We bedded down early that night, there being little else to do. And I wanted an early start in the morning. We had to get the tyre fixed, and fill the canisters with petrol. In the morning we changed the wheel on the back of the Land Rover and drove back into town and the large garage at the main crossroads. Already it was a hive of activity, and we had to wait a while for the canisters and the Land Rover’s tank to be filled. So we were now a highly inflammable bomb as well as overloaded and with a dodgy engine. While this was going on, Joe wheeled the spare tyre round the back. We waited for a while for this to be done, watching the industry of the other garagers intently, and the comings and goings of market sellers, vehicles passing through, buses filling up in the station across the road.
We were about to leave when Judith decide to play her usual trick, the engine refused to start at all. We were stuck in the garage. The same guy who had repaired our wheel asked us to push it round the back so he could take a look at it. By this stage, I was so used to waiting for things to happen that I went off for a short walk around the compound, and spent several minutes watching some geckos playing hide and seek among a bunch of barrels. When I got back, the guy was holding up a wire and explaining something to Jo. It turned out that the wire that connected the ignition to the started motor had no nut on it, so was loose in the engine. He got a bolt and nut and screwed it onto the motor. Judith started no trouble, and indeed never gave us starter trouble again.
We were perplexed as to why no-one else had picked it up. Then we realised, when most people looked at it, the stiff wire held the connection in place so it looked OK. And indeed Judith would start no problem. If we parked at a certain angle, then Judith would start, but lean very slightly to the left and the wire would stick out away from the starter motor and the engine would never start in a month of Sundays. And we had never noticed when we had been stranded. Joe and I felt like wallies but were thankful we had finally solved the riddle.
So it was with higher hopes we set off. Leaving Gokwe behind we realised this would be the last town we would see for about a week, and as we drove deeper into the drying bush, we finally fully appreciated the remoteness of the valley we were about to enter.
The road off to Busi was about forty miles down the tarmac, which criss crossed the wide sandy Sasame River. As we bumped off onto the Busi road, it was already lunch time, and we had to drive at low speed across some difficult terrain before we finally crossed the wide Sengwa river, also dry, near its confluence with the Busi river, and we were in the valley. The countryside was familiar Zambezi Valley, mopane woodlands with thick green riverine woodland; the huge Faidherbia trees lining the edges, also thick with crotons on the banks. Scrubby areas of dachrostachys bushes and Acacia trees were also there. But it was now mid to late August and everywhere was so dry. Only the river banks held green trees, and the areas of human habitation were even more parched, often stripped bare by goats, there was little vegetation of any description. Vast areas of forest had been cleared for wood for burning or building, and the resultant landscape often turned to a moonscape, scarred by devastating gullies that sucked the remaining soil away. And yet, in amongst these hotspots were the most beautiful stands of cathedral mopane, tall majestic trees with little understorey, and a thick carpet of orange leaves on the ground.
And in some of the villages we saw activity. Despite the heat of the day, several children were walking with the goats and cows, we saw a man building his hut, and several women at work grinding maize, or sewing, or washing clothes in meagre waterholes next to rivers.