Rocky (not the raccoon kind, and not the Sylvester Stallone kind)

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I had to send some drawings to Hicksville via DHL today. DHL is the only such service in town, as far as I can tell. My wife wanted to combine the short trip there with another bread run to Gutierrez (awesome picos) and, of course, another sacking of an ATM (derivation: "sacar dinero" as in "take out money). Her aunt's friend has a "jeep" (Nicaraguan for "SUV." Officially - it says so on the registration card) that my wife said we were allowed to borrow, but the friend says it hurts her knees and it's not that great.

We went out the door to go get the keys, and I saw a Daihatsu Rocky parked out front. This is a vehicle that vaguely resembles the old Land Rover like 3Fs; the "Gods Must Be Crazy" star, rendered in flimsy Asian sheet metal. It's a cool looking vehicle. Turns out that's the "jeep" we were offered. I said, "Great, let's do it!"

My daughter was enthusiastic too, wanting to sit in the rear sideways-facing benches, and of course bringing the dog. My wife got the keys and handed them to me (the designated stick-shift driver). Oh; sidenote: what's with the "Yale" locks on vehicles, like a piece of furniture?

Anyway, I put the key in the ignition and turned it. The battery ran the starter fine, making the usual noises of a car starting, except without the cylinders catching on their own. My wife suggested we take her aunt's Mitsubishi instead. I said no, lemme try it again. Even after pumping the gas pedal it still wouldn't start.

My wife said her aunt's friend told her there was a special method to starting it, and went to fetch her. She came out grinning, and a couple people standing around on the sidewalk were watching. She said you have to turn the key backwards, say an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary," then turn the key forwards. My wife was laughing, I was smiling politely. I figured she meant it only starts if you pray hard.

Nope, that wasn't it. She said you turn the key, and hold it for the time it takes to say an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary." My wife was roaring with laughter, and so were the people standing on the sidewalk. I tried it; it worked. I have no idea why.

The next challenge was to overcome the muscle-building forces of the steering wheel, and the bench-press-like brakes. I made it to the bank corner (still failing to make one single right turn, by the way), and pulled into the first parking place I found. The Rocky was at about a forty five degree angle, but it's so short it was clear of traffic. I had no room and no steering ability to maneuver it into a proper parallel parking spot, so I just waited.

Next we went toward where the DHL office was supposed to be. The strategy to driving in Esteli is to park in the first spot you see that's within a couple blocks of your destination and walk. Otherwise you'll spend all day looking for a parking place. The DHL office was easy to find near the "Old Hospital" which is a crumbling old colonial style building that must have once been a proud structure.

From there we went to the bread shop, then home, taking the less-busy streets. It sprinkled, but the windshield wipers are darn near useless. Even when they're switched off they're blocking a lot of your forward vision. The turn signal was a long unmarked lever sprouting from the right side of the steering column, not the left side. And two Radio Shack toggle switches were, I assume, headlights and some other light.

I have to say the Rocky is an interesting vehicle. It seemed capable of good off-road performance with a low gear crankcase and torquey low-end power. However, I learned why it hurts its owner's knees. Between the brake and the clutch, your knees never rest and are in a constant state of tension. The parking brake on this particular one had no tension and it had to be parked with one tire against the sidewalk or it would roll away. The Rocky is astonishingly tiny, yet has more headroom than about any vehicle I've ever sat in. Would I want one for myself? She said she'd sell it to me for twenty thousand dollars (which I assumed was a joke), but I wouldn't give her twenty centavos for it.

Still, the piece of junk had a certain charm...

Update, turns out it's not the "Rocky" model, it's a "Wildcat." Like this one

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Updated 06-29-2010 at 01:06 PM by Jonh

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