Bolivian Story: Gabriel Coimbra, bringing nature to urban Bolivians

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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