Johnny Ward (OneStep4Ward) had his life planned out – study finance, graduate, spend a year abroad, move to London, become an investment banker, get rich and drive a Ferrari. He got stuck on the abroad part. Since graduating in 2006 Johnny has lived, worked, volunteered, studied and backpacked through 50 countries around the world – diving with great white sharks, climbing mountains, paragliding, scuba-diving and generally trying his best to redesign budget travel whilst spreading the word that you don’t have to be wealthy to live rich. Please enjoy a week-in-the-life of Johnny from OneStep4Ward as he gets lost in Sudan, on his way north through Africa.
This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Day One – Wednesday
I had been in Ethiopia for nearly a month and after the rigmarole I had to go through in Kenya to get my Sudanese visa (don’t ask!) I was thoroughly looking forward to finally venturing north into Sudan. Monday morning marked the beginning of the trip…
5 AM: Another ridiculously early start in Ethiopia, taxi to the bus station and then paid my 40 Bir (a bit more than $2 USD) to get the 4 hour bus to the Sudanese border. The journey began and I had the dubious honour of sitting in the infamous ‘death seat’, the seat beside the driver, named that way for the sheer likelihood of death should you crash the bus at any point – a worryingly possible occurrence in this part of the world.
7 AM: Two hours in the ‘death seat’ later and two bus crashes passed, I felt compelled to move so I grabbed my bags and squeezed in further down the bus. 10 minutes later we crashed – straight into, and then over, a cow. Poor cow.
11 AM: Predictably late, I reached the border and got stamped out of Ethiopia and into Sudan. After getting my entire bag searched (including a 15 minute clicking through of my photos on my laptop by the overzealous border official), I doubted the protestations of friends who had been here and said that Sudanese people “are the friendliest in the world”. How wrong I was to doubt – the guard turned back around, offered me the warmest smile possible, sat me down beside him and his friend, brought over a tea and unleashed a huge hookah and proceeded to smoke hashish with me! One of the strangest border crossings I have experienced, that’s for sure!
3 PM: After another few hours in a bus, four police checks, one more breakdown (where I had to get out and push!), and more offerings of hashish and chai, I arrived in the Gederaf, soon realizing that Sudan truly is the bridge between Africa and Arabia. Tomorrow, off to Khartoum!
Day Two – Thursday
7 AM: Language barrier was proving difficult with my Arabic being limited to ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, but after some less than inspiring impressions of a bus, which were initially misinterpreted as me needing the toilet, I ended up at the bus station.
8 AM: The buses in Sudan turned out to be amazing! The best buses in Africa so far by quite a distance. Paid my 50 Sudanese pounds ($15 USD), got on the luxury liner, got fed breakfast and drinks, and off we went to Khartoum. Incidentally, the temperature reached a horrible 40 degrees (104°), thank God for air conditioning. Sat beside an old lady in a full burka and niqab who insisted in talking to me in Arabaic and feeding me local delights, to the amusement of the rest of the bus.
4 PM: Arrived in Khartoum, left the A/C bus behind and immediately got hit with a wall of heat. Found the local bus and headed into the city centre. Two guys eagerly approached me as I wandered aimlessly round Khartoum; luckily they spoke English and spent the next 90 minutes finding me a suitable hotel – the people are so crazily friendly it’s unreal. Once I found one with A/C (45 degrees by this point!!) they shook my hand, smiled and left. No mention of me paying them for their services, awesome place.
Day Three – Friday
7 AM: Being the Islamic ‘Sabbath’ I had heard rumours of a dance (for the lack of a better word) dedicated to the Islamic faith in Omdurman, the North West of the city. So I thought I’d find out more about that. I asked some sagely-looking guy would it be okay if I attended as a non-Muslim, and he couldn’t have been happier at my interest in their faith, affirming not only that I should go but that everyone would be delighted by my presence.
1 PM: Walked around the city and finally met someone who knew enough English to tell me about Hamad El-Nil Mosque, where the whirling dervishes will be at 3pm. I had lunch with this cool Sudanese guy, who offered me a job teaching English at a local school for a year, I told him I’d think about it. I actually may end up going back.
4 PM: Made my way to the mosque and had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There were probably 2,000 people gathered together here to worship. They all formed a huge ring where the chiefs stood in the middle. People started chanting louder and louder, faster and faster until people in the centre ended up in a sort of trance. Whirling dervishes were spinning around as fast as they could in the circle. Then a camel was introduced into the experience; I tried to find out what was going on and was told there was going to be a camel sacrifice. I’ll avoid the gory details but basically the camel’s body ended up prostrate on the ground, with his head a good 50 feet away. Blood was everywhere, including over a large portion of the crowd. Luckily I avoided being covered. The whole event was intense.
8 PM: Got home and edited my photos, deciding whether or not I should upload the album/video of a camel getting sacrificed onto my blog or not!?
Day Four – Saturday
8 AM: Sometimes travel isn’t so fun! And today was one of those days – jumping through bureaucratic hoops all day long. Started at 8 and went to get photocopies of my visa and passport for registration.
9 AM: Got a taxi to the alien registration office where I was told I needed a letter from my hotel to vouch for the fact I’m staying here! So got a taxi right back to where I started from.
10 AM: Drove past the Department of Tourism en route and remembered that I needed to get a permit to allow me to take photographs in Sudan so popped in. Naturally, the department had moved so we had to go to the Department of Wildlife and Tourism.
10.45 AM: Finally found the new department. Went in but was told that we needed more photocopies of passport and visa so off we went to get more photocopies!
11 AM: Complete with passports, finally got the photo permits! Stage one complete.
11.30 AM: Back to the hotel, a pretty funny game of charades and I ended up with the correct form and headed back to the alien registration department.
12.10 PM: Alien registration bureau finally, after another 90 minutes stamped my papers! I was now a legitimate tourist in Sudan, officially allowed to take photos. Yeh!
4 PM: Tried to take a photo of a lady begging and got accosted by a police man who checked my permits (glad I had them!). He told me ‘no photo, no photo’ but then brought me to his office to drink chai.
10 PM: Power cut in the city so my A/C stopped working. Very uncomfortable night in 40 degree heat with no fan.
Day Five – Sunday
5.30 AM: Another luxury bus, this time to Atbara – the nearest town to the Sudanese pyramids. Watched Under Seige 2, dubbed in Arabic – still a great movie.
1 PM: Arrived in Atbara, found hotel and headed to the market for lunch where I discovered the greatest dessert known to man kind – some pastry type thing baked in honey and covered in syrup. I ate as much as I could without throwing up, alongside two kebabs and four cokes – for a grand total of $3 USD.
3 PM: Searched for the internet in vain – I found one place with computers but their dial-up modem was broken. Probably a blessing in disguise to be honest.
7 PM: Headed back into town to try to organize a way to see the pyramids tomorrow. The hotel was quoting me 400 Sudanese pounds for a taxi, but I met a cool guy in town who will take me tomorrow for 100 ($33 USD). Bargain!
Day Six – Monday
8 AM: Breakfast in the market ($.80 USD – meat stew). Then I was off to meet the guy who’ll drive me the 200km round trip to the pyramids.
9 AM: Set off. The roads in Sudan are great and we averaged around 100 km/h, unheard off on my trip in Africa.
11 AM: Arrived at the Meroe pyramids – they were amazing! Built around 2000 years ago and still with hieroglyphics on show, there were literally no other tourists there. I hired a camel to look around for $2USD and felt like Indiana Jones for at least two hours. They may be smaller than their more famous cousins in Giza, but having the place to yourself is an experience quite different to that in Egypt.
4 PM: Found refuge in the A/C of my hotel room and spent the next hour or so culling some of the 400 pictures taken at the pyramids. What a brilliant day.
8 PM: Found a delicious shwarma ‘restaurant’ on the side of the road, ate my fill and headed back for an early night.
Day Seven – Tuesday
5.30 AM: Bus station again. Heading north to Karima to see some more ancient sights. I love these buses!
11 AM: Flat tyre; everyone was off the bus finding shade in the shadow of the coach.
3 PM: Arrived in Karima and found a cheap local hotel. No A/C this time as my money was running out and there were no cash machines in Sudan. Fortunately dollars are in such short supply here that although the bank rate was 1 Sudanese pound = $2.49 USD, the black market pays 3.0, remember that if you ever come.
9 PM: Unleashed my guide book and worked out how to get to the Egyptian border in time for the weekly ferry without overstaying my visa…
Johnny has just finished up his with his African odyssey in Egypt and has recently moved to Malaysia to study his masters in Kuala Lumpur when he hopes to continue his lifestyle design projects and take his blogging full-time to allow even more travel in the foreseeable future. You can catch up with him, his travels and his take on the ease at which you can escape the corporate world at his website OneStep4Ward.