to pigeons, sparrows and, who knows, perhaps a squirrel. Im curious whether my old home will feel like a foreign country.