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.

Site Analysis & Rough SurveySometimes in landscape architecture, you work in the desert with a pad of paper and a pencil!

Ted, Rolando and I surveyed the property. Helpful having dealt with the metric system when studying in New Zealand…

Earth and clay pillars of “moonscape” are characteristic of this region. They’re uniquely beautiful when left alone, but when leveled flat, they create unstable land with deep cavities below the surface inviting erosion and landslide troubles of all sorts. Amazingly, we laid eyes on so many backhoes and bulldozers in the countryside around the city…


Journal Excerpt:
Yesterday, we worked quite hard in exchange for our room and board: five hours each of manual labor. We filled enormous holes that had developed on the property after the nighttime rainstorm. The worst was at least 8′ across and 30′ deep. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow-full of rock, brick, sand, and dirt we maneuvered to the precipice of the abyss and tipped to spill downward. After the first 22′ of fill, we were able to use a sturdy fencepost to compact the materials.

Fighting the land feels like a losing battle.

Unfortunately, the war was started by someone else and our hosts are now responsible for waging the continuing attack. A few years back, the neighboring land owner allowed his nephew to practice his earthmoving techniques with a massive piece of machinery; a short while later, the boy and his equipment had leveled land that used to be magnificently carved into lunar looking peaks and valleys of yellow rock. Now, the flattened terraces are riddled with hidden disasters. Each rainstorm opens new caverns, and seasonal water flow threatens to erode away massive amounts of the mountainside…

Precedents & Inspirations

So rewarding to give form and vision to clients’ hopes!

Once the hard work of improved drainage systems and soil stabilization are in place, Rolando and Emma hope to put up yurts and camping facilities and install a lovely outdoor spa to be enjoyed by the family, volunteers, and paying guests.

Yurt camping for those who don’t tote tents.
An outdoor spa for guests and volunteers alike…
Ornamental plantings to match their existing garden…

Rings of fire…

Final Master Plan

We wanted to leave our hosts with tools to be used long after our week of work and productive conversation faded to memory. In addition to pencil and paper for quick field notes and sketches, I happily used my mobile office (our traveling laptop) to create a document with current conditions, project phasing, photos, plans and resources to equip Emma and Rolando going forward.

Thankfully, Rolando and Emma are visionaries and builders who aren’t afraid of a plan!

They were already working on expanding their volunteer accommodations (as pictured above), and we’re pretty sure they’ll have camping spots ready for us when we someday make a return visit to Bolivia…

In addition to our Workaway project, we were able to enjoy so many other lovely and generous perks of the stay. Just to share a few:
A visit to Bell and David’s riding lessons…
…a mouthwatering weekend BBQ (yes, grills burn on, even in the rainy season!)…


…very pleasant hours in picturesque hammocks at the conclusion of the workday……Bolivian chocolate, British soccer, Women Who W{h}ine, local wedding festivities, trips to town, and so much more…

We’ve been incredibly impressed with the purpose and follow through of people willing to prioritize social care and land management in their lives. Thank you, sincerely, to the Mendoza-Donlan family for sharing their land and their stories with us. And thanks to our flat-mate Karen, too, for the tea and chocolate cake and political history lessons. You made us feel so welcome!

Our lives and our impression of Bolivia were beautifully shaped by personal connections with our host family, and we were grateful for the opportunity to engage in a worthy project and contribute positively to the land. Who knew a simple Workaway trade could bring such joy?

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14 Comments

  • Reply Kirsten February 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    This is making me wish I had the kind of skills that could practically and immediately change people’s lives for the better as I travel, to this degree. What a truly incredible and sustainable thing you are doing as you travel.

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      It’s humbling to realize how many resources are available in the U.S. and other more developed countries. At home, it’s easy to play the comparison game and imagine that I don’t have much to offer; it’s changing my perspective to know that my skills can be so easily helpful to people, even with simple tools like pen and paper. It’s a reminder to not be shy and to instead share what I *do* have to the extent than I am able. I think the same goes for anything that we each have to offer.

      Your photography is always gorgeous, Kirsten, and sharing that can be just as touching and meaningful to people’s lives. It makes me think of Peter Carey’s “Can I Give Your Picture?” post (http://thecareyadventures.com/blog/2011/can-i-give-your-picture/)…

      Hugs to you, dear! xx

  • Reply Kim February 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    That place is beautiful and you guys are amazing. How wonderful that you have transferable skills that can help those around you. Keep making the world a better place.

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      It was so rewarding to share and know that our work was really going toward something immediate and worthwhile. Sifting through volunteering possibilities was at times overwhelming, and we were so pleased to have settled on the perfect match-up in the end!

  • Reply Susan Buck February 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    You’re doing Miss Rumphius proud, sis. Love you

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      : )

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica February 16, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Sounds like a great experience for you and them. Very cool that you could offer your technical skills to help them out in addition to the manual labor.

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  • Reply Samira March 11, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Hi, I started reading this and noticed you stayed with my friend from the days I lived in England. Yes she was and is amazing and I am sure her family members are great as well. I miss them. I live here in California and have not been able to see her in 12 years.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians April 8, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Hello Samira,
      How wonderful to know that you are friends with Emma! She has such a special family and does great work. Their campground project is coming together nicely these days — you should take a peek at their website :)
      http://colibricamping.com/
      Thanks so much for leaving a note! I hope you get the chance to visit with Emma again someday soon. xx

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