If there is one thing I believe all overlanders in South America agree on: there is one workshop in South America that simply is the best.
If possible, we wait with our car maintenance until we reach Bolivia so the job will be done professionally: at Ernesto Hug’s car workshop in La Paz.
Hotel Oberland in La Paz
We’re back in Bolivia for, oh, I guess about the fourth time and it feels good to be back in La Paz, where we lived for 6 months when we renovated the Land Cruiser in 2010.
Today we are camped in Hotel Oberland’s parking lot (they call it a campground but that’s an exaggeration) in Mallassa, south of La Paz. This is not just a hotel but, more importantly for overlanders, the place for overlanders who want to visit La Paz.
Because it is hard to find a flat piece of land for camping in this mountainous region let alone in the city of La Paz itself with its steep streets and alleys, many go to Hotel Oberland. While most people camp, some may take a room (e.g. because it’s not evident to set up a ground tent).
Car Talk with Overlanders
As it goes at these kinds of overlanders’ meeting points, we do a lot of car talk. Especially in the highlands of Bolivia, as well as in the surrounding countries, overland vehicles suffer a lot on the often unpaved, washboard roads so we have a lot to talk about mechanical problems, solutions, and experiences in workshops.
Invariably, Ernesto Hug comes up and so I thought I’d share our experience at this workshop from three years ago. At the time we got some maintenance done just before the major decision was taken that the Land Cruiser was due for a major overhaul (done at another workshop because, unfortunately, Ernesto doesn’t do bodywork).
Order & Cleanliness at Ernesto Hug’s Workshop
Ernesto Hug is a Swiss, born in Bolivia who has owned and managed a car workshop for more than thirty years. He studied automotive engineering in Switzerland after which he returned to his country of birth.
His workshop is meticulous in every possible way. Hidden behind a tall entrance gate and wall, you can’t just walk in here. This is very different from most car workshops in La Paz, which are set up in the street.
Ernesto has four mechanics working in his workshop, three of which have worked here for more than ten years, which says much about good management, I believe.
Each morning the men arrive exactly at eight o’clock, dressed in clean overalls and ready for work. Each has his own trolley with Swiss and German tools which they daily clean and keep super organized.
Cars are thoroughly cleaned before the mechanics go to work on them.
“Order and Cleanliness” would be the appropriate words on a sign above the gate.
This may all sound very normal to readers from western countries, however, believe me, Ernesto Hug’s workshop is something from a different galaxy, bearing no resemblance to the surrounding, typical Bolivian workshops like the one where we went to fix the fenders.
Workshops in La Paz – Work in the Street
In La Paz most mechanical work is done on the street, despite the steep mountain slopes. The streets and pavements are black with sand, oil and grease and under the black dirt on the mechanics’ outfits you can trace a bit of red – the original color of these outfits.
Health and safety regulations are non-existent, whether it concerns working conditions or safety measures. Sanding and painting cars happen in the street without any kind of protection except for welding goggles.
It goes without saying that Ernesto’s workshop isn’t for everybody. ‘Order and Cleanliness’ has its price. This is a workshop where the middle class of La Paz and foreigners take their car for maintenance.
Ernesto has a good reputation among overlanders for the work he does. Additionally, he allows us to camp in his workshop and work on their cars themselves. And so, that’s where we went.
Read More: Roughing it in South Bolivia
Maintenance on the Land Cruiser
The steering wheel had been making a horrible, squeaking sound for months, steadily increasing to an unbearable level of noise during the last few weeks. At Ernesto’s workshop, Coen took the steering wheel taken apart. As usual something like this leads to another and since there was also some work to be done behind the front wheels, he dismantled the wheels to0.
Soon the Land Cruiser stood surrounded by drive shafts, steering links, steering relays, spindles, steering knuckles, seals, bearings, and god knows what.
Ernesto gave advice on what should be replaced or repaired. He has a man who does nothing but search for parts in La Paz’ extensive spare-parts areas, which saves you a lot of time to do the searching yourself.
Also when you work on the overland vehicle yourself, your bill will be higher than when you get the job done in the street somewhere. But believe me, the quality you get in return at Ernesto Hug’s Garage, is more than worth that money.
Practical information on the Best Workshop in South America
Calle Jaimes Freyre 2326
La Paz, Bolivia
Tel: 241-5264 (+591 for Bolivia)
GPS Waypoint: -16.51557, -68.13583
Mallasse (south of La Paz)
www.h-oberland.com, or book here.
prices: 50 bolivianos per person per night (including vehicle). Only car parking B15 / night.
GPS Waypoint: -16.56744, -68.08333
We’d love to hear your stories and experiences at Ernesto’s workshop. Do you consider him the best workshop in South America?
Feel free to share your ideas and experiences in the comment section below.
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