The Budapest-Bamako Rally 2024 is gearing up for not one, but two exciting events this year where travellers and thrill-seekers will have the opportunity to embark on the ultimate road journey from Hungary’s historic city, starting on January 26 and February 16, and heading to the breathtaking scenes of Sierra Leone on February 12 and March 4. Visit Sierra Leone (VSL TRAVEL), Sierra Leone’s leading tourism company is proud to be one of the key partners supporting this event.

Participants can expect to encounter everything from winding mountain roads to sun-drenched coastal highways, all while immersing themselves in the rich tapestry of cultures that make up the diverse array of countries along the route.

What makes this year exceptional is the debut of an all-Sierra Leonean team! Petroleum entrepreneur Ibrahim Cole (IB Cole), renowned hip-hop artist Benjamin Menelik George (Drizilik), and entrepreneur Mohamed Ibrahim Waritay (Med Iye) have joined forces to form team Puzzle Pieces. Their mission? To support the charity of the same name and raise funds and awareness for Autism.

We put ten questions to IB Cole and Drizilik regarding this remarkable feat and their participation at this year’s rally.

VSL: How did you first hear about the Budapest-Bamako Rally, and what inspired you to participate?

IB Cole: I’ve heard about the Bamako Rally for a few years now. I actually went to the one that they had when they landed at the Stadium. I went there and I saw the cars and it was kind of exciting. But I went to Estelle’s (Brussels Airlines Country Manager) returning party from the Bamako Rally in 2022. Just watching the videos and seeing the different countries that they went through just the rigours of doing it and also the opportunities that are presented to experience different cultures and different countries was just so attractive to me. So I decided to do it when I went to that party.

Drizilik: The first time I heard about the rally was when a friend of mine bought a car from a participant, and since then I always wondered what it would feel like to participate.

VSL: How did you arrive at the decision to participate?

IB Cole: The decision to participate came from that evening again after seeing the videos and just the conversation with Estelle and her teammate. I think they were called the turtle team. It was exciting. I just wanted to experience what they showed us that night.

Drizilik: Honestly, the very day I heard there was an opportunity to go, I cleared my schedule to make room for it. I was just waiting for the team leader to accept.

VSL: We believe you are the first all Sierra Leonean team to participate in this rally, so you’re making history. How does that make you feel?

IB Cole: It feels very good to make this history especially for the purpose. This charity is everything to me, it means a lot to me because as a person who has experienced what autism is with my own child, I am just happy to just try to get the awareness out for people to understand that living with a child with autism is a possibility and ways that you can go around it to live a normal life with your child. So that’s why it’s important to me, and I’m happy to set history based on this charity.

Drizilik: The feeling is great, I know I’m going to enjoy this adventure.

VSL: What has been the reaction from friends and family on hearing that you intend to participate in this adventure?

Drizilik: They’re all in shock. Most times I’m silent so I’m the last person they’d expect to go on something like this but I know they’re praying for me.

IB Cole: It’s been a mixed bag with friends and family. I have some friends that think I’m crazy. I have some friends that are excited that I’m doing this because I get an opportunity to just tune out everything my day to day, you know, I  have a very intense day to day life. So this was an opportunity for me to switch off and just reconnect with my spiritual side and just get out in nature, you know, even though we’re going to be driving, but we’re going to be seeing a lot of nature. So that was the reason. My kids will obviously miss me terribly. My wife also has all the stress of being at home with three kids by herself. My dad has been supportive, my mom is terrified, but she prays a lot. But yeah, so it’s been a mixed bag but all good and supportive.

VSL: Can you share some insights into the preparation process for such a challenging event, especially considering the diverse terrains?

IB Cole: So for insight into preparing, I actually started exercising again a month before we started this journey to Brussels. Just wanted to get like, my body loose again, because sitting in a car for 12 hours a day for 15 days, obviously is going to be tough. Just cardiovascular exercises also, nothing significant. I wasn’t getting ready for the Olympics or anything but just stretching and doing some cardio to get my heart rate up and down in a controlled manner. Also buying things, buying the vehicle, buying things that we need for the vehicle, just day to day things that you need, when you leave Europe because Europe you can get anything you can still buy at the stores and get stuff. But once you get to the African terrain if you’re not prepared, especially in the Sahara, if you’re not prepared with things that you might need, that you won’t be able to get. So that’s the preparation that was done.

⁠Drizilik: Ibrahim has worked extremely hard to fix all the paperwork and get all the necessary tools for the road. I’ve had to apply for two visas and travel to 3 different countries to meet up with the team, I’m the youngest, so my work is soft. Med Iye worked on getting the right car and fitting it well for the different terrain.

VSL: Is there any aspect you’re not looking forward to?

Drizilik: ⁠I’m not looking forward to pushing a 3000 KG machine across the Sahara desert so i’m going to be praying it doesn’t breakdown.

IB Cole: To be honest, to say there’s an aspect that I’m not looking forward to, no. I want to really experience everything that this journey has to offer. I’m looking forward to the good roads, I’m looking forward to the cold, I’m looking forward to the bad roads. I’m looking forward to the heat, the mosquitos. I know with these things with this many people around, there is going to be some drama. Hopefully we don’t get any of the drama, but I’m looking forward to seeing how that pans out. Some of those guys, but I’m looking forward to spending time with my teammates. I have two friends that are like brothers to me. So I’m just having that time to connect and to have a conversation or several conversations about things that affect us as friends and as business people, you know, in our different industries. So I’m looking forward to that.

VSL: Sierra Leone is now the final destination for the rally. How does it feel to represent your country in this unique adventure?

IB Cole: I am excited to represent Sierra Leone. You know, Sierra Leone is special. Obviously we have ups and downs, but we don’t have another country. So doing this and leaving Sierra Leone to come to Europe and driving back to Sierra Leone. And I guess the guys that are going to be part of this rally knowing that we are locals. It’s exciting. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of questions for the first timers, but we’re looking forward to it and I’m excited to be Sierra Leonean representing Sierra Leone in this role.

Drizilik: It feels good, I know I’m going to talk about Sierra Leone at the camps and they’ll finally get to see it when we arrive in Freetown.

Getting the vehicle ready

VSL: Considering the unique challenges and landscapes of the Budapest-Bamako Rally, how have you customized your vehicle for this journey and who is the mechanic among you?

IB Cole: Okay, so for the vehicle we put a guard in the front. We also have a winch. So if we get stuck, we can pull ourselves out. We welded a steel plate underneath the entire undercarriage to protect the soft spots for the rocks that we will encounter in the deserts in the Sahara and also probably some of the roads in Guinea and Sierra Leone. So that’s what we did. What else? We changed the tires. We lifted it up also, which ended tied to all terrain tires, and we put some bigger suspensions on the vehicle so we lifted it up a bit so we can have more clearance again for the bad roads.

So me and Med Iye are actually the technical people but Med Iye is more mechanical when it comes to fixing cars. So I am going to leave that to him and hopefully we make it to Sierra Leone in one piece and safely.

Drizilik: ⁠The car is a Toyota Land cruiser and it’s built for adventures like this. All we’ve had to do is change the front bumpers to protect the car and  add a plate underneath to protect the engine. We’ve also changed the to brand new All Terrain tires. Med Iye understands better though because he worked with the auto company that fixed the car and he is the mechanic among us.

VSL: As participants from Sierra Leone, what message would you like to convey to others aspiring to join such adventurous events?

Drizilik: Make the time and Just do it. Don’t overthink it.

IB Cole: For me, I think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s one of those bucket list things. It’s not for everyone, I’m sure but if you’re into adventures and driving because you have to like driving and being in a car for 12 hours a day for that long, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you can afford it. I recommend that you do it. You won’t regret it for sure.

Are you supporting any charities?

Drizilik: Yes, we’re supporting Puzzle pieces, to help raise awareness about kids with Autism In Sierra Leone.

IB Cole: Yes, we’re supporting Puzzle Pieces Sierra Leone. Our vehicle is actually called the “Puzzle Pieces Pod”. Puzzle Pieces is a charity to raise awareness for autism. We have a big project that we’re putting something together for. We haven’t publicised that yet, but we’re working on putting something together for the Autistic community. in Sierra Leone, kids with autism. We are going to probably try to start rolling it out this year, but we have to sit with the board and get the board to make the final decision and give the approval – but yes, we’re planning on doing something big with autism using the Puzzle Pieces platform. So that’s the charity that we’re representing.

VSL: Well nothing else remains but to wish you the best of luck on behalf of all Sierra Leoneans! We wish you a safe journey and look forward to you bringing the flag (and vehicle) home in February!

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Budapest Bamako Rally