I feel like I can finally post about our first attempt at driving here in Costa Rica now that we’ve had at least one successful drive under our belts! Two Saturdays ago, we needed to go get groceries for the family that had just arrived here at the mission to stay for a week. We had only previously driven stick shift once with a car in the very flat and even terrain called Ponte Vedra. Here, we have a pick up truck and as soon as you look out the front gates of the mission, you will see some of the steepest hills you have ever seen. So it was practically comparing apples to oranges. Nonetheless, I convinced Andrew that we just needed to go ahead and give it a shot. After all, the store we were going to was less than a 5 minute drive away.
Eder opened the first gate and Andrew attempted to start reversing out of the mission. Luckily,the truck stalled and thank God because you can’t get out of the gates until both sides are open. I should note that Eder is probably lucky to be alive today. Somehow, someway, Andrew was able to back the truck out of the mission and put it into first gear to begin up the hill. As we were leaving, the father of the family that had just arrived noticed we seemed nervous and not so skilled at this. He mentioned that if we needed any help, he could drive stick. We said thanks as we naively assumed we had this situation under control. I’ve mentioned Big Mama in a previous blog post. On that day, she happened to be sitting outside the mission at the bus stop selling some food. Boy, it must have been obvious that we were clueless because as we backed out… Big Mama was making the Catholic cross motion across her body multiple times! And she was outside of the car on much safer ground!
Now I remember Henry telling me that the truck had to be in first gear the entire way up the hill, but no one shared that with Andrew. And it just didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t share it with Andrew either. We make it half way up the hill and Andrew shifts into second. We make it a touch further. Then there appears to be a problem. Our assumption is we need more power! So Andrew tries to put it into third gear and we stall immediately. I’d like to paint a picture for you… here we are in the middle of the road on an incredibly steep hill. There are more people walking, riding bikes, driving, standing outside their homes, etc. than I have ever seen at one time in Bajo Tejares. Each and every person is staring at us like we’re the village idiots, and in that moment, we kind of were. To me, there was no other reaction that seemed more appropriate than to bust out laughing. Andrew, however, began to freak out.
I ran back down the hill while everyone around us is watching the scene unfold. At this point, a bus is coming down the hill and Andrew is still stalled in the middle of the road. He had to roll backwards to a safer place. Big Mama is yelling for the guard “Ashley, Ashley!!” as she points up the hill. Eder comes running out with a phone thinking we may need to call Jessica because something must be seriously wrong. I immediately get Bruce and we head back up the hill to the truck. We weren’t exactly setting him up for success in trying to get this truck going on this crazy, steep hill… but he did it!
The week and a half following that episode, we walked to the grocery store every time we needed something. And then today, James stops us after a meeting and says “why don’t we go driving?” Oh my Lord, I almost panicked. I had already convinced myself that walking to the grocery store, bank, gym, etc was going to be the perfect plan to get my cardio workouts in for the upcoming year and build my endurance… it would be like Costa Rican bootcamp. But we had to do it. We needed the driving lessons and James was willing to work with us.
He drove us to a less congested highway and pulled over. Andrew went first. I sat int he backseat and watched and listened as closely as I could. He drove for about 20 minutes and did really well, didn’t stall once. Then he pulled over and asked me if I were ready to try. It was definitely one of those moments where your mouth says yes but your mind is saying absolutely not! Where we stopped for me to take over was a little higher into the mountain and the clouds had moved in. I couldn’t really see that well which was terrifying at first, but eventually the clouds cleared. I drove a little while back towards where we came from. As I kept driving, it occurred to me that we would be reaching town again very shortly, which meant traffic lights, speed bumps, other cars… all things that sounded dangerous when paired with my capabilities. Nevertheless, I made it to my first intersection and left turn. My heart was racing and I began to turn, but then stalled. Bad news… I was partly in the intersection at this point. Good news… I was able to go shortly thereafter. And we made it all the way back to the mission safely, with me behind the wheel!