I bought a rainforest (well it was both of us actually).

I am being driven over the Andes by Elvis. Neither of us can understand a word the other says, luckily we both find it hilarious.
My sinuses pop as we climb. We often swerve, to avoid the many boulders that have avalanched from the mountainside onto the road.
Elvis plays a song, I can just about make out the chorus lyrics; ‘Kiss me on the mocha.’ We laugh politely.
The world wrinkles away from me. Ahead, the road slices through the pink cliff faces of the second highest mountain range in the world.
I am on my way to the other side of those mountains to find my husband. He is, unshaven, unfed and on a scruffy patch of rainforest, which we have purchased, but I have yet to see, here, in deepest darkest Peru.
Elvis and I are losing the sun behind the mountain tops. We stop abruptly for two small children. Round, with many warm layers, they are herding a collection of small brown goats, scruffy white sheep and one pig, along this perilous, narrow road.
We drive through traditional villages, I see a baby sleeping happily in a wheelbarrow. I guess there is no need for the latest pushchair at the top of the world, a wheelbarrow is far more practical.
At 3,000 metres Elvis points at something. We are at Nina Marka, the setting casts its orange light on stunning pre-inca burial mounds. Elvis needs the sunshine; we don’t have time to stop.
He retrieves his CD of pop divas from the glove compartment – at last we are beginning to speak the same language.
When darkness comes, as we descend into cloud forest on the other side of the Andes, I am grateful; I know how steep the drop off the side of the road is, but I at least I can’t see it. Many who know this road well, still lose their lives. I concentrate on listening to the pop divas and trust in Elvis.
Seven hours later he brings me safely to Charlie. We find him, in the black of night, in Pilcopata – a small town with very little. There is one small hotel, luxury, as long as we are happy to share our room with a tree frog.
After five days travelling, I am anticipating a great nights sleep, sadly, it turns out that hordes of cockerels and gangs of dogs maraude the streets all night, their only intention to make as much noise as possible.
In the morning we drink black syrup coffee on the side of the street, and make plans, it is time for me to see our land for myself.
We bought it because it borders Manu National Park, one of Peru’s most precious rainforests and home to the amazing giant river otter, subject of one of our films.
The land and the park are constantly under threat from poachers and illegal loggers. We wanted to save it and hoped it would act as a buffer to help protect the national park. Charlie has been filming a documentary about it for BBC2, but I have waited over a year to see it.
It is a peculiar thing to buy somewhere that you have never been too. It is certainly not the rainforest of our dreams. The land is overgrown with scrub species. Too much thorny bamboo, only the occasional silver barked tree.
We cross a river and hike up into it, stopping to look at an ‘owl eyed’ butterfly, so called because a pattern of a perfect amber eye, gazes back at us from the bottom of its grey wing.
I regard a rush hour line of army ants with leaf sails. They have even built an underpass system under leaves and twigs. But not many other animals live here any more.
Thunder grumbles above.
We investigate the wooden hut occupied by the ex owners. Inside they processed coca leaves into a paste – a crime here, punishable with prison.
Inside is dark and hot with a few ancient possessions scattered on the floor. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t this.
There is plenty of evidence of the tools that were used to rape this land, chainsaw chains, chainsaw oil, a weed sprayer to protect the coca plant. It is an uncomfortable place.
We leave it and climb the paths up to the ex-cocaine field. Charlie chopped down the cocaine on his first trip, already the scrub has reclaimed that space. Our challenge will be to get the right plants growing, to allow the rainforest to come back.
Whole chunks of forest are cleared, charred. We pass stacked planks. What once the forest floor is covered in sawdust, yet life is already struggling through, small curls of green shoots. The deep tracks left by logging lorries are filled with brown water, we discover fish living in them.
We pass Manioc and yucca plantations, weak, infested with maggots and worms where the eroded soil has nothing left to offer.
We climb even higher to the border with the national park. The official sign has been pushed over, it is clear that, despite us buying the land, the path is still being regularly used.
Charlie is showing me why he feels unable to help the rainforest or manage this land, about the impossibility, the lack of money and sometimes motivation here in Peru. We know that illegal logging is still occurring in the park near-by. The solution isn’t as simple as just buying a patch of land.
I flick a huge, shiny, black soldier ant from Charlie’s head, he is grateful, they can deliver a really nasty bite.
I notice the detailed patterns on the tiny frond of an emerging fern. A butterfly lands next to me; black velvet and turquoise. Butterflies land everywhere here, even on us; so many varieties, each startling in colour and pattern. Another looks just like a light-brown, crinkled leaf, until it opens its wings.
We hear chain saws in the distance and turn away from the National Park for now. Today is not the day to confront the loggers, although we will need to do that.
The thunder grumbles again, closer now. We need to go.
I don’t pay enough attention to the path and get spiked in the head by bamboo. We are hiking fast, there is no time to stop and investigate. I can’t tell if I am bleeding or just sweating but the biting insects seem to like my head even more.
Slipping down a muddy bank, I make the mistake of reaching for a tree trunk for support – I get a palm full of spikes.
The land is bordered by a broad river, its movement and cool clarity a refreshing contrast to the dense humid bush.
A kingfisher dives here, Charlie tells me there are five different types. As we talk however, my virgin legs are being mullered by sand-flies.
We swim, in a pool surrounded by large, smooth, warm boulders. It is deep, clear, ice cold; anaesthetic for hot skin, and bitten legs. This is the rainforest paradise of my imagination.
The rain arrives, heavy spots falling all around us. We have to leave; rain like this means the rivers rise fast and we have three to cross – Elvis cannot risk having his car stuck.
The next day is spent journeying up river by boat, into the heart of Manu National park, we camp in the rain forest, then trek to Cocha Salvador. This oxbow lake, is home to the family of six foot long, giant river otters which Charlie has been filming on and off for over a decade. We want to be inspired again, to revisit our reasons for buying the land, and I want to meet them.
A gentle breeze moves the vines as we board a slight wooden catamaran and push out onto the smooth, green water. Every available space on the bank is crammed with life. Straight, white lines of ridged trunks blend with spiky leaved palms, every shade of green is here.
Turtles bask on a half submerged, fallen tree-trunk, orange butterflies decorate their faces, feeding on the salts they find there. They leap into the water as we drift silently by.
Before long the air is filled with a whining cacophony, like mini engines revving. I know that sound so well from our films, at last, the otters. I recongnise the noise they make when they have a fish and are claiming it for their own, generally at the same time as trying to eat it.
We drift closer For the first time I see their dark heads.
I weep. A big circle has closed for me; years spent making films about them, knowing their names and stories, but never seeing them for myself, years waving goodbye to my husband who spends months with them, hard earned money spent buying land to try to help this place.
Now, here, right in front of me, are some of the biggest ambassadors for this rainforest. Finding them has been a long journey for me. Tears roll down my face, bigger drops than the rain.
A loud snort makes me jump, a young adult has surfaced close to the boat. Charlie laughs, ‘meet Dali, he is checking you out.’ The snort turns into a gurgle as Dali submerges.
The family swim, seamlessly alongside the bank, twelve of them, all ages, never silent. They play constantly; spy hopping, grumbling, whining and loving each other. A big splash when one is fishing, then a family row when another tries to steal the meal. No table manners at all. I am reminded of home.
Charlie looks for caimen. He spots one ahead, lurking under an overhanging bush. As the family approach it, we are tense. A caimen will take an otter cub. This caimen makes the decision to avoid confrontation with such a large family group, even when two cubs swim by unprotected – he is not stupid.
A white egret dangles great, grey legs as it flies in to perch nearby and check for stirred up scraps of fish in the wake of the otters. Nothing goes to waste here.
We are so close, I can hear the crunching of fish bones, smell the fish, see the baseball glove paws and big, brown dog-eyes rolling with pleasure while they eat.
They haul their shiny muscular bodies onto the land to rest, but not for long. I love the way that, when they re-enter the water, they belly flop, it sums up their exuberant attitude to life. A grasping of life that I have seen since I arrived here, in each creature that finds a space to grow, feed and live.
It’s noisy, the otters are loud, an insect sounds like a car parking sensor, a bird sounds like a car alarm, yet there’s not a car within thousands of miles. It’s not really (as I manically scratch my bites), particularly relaxing here, but it is wild. There are even wild, uncontacted people living in this forest. Here, nature has found a place for every creature. In one way I feel a million miles from reality but I then I feel, overwhelmingly, that this is actually reality; the original Eden? Here in one of the last true wildernesses on our planet, I feel touched by something we left behind, an all consuming hunger for life.

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