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Road-tripping through Argentina: Learning to drive manual via YouTube and other fun goodies

Posted by on January 7, 2012
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We had been wanting so badly to do a road trip somewhere in Argentina, but we quickly realized that choosing the best route (not an easy task in this massive country!) was the least of our problems. As it turns out, there are no automatic rental cars on this continent, and if we wanted to drive, we had to know how to drive a stick-shift.

It was decided early on that Eaman would drive. (I’m not the savviest of drivers and I don’t enjoy it all that much.) He had driven manual once in his life ages ago and all he could remember was that he stalled — a lot. But then, he thought, what about YouTube? Couldn’t the viral video hub teach us how to do something that the non-North American world learns to do when they’re teenagers?

We did find a video –there are tons actually — and in El Calafate, Eaman practiced, while Dutch and English backpackers offered him a few tips in between fits of laughter. By the end of his personal training session, he had a decent enough handle to know that he could probably sort of do it.

But once we arrived in Esquel, there turned out to be a bigger problem* with the car rental. Where the heck was the Avis? Our reservation had a downtown Esquel address, just a few blocks from our hostel, but when we got to the address, there was nada of the sort in sight.

Was it there?


We had one night in Esquel before picking up the alleged car the next morning, so we spent an hour or so walking up and down the streets of this small town in search of the red and white sign. Even Avis customer service had no idea. But three separate locals did tell us something about a Toyota dealership, the airport and a Petrobras gas station. Sure. That made sense.

Since we had plenty of time at our disposal, we shelved the whole we-may-not-have-a-car scenario until the next morning. The next day, after more walking around, we put two and two together: There was an Avis agency adjacent to a Toyota dealership that was across from a Petrobras gas station. (Trying to decode a foreign language when no one speaks a lick of English is seriously like a game of Mad Libs.)

What? This doesn’t look like an Avis?


Huzzah! We found the Avis.

Our ride, a VW Gol:


The other, more important huzzah, was that Eaman conquered driving a manual car! Not to brag or anything, but he was pretty awesome. Yeah, he stalled a few times, but for the most part, he drove like a pro.

On the road:


Not only was it refreshing to take a break from the South American bus systrm, but having a car really paid off in places like El Bolson, where driving to hikes on rocky roads was a must. And it allowed us to stop and pick up some delicious cherries and raspberries from a fruit stand off the highway, too.


The dog at the fruit stand:


Sleeping on my foot:


And what about Esquel? There there isn’t much going on here beyond being the nearest hub to the Los Alerces National Park, which I’ll post about tomorrow, and there aren’t many restaurants or nice walks. But I will say it’s charming in its own way. Being off the backpacker route, it feels more authentic, more Argentinian. For us, it was nice to take a break without the compulsion to do something, and instead stroll through the grocery store and take some time to relax (and blog).

Here, some of my favorite images from Esquel:


Eaman standing by a part of La Trochita, an old-school locomotive made famous in Paul Theroux’s 1978 book “The Old Patagonian Express”:


Cool-shaped homes:


Roses everywhere:


Funny store signs:


Families at the playground:


*P.S. There was the slight problem of Eaman not having his drivers license and having to use mine instead. Good thing Argentinians are a lax bunch because we got away with it. I think the rental car guy thought the picture on my I.D. was Eaman anyway.

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