This was not the first or second time I was going on a trip using the Kayoola Diesel Coach – KDC but it was my first time for the coach and I to take on Uganda’s and the Democratic Republic of Congo highest mountain ranges – Rwenzori Mountain.
Traveling using the most comfortable means of public transport available in Uganda and in the region, is what the Kayoola coach seeks to redefine. Using a bus with an on-board toilet and a refrigerator, come on guys! These are travel goals. Trust me there was no better way to end the month of love (February) than take a trip on the KDC to western Uganda and reconnect with Uganda’s breathtaking views ranging from landscapes, hills, valleys to exotic plants that make the journey more adventurous since more time is spent on the road gazing at them through the windows and a minor percentage of time is spend at the final destination. The KDC caters for a traveler on this one. You are assured of a 360-degree view from this high-floor executive bus since the tinted large windows protect you from the direct glare of the sun and offer a panoramic view of your surroundings.
As my excitement and anticipation piled up to take on where the sun sets, my mind started sending me reality-check alerts about how this is a work trip that Friday morning before we set off from Industrial Area in Kampala. By 06:00 am the coach started its maiden long distance roadshow dubbed the Greatness Hosts Great. This was a promotional roadshow aimed at showcasing its capabilities, and validate its performance in various conditions, especially in the mountainous areas.
Onboard the KDC were its makers, the Kiira Motors engineers, Conservationist Media personality Shaban Senyange and the celebrated global Automotive Engineer, Business Executive, Author of Motoring Africa, Entrepreneur and Managing Director of Motoring Venture LLC Edward T Hightower who is also Kiira Motors Automotive Advisor. This was the right crowd for the roadshow since the engineers would assess any crisis and address it accordingly.
Just three weeks earlier while on the shop floor (where production of the vehicles is carried out) before this roadshow, the goal was to have the KDC move a distance of at most 100 kilometers on a daily during its road drills. At the time, the goal seemed impossible as mechanical works dominated the initial drills till about the fourth road drill when the coach was driven through Nakasongola’s hilly roads and thereafter dared the Gulu Highway up to Uganda Revenue Authority Check Point a few metres from the Karuma Falls. I could not believe watching the magnificent falls crashing each wave through the KDC’s windows that hot Wednesday evening as we crossed the Karuma bridge.
How fulfilling a moment that was!
Covering 316 kilometers and some five hours on the road that day was a breakthrough for the engineers and the beginning for the KDC to start its mission on earth. To be that intercity mobility solution positioned to offer a traveler a road trip experience like no other before and here it was set to triple that distance.
The distance into the Greatness Hosts Great Roadshow had advanced and our first stop was in Mubende District for breakfast and buy some snacks we later enjoyed from the folding tables and cup holders for each seat in the bus. In about 30 minutes, the KDC was back on the move leaving many Mubende residents overwhelmed by their own Uganda-built bus. Some of the few residents who had the opportunity to see its interior said; “Elinga zino enyonyi za Uganda Airline empya!” directly translated as the KDC gives a feel of the new Uganda Airlines Bombardiers.
At this point, netizens had joined in on the roadshow pushing the #KayoolaCoach to top the list of trends in Uganda through the weekend. Scrolling through notifications and reading tweeps replies kept me engaged for a while until someone at the back snapped me out of the cyber engagement with their piercing voice screaming “Baboon”. This was a signal that the KDC had arrived in the tourism city, Fort Portal. The first welcome from baboons in Kibale National Park the known home to Uganda’s primates was followed by a lead car that ushered us through the town where the City leaders were anxiously waiting for the home made 47 – seater executive coach – the first of its kind in the East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Among the leaders was the Resident City Commissioner Rodgers Mbabazi, NRM Party Deputy Secretary-General Richard Todwong and the Area MP Alex Ruhunda. Ululations as they marched with the residents to the coach to welcome the Kiira Motors team followed. Everyone except for a handful were clad in yellow adding some bit of color to the occasion. This moment called for a drone shot and yours truly was ready to capture it. The leaders expressed support for Mission Vehicles made in Uganda after enjoying the comfort of the VIP Lounge, executive seats, bamboo floor, and most surprising to Ugandans – the onboard washroom and refrigerator.
The presence of the bus built in Uganda was felt on the streets as we drove out of the city. You could hear murmurs from locals through the window uttering, Kayoola … Kiira Motors… Solar bus… and all sorts of expressions. I managed to see the Omukama’s palace found at Karuzika Hill. To be exact, my eyes only caught the brown roof after a colleague mentioned as the KDC geared up for Ntoroko District. The most eye-catching scenery we were all excited to take pictures from was the landscape best seen at the viewpoint at Musandamo village just 14km from Semliki wildlife reserve. When we parked, Senyange introduced his popular #ShabanChallenge to the engineers. This challenge requires a person to jump as high as they can so that the photographer captures them in space, if the photographer misses you in air, have to repeat the jump. So the team jumped quite a number of times to keep floating in the space and some conquered the challenge.
In about two hours the coach was in Kasese arriving a few minutes past 5 O’clock. The energetic team broke off from the rest to take on the mountain ranges as the coach sailed into the rather quiet town. The sun was setting providing the best lighting for a drone shot. I rather let the sunrays lie on my face as I watched the cloud cover hovering around the Rwenzori mountain ranges, keeping tabs on the KMC Director Marketing and sales Allan Muhumuza who was showcasing his pilot skills while flying the drone.
After crossing about six districts since morning, the RDC Joel Walusimbi and the locals gave us a momentous welcome. The KDC was driven around the township with the RDC and other leaders receiving an experience of the VIP Lounge which is closer to the driver and residents occupying the executive seats proudly chatting “Made in Uganda.
The one I loved most raised the flag through the behind window as he sang the famous Tubonga Nawe song while informing the onlookers about the bus designed and built in Uganda. This joyride took 30 minutes and by the time the KDC parked at White House Hotel, I could only think about checking in, getting into bed, and start reflecting on how great the day had been.
Day two of the Greatness hosts great roadshow started early. The KDC drove through Queen Elizabeth National Park by 6:30 am. The aim was to see the cats mostly the King of the jungle – lions. This didn’t happen. Senyange took to the mic explaining to the engineers how special Queen Elizabeth National Park is, delving into why its name was derived from Her Majesty the Queen of England. I was following up on the netizens and informing them what to expect on Day Two of the promotional roadshow. There were stops to take pictures in the park and those who were awake chanced on buffalos and a few bushbucks hopping in the woods.
The thrilling memory of the Air Suspension system in the coach was when we crossed the Kazinga Channel. I could feel the coach literally bouncing as it sloped towards the bridge and accelerated up the plateaus in the National Park. The best views of the vegetation which mainly consist of thickets of small trees, bushy grassland, and portions of plain lands are seen after Katunguru, a small town in Rubirizi district. Through this district up to Ishaka District felt like the KDC was moving on top of a mountain. Snaking through escarpments, and making stops at the most popular crater lakes and stony viewpoints to capture spectacular drone shots positioned me in a moment of greatness. I had been through these places virtually; that is reading about them on the internet and looking through volumes of footage to tell their stories on my previous online show ‘Pearl of Africa’ on #NewVisionTV but physically taking in those moments reaffirmed why Uganda is indeed the Pearl of Africa. Before I forget, whoever plans to travel through this route should make a stop and view the East African Rift valley bordering Uganda and Congo South West of the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Personally, this was the highlight of the roadshow. Experiencing conservation at its best for the very first time aboard the first Ugandan made executive coach performing excellently through these mountainous areas gave me more bragging rights of being Ugandan. However, the roadshow was not done yet. A health stop was made in Ishaka district and Mbarara City, the land of Milk and Honey. Major stakeholder meetings were held in the city and a joyride around the city was given to city leaders, journalists, and family members to some engineers who hail from the West.
Arriving at the Equator by 5 O’clock didn’t stop me and my colleagues from showcasing some of the best poses we’ve always wanted to try from this imaginary line. Mr. Hightower sure loved the Equator. It brought out the best in everyone. Some jumped, others scouted and the rest just ticked it off their travel bucket list. That was my second time on the Equator but it felt like the first.
The rest of the journey back to Kampala covering a distance of 870 Kilometers ended with getting re-introduced to traffic jams especially around Kyengera in Wakiso District but this gave me hope. In a few months, this route might be designated to have some 10 Kayoola buses from the 1,030 Kiira Motors and the partners plan to produce by the end of 2021. 50 of these will be electric and this is how the new breed of engineers will be modernizing public transport in the urban centers such as Kyengera to put an end to the traffic jam story.
Behind the scenes inside the bus
Look out for my blog on yet another thrilling Kayoola Diesel Coach Roadshow titled *Kayoola Diesel Coach – ‘Le Roadshow de la Grande Expedition’*