A Travellerspoint blog

Day 85 -88 – Squeaking Around Hwange

16th – 19th December 2011

rain 23 °C

Police engagements seven, eight and nine happened over a 28 kilometre stretch south from Victoria Falls. License and temporary import paper examinations and vehicle inspections followed, but, no bribes. The nature of Zimbabwes’ past decade and the stories we’d been told about the traffic cops, combined with a good old sense of British pessimism meant we were sceptical adventurers. We expected bribes and long discussions with police officers. To be fair they were all legitimate checks, we were never asked for anything but our papers though some officers were a little more fervent than others. They were a heart quickening inconvenience and we were in no rush.

Hwange camp site was brilliant. It was probably very swish whenever it was built, presently it is clean but distinctly run down with tell tale signs of times gone by. The most noticeable was a complete lack of showers in the ladies wash rooms. Ladies don’t shower, how vulgar; they bathe. Accordingly, there were only baths available. The gents had one bath and one shower; we’re obviously more basic creatures. The piece de resistance was to be found between the sinks in the bathrooms. Shaving is a perilous enough task without having a cigarette in your mouth, but the interior designers at Hwange had had a gentleman in mind who showers before and after he bathes and who likes the sweet taste of tobacco in the morning. In order to prevent any mishaps the Zimbabwe Parks Board had provided an ash tray, wall mounted, so a man can shave and not be too far from his cigarette throughout. We’d arrived in an establishment with class.

The evening game drive led us to some elephant, some more dead elephant (Prussic Acid poisoning? Answers on a postcard,) and gave rise to an annoying squeak from beneath Redvers; a squeak that gave a solitary Pangolin something to think about as we pulled nearer. As usual, it had been Somers that had spotted it, one front leg raised as it momentarily paused to rethink its crossing of the road in front of the squeaking hulk that approached it. What a pleasure. Rangers can spend all their live in a park and never see one. We’d been hanging out for a leopard and found something a little more rare.

The next morning we drove some more. We knew there was a problem when we started debating whether the animals would be able to bear the sound rising from somewhere between the front wheels. Redvers was sick again. Half way through our drive to Kennedy water hole, the squeaky scrape was joined by a graunching metallic noise and the sound of a small bell being dinged occasionally. There was a body piercing concerto being broadcast from Redvers, no animal in its right mind would hang around to see what the sound of death looked like in person.

Performing laps of the camp site we took it in turns to try to see under the car whilst running alongside it. We had a shortlist of differential diagnoses and we started ticking them one by one. Brake pads were clean, wheel bearings felt stable, the front prop shaft was solid and the universal joints that hold the shaft to the differentials had no play in them. When two Land Rovers pulled in we nipped over to ask for advice. Brian and Andy were a couple of white Zimbabwean wildlife guides that had been booked to run a couple of days drives for an overland company called Dragoman. They immediately dropped what they were doing to come and have a look. Andy came for a spin with me and agreed it wasn’t the wheel. He settled on a diagnosis of squeaky prop shaft. Back with Brian he agreed, we also thought about changing the front differential oil and maybe the universal joints. We talked for an hour about their lives in Zimbabwe, what had happened, what was happening and the hopes for the forthcoming elections in 2012. Back under the car I drained the front diff to make sure it was water free and topped it up with oil. After another few hours of fannying around Andy and Brian said they had a bush mechanic who was coming from their base to look at their landy and he could have a look at ours too. In the meantime they suggested that whilst Redvers was incapacitated we should join them on their drives. Bloody nice blokes.

John the bush mechanic looked under and decided it was the front diff. He checked the oil that I’d just filled and seeing it was OK changed his mind. He said he’d look at it at properly at two o’clock. It was twelve o’clock. That sounded fair. We had two hours to kill; It was time we learned about prop shafts. It took a while but I got it off and, with it removed and Redvers in BMW style rear wheel drive mode, there was no noise! Ooh yeah. Now I just had to work out if it was the prop shaft or the diff.

Andy and Brian were leaving at two so off Laura went on safari and I waited for the mechanics. John turned up just after two with his boss the senior bush mechanic whose name I still hadn’t caught at the third time of asking. Through embarrassment I stopped short of asking a fourth time. He looked underneath, he jacked up the back wheel and revved the engine. The handbrake drum was making a scraping noise. That was probably the graunching we’d heard earlier. He told me I needed to take the brake drum off and clean it out, I told him the prop shaft was the squeaker but he looked at it and seemed to think it was fine. I smiled and nodded with conviction as if I’d spent years taking apart Land Rover hand-brake drums.

Off he went, and under the car once more I went, Haynes manual in hand. Two hours later I’d removed the rear prop shaft and had the drum off. I wire brushed it clean, and reassembled the lot, including the front prop shaft to recreate the squeaky noise. The scraping noise stopped; the squeaky noise continued.

Whilst performing my act of amateur mechanic extraordinaire – think Jason Donovan bare chested with oil smears across his chest, looking from under the bonnet to see Kylie Minogue, gooey at the sight of such a handsome and ‘farmers-tanned’ gent – I’d met an Aussie couple called Nick and Eleanor. They’d been working in Cape Town as a building engineer and teacher respectively. They seemed like nice guys on first impression. I asked did they want to put their beers in the fridge and their answer secured a little get together for later on.

Laura and the guys returned from their game drive, by which time Redvers had been pieced back together. At that point a problem ignored was a problem solved. We’d have to let this one develop. We’d soon know how bad it was.

After all had returned Nick and Eleanor joined us for a few cheeky ones as the suns last rays died and the frog chorus began. They’d bought themselves onto a game drive the following morning having bartered their guide from $45 to $35 per person. They’d paid up front.

The next morning, we readied ourselves with bleary eyes at 5am and Andy took us out on a second game drive. We passed a pair of waiting Australians as we left. They didn’t realise it yet but their ‘guide’ was 80 kilometres away going for his life in Hwange town with seventy US dollars. Never pay a man in advance. On our tour everyone else was part of the overland group who had paid through the nose for the pleasure. We were ‘special guests’. We saw close up male lions, lots of buck, a flap necked chameleon, marvellous crowned cranes, martial eagles and Andy diagnosed the blisters that had formed on my shin as the markings of a blister beetle that I must have rolled on when I was frolicking in the grass under the car. I’d popped one blister and the juice ran down my leg a bit. I didn’t wipe it off. Two hours later another blister formed where the juice had run down. Blinkin’ blister beetles.

Posted by ibeamish 02:34 Archived in Zimbabwe

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