Learning to Drive

I’ve long coveted the skill to drive a manual transmission, but it’s been just out of reach for years.  I learned to drive with an automatic and have only ever driven them since.  There was a brief spin around the highschool parking lot in my sister’s manual car, but those details faded over the years.

Enter living in Central America.  While it’s entirely possible to go one’s whole life in the US without missing this skill, the majority of cars south of the border are manuals.   I first began to pine for this skill when I took a brief job in Nicaragua working for a hostel outside of town.  The commute was long, and the owner offered me use of the car when it got out of the shop.  That job didn’t last long enough for the driving lesson I dreaded, and I hadn’t been faced with the need again until moving here to Costa Rica.

The hotel comes with this ride:

Rhino Rider

She’s a little old and weather worn, but she rattles along like a trooper.  My sister named her the Rhino, thanks to her “horn,” or strangley placed mirror on the right corner of the hood.

My first driving lesson was with a new friend from Nicaragua.  R had absolutely no incentive to teach me to drive, as he’s the taxi driver I call when I need a ride.  He’s super amiable though, and patiently taught me all he knew about the clutch, los tornos — the breaks, and how to smoothly shift from gear to gear.  The lesson, however, was entirely en español.

My Spanish is pretty amazing these days.  I marvel at the ease with which I have conversations and I’ve been complimented many times by native Spanish speakers in this strange hybrid land where it seems that everybody is bi- or tri-lingual.  However, I learned most of my Spanish in conversation, and I don’t often spend my time sitting around and chatting about cars.  That meant that I completely missed what R was trying to tell me about breaking, so we stalled … and we stalled, a few times.

Another thing worth mentioning about the driving lesson is that the road I was driving on looks like this:

el camino

Between the bikers, the beach-goers, the surfers, the ATVers, and the stoners (or are they the same as the surfers?), the cars are not guaranteed right of way.  I had to quickly shift my focus from the clutch to the group of five tourists strolling in the street to my right as a large truck barrelled down in more space than a truck outght to need to my left.  R let me navigate through the tourists, potholes, and one way bridges until we got to the pueblo and he took over.

All in a all, it was a great first driving lesson!  I got to learn on R’s car and not the Rhino, which was nice because his car’s not quite as unruly and beastly as Miss Rhino Rider.

My second lesson happened shortly after my sister came to town.  My sister rolled in the day the cat at the hotel gave birth to four kittens .  You can imagine the excitement that followed!  Once that excitement had died down, I pulled her aside to explain, en ingles, por favor, what to do with the clutch and gear shift when you break.  She helped me figure out up from down, and then had enough confidence to allow me drive through the busy pueblo tambienQue bueno!

I still grind the gears a tad more than I ought to, but Rhino Rider had a visit to the mechanic and is a little less rattley going down the road.  I’m more focused on the people in the road rather than what my feet are doing, and I think I’ve got this driving thing down.

Next on the menu, learn a little French!  The tourists here in Costa Rica tend to be more from France, Canada, the US, and Germany.  This is different than the tourists in Granada, who were primarily from Spain, Germany, and Canada.

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