A Travellerspoint blog

Day 104 – Gold ‘n Gears

4th January 2012


By the end of the day we wanted to be in Zimbabwe’s third largest city, the border city of Mutare. Given that we had some philandering to do in Chimanimani, I wanted to be done and out as quickly as possible. We met Collen and Morgan once more, I’d written a short advertising spiel for them to e-mail to the major guide books. There was an ‘old man’ that lived in Machongwa, a village twenty kilometres away whose name means Cockerel, who should be able to help us. As we drove there who should we pass but Joseph our tardy taxi driver, who, we would find out, had a sideline in gold. Collen told us that Joseph dealt on behalf of the ‘old man’ but, to be honest, this is where the trail got messy. It suddenly seemed a little more like opportunity knocks. By this point, it didn’t really matter to us. We had gotten a hold on the value of the gold as a commodity and now we just had to get hold of it. Joseph still had to finish dropping his client off and so we sat in the ‘Nhandaro Bottle Store’, next to the ‘Paradise Bar’ in town waiting for his return. The single, unshaded light bulb lit four fifteen foot shelves filled with bottles of spirits. We wandered around and bought some bread and a couple of cokes. We chatted to the bar owner and took photos to pass the time.

When Joseph returned we drove a short distance to his house. It was set amongst a somewhat ramshackle, dense settlement of brick and concrete houses whose gardens were filled with growing produce. It was certainly smarter than the average house. Before we knew it we were entering the darkened room that was Joseph’s home. The television blared in the corner on top of a DVD player and music system. The toilet was around the corner, a small foul smelling hole, too small to be consistently accurate, chiselled into the concrete floor. On one side of the room a double bed occupied half of the floor area; in the middle a small wooden table and a couple of wooden stools. We took a seat. I turned the television off. The room was lit dimly by the light seeping past roughly sewn curtains. Somers turned the light on, it helped; a little. Joseph produced a set of electronic scales and pulled out a tightly folded million dollar note. As he slowly unfolded it he revealed the glittering golden shimmer that was 10.4 grams of gold dust. As far as our inexperienced eyes could tell, it looked like gold and holding the note it certainly had the weight of gold for such a small volume. We bartered, he wanted 4.5; we settled on 4.2 per point when I told him he wasn’t the only one selling it. A done deal, we shook hands, made an exchange and opened the door. The searing light hit our dark-adjusted eyes as we stepped out of his house. The excitement was pumping through our veins, and the heat of the sun made it feel even more real. It was insanely romantic. We giggled in the car. My wedding ring would be made of gold from the mountain on which I proposed.

Collen and Morgan appeared overcome when we handed them the camera, we genuinely hope and believe they’ll use it well. They told us of a scenic route along the mountains that links up with the main road to Mutare, it would likely be little used but they reassured us that Redvers would find it easy.

Earlier in the day, whilst driving to Josephs house in Machongwa I’d noticed out low ratio gears wouldn’t engage. Now we were driving out on a track that may get rough we tested the gears again. High range was fine, it would move into neutral too, but no low range. Once more Redvers was ill. From high to low, impossible for our gears, but easy for our hearts as once more we were dejected trying to figure out what might be going on inside him.

It is difficult to explain how sick you feel inside when the vehicle that is your everything on a journey like ours starts misbehaving. We weigh two and a half tonnes, low ratio gearing is essential for some of the roads we’ll be using on our way back home. Now we were driving winding through heavily forested granite mountains, beautiful, stunning and all the right qualities for superlative inducing scenery and we were feeling stressed and tired as we contemplated what might be awry. Universal joints are one problem, gears are an entirely more sophisticated and expensive undertaking. Even though the gear box overhaul is only three spanners difficulty in our trusty manual, you have to be able to remove it and it’s one big lump of steel. We didn’t have the gear to overhaul the transmission. Then again, maybe it would just be a bolt that was loose, or a simple part that needed replacing, and it’d be easy. One thing was for sure, we had three hours driving, through heaven sculpted granite peaks, in which to ponder just how expensive a new gear box and fitment would be.

Arriving in Mutare at 4pm we came up with a plan. We would drive around until we spotted a man with a Defender, we’d stop him and ask him where he takes it when it breaks down. Within five minutes we had spotted a National Parks Land Rover and Laura jumped out to chat. He was actually based in Nyanga, a little way north of Mutare but he said a place called Quest motors would be able to help and that that was where he’d go. He was also a bush mechanic himself, a skill of necessity having driven Land Rovers for so long, and he thought it sounded like one of the gear linkages that had come loose. The ‘Fault Finding’ section of Haynes had suggested something similar. Everything was crossed as we pulled into Quest.

Once we passed the security guard we parked and in the office we met a chap called Lovemore. He called a mechanic to have a look at Redvers and after fifteen minutes of fiddling he suggested that the linkages were good; the gear box would have to come off; a day and a half’s work at least. Aybo! Lovemore refused to meet our fears. He suggested that it was late, he had another guy who was better with Land Rovers and if we were there at half past seven the next morning the guys could take a proper look and see if they could fix the problem.

We wanted numbers; I asked how much he thought it would cost. He asked us to wait for a minute whilst he ran inside. When he reappeared five minutes later he told us he couldn’t give us a price as anything could happen. His eyes were genuine. I pushed for a ball park figure only for him to insist that he had no idea and there was no point in guessing. “I can see fear in your eyes my friend. Don’t worry; we’re not here to steal your money.” His eyes spoke in the same language as his words and his mannerisms. They seemed to be honest and they made us believe him. He smiled gently with his crooked stained teeth pointing in at least six different directions. We trusted him; we’d be there holding Redvers’ hand anyway so we would have some control over mounting costs. We thanked him and agreed to be there at half past seven.

We drove back through Mutare and on to the camp site eight kilometres out of town. It was expensive at $10 per person with no running water before 8pm, due to public works, and no toilet paper. But it was a nice setting and we were distracted with weighted minds. We subconsciously distracted ourselves from recycling possible outcomes and costs in our heads by cleaning out the drawer and reorganising the car. We cleared out the cabin and emptied the safe so that it could be stripped and the gearbox accessed the following morning. Laura cooked a Tuna Hot Pot that tasted scrumptious and it was washed down with Zambezi and Bohlinger beers.

Posted by ibeamish 07:20 Archived in Zimbabwe

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