A travel blogger's adventure: How to vlog an escape from Sudan

Zeinab El-Gundy , Saturday 6 May 2023

Young Egyptian travel blogger Ahmed Badawy planned to add Sudan to his long list of countries he had visited, but he never imagined that he would end up vlogging about his escape from the violent conflict that is plunging Sudan into uncertainty.

Ahmed El-Badawy
The Youtube video thumbnail documenting how Egyptian travel blogger Ahmed El-Badawy fled the Sudanese capital following the clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces. In Arabic, the video title reads I escaped Sudan


"After 36 hours of travel, we arrived in Khartoum, making Sudan the 60th country I have visited," said travel blogger Ahmed Badawy upon his arrival in Sudan on 10 April. In a video addressed to his online followers, he promised to release a detailed video on YouTube, recounting his experience of taking a bus from Aswan's Wadi Karkar bus stop in Egypt to Omdurman's Kandahar bus stop in Sudan.

The YouTube video, titled "The Hardest Travel Trip of My Life," has garnered over 200,000 views and is available on Ahmed Badawy's YouTube channel, which boasts over 200,000 subscribers. Little did he know that this would mark just the beginning of a foreboding journey.

In the 17-minute-long video, viewers can witness the reality of traveling from Egypt to Sudan by bus on rural desert roads. "According to Google Maps, the journey should take 14 hours, but due to various difficulties and border procedures, it takes a day or two," El-Badawy spoke to his camera as he documented his journey. He embarked on his trip on 9 April.

The arduous journey included a four-hour ride from Aswan's underdeveloped Wadi Karkar to the bus stop in the middle of the desert. He had to spend an additional couple of hours at the Arqeen border crossing. On normal days, the border crossings can take up to 12 hours.

El-Badawy entered Sudan with his French passport. For Egyptians between the ages of 18 and 49, obtaining a security approval is mandatory to acquire a Sudanese visa. The security approval process may take several days, prompting the 23-year-old globetrotter to opt for his French passport.

He paid $150 for Sudan's visa, it was the most expensive visa he had obtained for a foreign country thus far. Badawy has been traveling since his student days, as he recounted to Ahram Online. Additionally, he had to purchase an EGP 120 (just under $4) exit ticket from the Arqeen crossing.

In 2004, Egypt and Sudan signed an agreement commonly known as the Four Freedoms agreement, which enables the freedom of travel, work, movement and ownership. However, this agreement has not been fully implemented to date.

"It is my 60th country, so it has to be a special one," Badawy said enthusiastically, despite being visibly tired from the lengthy bus journey during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

"We know very little about our neighboring country," he added. In the comments section, he received warm welcomes from Sudanese people, known for their kindness and generosity, as well as admiration from young Egyptians who were largely unaware of the exhaustion involved in traveling to Khartoum by bus.

The content creator shared the video of his extensive journey to Khartoum online, utilising a SIM card belonging to an Egyptian student whom he encountered at the Wadi Karkar bus stop. This student had returned to Egypt to spend the remaining days of Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr with his family. He was one among nearly 5,000 Egyptian students pursuing their education in Khartoum.

11 April in Sudan: More than a date

On 11 April, as Badawy edited and uploaded his video chronicling his trip to Khartoum, news reports indicated something dramatic was happening in the country. Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as "Hemedti," deployed near Khartoum and Merowe. Despite orders from Lt. General Abdel-Fattah El-Burhan, Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Sudanese Transitional Council and de facto ruler of the country, for them to depart, they remained in place.

This standoff had been brewing for months between Sudan's most influential figures, who had once joined forces on 11 April, 2019, to oust Sudan's long-time strongman, Omar Al-Bashir, following four months of civilian protests demanding an end to his Islamist-backed authoritarian regime.

Fast-forward to 11 April, 2023, El-Badawy embarked on exploring the capital while in search of Sudanese men’s traditional loose-fit attire in a popular market in Omdurman. On his first day, which he also documented on video, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the Sudanese capital. Sudanese people were exceptionally friendly, helpful, and generous, expressing a great deal of affection towards Egypt and Egyptians.

In the video from that day uploaded on 14 April, we discover that Ahmed encountered a Tuktuk driver who revealed that his brother has been residing and working in Aswan for the past five years. Additionally, he came across another Tuktuk driver who had actually lived and worked in Cairo for two years. The four million Sudanese in Egypt constitutes the largest foreign community in the country.

The video mentioned Sudan's high cost of living, a common complaint among its citizens and visitors alike. The country's economy is struggling with significant challenges, such as high poverty rates, inflation and unemployment. There is limited economic diversification, and the nation heavily relies on agriculture and oil exports.

15 April: Vlogging post-apocalyptic Khartoum

"In the early hours of 15 April, around 2am, I passed by the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, and everything appeared calm. Surprisingly, there was not even a single checkpoint," the vlogger recounted to Ahram Online, highlighting the absence of tension prior to the events that followed.

However, the situation quickly changed. "By 8am, I woke up to the sound of gunfire and shelling," he said.

On 15 April, the RSF launched a large-scale military attack on SAF bases across the country, particularly in Khartoum. Clashes erupted as the two factions vied for control over the airport and other crucial buildings in the city.

During the clashes, Khartoum International Airport was targeted by the RSF, leading SAF to declare the closure of airspace across the country. Both the RSF and SAF expressed their determination to continue fighting until the rival leader was brought to justice or met with death.

The RSF successfully seized control of Merowe airport in the north of the country, which also served as an airbase for SAF. At the time, the airbase was hosting a group of Egyptian military personnel who were preparing for an upcoming round of joint military exercises with their Sudanese counterparts. The capture of Merowe airport gained significant attention in Egypt, making it a household name and giving Egyptians even more reason to closely follow the developments in their neighboring country.

"On 15 April, I had planned to depart from Khartoum to begin my visit to Merowe," El-Badawy shared with Ahram Online. However, the visit never materialised. The young Egyptian woke up in the small, but nicely furnished apartment he had rented through Airbnb for $40, only to find himself without electricity, water and most importantly, no food.


"An Instagram post including a selfie from Khartoum on 15 April showing Ahmed El-Badawy on the roof of the building he was staying at and smoke in the background due to the fighting. The post including video showing the use of fighter jets."

Equipped with his passport, money and GoPro camera, he ventured out of the apartment to locate an open supermarket that day. Once again, the young Egyptian YouTuber captured footage of Khartoum, presenting a scene reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic deserted city where its residents had seemingly disappeared.

The video, uploaded on 16 April, includes the sound of distant shelling and gunfire. The young man was advised to avoid the streets. After hours of walking, he finally found a single crowded supermarket where people were scrambling to get food.

The young man purchased a few items, including imported Egyptian chips, fried chicken, juice, bread, water and instant noodles for the equivalent of EGP 1,500 (just under $50).

"Sudan is just as expensive as Europe," El-Badawy said. On his way back to his apartment, he recorded how Sudanese people were burying the victims of the clashes in the cemeteries along the way.

It was just the beginning, however.

This was not the first time he found himself in a volatile zone, witnessing unfolding clashes.

Just a year earlier, El-Badawy was in Jerusalem and personally witnessed the clashes between mourners and Israeli forces during the funeral of the late Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera veteran correspondent, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was tragically killed by Israeli forces while carrying out her job in May 2022.

After five days of intense clashes in Sudan, the young Egyptian uploaded another video, providing a comprehensive account of the latest developments and amplifying the voices of Egyptian students who were stranded in Khartoum.

The sounds of ongoing clashes persisted and could be heard even from his residence. Being a French citizen, the French embassy advised him to steer clear of the clashes and avoid windows until a safe evacuation could be arranged.

The Egyptian embassy echoed the same guidance, urging the Egyptian community in Khartoum to take precautionary measures. Furthermore, Egyptian citizens residing outside Khartoum were advised to evacuate, either from Port Sudan or Wadi Halfa.

According to official estimates, there could be as many as 10,000 Egyptians living in Sudan. Meanwhile, food supplies began to dwindle rapidly in the small number of supermarkets still open.

Escaping the two generals’ war

On the eighth day of his stay, Ahmed El-Badawy made the decision to depart from Khartoum and return home to Egypt as quickly as possible. "Some Sudanese believed that the clashes would soon come to an end, and I too hoped that I could continue my visit," he shared with Ahram Online. However, the clashes continued unabated, even during the proclaimed truces.

Leaving Khartoum proved to be just as challenging, if not more so, than arriving, not to mention costly. Securing a seat on a bus bound for Aswan was a difficult task due to high demand. To secure a spot, one had to make quick reservations and arrive early in the morning. Additionally, thorough checks were necessary to ensure safety on the roads.

El-Badawy paid $300 to share half a seat in a crowded bus that primarily accommodated Syrian refugees who had believed Sudan to be a safe haven. Contrastingly, his journey from Egypt to Sudan had cost him a mere EGP 600 just ten days earlier.

Once again, the intrepid traveler documented this arduous journey on video, providing viewers with an eye-opening and firsthand experience of fleeing a conflict-ridden area.

From the video, it is clear that RSF soldiers controlled areas in Khartoum, while SAF took charge outside the city. The trip took longer due to alternative routes taken to avoid clashes.

Cars disappeared from Khartoum streets, replaced by buses carrying families trying to flee. Foreign communities were also seen leaving on buses.

Outside Khartoum, the crowded bus faced inspection by SAF soldiers. The journey proved more challenging than the one to Khartoum. Alternative routes had their drawbacks, like getting stuck in sand and pushing the bus forward in darkness.

After countless hours, the bus finally reached the Arqeen border crossings. This presented a fresh set of challenges as numerous buses with hundreds, if not thousands of passengers, queued up to cross between countries.

 handout satellite photograph taken on April 28, 2023, and released by Maxar Technologies, shows a major crossing point at the Sudanese eastern border post of the A1 highway with Egypt, as buses wait in line to evacuate passengers into Egypt. -

"A satellite photograph handout taken on 28 April, 2023, and released by Maxar Technologies, shows a major crossing point at the Sudanese eastern border post of the A1 highway with Egypt, as buses wait in line to evacuate passengers into Egypt. Photo: AP"

However, when the bus's turn arrived, El-Badawy discovered that the Sudanese Arqeen border employees had already closed the crossing and ended their shift.

"The issue lies on the Sudanese side of the Arqeen borders," El-Badawy informed Ahram Online. He pointed out that the Sudanese border crossing operates for just 12 hours, in contrast to the Egyptian border crossing staff who work around the clock.

After a total of 38 hours, Ahmed El-Badawy successfully crossed into Egyptian territory. The Egyptian Red Crescent provided him with a much-needed packet of aid containing essentials like a towel, soap and toothpaste.

Members of the Egyptian Red Crescent preparing aid at Wadi Karkar bus stop in Aswan. Photo : AFP

"Members of the Egyptian Red Crescent preparing aid at Wadi Karkar bus stop in Aswan. Photo: AFP"

The events in Sudan failed to deter El-Badawy or give him pause in his global adventures. He is already preparing for an upcoming journey after a brief period of rest, and it will also take place in Africa.

"I will be heading to Eritrea. Obtaining the visa was a challenging task, so I cannot miss this opportunity," El-Badawy said. He added that his visit to the Horn of Africa country, known for its limited internet coverage, would not exceed a week.

Nonetheless, thousands of eager followers eagerly anticipate his next escapade.

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