Story

Life Skills on the Road

April 24, 2017|

fiat.jpg

This 128-horsepower Fiat Doblo was the largest vehicle available for rent at Rio de Janeiro's international airport. The five-speed manual transmission might be unfamiliar to many Americans, and cars with automatic transmission are rare in Brazil. This grossly under-powered vehicle had a difficult time climbing steep hills. Image by Mark Hoffman. Brazil, 2017.

This 128-horsepower Fiat Doblo was the largest vehicle available for rent at Rio de Janeiero's interntional airport. The five-speed manual transmission might be unfamiliar to many Americans. Cars with automatic transmission are rare in Brazil. The grossly under-powered vehicle had a difficult time climbing steep hills in Rio de Janiero. Image by Mark Hoffman. Brazil, 2017.

renault.jpg

This Renault Duster, which has a small four-cyclinder engine producing 115 horsepower, was one of the largest vehicles you could rent at Rio de Janeiro's international airport. The under-powered SUV has a manual transmission, which may be unfamiliar to many American who are used to driving vehicles with automatic transmissions. Image by Mark Hoffman. Brazil, 2017.

This Renault Duster, which has a small four-cyclinger engine producing 115 horsepower, was one of largest vehicles you can rent at Rio de Janaiero's international airport. The underpowered SUV has a manual transmission, which may be unfamiliar to many American who used  to driving a vehicles with automatic transmissions. Image by Mark Hoffman. Brazil, 2017.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – If you can’t get to a location, you’re dead in the water as a photojournalist. If you’re a reporter, being on the scene and speaking to people add depth and color to story.

Driving is a skill most of us take for granted and let’s be honest: Most of us don’t put a lot of conscious thought into it. We get in the car; turn the key and away we go.

When Americans get into a rental car in many emerging nations, and Europe as well, they are confronted with three pedals instead of the usual two. There is no shifter with big bold letters for 'D', 'P' and 'R'.

Being able to drive a manual transmission is a life skill everyone should master.

While in Brazil reporting a story about zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and humans, I was the only one in our group who knew how to drive one.

I enjoy driving and the thousand miles behind the wheel allowed me to notice little things I would have missed while dozing in the back seat.

Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission is an easy skill to learn in less than an hour and you can achieve proficiency in a day. But driving in Brazil I faced a challenge I had never had before: severely underpowered cars.

Our first rental was a Fiat Doblo, an Italian version of a minivan with a 1.8-liter engine putting out a maximum of 128 horsepower. My motorcycle has slightly more horsepower. Our second rental, a small Renault SUV, wasn’t much better.

With four adults with luggage, there were times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up the steep cobblestone streets in Rio even in first gear.

The good news is that nearly everyone else has the same problem.

Outside the bigger cities, large semi-tractor trailers would struggle to climb steep inclines on twisty roads forcing other motorists to pass where there were solid yellow lines. Brazilian drivers are assertive. A couple times, when I was passing another motorist, a car used the shoulder of the oncoming lane to pass me.

Basic life skills like driving a manual transmission car can make the difference between a great story and one that could have been great.

Many of us are accustomed to using our smart phones to navigate our way to unfamiliar destinations. One problem: No service, no navigation. Use a GPS and a map instead.

On a related note, you should also know how to change a tire. It takes just a few minutes and you never know when out in the middle of nowhere your cell phone will have no service.