When we arrived in La Paz, Baja California Sur, after many long and dusty roads, it was time to give Chimera some love. After all, he/she/it (shim) is our world right now. First we ventured out to get the oil changed. We had purchased a bunch of oil filters before leaving the states in anticipation that it may be hard to find the correct Subaru filters along the way. We pulled up to a shop that looked like it specialized in oil changes and were immediately directed to drive over the pit. Tim did the best he could to communicate in Spanish with the grease monkey and, with some help from the woman working the cash register, we found out that they did not have the proper weight oil (in fact they may not have had any oil at all at the moment). They were meant to get a shipment later in the day, but we were told that we could just go across the street to the supermarket and buy the oil we needed. So Tim headed off to do this while the grease monkey went to work on draining the oil.
After reading some horror stories of bad mechanics in Latin America, Emily watched closely while Tim was off getting oil. The first thing that concerned her was watching the guy puncture the oil filter with a flat blade screw driver and a hammer in order to remove it. Once it was unscrewed he couldn’t get it off. It was trapped and he wanted to remove the skid rail in order to get it out. Emily was worried when we started going at the skid rail with a wrench and some vice grips, so she told him to wait until Tim came back. This clearly upset the guy, some gringo woman telling him how to do his job.
Once Tim returned the guy doing the oil change immediately asked, pointing to the skid rail, if this needed to be removed. At first Tim didn’t think so, but after some looking, sure enough, the homemade skid rail failed to account for the ability to easily remove and replace the oil filter, a “small” design flaw. Of course the guy turning the wrench didn’t have the right tools for the job, so Tim pulled out his tools and crawled under the van to help remove the four bolts to get the skid rail out of the way.
Now the grease monkey was very grumpy, first a gringo woman telling him what to do, then a gringo guy doing his job better than him, but he continued with the oil change anyway. His comment when Tim told him that he made the skid rail himself was that “es muy malo” (“it’s very bad”). The old oil came out, the new oil and filter went in, Tim helped replace the skid rails, and we paid and left. Not such a bad deal, but considering that Tim provided the oil, filter, some of the tools, and did most of the work himself anyway, we plan to do our own oil changes from now on.
Next up was a car wash. At this point Chimera was so coated in dust you could hardly tell that shim is green. We pulled into a car wash with a bunch of young men sitting on a bench waiting for some business. We asked how much it would cost the get just the outside of the van washed. 70 Pesos was the reply, about $6.50 US. This sounded great, so we pulled the van under the sun shade and went over to sit on the bench and watch. It seemed that the way the place worked only one person at a time was assigned to a vehicle, no matter how many other vehicles were there. If there were no other cars then the rest of the young men just sat around and watched the one working and heckled him. We watched as one energetic young man sprayed, soaped, scrubbed, and rinsed the van. At this point we thought he was about done, he was doing such a thorough job, we thought that we had really gotten our money’s worth. But no, he then shined up the tires, mud flaps, and spare tire cover, applied some wax to the exterior and cleaned the windows inside and out. As he was working, the car wash got quite busy.
The entertainment for the day occurred when a somewhat drunk man pulled up in his BMW Z3, got out and cracked a beer. He wondered around and drank at least two beers while he waited. Eventually spotting the van, he walked all around it ogling from every angle. After he was done, he looked over at Tim and gave a solid fist pump and tough guy look of approval. When the poor guy cleaning the van started polishing the roof rack, we decided that he had done a far better job than we expected or deserved for the money, told him he was done, gave him a nice tip, and headed back to the RV park.
Tim finished things up by replacing the air filter which was caked with moon dust from the many silt beds that we had crossed in the north part of Baja while Emily worked her magic on the interior, giving it a through cleaning. Nestled under the palms, clean inside and out, Chimera was feeling good and looking even better.