I have never really been a fan of school trips. Why? University is known to be wild and crazy. It’s a stage where many get freedom away from their parents/ guardians to do as they please. I on the other hand prefer some quiet and privacy. This, I knew would be impossible in a bus full of fellow students, but here I was, Friday night, the 30th of August, at 11 pm, getting onto IUEA’s school bus.
Our Resident Director, Hassan Alwi, is one of the most recognized rally drivers in Uganda. The next competition was the Fort Portal Rally Challenge, which obviously took place in Fort Portal, 7 hours away from Kampala.
Go big or go home. This was my first trip. Other than Jinja and Entebbe, as an International Student I had never been to Fort Portal. The university offered a great package for only 50,000 UGX which included transport, accommodation and meals. Why should I be left behind?
I’m terrible with long trips. If you anticipate to sit next to me and chit chat? Sorry. I was probably asleep even before getting to Kabalagala. It had been a long day. Despite the many stops, the next wake-up call was, “welcome to Fort Portal guys.”
Here we were, 6:30 am at an open parking space staring at a building, with the sign ‘Visitours Guest House’. I’m boring when it comes to trying to have a conversation with me, in a moving vehicle at night, but, I am very adventurous. I live for the long walks, sweat, dirt, you name it. If it came to sleeping in tents, I’d probably be more excited to being in a hotel room because where is the fun in the usual?
We get placed in specific rooms. I shared a room with Gloria, a friend. This hotel/ motel, I honestly do not know what to call it, was right by the road. We heard everything that happened. Notice, it’s about 7:30 am at this point, the first challenge which is the circuit was about to begin. So hearing everything also included watching pedestrians by the road side waiting for the rally cars as they headed to the pit before proving to us who the real champion was.
As an IUEA student, Hassan Alwi will always be our champion, hence being in Fort Portal in the first place. Supporting our very own. Not sure about him, but I remember taking part in my first ever runway show. Many of my friends and family traveled a long distance to come watch and support me. It’s the best feeling. The cheering boosted my confidence as all I could think of was falling, face flat on the ground.
A quick hot rolex around the corner and a cold bottle of water for breakfast. In about 10 minutes, we were parking at the designated rally venue, everyone with their IUEA Racing Team shirts on. Enemies become friends at this point. We were here for the same cause.
The camera was on my hand, I needed a good view. So what did I do? Believed that I could get on top of the bus, be higher than everyone. The bus had no ladder, but if I didn’t get on top of it, I wouldn’t forgive myself.
I ask Randy, a guy who looks like he works out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to show me how he would monkey to the top. He did it in about 10 seconds but ended up ripping his shorts so wide. The entire rally, he had my orange scarf wrapped around and spent most of his time on top of the bus since his freedom of movement was taken away from him, by his weak shorts.
It was my turn now to test my monkey skills. Ha ha, I almost died! Being 6 ft tall, you’d think I had it all together. I thought I had it all together, until I had no grip on the roof of the bus, and my hand was slipping, feet dangling and couldn’t find my step to support myself.
I mentioned Randy looks like he lives for the gym. His reflex game is so strong. He held my hand and lifted, or should I say carried? No. He lifted me to the top. I made it. I am alive. Such victory. My other concern that stayed stuck at the back of my mind as I pretended to be okay was, “How will I get down?” Live in the moment, I told myself. The next few hours would sort themselves out then.
Remember I am not a veteran at this rally language but I will try my best. The first competitors were the class C. These are cars much slower like the Toyota Alex and the Vitz. They cannot be compared to the likes of the Subaru.
I took a short nap on top of the bus (how?!), waiting for the IUEA Rally team, unbothered by the other drivers. No offense if you are a supporter of a different team and reading this, family first.
“Next, we Have Hassan Alwi and his navigator Siraj Kyambedde. Team IUEA.” The MC who spoke mostly in Luganda announced. Awake, ready, alert, excited, camera in hand, looking like I was born for this… waiting. It’s such a blissful experience. I only see such things in movies, like the Fast and the Furious, where we are lied to half the time by the stunts pulled. Who gets off a car that’s flying out of a cliff, runs back towards the edge of the cliff, on top of the car that is already falling, and jumps onto another car that’s on the edge of the cliff? Do you know the scene I am talking about?
Anyway, I got to see proper drifts… I am trying to come up with words to explain the feeling and what I saw but I can’t. You have to be there to experience it firsthand. One word, BLISSFUL. Such technique and coordination. You feel the gear change, clutch pressed in, break release, handbrake pulled up and back down, the acceleration. All this is done in a span of probably 2 seconds as time is of the essence. 2 seconds I said… pure bliss.
Day one of the rally comes to an end. I almost lose my life again jumping off the bus, break a nail (ladies, I know you can relate), fall on my side and again, someone helps me up. I am okay I say.
All I can think of is a bed, but who goes to Fort Portal to sleep? Only the weak. The free time we had was that evening. At the rally the MC could not stop talking about this club named Afrikana Sports Bar which reopened after renovation and expansion. With so much hype given to this place, you can imagine where my expectations were.
The ladies and I got dressed. Not too fancy. We had no intentions of pleasing anyone. It’s 11 pm. We get on a boda, 2 minute ride or less, and we were at this low lit door alley, with thousands of people trying to get in. I’m already thinking “No way. I’m going home.” Ladies, you know the struggle of taking an hour to put on makeup just to wash it off for nothing. Was I going to risk my life again by walking through the door? That’s exactly what I did.
Hands on my pockets. It looked like a place where if you didn’t look out for yourself, you yourself would get stolen, forget your phone and the likes. We walk in and head straight to the counter, where we luckily find other IUEA people who had a table. I order my “soft drink” which took 10 years to be served. Language was a big barrier I needed a translator. In my mind I had decided I would only have one drink. I tend to be petty and particular when it comes to music and what they played did not gel with me, also keeping in mind that we had an early morning. Back to the hotel/ motel. Do I wish I stayed home? Definitely Not!
1st September. 7:30 am.
Nicholas wakes everyone up. We do the usual, prepare, pack, check-out, quick hot rolex, head out to the race track.
Here’s the thing. Day 2 involved a looooong walk. Avoiding to stand by the corners in case a driver lost control and slipped, looking for a high point to know when a driver is coming so as to get a good shot, a space not filled with too many spectators. Pressure, but I got what I was looking for.
Hassan and Siraj would only pass once. You have to be fast and on your feet, unless you prefer to walk with thousands of people back. I got the picture I needed, and begun my ‘walk-running’ back to the bus. I thought the awards would be handed shortly after but I was wrong. The rally team got to rest. We had lunch as the family that we are.
For the best pilau EVER, attend the next rally. It’s free remember, and you can go back for seconds as some of us did. That pilau and kachumbari was heaven on earth. The only meal I would call a meal while at Fort Portal.
It was time for us to get back to Kampala. An 8 am class strongly awaited.
Fort Portal, you are beautiful with great tea plantations. There is more that I would still like to see. I will definitely be back.
IUEA rally team, thank you for the amazing experience, making me so proud of being part of the family and for bringing the trophy home. The blisters, broken nail and joint pains were definitely worth it. The break I needed.
School trips are my thing now. The next rally will be in Hoima District, count me in!
Written by Michelle Wandia