The Land Cruiser Restoration in Bolivia (3) – Car Part Shopping and Conquering Hurdles


“Plans are worthless. Planning is essential.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower


This is part 3 in a 4-part series of the Land Cruiser renovation project we did in La Paz, Bolivia, in 2010. It was the biggest and hardest overhaul of the 4 we have done in our 16 years on the road. As to why I am sharing this story now, only after 9 years, please check out the introduction in part 1.

Here’s part 1

And to follow the full sequence, check out part 2 as well.

Here’s part 2

La Paz at night

The Land Cruiser Restoration in Bolivia – part 3 – Car Part Shopping and Conquering Hurdles

Don Edwin wanted more time and more money. We insisted on more workers and a restored Land Cruiser. Were we going to work it out together? If that was not enough, president Evo Morales changed the law. Instead of 6 months we could stay only 3. That meant our visa was about to expire the following week.

(Captions by Coen)

Car Part Shopping – How and Where to Find the Right Parts?

San Pedro is a neighborhood full of car-part shops. On my way downtown, I walked past a church, a café (where I sometimes stopped for coffee), mechanics working in the street, and traversed a roundabout with colorful flowerbeds.

I loved La Paz.

The traffic was chaotic, there was little room in the narrow streets for maneuvering and parking. You had to be careful where you walked to not step into potholes or to slip because of dirt or a dog turd. Having said that, the center city was kept clean by South American standards.

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Silicone tape

Battery booster

Tie raps

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Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)
At the car fair up in El Alto, I got myself some new gauges. One fuel gauge for the spare fuel tank and two temperature gauges. One mechanical for the oil temperature that I will measure at the carter plug and one 24v electrical one for the water temperature measured near the thermostat.

La Paz was a city that felt alive, was cozy, where something was always happening (e.g. Día del Mar, Alasitas Festival, Aymara New Year, the Procession of Gran Poder). The second I walked outside and ran down the steep slopes or climbed up, I was always overcome by a feeling of being rich to live in such a wonderful place.

While the men in the garage were doing their jobs, I was flying from one side to the other with shopping lists that Coen had given me. New car parts, nuts, stainless steel bolts, aluminum heating pipes, kerosene to clean the engine, new locks. I went from one place to the next and was soon recognized in the stores as ‘the wife of that Dutchman with the heavy beard’.

Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)
Karin-Marijke buys a new window lifter.

That may sound weird, but Bolivians don’t have beards and they were not used to seeing a man with such a heavy one. People stared at him quite a bit for that. Coen, who doesn’t like shaving to begin with, couldn’t be bothered with shaving at all while working in the workshop. In fact, at the start of the project he had stated that he was not going to shave until the project was finished and had grown a thick beard.

Flores Street was the place to go for screws, bolts and other small items. Perno Center was the cheaper place to go but they didn’t have everything and no customer service to speak of. Here, in macho-country Bolivia, it was strange for a woman to buy car parts – even though women did work in these stores – so it took time to break the ice.

Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)

Whereas initially I almost get a ‘No’ per definition, particularly of the boss at Pertex’, shop owners became helpful after a while in searching for car parts or coming up with alternatives.

It was useless to ask for an original car part by number in Bolivia (and surrounding countries). Part numbers were a completely unknown phenomenon. As a result I constantly walked around with the broken car parts, showing them in stores and ask if they sold them.

Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)
New switches. The old ones [in the background] were sticking out tol much and we lost three plastic ones like that. Coen replaced some by metallic levers, but they got switched accidentally, sometimes and we drove all day with the rear work lights on. So Coen thought of replacing them by something smaller and also something with a light inside so that it would be obvious when switched on, accidentally or not.

The question remained, did a “No” also mean that the car part actually didn’t exist? Did we have a misunderstanding due to my technically limited Spanish, or did they not feel like helping? For example, one day I needed a specific type of lock.

“No, that doesn’t exist here,” the shop owners said in stores A, B, and C.

However, Coen had taught me the ropes by then and I kept on asking around in every shop until I spotted my desired locks on the counter in store X, Y, or Z.

Keeping track of all expenses of the overhaul in an Excel sheet.

If they did have the right car part, it was (of course!) original. So original that some things fell apart before they were installed, or started rusting in no time. Inferior quality was not something typical Bolivian.

Wherever we had the Land Cruiser fixed, whether in Asia or Latin America, we have come across things like this. Although always searching for the good and positive, we couldn’t help feeling despondent at times.

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Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)

Day 68 – Time for a Talk

Meanwhile we had been in the garage for almost ten weeks for the restoration of the Land Cruiser. Around me stood side panels with hand-sized holes, a completely rotten roof edge, doors, a rusted hood, fifty loose parts and other pieces of bodywork. None of them had been worked on yet.

The contract was going expire in two weeks.

But Don Edwin – the garage owner – did not want to buy paint for the equivalent of 12 US dollars, even though we had paid 1500 dollars in advance.

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This became our new tire carrier that Coen bought on the Junkyard for 30 USD.

I reminded Don Edwin he could complain about the advance of 12 dollars for paint, but that every day that Esteban was picking his nose, waiting for that paint, was going to cost him more than that.

In two weeks, when the contract would expire, we would charge him $50 per day in fine (all about the fine and contract is in part 2).

This simple statement worked better than showing him the extra costs that we were having as a result of his total lack of planning and management. This was at least  $2000, in extra rent, missing a photo assignment, rescheduling of airline tickets, a hefty fine for overstaying our visa, etc.

The left rear was the worst place, I guess. This was a real challenge for Esteban.

Don Edwin continued breaking promises. Like getting Simon on the job 8 weeks earlier, only to then say mañana mañana for another 4 weeks. Last week he had promised for the umpteenth time that Simon would start helping today, however, this morning Simon was tinkering on yet another car.

(to put that in perspective for the reader: by now, Don Edwin should have put 68 days x 8 hours = 496 hours of work in the Land Cruiser. I kept stats and looking back he had put in a mere 300 hours thus far. Furthermore we had agreed on a couple of extra jobs, outside the contract and budget, such as installing the spare wheel at the rear and a second fuel tank, which required additional time).

There are some nasty spots in the sidewall, but nothing compared the the back part. The whole inside of the walls were sprayed with some sort of resin. A real pain to get of things. It is burning pretty hefty. Look the top of the sidewall is just burning away.

“We need hands!” I exclaimed in frustration.

“Yes, yes, Simon and also Alex are going to help,” he replied.

Don Edwin started talking about what he would do for us in May, when we were going to be in the Netherlands. He had an infectious enthusiasm when it came to making plans and excelled in talking in the future, “We are going to …”.

“No. We are only talking about today: April 16 to May 1. We are talking about now! Simon and Alex have to work on the Land Cruiser from now on.”

“But that fine then?” he asked. He was starting to get worried, which was about time.

I told him I no longer had any faith in his promises. That I wasn’t going to wave that fine. And that if Alex, Simon, and Esteban would work on only our Land Cruiser starting today until May 1 and a substation amount of work would get done, I was going to reconsider the situation.

Read More: Fixing the Fenders (Bolivia)

Coen: “I found two tanks in El Alto. One is flat and long but has the intake [for me] on the wrong side. The other is fat and high but comes with an excellent protecting plate. Esteban and I choose the last. But because the protection plate is not the original one that belongs to the tank, I have to adapt it a little. I am sending up a rooster tail of sparks with the grinder while cutting the protector.”

Before the renovation of the Land Cruiser started, we had already booked tickets to the Netherlands for May 5. Since Don Edwin’s had promised the delivery of April 4 in its original schedule, this didn’t seem to be a problem.

How all that had changed!

There was no question of having work done on the Land Cruiser in our absence (or that it would even remain in this garage). We no longer had any faith in this man. I had already rescheduled the airline tickets to May 18, but for the time being I was not telling Don Edwin that to keep the pressure on.

Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)

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Bureaucratic Hurdles – Change of Law and our Visa Expires

Coen and my only goal now was to have the Land Cruiser in drivable condition before we flew to the Netherlands.

Yet another challenge was thrown into our faces.

Señor Evo Morales (the president) had decided to change the law, commencing the following day. We could no longer stay 6 months in the country but only 3. Despite our contacts high up in the hierarchy of Bolivia’s government thanks to Coen’s cousin who lived in La Paz, it was impossible to obtain an exception to this new law. It meant we were going to overstay, which was not a problem in itself apart from costing us a fine.

The big question was whether we were going to be allowed back into the country on our return from the Netherlands. Therefore the Land Cruiser had to be drivable so that if push came to shove, Jaap could drive the Land Cruiser to the border. This was an emergency option as his cousin had never driven the Land Cruiser, nor, for that matter, had he driven at all for the past ten years.

It surprised Don Edwin to hear that we rejected his offer to drive the Land Cruiser to the border for us. This, once more, emphasized on what different wavelengths we operated.

Jaap, as well as other Bolivian friends, advised us to find ourselves a lawyer to see what measures could be taken to get the work done. However, we didn’t want to go down that road and continued hoping for the best.

Dag 69 – Simon is on the Job!

A day later I saw that Simon was sanding the hood of our (!) Land Cruiser. Halleluiah! Was it really going to happen? Esteban had painted the cockpit and was now welding the fenders.

Car Part Shopping by Coen

While I did most of the car part shopping and taking stuff to shops to be repaired, some things Coen needed to do himself. As such he had found a place to fix the radiator, which was going to be returned today.

Coen bought a second-hand spare tire carrier and came across a chassis of an FJ62. Would it fit? Our own chassis had a frighteningly thick crack. In recent weeks he had cleaned bolts by means of electrolysis. This then had led to a complaint by Don Edwin that he was using too much power.

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After a month our new radiator panel just came from the factory. They produce mainly for the mining industry that is situated in this region.

Next Coen bought a spare tank and made the corresponding protective armor to measure. He removed the brake lines from the chassis, part of which was also due for replacement. We felt the consequences of this badly done overhaul in the years to come in a number of ways.

The brake lines was a big one in particular which played up only years later in a most incredible sequence of events.

Read the Braking-News Story here

Experimenting with electrolysis. A big charger, a bucket of water and few hands of washing detergent will perform miracles, says the Internet. On the right side the positive is connected to a bold that hangs in the water. This is the electrode. On the left a piece of heavily corroded metal attached to the negative pole. Put some current on there and the whole thing starts to bubble and get warm. Later Coen replaced the bold by an ever bigger one to get a greater reaction. After two hours that piece of metal is clean of rust. We got a bunch of nuts and bolds de-rusted this way.

Sigh and Keep up the Good Spirit

One day I returned from downtown when Coen was having lunch.

“Listen to this,” he said, “Don Edwin just instructed Esteban not to paint parts for me anymore. That’s my own problem from now on.”

I shook off the irritation and talked to the guys in the workshop about the state of affairs. What had been done, what had been finished, what needed to be done and when was it going to be finished. I did this every day now and it was clear that the guys did appreciate that attention.

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Car Part Shopping in La Paz, Bolivia (©Coen Wubbels)

We knew the guys were doing their very best. Esteban and Simon both were skilled workers who did their work often with limited resources. Frankly it was hard to really get a feel of how they thought about this whole project.

While stress was high on all of us (for different reasons), it wasn’t a continuous process of bickering and arguing. The latter was mostly between Don Edwin and me (as explained in part 2, Coen no longer discussed the process with him), or the occassional explosion between Coen and one of the guys when something really went wrong (such as the antirust paint, also explained in part 2).

When together in the workshop we all worked in harmony, had our chats, shared laughter, and could make good progress that lifted us up and gave us confidence that everything would turn out okay.

Finding More Help

In yet another attempt to get the renovation project finished in time, I spent two days visiting other workshops and ask for available mechanics who would want to work for us for a week or so. Some of them came to check it out. This gave me good hope but Don Edwin was furious for bringing these guys.

“They are just checking out the place to see what they can steal, maybe they will break in!”

I found that unkind and disrespectful to say, but it was true that they didn’t come for the job. They all declined, for a reason that had been clear beforehand.

“This is Esteban’s job, so he has to finish it.”

“That’s the way it is here,” people around me said.

“You don’t help each other.”

I felt that this said so much about (lack of) trust. There was a deep layer of god-knows-what below those remarks. What was this saying about the Bolivian culture? It would be interesting for an anthropologist to dive into. I, however, needed all my attention and energy on getting the Land Cruiser out of that workshop in driving condition.

The new spare fuel tank. I emptied it and poured some diesel in it as to see the walls would be lined with a thin protective layer. It seems not the case. I stripped the pump and hope I get the floater working with a universal fuel gauge.

I didn’t give up and regularly brought something to share, hoping to create something of a positive touch, a bag of cookies or soda. I noticed that the guys drank or ate it in the corner of the workshop, out of sight.

“Take a break,” I’d call.

“No, Don Edwin doesn’t allow us to take a break,” they’d answer.

I sometimes saw Don Edwin looking at us with displeasure from the corners of his eyes, but he refrained from saying anything.

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I needed a new hollow bolt for the blinker.

Day 78 – More Money! And Time! But No More Simon!

Don Edwin and I had yet another talk. He demanded, again, more time, claiming it was our fault things were taking so long.

“On May 1, I will assign Simon to another job,” he said.

This remark put my nose out of joint.

I stated that I was a customer as well and had waited for ten weeks for our chapistas. That it was in both our interest to get the Land Cruiser driving again, if for no other reason than that with all parts lying all over the place we were taking up the place of three vehicles. Besides, Simon had started barely two weeks ago.

Accusations went back and forth and then, out of the blue, Don Edwin suggested making a roll cage for the Land Cruiser!

Heavy tools for the reinforcements of the frame.

Seriously, it was impossible to follow this guy’s thinking. We returned to the issues at hand. Don Edwin wanted more time, more money, more everything and gave too little in return. He was far behind schedule.

He could get the money, which never was our issue, but we wanted Simon, who, like Esteban, was a skilled worker.

How could Don Edwin be forever complaining about the scale of the job while refusing to put people on it? I didn’t get an answer to that question. The only way I got things done is by threatening with that fine, which I hated doing but all other options of reasoning had since long failed.

Alex is cleaning the front differential housing. In the back the frame is getting a thick protective orange layer of paint.

By the end of the afternoon Don Edwin offered us a drink. How nice! It lifted our spirits. Maybe things would change. Boy, we were so naive!

We got one bottle. To share!

The rum with coke rose to Don Edwin’s head. We chatted about things not related to the workshop and project, all pretending for a moment that everything was just fine. In any case, it did break the tension for a bit.

It lasted shortly.

In part 4 we reassemble the Land Cruiser, but is it in a drivable state? Check it out!

Here’s part 4

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This is how the frame looks like with the reinforcements cleaned up and the right color applied.
The two axles painted and ready to roll in place under the frame

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3 thoughts on “The Land Cruiser Restoration in Bolivia (3) – Car Part Shopping and Conquering Hurdles”

  1. You both have more patience than me. But you really had no choice when your home, transportation and livelihood are in pieces, and in the hands of an unorganized person.
    I used “unorganized” in place of the real words, mostly four-letter, that should be used.

    I’m not sure I could handle the stress that you both must have endured. It appears that the current “repair” is in better hands.


    • Thanks John, for your comment. We definitely felt cornered, with the Land Cruiser in too many pieces and no other option than to continue our battle (which it really was). At the same time, I’m sure Don Edwin felt cornered too – he did express deep regret of having taken on this project and looking at it from his point of view, I totally get that. He underestimated the job.
      The workers were good, as said here, and had Don Edwin given them the proper leadership, the end result would have been so much better.

      We can’t compare this massive overhaul with the one we’re doing now, but the structural reenforcement done now in Kyrgyzstan indeed is very good.

  2. wow! i just was reading this nightmare repair in Boliva, i hope things get better for you, i live in Huaraz, Peru,; sometimes the “andean” way of thinking is hard to understand, believe me , i got the same problems in my own city, mechanics and painters (especially painters and body workers) saying “mañana , mañana”! it causes a huge frustatition!, please let me know if you to my place, grettings!


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