Q & A: Bruce Parry, explorer & TV presenter

Bruce Parry on tree-bark trips, deforestation and lessons learnt from tribal living

In a nutshell can you describe your Amazon trip?

The Amazon river was at the heart of the journey. We looked at cocaine, oil, soya, ranching, logging and illegal goldmining. I’m not an expert on the issues and yet I felt I had to comment – so the only thing I could do, and the style that we devised, was to comment from the heart about what I saw on the ground.

What was the most shocking thing you saw?

Paraì state, in Brazil. We flew for hours and hours over what was once forest and is now cattle country. There’s nothing there – it’s absolutely decimated. Seeing it and talking to families who had been forced off their land at gunpoint was by far the most shocking thing. Soya and cattle are making people rich. I love Brazil and think it has exemplary laws, but the governor in Paraì is into ‘development’ in his own terms. Anyone who gets in the way of the big business of taking the forest is killed. It’s a war and there are murders everywhere. It’s a global issue now, and it has to be seen as such.

Do you miss being on the road?

No. If you gave me a round-the-world ticket tomorrow I’d give it to my neighbour. For the past four years I’ve been on the road nonstop. Right now, all I want to do is be at home – I want to fall in love, to grow things, to get back to normal life, to put into practice all the wonderful lessons I’ve learnt in these places.

What were the most important lessons you learned from living with tribes?

They have community, free time, less stress; they live in the moment; they live locally, so they feel the impact of whatever they consume. It’s the way the world will be again once day when peak oil kicks in, but I want to be ahead of the game. The world’s going to go upside-down – I’m getting ready for it. I’ve built a house on high ground.

Where is home?

Ibiza. It’s my only home. It’s the best place I’ve ever been in my life. I love it, not because of the parties and the madness, but because of the people who live there, these amazing minds who have found their way to Ibiza. I’m going to spend this whole winter connecting with them. I want to meet my neighbours and fi nd out how to keep goats and chickens.

When you were filming Tribe did you find anywhere you wanted to stay?

No. It’s very hard to wean yourself off your own culture, your own life. I want clean sheets and that sort of stuff. Living in a tribe is hard work. I slept really badly and the food was so bland, so monotonous, so repetitive. I can see living in that kind of way is more wholesome, but I didn’t grow up like that.

Do you watch TV?

I don’t even have a TV.

What book do you recommend that everyone should read?

I think George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent is a great book. It’s a manifesto for a new world order. I’m a real believer in the need for a global, moral voice to speak for all of us, and we absolutely have to devolve power.

What languages do you speak?

Indonesian and Malay (enough to get by).

What makes you angry?

I hate it when people consider population, not our consumption, as the problem. It is a bit, of course, but for every one of us you could have 100 people in Africa. It’s to do with us.

What’s you favourite food?


What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

Iboga. It’s a hallucinogenic tree bark. It’s like eating chipboard soaked in battery acid. You can’t chew it – it’s like having bits of wood in your mouth that don’t mush up, but it’s like acid. You try and swallow it, but then you vomit. For 10 hours you’re swallowing and vomiting. And then you do a two-day trip.

Can hallucinogenic drugs be enlightening?

If they’re done in the right context with the right people and setting – as it is within a tribal community. It will allow you to be on a leash to go and explore the darker parts of your psyche, but then they’ll bring you back and show you the light. Ultimately it’s harrowing but fulfilling and good for you. In the UK, we have no history of shamanism. All the people who were in touch with the land – what we called witches, who knew about hemlock and mushrooms and so on – they were burned at the stake by the Christians. We look upon things as dangerous if they make you question stuff.

Are you religious at all?

I came from a Christian family and I grew up very religious, but now I’m certainly not into organised religion. I’m close to being atheist. Some of my biggest subjects in life are genetics, astrophysics, altered states of consciousness (which is all religion) and, of course, culture. Everything about my life is about answering the bigger questions. For so long we have arrogantly considered ourselves as separate to nature, but nature is us; we are nature. We’re all part of the same living planet organism – whatever you want to call it. That’s what tribal people have always known, and that’s what we’re discovering now. Until we realise we’re not different from nature, we won’t survive.

As told to Laura Sevier

Out now : Fundraising CD Amazon Tribe: Songs for Survival (Kensal Town, £9.99), the Amazon DVD series (2 Entertain, £24.99) and Amazon: An Extraordinary Journey Down the Greatest River on Earth, by Bruce Parry (Penguin, £20).

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2008

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