“Do you know how to drive stick?”
Sometimes, I love that my answer to this question is “yes”. Sometimes, I hate it.
Times I love it: when I’m in a bar and can use it to impress a guy, but don’t actually have to prove it.
Times I hate it: whenever it then requires me to prove it.
After a fun game of finding Cory at the Johannesburg Airport,* we were walking to the Avis Rental Car counter, and Cory was psyched that I knew how to drive stick: “Great! Then we’ll put you down as the driver!”
“Wait…what?? Why don’t we just get automatic?”
“It’s probably more expensive.”
Since we were renting a car to save money in the first place, it obviously only made sense to rent the cheapest car possible. So we asked, and it was true…an automatic would be more expensive. So I begrudgingly handed my Driver’s License over to the associate and stated that I would be the sole driver. And then we went through a lot of forms. To be honest, I didn’t read all of them in that much detail. I did note a few lines: “Initial here if your parents are going to hate you forever for this” and “Sign here if, despite the above, you’re going to use your Amex because it doesn’t have foreign transaction fees even though it basically guarantees that your parents will discover you rented a car in a third world country.”
So, with my life and liberty signed away, and keys in my hand, we walked out to check out our sweet new ride.
“I hope you’re ready to drive on the left [wrong] side of the road,” smirked Cory, who, in my mind at this point was a fucking useless male travel companion considering he was making me drive because he can’t drive fucking stick shift. I mean…I’m all for equal pay and whatnot…but I’d be lying if I claimed to be anything other than the epitome of the stereotypical female driver. (I acknowledge that I’ve lied about this before.) So yes, less than an hour into our trip, I was silently cursing Cory in my head.
And then…I saw the car. And the realization hit me: along with driving on the wrong side of the road, comes sitting on the WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR, which comes with shifting with your…LEFT HAND.
“Cory…not a fucking chance.” [Please ignore the swearing, and just understand where I was, mentally/emotionally, at this point in my life.]
He started to balk that it wouldn’t be all that different, but I didn’t hear him. I was already halfway back to the rental counter, asking for that upgrade to an automatic.
Turned out, the automatic price that the lady had previously quoted us was entirely hypothetical, because they didn’t have any low-end automatic cars available. The only automatic cars they had were a Jaguar and a BMW. I may make more money than med student Cory, but these were out of my price range.
Off to the next rental counter we went…and to the next…and the next…until we finally ended up at Dollar, where they had a reasonably priced automatic car: “Have you ever rented with Dollar before?”
“Umm…” I stalled as I was trying to think of what car rental companies I’ve used on my trips to Colorado.
“…in South Africa?”
“Oh, geeze, no…you couldn’t clarified that a little sooner.”
We went through the same life-signing process, including a copy of the passport. The good news is that I was told that I wouldn’t have to go through the same process again next time I rented from Dollar in South Africa. Thank God.
To wrap this up…I just have to say for a first experience renting a car in a foreign country – where they drive on the left [wrong] side of the road – to drive ~100km from (and then back to) a major city – with a major highway system – in a completely new area – where you’re relying on the limitations of pre-downloaded Google maps but no data/cell service – and, by the end of the day, no cell phone battery – we did QUITE WELL for ourselves!
We made it to two awesome tourist attractions [Lion Park and Cradle of Humankind]. For a quarter the cost of using a tour service. We found Nelson Mandela Square [Sandton] back in Joburg for a nice dinner relying solely on following road signs. We only stopped twice to ask for directions. We returned the car with a full tank and only 4km over the 200km limit (I’ll blame that on those two times we had to ask for directions…), and 30 minutes early. And, most importantly, we are now able to add something new to the list of “Tried it. Did it. Not sure if I’ll ever do it again.”
We got to take selfies with the lion cubs at the Lion Park!
|Not gonna lie...we got a little lost trying to find the Cradle of Humankind...but this seemed fair when we realized that it was disguised as a mound of dirt.|
|We weren't quite prepared for a boat tour at the Cradle of Humankind.|
|There were caves where we could go spelunking!|
|To capture how far we drove from Joburg...|
|Smokers in Safrica are discouraged from smoking, even in their safe Smoking Area.|
*Despite providing my mother with my Gmail password the day before so that she could email the hostel at which Cory was staying to tell them the time my flight got in, the hostel was waiting for Cory to tell them what time I would arrive. Honestly, the only reason they figured out I was already there was because I made a big enough deal over the price that one taxi driver quoted me that all the taxi drivers overheard and one decided to call his friend who works at the hostel…but he then got very sad when he learned I would be leaving Safrica that evening. The only risk with providing my mother with my gmail password is that she forgot her own when she tried to log back into her account. Actually…in retrospect…I’m really impressed she figured that out…