It’s one thing I believe all overlanders in South America agree on: there is one workshop on this continent that is simply the best. If possible, we wait with our car maintenance until we reach Bolivia so the job will be done professionally: at Ernesto’s workshop in La Paz.
Car Talk with Overlanders
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’re camping in Hotel Oberland’s parking lot (they call it a camping, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration, in my opinion) which is the common place for overlanders to stay in La Paz as it’s not common to find a flat piece of land for camping in this mountainous region.
As it goes at this kind of overlanders’ ‘meeting point’, there is a lot of car talk and so mechanical problems are discussed, solutions found and experiences shared (check out Julie and Jean Baptiste’s story with their 1977 Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette). Ernesto is an ever-recurring name during these discussions and so I thought I’d share our experience at this workshop 3 years ago, when 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 Ernesto doesn’t do bodywork).
Order and Cleanliness at Ernesto Hug’s Workshop
Ernesto 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 but decided to return to his country of birth. His workshop would not look out of place in Switzerland. It is hidden behind a tall entrance gate and wall and not set up in the street, which is the common location for workshops in La Paz. The concrete, painted floor is so clean you could eat from it and I don’t dare to sweep the breakfast crumbs from my plate onto the floor, throwing them into the dustbin instead.
Ernesto has four mechanics working in his workshop, three of them have been 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 are cleaned daily and arranged in the drawers in an organized manner.
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 you (Europeans and North Americans) but believe me, Ernesto’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 (on which will follow another blog post). The street/pavement is black with sand, oil and grease and under the black dirt on the mechanics’ outfits one can trace a bit of red – the original color of these outfits. Health and safety regulations are an unknown phenomenon, whether it concerns working conditions or safety measures. Sanding and painting cars happen in the street without ear, eye or mouth protection. The only common piece of protection appears to be welding goggles.
It goes without saying that Ernesto’s workshop isn’t for everybody. The Order and Cleanliness’ has its price. It is a workshop where the middle class of La Paz and foreigners takes their car. Ernesto has a good reputation among overlanders because he allows them to camp in the workshop and work on their cars themselves. That is exactly what Coen needs for a big job.
Maintenance on the Land Cruiser
The steering wheel has been making a horrible, squeaking sound for months, steadily increasing to an unbearable level during the last few weeks. So the steering wheel is taken apart and since there is also some work to be done behind the front wheels, these are taken off as well. Soon the Land Cruiser is surrounded by drive shafts, birfields, steering link, steering relay, spindles, steering knuckles, seals and bearings. Ernesto gives advice on what should be replaced or repaired and the job of one of his employees is to search for parts in La Paz’ extensive spare-parts areas.
Soon the Land Cruiser is surrounded by drive shafts, birfields, steering link, steering relay, spindles, steering knuckles, seals and bearings. Ernesto gives advice on what should be replaced or repaired and the job of one of his employees is to search for parts in La Paz’ extensive spare-parts areas.
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)
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. Feel free to share them in the comment section below.