Rory Spowers, 46, an ecology writer, documentary maker and charity co-founder has spent the best part of the last 10 years outside of the British Isles. Now resident in Ibiza, the Brit also has a home on a lush tea estate in Sri Lanka where he moved in 2004 with his now ex-wife and two children. There they created Samakanda - an organic farm, ‘bio-versity’ and eco-tourism venture. His latest role is that of sustainability ambassador for the Song Saa resort on the Koh Rong archipelago. Chloe Cann reports.
How did you find yourself in Cambodia, as the first brand ambassador for the Song Saa resort?
It was one of those bits of serendipity that led to me coming here – Wayne just picked up a second-hand copy of my book [A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-tuks] a few months ago in a bookshop here and then wrote to me saying ''would you like to come and visit''. It was a hard invitation to say no to and I was due to come to Sri Lanka in August anyway, so it's all worked out beautifully. I'm very keen to keep the dialogue going [with Song Saa]. I'm hugely impressed with the island and with the foundation. It's been an amazing trip.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I moved to Ibiza, Spain just under two years ago to work with Bruce Parry [a British documentary maker and indigenous rights advocate who visits remote tribes and communities] on a documentary called Quest [which investigates whether something has been ‘lost’ in the quest for modernization and globalization.] He's lived in Ibiza for some years and we've known each other for a bit. He very kindly supported some of the campaigns that I was running in the UK over the years as a sort of ambassador for those.
He was developing an independent feature length documentary for the cinema and asked me to help develop it, so I'm one of the writers and producers and I've been in Ibiza pretty much ever since.
I’m in love with Ibiza. It has a very special and magical energy, a lightness and ease of being. For me, the Mediterranean food, culture and climate tick all the boxes.
My kids have just started school there and my ex-wife's going to move there as well once she extricates from Sri Lanka. It's been a bit of a new chapter. The idea is that this will be the first of three films, but we really have to see how this one goes.
It will all be wrapped up by November. We started shooting at the beginning of the year in Borneo and then we were at the huge Kumbh Mela festival in India which happens once every 12 years – tens of millions of people converging on the Ganges at the same time. Then we were with shaman doing plant ceremonies in March to April.
And then [we did] a stretch of interviews with philosophers and writers.
I think next year while we're editing the documentary we'll work together to produce a book to coincide with the release of the film.
How do you keep up with so many different projects at once?
I've got a strange scrapbook life where I've got my fingers in different areas, but they do all somehow relate. The ethos behind Quest is not unrelated to the [Song Saa] foundation's work in the sense that the foundation recognises the importance of local community and traditional and ancient ways. It's about giving the community a leg up so that they can determine what's appropriate and applicable, and I think that's the way forward. I'm looking forward to seeing where it all goes.
You have lived and travelled in many places. Where have you seen the most effective eco-tourism, and has where tourism looked to be the most damaging?
I’ve always been in love with India. Just feel very at home there.
Sri Lanka has some great eco-tourism destinations - www.ulpotha.com stands out for example. The beaches of Bali and Thailand have suffered from rapid overdevelopment, which other Southeast Asian countries, lie Cambodia and Sri Lanka, can learn from.
What is the future for Samakanda? Is the hope that Song Saa will buy into it?
Samakanda is for sale due to complex personal reasons, but I would be open to developing a partnership with people who share the same vision.
Your original move, with your family, was an attempt to combat the rising tide of environmental and economic crisis. Are you still as pessimistic as you were about the planet's future?
Not so much about the planet's future, as nature will always survive, but can't see humanity surviving in such numbers on the current trajectory without a significant shift in our values, beliefs and economic and political thinking.
But I see plenty of people all around the world, from Sri Lanka to Ibiza to the UK to Australia and the US who are living sustainable ecological lifestyles.
Do you think your two children will follow in your footsteps?
It's hard to know - they spend an awful lot of time on their computers but they've grown up running round the jungle at Samakanda and they're savvy when it comes to dealing with the potential dangers there of snakes and scorpions.
They've definitely picked up a bit and they understand about waste and climate change and all that sort of stuff – but hard for them to avoid it. But who knows, they'll probably grow up to be bankers!