Bolivian Story: Gabriel Coimbra, bringing nature to urban Bolivians

Posted on 16 September 2014 | No responses

I met Gabriel whilst volunteering at Red Monkey, a vegan restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia. At first I knew him as the guy washing dishes and tidying up but I soon learnt that there was so much more to this young man from the Amazon! One day he gave me some soapnuts he had collected… I hadn’t seen these since we were living in Europe, in the eco stores. I was so excited to use them to make soapnut liquid as an all purpose cleaner and natural pesticide for the white flies on my tomatoes. Another time I tried his Andean wild herbs bath salts as well as various other infusions and creations. Gabriel’s knowledge of plants, interest in all things natural and wonderful culinary experiments are impressive. I wish I could have stayed longer to learn from him. He is in the process of developing products and I’m thrilled to share with you his ideas and influences in this interview!

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What’s your project about? What sort of products are you making? How did you get interested in this area?

For a long time, ever since I was a kid, I have been deeply attracted to nature, to plants and the richness of scents, colours, textures and the healing properties they have to offer. I am always collecting plants, rocks, pieces of wood and seeds that I find on my path, trying to connect with them and finding that they offer us a whole universe of properties. I find total abundance in our natural world, and I feel it is given to us in a perfect, flawless way, with a universal love. This is something that we as a society have disconnected from and have developed an arrogant, selfish attitude towards it. With this attitude we no longer see the plant, its life, its role, its beauty and it becomes a soulless object, a money making tool. This leads to us treating ourselves this way, losing our value and beauty.

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With this project, I want to create a whole line of products that respect and carry the properties of plants as they are, and that can bring them closer to people’s everyday life. I want them to represent what plants are to me – a source of life and wonder. I believe that having this connection is very necessary for humans, it is a right we all have, and we should protect it. I want to start with cleaning products, for our bodies as well as household. Cleaning for me goes beyond removing dust, dirt and harmful agents. Clean for me is much deeper than that. Thoughts, emotions and vibrations are also permeating our houses, clothes and bodies, just as much as dirt and bacteria. This clutters our minds and is a weight on ourselves as would be a food that we didn’t digest and is stuck, stopping the normal functioning of our intestines. Many plants, in their perfect nature, not only have disinfecting properties and can clean a place free of bacteria and viruses, but also clean the environment of heavy vibrations. For example, some American Indians, who understood this very well, used sage to clean environments. Here in Bolivia, plants like khoa and palo santo have been used traditionally in incense for this purpose. We are working on finding ways to extract these properties and deliver them in a product that cleans in all dimensions, and maintains the delicious natural scent. I also want to extract essences and essential oils for when done correctly, they are a concentrate of all properties of a plant, not just the scent. Then essences can be used in a wide range of products, from edible oils to cosmetics. We should have raw, organic coconut oil, sesame oil and a few others within the next couple of months. So, in a few words, my project is about reconnecting us to nature, and finding that what nature has to offer is much more wholesome and goes much further than our artificial inventions.

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How did your upbringing/childhood/environment influence or teach you?

I am the third of six children in my household so it was always a loud, fun environment . I was brought up in a very special way – my parents always portrayed the world as a magical place, full of wonder. They always tried to show us a deeper value of things, beyond their physical manifestation. The same for human beings, trying to teach me that we are more than our bodies, that our emotions and thoughts are integral to what we are, and to see how they work and affect us. They taught me about love, gratitude and our power of creation. They worked hard to keep a healthy, wholesome environment, so they raised us vegetarians from the womb, we had no access to television as kids, and they kept a delicate, calm dealing within the family. We were also very connected to nature, always growing food, having many exotic pets and exploring the abundant rainforest in Santa Cruz. Another thing was that we were very free, we could do what we wanted, within reasonable limits. We belonged to a religious group where these values were instructed, and it was comforting to be able to share them with a larger group of people. This obviously had a profound effect on me, and has shaped my world view. The society in Santa Cruz, where I grew up is radically different from this, we were the odd ones everywhere we went. It was hard for me to see why people would behave in certain ways, and would not appreciate the things that were so important to me. At one point I came to reject my upbringing and go against it in order to fit in, but I quickly realized that I was very lucky to have been brought up this way, and that it is important for me to share this view with those who have not been so lucky.

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Life’s changing: we are settling in Australia

Posted on 12 August 2014 | 4 responses

Jean and I are lucky we found each other. We have so much love that sometimes I wonder how it could possibly last. In November we’ll be counting 6 years of a surprising and beautiful journey together. I still remember the day we met. My heart fluttered and my knees nearly gave way. I had never been one  of those girls so the feelings surprised me. I convinced myself that none of it was real and it was all in my head so I spent the remaining weekend of that meditation course avoiding him. Little did I know that he had just changed the course of my life. This wonderfully supportive, kind, intelligent, patient man has filled me with a deep, committed love I didn’t know was possible. He encouraged me to leave a career that felt unfulfilling and compromising of my values. He has always believed in me.

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Wherever we are, we find joy in our shared life together. Our values and love grow through experiences, travel and self development. Jean is gifted with positivity that shines even through lack of sleep, stretched finances and stressful moments. He has a love and confidence in life that inspires and intrigues me. On the contrary, I feel I am often fighting internal battles about my appearance, money, future and relationships. I wish I wasn’t like this. I try to accept. I practice gratitude. I remind myself to observe. I try to stop the self judgment. I know I’m not unique – so many of you feel the same way and it seems to be the human condition. I’m happy I learn and grow. There’s always room to improve.

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Lately we’ve been searching for roots. After living in Bolivia and so many years moving, we are both aching to invest our ideas, creativity and energy into a special place we can be connected to for a long time. This is such an exciting change for us but a worrying one too. After staying with friends and family for a few months we have found ourselves in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales in Australia. We are looking for somewhere to rent, to put our things, to make our home while we search for land to fulfil a project, a life goal and connection in this special place. In between phone calls, house visits and research we explore. We wander sun drenched beaches, the winterly winds hardly cold to us at all. Our eyes drink in the wide landscapes of rolling hills stretching out to white beaches and bright blue ocean. Our hearts connect to the street music, small towns and like minded people in the region. Today we were so excited to see a pod of dolphins playing in the waves alongside surfers… then, an eagle glided by with a fish wriggling in its claws. “I love this country!” Jean exclaimed. We are finding our place, I thought. I need to be patient.

Then my mind starts wondering about what I will do here. What can I offer? How can I make a living? Jean reminds me to be confident in life and lists my qualities and skills. I wish I believed in them as much as he does. I want to grow food, connect with nature and people, create, share, teach, learn, photograph, paint, ferment…

…and so our life changes again… thank you for joining our journey and stay tuned for this next chapter in our lives…

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Photos thanks to Elaine Santana.


 

Galápagos Islands: remarkable yet preoccupying

Posted on 25 July 2014 | 1 response

We enjoyed last Christmas on the Galapagos Islands, giving ourselves the soulful gift of connecting with nature. We felt incredibly blessed to be in such a unique place on this remarkable planet of ours as animals approached us unguarded, unafraid of humans and as curious about us as we were of them. We wondered at the unique giant tortoises, tame sea lions and abundant bird life.

Our visit was bitter sweet though, as we noticed the effects of tourism and the swell in population on the islands. We wondered if we should really be there, contributing in that way. Locals profess [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Alejandro Barrios

Posted on 25 June 2014 | 2 responses

I met Alejandro whilst volunteering at vegan restaurant, Red Monkey, in La Paz, Bolivia. Ale was in charge of baking the bread and making the vegan cakes. I was fascinated by making cakes without eggs, milk or butter and I knew they must be good because Ale is the happiest, most laid back person there… high on life and baked goods! Actually, Ale’s wonderful attitude to life, his joyful presence and playfulness is what kept me going back on Thursdays to help out in the kitchen. I’m so grateful for the time spent with him, exchanging, learning from him and [...] Continue Reading…

Suburban food gardening in Perth, Western Australia

Posted on 5 May 2014 | No responses

Over the past year I’ve been following a facebook group called Jetto’s Patch, a Perth edible garden on less than half an acre (1482 square meters). Admittedly, my involvement in the group has been minimal as we’ve been in Bolivia gardening in a completely different environment. I’ve quietly sat back and read posts, information and advice from people all over the world but I’ve been specifically interested in Dario and Michele, who nurture their abundant garden with passion and research.

Friends of ours in Perth have found Jetto’s an inspiring and deep resource for their own budding suburban food garden. [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Felipe Ballon

Posted on 3 April 2014 | 2 responses

I have known Felipe Ballon since very soon after our arrival in La Paz but most of my time was spent with him in his car! Felipe is the taxi-driver hired by the NGO I used to work with, so we would frequently spend the hour long trip to/from the airport discussing Bolivia and its intriguing contradictions.  As a taxi-driver I particularly enjoyed his punctuality – even when he had to pick me up from the airport at 3 am – and as a friend I enjoyed learning from him as he shared his perspectives on Bolivian society. So, [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Maria Calzadilla

Posted on 26 March 2014 | 1 response

One sunny day I went to a Mercadito Pop [a fair] and discovered an amazing electric blue felted hat I just had to have to protect me from the harsh sun we get here at the high altitude of La Paz. The lady designing and selling these unique hats was Maria. I noticed straight away she was a woman caring about design. You know those sort of people, right? They look effortless. They always have something ever so slightly different hanging from their ears or neck, but never too over-the-top or in-your-face. This is Maria – comfortable, unique, creative [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Sandra

Posted on 10 March 2014 | 2 responses

Just two weeks after I arrived in Bolivia I began daily Spanish classes with Sandra. She didn’t want to be interviewed or have photos taken, which is also why I haven’t included her surname. This Bolivian Story is to tell you about why she has been such a big part of my life here.

My first year in La Paz was difficult for me. Jean was frequently travelling for work, I didn’t know anyone and most days the only other person I spoke to was Sandra, for 1 or maybe 2 hours… in Spanish.  It was exhausting. Some days I [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Daniela Lorini

Posted on 8 March 2014 | 1 response

One day we visited the Christmas fair at the American school and discovered some unique, beautiful mirrors, paintings and coat hooks being sold by Daniela Lorini. She was there with her partner, Arnaud, selling her art works which stood out among the collection of crafts there. We started talking and before we left Dani asked for our contact details. At the time I thought she was just being polite but they were different. They remembered us and invited us over for dinner in the new year. We instantly connected.

I started hanging out at Dani’s place one day a week [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Diane Bellomy, Artesania Sorata

Posted on 6 March 2014 | No responses

Soon after we arrived in Bolivia we met Diane Bellomy. Diane’s work was very interesting to me since she owns a Fair Trade business called Artesania Sorata, producing and selling hand dyed and handmade alpaca clothing, accessories and home wares that are generally made by women. Here in La Paz there are very few places that sell genuinely handmade, genuinely Bolivian or genuinely Fair Trade alpaca wear, despite the numerous shops in the tourist street Calle Sagarnaga claiming some of these. So, before long I started volunteering unofficially around 3-4 days a week, for around a year. During this [...] Continue Reading…

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