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Bolivia, Interviews, Musings, Social Work

A Man of the People: Bolivia’s Rolando Mendoza

March 4, 2012

Today, my thoughtful, easy going inspiration of a husband shares his write up of a recent interview with one of Bolivia’s finest leaders. Both men are humble and sincere, less the type to write for the world and more the type to be out living their convictions on local streets, day after day.
I’m grateful to share their story with you. -Bethany

A Man of the People: My Interview with Public Servant Rolando Mendoza
By Ted Rydmark

While in Bolivia, we spent a week on work-exchange with the Mendoza-Donlon Family.

Rolando Mendoza has extensive experience as a public servant. He is the former mayor of Mallasa (a suburb town of La Paz), the former Head of Social Services for the Municipality of La Paz (metro population 2.3 million), and is the current Person in Charge of Planning and Investment for the Ministry of Planning for the Bolivian Government.

When he was elected Mayor of Mallasa, he was the first non-party “man of the people” to serve in that office. His success as mayor resulted in his appointment a Head of Social Services for La Paz.

I took the opportunity sit down with Rolando and ask him about his experiences as a civic politician. Special thanks to Bethany for recording the conversation and to Rolando’s wife, Emma, for translating.

Ted: What was most challenging about working as head of Social Services in La Paz?
Rolando: It was most challenging to really know what was going on and to develop plans to transform the situation and make it better. Because we were working for the benefit of young people, children, and old people, I had this desperation to really make their lives better and make an impact – fast. I desired that my programs would become institutionalized and consolidated and would last over time.

Rolando’s position lasted four years, during which time he accomplished much. As the Head of Social Services for the Municipality of La Paz, Rolando’s responsibilities included five broad areas: Sports, Health (including infrastructure, equipment, and future planning), Education (including the planning and building of schools), Citizen Rights (equivalent to Civil Rights), and Citizen Security. During this time he was directly responsible for over 800 municipal staff. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Musings, Photography, Social Work, South America

Sunrise, Sunset: Bolivia to Chile

February 27, 2012

Our final morning on the long road south between Bolivia and Chile, we awoke at 4:30am to make the geysers by sunrise and Aguas Termales hot springs by breakfast. The kindness and tech-savvy of our driver, Edgar, allowed us to plug in iPods to the speaker system and create a crowd sourced soundtrack to our travels…

We alternated between The Avett Brothers, Mika, Josh Garrels and more as the sights melted into the rear view mirror, and we tried to forget the difficult night behind us. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Musings, Photography, South America

Travels Through The Middle of Nowhere

February 25, 2012

Sometimes, I don’t do my research.

I sign us up for random 4×4 tours through the middle of nowhere South America and, aside from the Salt Flats, haven’t the foggiest idea of what we’re about to see through the car window…

Sometimes, the surprise is worth the negligence.

Day two of our three-day-expedition meant little to me when I saw the route on the tiny 4×6 map we were given at the outset: tiny mountain symbols, a few “Lagunas,” dashed lines, and some lingering memories of beautiful flamingo snapshots from a fellow blogger.

Sometimes, as we travel, time is spent on today. The people, the places, the tasks at hand.

Sometimes, we trust that at a certain point, neglecting the planning and research means that tomorrow really will take care of itself.

How jaw-dropping to encounter plants and wildlife, mountain scenes and colored lakes, high country snow (the first snow of our Brazilian companions’ lives!), and approach each new bend in the road with wide eyed anticipation and wonder.

Sometimes, we have no idea what to expect. And that’s when travel comes alive.

Enjoy the peek at beautiful, wild, surprising altiplano of Southern Bolivia…

Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Photography, South America

Salar de Uyuni: Please Pass the Salt {and the Chocolate, too}

February 23, 2012

Island Vacation? No, not a golden beach on tropical shores: a vast, evaporated lake of salt sitting 11,995 feet high in the land-locked country of Bolivia. The 4,000 square mile Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat) is roughly the size of Oregon’s entire Willamette Valley floor.

A visit to this natural phenomenon was part of our transportation scheme as we maneuvered overland through southern Bolivia and on into Chile. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Photography, South America

Cementerio de Trenes: Where Transportation Hopes Come to Die

February 22, 2012

Hello, hello, friends! This is the beginning of a rapid-fire blog journey following our tire tracks south from La Paz, Bolivia by overnight bus to Uyuni and then onward via 4×4 through cemeteries, salt flats, volcanoes and lakes, through lands of geysers and hot springs and high elevation passes, and finally past the Chilean border and into the Atacama desert. Enjoy the ride!

He stopped the vehicle and welcomed us to the Cemetery of Trains. An auspicious beginning. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Social Work

Social Service Excellence: The Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre

February 19, 2012

During our Workaway in Bolivia, Ted and I paid a visiting to a fabulous local social services project in the neighboring town: The Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre.

“The Nursery” as Emma (our host and one of the incredibly humble founders of the project), fondly calls it, exceeded every single one of our expectations. We might have simply hoped to find a roof over the children’s heads, a snack on the table, and a bit of outside space in which to play…

What we found instead was a beautiful and fully modernized operation run not by external NGOs but by the community itself with outstanding management, terrific resources for parents, high quality care and teaching for the children, and exceptional integration of creative, holistic learning in the daily operations. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Musings, Photography

Photos from La Paz: Cathedrals, Moonscapes, Pigeons in the Park

February 17, 2012

Welcome to Sights from Our Adventures in the City, episode two. See Lima to catch up on episode one. It’s riveting entertainment, let me assure you.

This post’s title makes sense mostly in the non-sensical context of Kilban’s lines:
Piggly, wiggly, bird bath, pie
Cat hips, fish lips, poke you in the eye!

Aardvark, percolator, five-cent cigar
Rhinestones, soup bones, midgets in a jar

Please, pull up a seat and follow along our wanderings in downtown La Paz, Bolivia…
Continue Reading…


It’s the Altitude!

February 16, 2012

La Paz, Bolivia is situated at 13,313 feet above sea level. In other words: 2.52 miles.

During our week-long Workaway stay in the region, Karen, our charming British flatmate, shed humorous insight into life at drastic heights above sea level, and the collective tally of random quirks grew as the days went by. What follows is our incredibly precise and highly scientific collection of odd happenings at lofty altitudes: Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Landscape Architecture, Musings

Workway Bolivia: Landscape Architecture for Room & Board

February 14, 2012

Through connecting with a welcoming Workaway host family, we spent a little over a week living in Jupapina, Bolivia (about thirty minutes outside La Paz), earning room and board in exchange for flexing muscles of body and mind.

During our all-too-short time in Bolivia, we’ve been witness to unsettling destruction of natural resources: homes perched on unstable ground, bulldozers wreaking havoc on naturally stable terrain, and creation of geological chaos in the name of development.

What a treat to meet this inspiring family and engage in finding land management solutions.

Emma and Rolando with their charming kiddos: Bell and David…

Our hosts, Emma and Rolando, have dedicated their family and careers to bettering Bolivia. Emma relocated from England after spending time with international development agencies working in South America and Africa and is now involved in projects providing activities, meals, and education for children of working class parents unable to afford daycare and in community development projects benefitting indigenous people groups. Rolando ran against the political shoe-ins and won as an independent candidate for Mayor of nearby Mallasa, enacting many land preservation measures, developing public recreation lands, introducing art into public works projects, and advocating for the needs of the people, and later he was appointed and served as head of Social Services for all of La Paz.

Site: The Mendoza-Donlan Residence in Jupapina, BoliviaThe sky isn’t Photoshopped and the house really is that brilliant color. Light is amazing in Bolivia.

Emma and Rolando built their home four years ago in the beautiful Bolivian countryside, but their neighbors’ poor land management left them with an incredibly unstable property adjacent to their own. Their offer to purchase the land was accepted, and they’ve been working for the past few seasons to mitigate the damages and have plans to eventually develop the site as a tent and yurt campground serving La Paz.

As a landscape architect, I offered my skills to help with site master planning and Ted and I are both aided in filling holes, planting trees, cleaning out sand traps, and generally leaving the {future} campsite cleaner than we found it.

In one week’s time, we held client design meetings, worked out existing conditions and site analysis, spent time on concept and schematic designs, and reviewed design development options before committing to the final master plan. Continue Reading…

Bolivia, Destinations, Musings

Bolivian W{h}ine

February 5, 2012

About half way through our stay in Bolivia, I took up the invitation to attend a Women Who W{h}ine get together in La Paz. Each month, marvelous ladies of the city (expats and locals working for NGOs, designers and artisans running their own businesses, World Bank employees, and tour company owners) bring a bottle of something delicious and spend an evening of drink and discussion in the company of other interesting minds.

In that spirit, here is our own whine and wine take on Bolivia:

WHINE: Border Crossings, Long-Haul Transportation, Stormwater Management, and Loopholes for Transgenic Crops

To make our exit from Peru, we bussed from Cusco to Puno (complete with overnight stay in sketch-city-hostel) and then followed the lake shore of Titicaca toward the border crossing with Bolivia. As Americans, we forked over $135 each in U.S. Dollars to satisfy the Bolivian government, and receive our entry visas. Continue Reading…