Vivienne Westwood's week in the jungle with Cool Earth
Vivienne Westwood and her husband Andreas Kronthaler spend a week in the jungle with Cool Earth to see the rainforest they're protecting. Captured on video and in words it was an extraordinary expedition. By Jemma Woodman, Head of Fundraising and Communications for Cool Earth
Day 1 London
Vivienne Westwood tells me she has just returned from a party held by Naomi Campbell, "It was very bling". I'm really hoping that Nazario has finished building the outside toilet in the Amazon village of Cutivireni, where she'll be camping in two days time. We're waiting for our flight at Gatwick airport with her husband Andreas Kronthaler. They have been supporting Cool Earth for four years with an interest and dedication that is invaluable to the charity. Now they will see and experience the Peruvian rainforest they've kept standing.
17 hours before we get to Lima.
Evening briefing in the hotel in Lima where we meet the rest of our party and Cool Earth colleagues who have been visiting projects in El Sira and Urakuza in north Peru.
Day 2 Lima
I ask my colleague Kitty if the construction of shower and sleeping facilities are finished in Cuti, the Amazon port where we shall have our first night in the rainforest. "Yes, they're amazing" she says. Memories of the not so sure-footed teacher and the drop loo a few years ago, gratefully disappear. We've done as much as we can to make the rainforest a little less hardcore but the fact is, as much as it is a beguiling paradise, it is also a harsh and unforgiving environment. We will experience both extremes. Vivienne and Andreas are protecting rainforest in the Ashaninka region of the Central Selva where four years ago the community of Cutivireni were approached by loggers to sell their trees. Their decision to say no and find an alternative through Cool Earth has shaped a unique conservation model. Vivienne has received many a pdf about the place, but now the whole extraordinary tale will come to life.
The rest of our party includes; Matthew Owen, the director of Cool Earth and Carlos Montenegro and Dilwyn Jenkins from the NGO Ecotribal that we work with on the ground. Cynthia King who works on Vivienne's climate campaigns is also joining us. Along with Deborah Ross from The Times and photographer David Ellis. Cool Earth's trustee Mark Ellingham and publisher John Brown and colleagues Kitty Jenkin and Raphaelle Peinado.
Day 3 Mazamari
Bus, plane, jeep, then, long boats up the Ene River where we shall head into the Amazon. It's going to be an exhausting day.
Vivienne emerges for breakfast looking wonderful in grey culottes, a brightly coloured jersey shirt, flat slip ons and an iridescent blue peaked cap. She wears this for walking over the next three days in the heat and rain, true to her philosophy of ‘buy little, choose well'. Andreas is like a tall Che Guevara in combats and we're all a little mesmerized in our waterproof trousers (zip off at the knee) and quick dry shirts.
We arrive at Puerto Ocopa where three boats are waiting for us. They are fitted with old car and bus seats, which have a tendency to shift around as our driver expertly navigates unexpected super sized driftwood, whirlpools, pockets of white water and submerged tree roots.
Travelling up towards the Ene River, much of the area is already deforested and over time has been converted to agriculture. From the water we can see communities that have entered into logging contracts and now have newly built wooden houses. It's a grim deal. Their hefty price tag is revealed at a later date and usually the only way to settle up is to release more rainforest for timber. We pass one community that is in debt to loggers to the tune of $300,000. Later in the trip we will visit the Ministry of Environment to voice concerns.
As we travel the scenery becomes more excessive in its splendour with giant green leaves strangulated by thick vines and twisted branches. Nevertheless, illegal loggers have taken the pick of the best trees, taking advantage of the good accessibility of being close to the river.
Vivienne and Andreas are glued to the scenery but the intensifying heat sees us all drift in and out of sleep.
When we reach Cuti there's a sea of faces ready to greet us. Dressed in a traditional corona and cushma, Cesar Bustamante stands out from the gathering. He is the village chief and instrumental in forming the Cool Earth conservation model. He told us that the only way to stop logging was to create sustainable alternative incomes, so poverty didn't force villagers to sell trees. From there we worked together to galvanise settlements, forming a management and patrol system. Cool Earth is now working with 38 villages in Peru, creating a living shield against logging.
Day 4 Cutivireni, Amazon rainforest
This morning Vivienne asks me where she should wash, I hand her a big bottle of water, a towel and then gesture loosely towards some trees. Tomorrow the water will be back on but storms have caused silting in the pipes. "That's fine, I'm happy to do exactly as the locals do, I want to experience things as they do." She wanders off followed by a group of small children in brightly coloured cushmas. Cladys who is 7 and an orphan will tail Vivienne for the rest of the trip, enjoying being her chaperone and always curious.
Cool Earth funds for this project are distributed through the local organization called Tsimi, which is represented by all the different village elders. They're holding a meeting and spend the next two hours telling Vivienne all about the project and what is needed to support their community role in looking after it. Conversation is slow - Ashaninka into Spanish into English and then back again.
The walk to Tinkereni is hot, long and exhausting. At 71, Vivienne is extremely fit, but I'm concerned about how tiring it is. When she rests by lying flat on her back by the side of a track we stand like sentries guarding for snakes and other venomous rainforest dwellers. Later I walk in front of her to slow down her strident pace, she has an amazing stamina. Andreas is up ahead drinking in the scenery. We reach the settlement of Tinkareni dripping in sweat, our clothes stinking and dirty. The only thing to do is to go to the Mamiri river, where a natural sandy beach has formed, here everyone can swim and cool off. Vivienne describes it as "paradise" and Andreas utters "ravishing". The local children coyly come to see their unusual visitors and jump in the water to encourage us to play.
Deborah Ross from The Times asks Vivienne and Andreas about being fashion designers and how they feel about the glamour and extravagance of this compared to the paired down existence of the people they're staying with in the rainforest. Vivienne is very clear that her passion now is to fight climate change and acknowledges that fashion has given her a platform to be heard and take action.
That night Deborah and I are chased from our tent by an army of huge headed termites. They are everywhere and have eaten their way through a plastic bag with all of my underwear in it. They have vicious looking pincers and are shredding my week's supply of knickers. We alert Dilwyn who is an anthropologist and has been working with the Ashaninka in this area for 30 years. He's never seen anything like them before and makes the unconvincing suggestion of blocking the holes with corn on the cob, clearly very tired and wanting to head back to bed. Deborah and I spend a few confused minutes wondering where to source corn on the cob and then finally go to the effort of unpegging the tent. Thousands of the fiery things have built a city beneath our bedroom. Screaming I reassure Deborah that they're harmless and this is fine and normal.
Day 5 Tinkereni, Amazon rainforest,
Breakfast is fresh papaya and plantain, which is in abundance.
Noemi is about the same age as Vivienne and remembers when her tribal community was completely isolated from the outside world. She is one of the few remaining female shaman in the region and the rainforest is her medicine cabinet. She noticed that Vivienne seemed fatigued yesterday and would like to give her a shamanic healing.
Vivienne is asked to put on a traditional cushma, which is a long robe similar to a kaftan but made from heavy hand woven cotton picked from the rainforest. As Vivienne changes, Noemi heats up rocks over a fire. She places various leaves she has gathered into a pot before asking Vivienne to stand over it. Ana who is Cesar's wife and Telma, her daughter, come to help with the proceedings. Noemi uses the edge of a machete to pick up the boiling hot stones and places them in the water. They spit and splutter and a thick cloud of steam rises upwards. The women grab the end of the cushma and waft it furiously as the steam engulfs Vivienne. They massage her limbs with Noemi placing more and more of the hot stones in the water. I ask Vivienne if she's ok and if she wants to stop but she says it's soothing. After the steam healing, Noemi reads the leaves left in the pot, similar to how someone's tea leaves might be read. She reports that negative energy from a leaf cutter ant and a black dog has now cleared.
Ashaninka have put on a special day for us full of unusual competitions. The men arrive with their bows and arrows and the challenge is to see who can shoot the swinging grapefruit. Next there's the speed spinning and finally catching a frog skull on the end of a pointy stick. Women from surrounding settlements arrive with their hand-made jewellery and lay-out the rainforest version of a pop-up shop. Andreas comments on how they look like Kate Moss with their wide cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. He makes sure the women receive an authentic experience of what buying and shopping entails, he chooses a necklace made from white seeds and waits patiently for change before moving to the next display. The crafts are all intricately hand-made using tree seeds. It's the women's first step into developing their own economy and has proved a commercial success. Cool Earth supplies the Environmental Justice Campaign's temporary shop on London's Carnaby Street. They've sold out three times. It's also a serious aspect of rainforest conservation. Before the community partnered with Cool Earth, Dilwyn recalls how he met a woman in the rainforest who had told him a traveller had paid three times the amount for a piece of jewellery than a logger had paid for a whole hardwood tree. A eureka moment.
Photographer David Ellis enlists trustee Mark Ellingham and Cool Earth donor and publisher John Brown as his unlikely photography assistants for that evening's photo-shoot, with Vivienne swimming in the river. I watch John, amused, as he gets in shot and gives a running gag laden commentary. If we were back in London, he would have been sacked by now. Vivienne is entertained but a consummate professional as she plays to camera.
Day 6, Tinkereni
We wake early to visit the largest tree in the area, the mashonaste tree. We need to cross a river and the locals use narrow rafts with a large punting stick to take us across one by one. As Vivienne clambers on and spreads her weight by kneeling on all fours, Alex from Tinkareni, steers her across the shallows of the Mamiri river. The raft wobbles a little but the short trip is successful. Vivienne is pretty extraordinary. Over the last few days everyone has commented on how she never makes a fuss or expects any special treatment. After many meetings over the years I think Matthew Owen (Cool Earth's director) and I sort of second guessed she would be the stalwart that she is. I don't think we would have organized it otherwise.
Jaime Pene, who has lived in the rainforest all his life is leading us. As a young boy, like many of the Ashaninka in this area, he fought against the terrorist group the Shinning Path. He was terrorized and the subject is very emotive for him and I'm sure it's the reason for his ever palpable determination to protect maintain this forest for the communities that live in it and have done for many centuries. Then like a holy temple we see the mashonaste tree, towering up and beyond the forest canopy. When Jaime tells Vivienne, if not protected by the local people, this tree would be cut down to make orange boxes she seems visibly distressed. Cladys and Rossalina are playing on the roots, the image clarifying the connection between people and trees.
Day 7, Cutivireni & Lima
The heavens open for our walk back to Cutivireni. Two local boys push their heads through huge palm leaves, creating home-made anoraks. Vivienne makes the wise decision to remove her soaking culottes and walk in her underwear, less restrictive.
Later that day, Dilwyn and I take Vivienne for a short walk with Chybucca who tells Vivienne that that for the first time she can remember, they have had hail in the rainforest.
Before we say goodbye to our hosts, Ana (Cesar's wife) shows Vivienne how to beat cotton and spin it. It's a fascinating process. Then she quietly gives Vivienne a present she's been making but I don't glimpse what it is. Later in Lima we attend an event at a boutique full of young Peruvian fashion designers and industry press. Vivienne arrives wearing Ana's hand-made headdress, the careful beading and brightly-coloured feathers work perfectly with her vivid blue trousers. She looks stunning.
Today we go to meet the Peruvian Vice Minister for the Environment, Gabriel Acosta. Matthew Owen, Dilwyn Jenkins and Carlos Montenegro lead the discussion. The former environment minister had praised the Cool Earth model, saying it offered a workable solution to deforestation
Vivienne is keen to know what their commitment is to saving the Peruvian forest. After a lengthy discussion Garbiel Acosta addresses Vivienne in English.
"Please be an ambassador for the rainforests. We are very open to working with you."
We have made great progress in our mission.