I had a plan. A vague plan, but it was a plan. I was going to take the bus to San Martin De Los Andes, rent a car, and then drive around for a month. For me, that constitutes a plan. I put the plan in action. I contacted a bunch of car rental places in San Martin De Los Andes to find the best deal. Easy Car Rental gave me the best price for a month rental and so, to me, my plan was finalized. Two weeks before I was to leave for San Martin de los Andes I discovered through sheer chance in talking with a local that all the cars here are manual shift cars. I should have known this but I am so used to renting cars in America that I didn’t even think about it. I contacted Easy. Jorge, the owner, wrote me back and apologized that he did not have any automatic cars and neither did any other dealers in San Martin De Los Andes. He told me that Hertz and Avis in Buenos Aires did have a few. I contacted them. To rent those cars would cost me four times what the rental price of the manual car was and, besides, they informed they didn’t have any available for the timeframe I wanted. So, I wrote Jorge back and asked if there was any other way to get to trails in Patagonia and he responded with:
To tell you the truth, is really hard to get around the parks if you don’t have mobility.
There is no buses in the parks.
I think you have only 3 solutions:
1) Renting an automatic car.
2) Renting a manual car (and refresh your driving experience)
3) Get a boyfriend that can drive you around (Sorry, I was kidding).
If you want when you arrive, I can refresh your memory in manual shifts, (I teached my 3 kids to drive) and if you feel comfortable you rent it.
He would teach me. He had taught all his kids to drive. I could take out the bus and he would teach me to drive the car and then, if I felt comfortable, I could rent it. That sounded terrifying. Far scarier than coming to Argentina alone.
I tried twice to drive a shift stick. Attempt 1: My first boyfriend tried to teach me. He was fanatically neat about his car. He took it for oil changes EXACTLY when the odometer told him to. He noted the mileage in the sheet in the back of the owner’s manual for every oil change. He did not allow passengers with soda. You can imagine how this story will turn out. We pulled into the empty Piggly Wiggly parking lot. I got behind the steering wheel. I made the car lurch back and forth several times. He suggested I not try again. I cried.
Attempt 2: My second boyfriend tried to teach me. This seems to be something boyfriends think they ought to do. He was far more patient and I actually did drive the car, badly, until at a stoplight on a hill at the mall I almost rolled into the guy behind me and I resigned all stick shift driving.
That was, oh god, more than 10 years ago now so when the owner of a rental car agency, who I had never met, who should be paranoid about the condition of his cars suggested that HE would teach me, I began to look into any other possible option. For example: a motorcycle, a moped, a four wheeler, horseback, a bicycle, hiring a driver, bribing a friend (turns out she can’t drive stick either), and finally, public transportation. For the trip I wanted, nothing worked or it was far too expensive. I considered his 'get a boyfriend to drive you' suggestion, but afterall, my doorman had a job. So, back to Jorge.
I watched a youtube video on how to drive a stick shift…at least 10 times. I read three different websites on advice. I read <a href="http://auto.howstuffworks.com/transmission.htm">Howstuffworks </A> which actually helped a lot because I’m more of a trees than a forest person in the “can’t see the forest for the trees” debate. I did not have high hopes.
I told Jorge I would come to San Martin de los Andes and try. I borrowed the tent that I would, theoretically, use for my road trip. However, I accepted failure from the beginning. I knew, without a doubt, that I would not be renting a car. I would travel from town to town by bus and make the best of town life. End of story. I even started feeling sorry for myself ahead of time just to be proactive.
Then, I met Jorge. His office was right in downtown San Martin De Los Andes. Now, when I say “downtown” what I really mean is “town” because there isn’t much of a town. No stop lights. Just lots of dangerous intersections where people play chicken to decide whose turn it is to go. I had asked Jorge to take me somewhere that there was less traffic and I imagined him taking me to some side street and me failing there in front of the world. But, no. I met him at 5pm. He closed down his business for me. He drove me 15 minutes out of town to the airport because the last (and only) plane of the day had already left so the airport was basically empty. He was chatty and friendly the entire way out and made me completely relax. When we got to the airport, we switched seats. He made me practice going through the gears with the car off (boyfriends, please take notes here) and without looking at the stick. He made me start the car and intentionally stall it. He made me start the car and get it to roll forward without using any gas at all. He said calmly things like, “Now do you know why the car just did that? You put it into fourth gear instead of into second.” I am particularly talented at putting the car into fourth gear instead of second. Jorge was downright awesome. I drove and stopped and started and drove around the parking lot. I practiced backing up. I practiced parallel parking. Eventually, I said I thought I was okay and Jorge had me drive us back toward town but then took me down another road so we could find a hill so I could try starting on a hill. He taught me to start using the emergency break up so that I wouldn’t roll. By the time we got back to his office it was 6:30pm. He had spent an hour and a half of his time with me teaching me how to drive. We got out of the car and he said, “Now, you shouldn’t feel obligated to rent the car from me because I showed you how to drive it. If you want to think about it and then decide…” Crazy!
1. No company would want to rent me a car to begin with since I wasn’t used to driving it
2. No one working for a company would be willing to spend that amount of time with me teaching me to drive it
3. If any one of the above two WERE possible, I would have probably had to sign a thousand waivers and forms declaring I was responsible for any damage to the car, the employee, myself and any plagues that were the result of or might have maybe been the result of my lesson
4. Certainly if all of the first 3 were true, I would already have had to pay the company something.
Jorge was awesome. I gleefully rented the car. He also told me important facts like the speed limit here doesn’t really mean anything. You can go as fast as you like and almost never get pulled over. Oh, and those pesky double yellow lines painted on the roads near curves or hills, those too are really just a suggestion but people pass during them all the time. Also, though the rule at an intersection is that the person to the right has the right of way, no one uses that and it’s just a matter of pulling into the intersection first. Jorge also said, “I really like the United States, but there are so many rules. I just can have that many rules.” His reasoning for why Americans drive automatics and Argentines drive manuals was because “Argentines like to have fun while they drive.” Fun, stick shifts are fun. Sure.
I am now a stick shift driver. After I paid Jorge and got into my new ride, I even managed not to stall the car while he stood there watching me back up and then pull away. Of course, I stalled it at the next intersection, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I can drive a stick shift, baby. Ain’t nothin’ holdin’ me back now (thanks to Jorge - and of course, I forced him to have his picture taken).