The films will be out soon

17 Dec

It has taken a long time. Too long to get the films we made out into the world. Over the past year I have learned so much about editing and about promotion and yet the world still awaits the release of the Reynaldo film. (Well I hope they do anyway).. The thing is I want the film to have an impact, to make a marked difference for Crees really, because they commissioned the film. The aim is to get people to volunteer and donate money to Crees projects which help to protect The Manu regions rainforest and to promote sustainable practice in the region. Their efforts seem increasingly important given the recent news that the Peruvian government have given the go ahead for further oil exploration in Manu, much of which will be in The Manu biosphere reserve, a unesco world heritage site and home to numerous indigenous people. Given that I have experienced the stunning Amazon at first hand I am especially eager to see it preserved and to allow native people to live peacefully in the way they have lived for centuries.  Meeting the Mascho Piro was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. I saw how different they were from us, how they can survive in perfect balance with their environment. I believe they should be allowed to remain in their natural state without having the modern world foisted upon them…. Anyway, if you want to know more, read this Ecologist article: http://bit.ly/UvVmmS

 

And watch the film we made about Crees Tours:

San Pedro Market

21 Jun

9am San Pedro Market, Cusco. Sounds and colours everywhere, Life! Rows of women in white overalls cooking up soups, wisps of steam rising from their pots. Flasks filled with boiling water pouring mate de coca. Sweet and warm it really wakes you up, especially at this altitude. Three old men are playing traditional Peruvian songs while walking through the market, 1 on accordion and 2 on guitar. They strum thick, deep chords. The accordion squeezing high breathy notes atop tumbling guitar rhythms. The market is huge and covered in a corrugated metal roof. People sit eating soup some with long sad faces, whole chicken legs sticking out of their bowls. Cooking smells fill the air, wholesome broths, rice and cooked chicken. I am sitting drinking mate, while the musicians play beside me. The accordion wheezes a confused melody; the mans’ fingers slipping across the notes in no particular order. Briefly, Structure returns and tightens the tune.   There are rows of fabric stalls leading up the side of the market, selling stacks of folded Alpaca wool in various colours; Sky blue piled on mauve, bright greens, tope, orange, brown, purple; a tower of colour. Luminous fabrics hang from the walls studded with ancient Inca symbols; llamas, gods and dragons. Daylight spills under the eaves on to flower stalls. Sweet fresh smells pervade the air bright with green, yellow and violet explosions. They have separate stalls for fruit and others for vegetables. The fruit stalls have heaps of red apples, creamy yellow bananas and green oranges that are cut open to show their centres like tiny suns. The Veg stalls are Piled high with Potatoes, carrots, red and green chilli peppers, as well as gnarled yucca and bundles of green herbs, coriander and parsley, emitting clean, healthy smells.

Huge disc shaped loaves form shoulder high towers in the bakery section . The air is heady with the delicious aromas of fresh baked dough. Bits of bread lie torn open showing their white fluffy insides. I draw a deep in-breath through my nose; the smell of fresh bread always feels like home.

Turning a corner another world awaits; Meat. The air is cool and yet stale and thick. Slabs of red and white; flesh, gristle and bone. A whole cows ribcage lies supine. Wrenched open, it looks like the hull of an ancient ship. The dark red cut with white tallow and greying bones suggest violence. Men saw through sinews, pulling at carmine limbs. White filmy fat pulled into lucid membranes which snap back into tight elastic ringlets as they are torn.

 It is amazing how my  perceptions change within a few strides. It is dizzying, an assault on the senses: The speakers churn out a spiraling accordion melody. Pressure cookers hiss, there are shouts and whistles, a dog yelps. Everyone here has their speciality. There are the chocolate stalls selling neatly placed bricks of dark drinking chocolate. The waft of cocoa is enticing and mesmeric. The dried fruit stalls sell boxes of apricots, prunes, dates and fat brazil nuts. I want to reach in a grab a mouthful. Crumpled old women sit beside stalls wearing knee high socks and lilac knitted cardigans. Donning white stiff-rimmed hats they wear their black hair tied into long plaits.

They are mostly toothless, forlorn and their skin is as cracked as autumn leaves. As I pass they hold their hands out to me, supplicating. “Coca! San Pedro!” a man shouts from a nearby stall. I stop and take a look. “proba” he says, opening up a bag of bile green dust. I stick my finger in and taste the acrid powder. “Es Mescalina Pura” he says. He has cardboard boxes filled with hand rolled cigarettes, bottles of a thick brown liquid called “Ayahuasca” and stacks of dried coca leaves.. I sense that I will see him again.

The Manu Learning Centre

10 May

check out our sample film showing the Manu learning centre 

Meeting the natives

1 Feb


When I encountered the Mashco Piro last August I was returning from a week spent filming in Primary rainforest where I travelled with a group of scientists including a zoologist, a well known botanist and an anthropologist. We had spent that week exploring the forest, and filming as much of the wildlife as we could. I remember Spider monkeys spinning through the upper canopy like ghosts. Hidden lakes, buried in the forest like Conan Doyles “The lost world” harboured sleeping Caiman and some of the researchers whispered the promise of an anaconda. In the evenings we discussed the days sightings, the hum of the generator competing with whirring insect sounds.. We went on night walks through the forest.

On my first walk I caught sight of a rainbow boa coiled around a branch, its iridescent skin glimmering in the pale torchlight. One night we heard growls and grunts in the darkness and we raked the forest with our headlamps, certain that the spectre of a Puma or Jaguar loomed close.. It was adventure. It was everything I expected the rainforest to be: Colourful animals and plants, towering ancient trees and the heavy air like wading through sap… It is curious that in this untouched world, it was man I least expected to see. I had read about tribes and seen them on television but they all seemed in some way acculturated to the modern world.. They at least knew something of our customs, our rules. And yet on our return journey up the Rio Madre de dios I saw something which was so unusual that it did not seem quite real.. It reminded me of the time in the Catskill mountains when a wild bear approached our campfire.. There were no boundaries between me and it.. no bars or television screen, my brain could not quite decide what to do.. And so it was with the Mascho.. As our boat moored on a riverbank, our boat driver Nicholas, a native of the Yini tribe went to fetch some supplies from his village..The village of Diamante.

While he was gone I saw two brown bodies appear out of the forest and approach the opposite river bank.. As they stood there naked, framed by the green of the jungle and with a heat haze dancing around them.. I assumed they must be children.. Who else would be naked and carefree on a jungle beach..? Behind me I heard the cry of “Calato!”, a pejorative term meaning naked, or savage.. Someone passed me the binoculars.. I saw two men, one thick set with long hair and a moustache, The other was younger, slighter and with shorter hair, he followed the elder as he paced up and down the riverbank. They called out to us. There was confusion in the boat as people tried to work out what they wanted. The initial thought was that they needed help to cross the river.. One of our crew, an Anthropologist tried yelling some of the local dialects though they did not seem to understand. As we waited for Nicholas to return the two men remained on the opposite bank, looking over at us occasionally yelling and waving their arms. The collection of scientists in the boat were torn between their curiosity at these unknown people appearing and caution, not wanting to get too close in case we bore any colds which could be fatal.. There was little worry that they could cause us harm as they appeared unarmed..

When Nicholas returned to the boat he saw the two men across the water and appeared nervous.. He had seen them once before and spoke a dialect which they could partially understand.. He seemed uncomfortable with their presence as he perceived them as dangerous… I held my own naïve views about the beauty and innocence of their way of life; to me they looked as if they had just stepped out of Eden. We waited for some time while Nicholas and the Mashco hurled further exchanges across the water. We were then packed back in to the boat, engine churning. “We will get closer to them to see what they want” the anthropologist informed me. Nicholas pointed the ships long nose out across the river.. As we approached The two men waded knee deep into the water..at their closest they were perhaps 20 yards from the side of the boat.. At one point I thought they were going to clamber aboard and then we would depart, one big happy family; natives and men from the city, I thought it would be fun.. Nicholas however, appeared very on edge. They shouted at us and made gestures that we were too close, they pushed the air with their hands as if to say ‘back off’.. At close range they seemed less real than ever.. So inured am I to fiction in film and TV that anything really unusual is immediately met with disbelief.. They moved differently to us.. It is hard to describe, there was a power and savagery to them that seemed alien.. So much confusion surrounded the curt exchange between us and them that It was hard to know what they wanted. Nicholas threw some food and a machete overboard.. “They want cooking materials, like pots and pans” The anthropologist said over my shoulder.. “Nicholas is afraid they will cross the river and harm his village, he is trying to appease them” As the engines hum moved up a tone, the boat lurched back into the river and upstream.. I felt exhilarated that I had experienced something so rare and exciting. On paper not much happened but being there it was like having an electrical current plugged straight into my veins… It was an especially unique experience as there are less than 100 groups of such people anywhere in the world.. It is something most of us will never see and one that I may never see again, given the inexorable spread of our world into theirs… There may soon be no people out of contact with the world as we know it.

This was now 6 months ago and still sticks vividly in my mind. Yesterdays Guardian article about the re emergence of the Mascho Piro near Diamante reignited my memory.. The reported death of Nicholas Flores, killed by a Mashco Piro arrow through the heart made me almost certain that it was the same Nicholas that was so nervous at our encounter…. He was a boat driver who regularly passed through the upper Madre De Dios river and lived at Diamante, close to where the Mashco appeared.. When I returned to Cusco last August we contacted FENAMAD, the native authority for the Madre de dios region. They were concerned about their appearance and asked us not to broadcast our discovery in case it put the Mashco Piro in danger.. I heard reports from years before when a Mascho sighting by tourist boats had ended with arrows being fired at the boat.. No one was harmed though given the recent news about an injured official and the sad death of Nicholas.. It seems inevitable that such things should happen. As the Mascho walk the dividing line between their world and ours conflict seems unavoidable..

 

Amazon

6 Aug

What is it about the amazon that fires the imagination? For as long as I can recall it has been a symbol for the earth as it wants to be; a flourishing paradise perhaps, a place of explosive variegation, the jungle in full bloom. Like the untamed areas outside of the cities in ‘brave new world’, ‘the heart of darkness’ and ‘the lost world, the jungle has formed an archetype for all that is natural and untouched by man. It offers us adventure and escape, as far removed from tarmacked roads and rigidly planned towns as one can imagine. Alan Watts, the philosopher, talked of the chaos of nature, the absence of straight lines, the negation of geometrical form, the forest is ‘squiggly’ as he might have termed it. To some this knotted mass is anathema, it offends the neat dissection of their reason, to others it is a liberation from a tyrannical mind, hellbent on order and classification. Through the wilderness they seek the dissolution of the ego, transcendentalists for a new age. Despite a century or more of western exploration the jungle remains tenebrous, unknowable. A thousand victorian explorers are replaced each generation with people seeking out something, a new tale to tell, the discovery of a new tribe perhaps.. Where once we looked at native forest dwellers as quaint but primitive, there is now a new movement, looking to them for insights and hints on ways to live. Have we got it right? We ask.. Our culture is not so sure of itself as it once was. In the jungle too lies hope; New medicines and new species. Scientists revere the forest for its fecundity, for every new discovery we find there is much much more to learn. Its vastness promotes humility and yet for all its scale it is delicate nonetheless. logging, mining and agriculture are tumorous. “We know this” we tell ourselves, it is the stuff of a hundred lachrymose news programs, images of burned out forests branded in our minds, we have become inured and so we get on with our lives, it being just one more thing to worry about…

 

I dreamt of the Amazon as a child. I heard about it’s beauty and its imminent destruction and wanted to do something about it.. but what can an 11 year old do? I dreamed some more…. When I actually arrived it was vastly different to the images I had seen on the news. In Manu I can see no grand scale farming, no sweeping clearances, just flecks of damage, like sun spots on an otherwise unblemished face.. And yet I know that much worse is happening; In Huaypetue there is a gold mine so sprawling it can be seen from space. Hunt oil’s unctuous presence has undermined native communities land rights and the completion of the Pan american highway, stretching from east coast Brazil through the Madre de dios region threatens to enable Peru to enact a scale of destruction comparable with it’s neighbour.

But for all that I can do nothing but film and write; the life of a journalist is somewhat pitiful; I do not make policy or conduct scientific research. And yet I appreciate the beauty of the forest and can only communicate my reverence in the hope that others may offer change.. Still, I have been here just a few weeks and it seems much longer. I cannot recall what it is like to wake up without the sound of Oropendulas dropping their calls from palm tops or a night spent without chirruping cicadas, balmy heat and fireflies flickering in the darkness. Here, for the first time in my life I saw the milky way streaking across the night sky, and each morning watched trees held in relief against a fuchsia dawn. Don’t get me wrong, It is not all pleasant, far from it. Trails turn to mush at the slightest sign of rain and the insects are relentless.. Walking at midday seems like wading through boiling sap, my shirt turns into a sodden rag, my backpack a sponge for sweat. Still, I count myself lucky.. A dream fulfilled does not always live up to the dream, but it can get pretty close, and in life I suppose that is as much as we can hope for.

The Journey

31 Jul

Cusco to Manu: Up at 4 am and bundled in to a van with supplies, cameras and an assortment of volunteers. A Rufous sky streaked above the road leading out of the city, smoke uncoiling from adobe houses by the side of the road, tarmac tapering in to the distant hills. As we climbed into the Andes the van skirted narrow gorges, gravel slipping under the wheels. The Sun rose behind impossibly high peaks, pale gold mountains glinting between dust clouds. Up higher, mist closed around us, rusted Trucks and diggers stalled in our path, scraping at the rock face. For breakfast we stopped in Paucartambo and ate rice, fried eggs with plantain and thick black coffee to wash it down. The air was thin and dry, the sunshine cutting clean shadows in the town square.

We travelled a few more hours until the hills turned a succulent green. The sharp valleys were softened by spreading foliage.  As the van dipped under waterfalls and across bridges, we begun our descent in to the cloud forest. Flowers appeared dotted among ferns, moss dripped from branches..

We stayed overnight at a lodge and watched hummingbirds, a snake and a family of capuchin monkeys, great footage..all caught on camera..

The following day we were up at 5am to see the ‘cock of the rock’ Peru’s national bird that looks like a cockatoo dipped in red paint.

As the van pushed on the air became as warm as a hairdryer. Coca fields blended into the forest and the Madre de dios river sprawled beneath us. From Atalaya a narrow boat carried us downstream, the river broadening and revealing lush jungle. An hour later we moored against clay banks, tottered across a stony beach and climbed the hill to the Manu Learning centre; our jungle home for the next month..

City of the Incas

24 Jul

 

Macchu Picchu, Lost city of the Incas, rests on jagged peaks,jutting out of the green valley like a broken jaw. On the first morning We rose at 3.30am and joined the crowds picking our way uphill in darkness. Only the first 400 gain entry to ‘Waina picchu allegedly the best view of the ruins, and so we pushed on, lugging backpacks stuffed with filming equipment. People stopped to rest, some threw up, most sweated and fought for breath. Though Dan and I made it in time, earning the much sought after stamp. We entered the ruins before sunrise, with the mountains still shrouded in a thick grey mist. pointing the camera across the valley, we captured the white sun rising over distant mountain peaks. The Mist began to disperse, revealing vast tooth like mountains beyond; the scale was immense. As the sun reached higher the Inca ruins emerged from the mist revealing stone walls, trapezoidal windows and serrated rooftops. 

 

We filmed the ruins and captured people swallowed in the morning mist, ducking behind ancient walls. Small birds chirped and fluttered in the cold morning air, a family of house martins nested under an old eave. At 8 We followed a soft mannered guide, who began every sentence with a inflected ‘please’ knitting his dialogue like an old aunt.  

Macchu Picchu, as it turns out was not an enclave for nobility, nor an Inca stronghold. It was a small farming village which survived the wrath of the Spanish merely by it’s impossible location, unknown to the conquistadores. It housed between 200 and 500 people and once the Inca empire was destroyed it returned to the jungle, like an old ship sinking slowly to the sea bed.

In 1911, an American archaeologist Hiram Bingham, searching for Urubamba; an ancient Inca city, stumbled upon these ruins. Although it was known to local people and for many years was inhabited by two families He immediately declared the site to be the lost city and began a clearing and restoration project. Soon it became apparent that the ruins were not Urubamba but valuable nonetheless and thus became a place of national interest, it’s discovery offering many insights into the Inca way of life. The Incas, remember, did not write and so many details of their lives and beliefs must be guessed at..

At 10 am we climbed up Waina Picchu, which literally means ‘young peak’. Hiram Bingham named the area himself, using Quechua, the language of the Incas. It is like a huge sail rising 1,000 metres out of the valley. Ancient stone steps, worn smooth by a million feet, wind up to a narrow peak. We struggled, stopped frequently to catch our breath and gripped tightly to the rock face to haul ourselves and our backpacks up a few more feet.

To reach the top we crawled through a narrow tunnel, under low hanging rocks, emerging in stark sunlight. The gorge was a gaping green mouth yawning a kilometre below..

At the top We rested. Lunch was a can of tuna, an avocado and a croissant; one of the finest lunches I can recall. I sat in silence and looked across the gorge. Others arrived. There was a sense of weightlessness, people were floating..

Later that afternoon as we descended, I was giddy at the sheer edges falling away from us.. I was tired, awed and satisfied; Sleep beckoned.