Casa de Hacienda Chijchipa
29 Oct, 2017 | Charles Bladon
Photo: Adriana Murillo
A Converted Hacienda-Lodge With a History of Repossession
A warm, lush tropical forest hugs the walls of the converted hacienda. After removing the layers of clothes necessary to survive the bitter cold of the altiplano, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that La Paz is an easy car journey away. Snow-capped mountains, visible from the estate in Chijchipa, are perhaps the only reminder of La Paz’s proximity. I observe this hacienda, which is placed amongst small local lodgings and perched on top of a foothill from which one can see even more forest. It’s is now owned by the Afro-Bolivian community of Chijchipa and has been converted to a tourist lodge.
Nicolás Gutiérrez, secretary general of the community of Chijchipa, manages the lodge on behalf of the entire Afro-Bolivian community in the area. Community members run the enterprise communally. ‘We have assemblies, meetings and emergency meetings,’ Gutiérrez says. ‘All our decisions must be agreed upon by all.’
This collective ownership of the hacienda stretches back to 2004, when its then owner, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, fled the country due to large-scale protests and demands for his resignation during the infamous Gas Wars. Marcelino Barra, Gutiérrez’s deputy, recounts the hard process of repossession: ‘People from different towns found out that this belonged to Sánchez de Lozada and came to invade the house, saying, “This is ours now.” But this is our land. Sánchez de Lozada may have bought it, but this is our land. We kicked out the invaders. Then came the idea to legalise our ownership of the land. In 2009, Evo Morales came and gave us our titles. This is now legally our land.’
The mansion was once owned by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the exiled ex-president.
The conversion of the hacienda has almost acted as therapy for this community, given its harsh relationship with Sánchez de Lozada. Barra, whose parents worked for the ex-president, says that his family lived in poverty. ‘Their houses were about one metre wide. [The people] were like slaves,’ he says. ‘What the bosses gave them wasn't enough. They had nowhere else to go.’ Now locals hope to build a prosperous future for their children where their parents and grandparents suffered. ‘We recovered from the pain,’ Barra exclaims. ‘We took back our culture, starting with this hacienda. We are happy!’
Despite the hacienda’s ideal location, it’s having trouble attracting visitors. ‘We are not promoting much yet,’ Barra explains. ‘I want to be honest, we are busy with working the land. What we need is counselling for this to work.’ To make Chijchipa a warm and tranquil respite from the cold and hectic life of La Paz, the community needs guidance on how to run and promote the project. As Gutiérrez points out, the area is full of beautiful wildlife, with lively birds chirping from the surrounding trees. The hacienda is surrounded by sublime landscapes and lovely walking trails that reveal waterfalls and stunning views of the rolling hills of Chijchipa. The community plans to renovate the old pool, expand the car park and build more cabins for the lodge. With its unique charm, friendly locals and warm weather, Gutiérrez hopes to help Chijchipa thrive further.
The conversion of the hacienda has almost acted as therapy for this community.
Nicolás Gutiérrez: +591 71291567
Marcelino Barra: +591 73024309