By Elle L
The rainforest is lungs of the earth, and its energy resonates immediately. Everything intensifies here. You form bonds with people quickly, your life is in each other’s hands. There’s a sense of euphoria created by being somewhere so far away. You feel connected to nature. It’s exhilarating and beautiful. But all that glitters is not gold. The rainforest is being destroyed at a rapid rate... to destroy the Amazon is to destroy ourselves – it produces 20% of all oxygen and we need to protect it - for our own survival.
As a music artist, I find a lot of inspiration in nature. I also ambassador Fashion For Conservation - partner to Hoja Nueva a non-profit eco-retreat nestled deep in the Peruvian jungle. I wanted to visit this project to see for myself what the Amazon is really like. When I talk about sustainability and conservation or write a track, I want some experience to go by. Not just passion without intent. I had no idea what to expect, I just knew I was ready.
I traveled to Peru from London with DJ friend, Lara Fraser. We traveled for thirty hours straight. Over the course of eight days: two traveling, four nights in the heart of the jungle and two nights in Lima, Lara Fraser and I got to witness firsthand the raw beauty of the Peruvian landscape. We shot a music video for a track I’d only half written before leaving, a magazine editorial with a variety of emerging sustainable designers and got to see and feel a part of the great work Samantha Zwicker, founder of Hoja Nueva and her team do on a daily basis to protect the beautiful landscape and all that reside within it.
The internal flight from Lima, Cusco and final stop Puerto Maldonado was where I really got to see Peru come to life. From beach to mountains, to rainforest, the bio-diversity tickles the creative imagination with excitement. Butterflies. It’s a fiction like state. The visuals are so dynamic and immersive. As soon as you see the tall trees and orange glaze of the Amazonian rivers and streams you get the sense you are truly in a different world, another dimension. Time stands still and as you get off the plane, you’re in the fantasy. But the fantasy is so damn real.
We traveled to Las Piedras River from the airport with guide Erik, a driver and two Shamans. Some of the creative group we were joining were getting themselves ready to do ‘Ayuhuasca’ and Shamans are spiritual guides who create this ancient vine tea. It’s one of the great Amazonian secrets – described as a medicine that produces profound and eye opening experiences for the person taking it. It’s Illegal everywhere else but here. We bounced along the off-roads in our jungle car all the way to the river, where we met Sam… She was headed into town for a night to re-stock on food supplies but we gave her a big hug before jumping on the boat for our twenty-minute hike to the eco-retreat.
I lost all concept of fear as soon as we arrived. The Amazon is so big and I am so small. There’s greatness and vulnerability everywhere. Vibrancy interlaced with muddy waters. Worries and time melts away and you just are there, in the moment. A weird balance between adrenaline and calmness – I’d call it instinctive. It takes over. You know there are so many animals the media has taught us to view as predator. The truth is they are more scared of you. Except for the mosquito. The vampire and tiniest of the lot is by far most dangerous. A couple of our group fell sick from mosquito bites and two required hospital treatment. Both are fine now.
As soon as we arrived to Hoja Nueva we met our team and our guides, who we trusted immediately… they live and breathe the jungle. Their senses operate on different levels of awareness and so you naturally follow their lead. There was an interesting creative collective of us – sixteen people including our models, photographer, writers, make-up artist, videographer, artist, yoga instructor, chef, myself a music artist, Lara, a DJ and Ava my good friend and founder of Fashion for Conservation. Rhonda, a journalist for The Hollywood Reporter I met a London Fashion Week was headed to the stream for a swim and invited me along. I impulsively said yes as I was hot and wanted to cool down. I kept imagining a Caiman or snake being under the muddy water as we climb down and in. They certainly could be… but there was something about Rhonda that was so calm and already in tune. I tapped into her frequency and relaxed. You pretty quickly realize we are part of nature. One. We are just pretty desensitized in the concrete jungle.
There’s no WIFI in the jungle and to be honest I barely thought about it. The entire lodge is made of reclaimed timbre and there were no windows… you really are in the great outdoors. Our room was on the first floor and beautiful, simple. Well thought out and I appreciated the attention to detail - a four posted bed with mosquito net overlooking dense jungle to inspire us and slightly scare us at night when we needed the toilet and were too chicken to go into the forest alone. Time went so quickly. There are natural triggers such as a cockerel who would wake everyone up at dawn, closely followed by Howler monkeys that sound like a Bowie-esq starship landing. It awakens your senses and then you get used to it.
Every day here was a new adventure. We visited the cacao fields, where we shot an editorial for Esthechoc, a chocolate brand I’m face of a new campaign for and we got to gift some chocolate to a local Peruvian girl, who had never tried chocolate, even though her family are cacao farmers. She loved it. I’d never tried the raw fruit. I loved it. You can learn so much from this simple exchange. Cacao farming is just one element of Hoja Nueva’s focus – to provide healthy revenue streams for indigenous people so they are neither tempted or forced into illegal activity such as the deforestation of their own environment and killing innocent and endangered animals. Sadly, illegal damage to the Amazon is still prevalent. We saw this all too closely. In our retreat was Max Bear; a baby Howler Monkey whose mother had been shot and Max still wore shrapnel in his shoulder. He was so innocent. We had a lot of animals staying with us at the retreat, mostly rescued dogs, puppies and a kitten that thought she was a puppy called Pepper. She was wonderful… tiny, fun and fearless. Though they all knew not to venture out further than the lodge walls and they were very protective of us...
Harry Turner, one of Hoja Nueva’s directors and former British Army solider looks after Max. He is part of a new incentive to re-wild animals caught in poaching and black market conflicts. Harry and Sam recently tried to re introduce a beautiful Ocelot to the jungle but ten months into their mission, Khan still just an adolescent cub was shot. It happened on protected conservation land and was a devastating blow. Situations like this fuel the importance that more needs to be done to prevent further loss of innocent species. Right now, it happens daily. The only way to make a change is to speak up and actively support on the ground efforts that re-educate locals and offer sustainable solutions that both support their livelihoods so they are not temped or forced into illegal activity and so they protect their own habitat for their future generations and our own. Governments have a responsibility to help and we have the ability to put pressure on by being consistently vocal. Things need to be better for everyone’s sake. This is why Hoja Nueva and projects that dedicate their life and resources to ensuring a better future are really important to support.
There were many favourite moments from my time in the rainforest but climbing from our boat up a waterfall for some pictures with four of our team was one of them. We shot some drone footage for the music video here too. You don’t have time to be fearful, once you get to that moment where you are at the top; you feel a sense of being at one with the environment… and everything that’s in it. It was a lot of real beauty, we would have our makeup done in fifteen minutes and then hike through the jungle for twenty minutes and the humidity meant it was barely on before we would climb to a location for a few shots. It was fun to be completely natural in a world of CGI and overtaking… We were constantly adapting and using our creative intuition on how to create magic within the environment. Clayton, our drone videographer also managed to capture some never seen before Harpy Eagle footage one morning at sunrise – this Eagle is endangered and the footage is a beautiful but tragic reminder that we need to do more quickly.
Saying goodbye is never easy so instead I said see you soon. I know we will be back and I’ve taken a way a piece of the jungle with me in heart. We took a flight to Lima and stayed at Belmond Miraflores Park for two nights before heading back to London. The hotel was stunning and an oasis of chill with views of the Pacific Ocean. We enjoyed most delicious local food at Tragaluz. Ceviché and Pisco sours are specialties here and I recommend them both. We were back on the other side – the concrete jungle… still far from home but we were back in the technological bubble.
The city is a different kind of beautiful if you chose to not be detached from the natural world. Miraflores is vibrant with art and Latino city culture. We had a deeper appreciation for everything… simple things became a luxury - a hot shower, laundry, ice cubes. I think the most important thing we can all do is to realize the greater picture and not to disconnect or forget that we have a power to effect things even from so far away. Out of sight should not be out of mind. We need to keep in tune to the environment and I want to encourage positive actions so we can make our impact a positive one. It’s important. The butterfly effect is real; it’s not too late to make things better if we are more conscious and supportive of grassroots action. I recommend everyone to get outside more to realize that we are all part of the same world. Best of both worlds is not an impossible notion if we are mindful and appreciative of how we live and where our fashion, food and lifestyle come from.
To find out more, visit and support Hoja Nueva: HojaNueva.org
Stay tuned to Elle L’s socials for new music inspired by her trip to the Amazon:
@ellel__ | @hojanueva | @fashionforconservation