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Gold Beach October 30, 1999 - Return to Gold Beach via St Louis

TOURISM RECOVERS AFTER 1997 SHOOTING AT DEIR EL-BARI
By Bob Van Leer

  2 AnwarSadat(GOLD BEACH, OR, Saturday, Oct. 30, 1999) - Our last day in Egypt was Monday, Oct. 29 and we were taken to the Ministry of Tourism for an interview with its director, Dr. Mamdouh El Beltagui.

  On the way to the ministry we stopped at a monument built at the site President Anwar Sadat was assassinated Oct. 6, 1981. Sadat made peace with Israel and his reward was bullets by his own troops. Sadat was reviewing a parade when several soldiers broke ranks and shot him.

   Beltagui said tourism makes up 7-11% of Egypt's gross domestic product, with the higher figure adding in indirect effects.

  Tourism suffered in 1998 after the machine-gunning of tourists at Luxor in 1997, but he said this year tourism has recovered and is expected to reach 4.5 million visitors.

  Only about 136,000 of these are from the U.S. which is one of the reasons we were invited to the country. Beltagui invited suggestions on how to make the $1.5 million Egypt spends on advertising in the U.S. more effective. One suggestion is air service to Egypt is not very competitive, not enough carriers. Another suggestion is to where Egypt spends its tourism advertising money. None of us have seen it.

Still another suggestion is that transit of the Suez Canal is not marketed the way going through the Panama Canal on cruise ships is.

  Dr. Beltagui said there can be no tourism without peace. With peace with Israel, major tourist projects are underway. He said the number of tourists has increased from one million in 1982 to an expected 4.5 million this year.

  Japan lifted its travel advisory on Egypt last December and Japanese tourists are coming back. The Japanese lost the most tourists killed in the Luxor shooting.

  The number of hotel rooms has increased since 1982 from 18,000 to 87,500, and is expected to reach 130,000 rooms in the next four or five years. Tourism employs 1.5 million directly and indirectly.

  New tourism attractions are being developed which bring regional development to remote areas. Desert safaris are being added and cruises behind the Aswan Dam in upper Egypt as well as established cruises from Luxor, downstream from the dam.

  Beltagui said developments are planned to balance with the environment. Egypt has 3000 kilometers of beaches and development is concentrated on 12.5% of this amount. All are private projects. His office now only facilitates development.

  Asked what he thought was the most valuable tourist attraction he said Abu Simel, an immense temple upstream from Aswan.

HOLY FAMILY IN EGYPT

  Beltagui said the Christian Holy Family was in Egypt for four years and a tour of their travels is being planned. A book on the travels has been printed in nine languages.

  We don't ordinarily think of Egypt in terms of Christianity, but there is far more Christian influence here than we thought. Beltagui said Christians are at every level of occupation in Egypt.

  The interview with Beltagui was our last scheduled activity in Egypt. We finished our packing and were taken to the airport to catch a 1:30 a.m. Egypt Air flight to New York. Egypt Air is a Muslim airline and does not serve alcoholic beverages on the flight. But air transport across the Atlantic is competitive and other airlines do. So, to satisfy everyone, at JFK on the way over just before we boarded the plane we were handed a small carry-on box that contained two small bottles of wine. On the return flight, a box was presented that contained two tiny bottles of Scotch. The total time of the direct flight was 9.5 hours for the 5600 miles flight. Catching back up on the six hours we lost coming over from New York, we arrived at 7:10 a.m. at JFK Airport.

  At JFK we breezed through customs and our group split up. Jim Kelly from Hood River had gone on to Israel and was not on our flight from Egypt. Peter Wagner was catching a flight to return to Iowa and Matt Paxton had driven up and would be driving back to Virginia.

VISIT ST. LOUIS

  I was to stop at St. Louis and visit my two sisters and families for a couple of days before returning home. I wanted to stay on United Airlines and to get to St. Louis I was routed in a big "z" pattern via Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

  My oldest sister and husband, Bud and June Pallardy, met me at the airport and we returned to their home. By now I had been in transit over 24 hours and was beginning to droop.

  The following day I went touring with my other sister, Ruth Chiodini, touring some of our old neighborhoods and stopped at Faust Park in St. Louis County where a butterfly garden has been created. It is a heated glass house with thousands of butterflies flying around and is quite an interesting place.

  Also at the park was a restored merry-go-round that used to be in Forest Park Highlands, a defunct amusement park. Ruth and I rode the merry-go-round for old times sake. We had ridden it before at the amusement park, but the last time we were on it was in the 1930's.

  That night we had dinner at Cunetto House of Pasta on "The Hill", the Italian section of St. Louis. The Hill has a number of outstanding Italian restaurants and is always a good stop in St. Louis.

  The lowest price I noted for gasoline was $1.04 per gallon.

  Thursday June, Bud and I drove out to visit our aunt, Vi Van Leer, who is in her 94th year. She still lives on the family farm about 40 miles west of St. Louis in a home built in front of the old farm house which was built by my grandfather before World War I (and it won't last much longer). It was a pretty time for the drive. The leaves of the hardwood forest were in full fall color.

  June and I hiked up a hill through thick brush and trees to see an old log house we had lived in the early 1930's at the depth of the Great Depression. The house is now down, a pile of sheet metal roofing, logs and rock foundation stones. No one had lived in the house since we moved back to St. Louis about 1934. The surrounding land is not being grazed or farmed, so it is reverting to the natural scrub timber of the area and it is difficult to get around. We decided that was probably our last visit to the old house. But enough of nostalgia, and it was time to return home.

  Some random observations about Egypt. Dramatic progress has been made in lowering the annual population increase from a 2.7% increase 10 years ago to 1.86% today. Two kinds of coffee are available, American, similar to what we are accustomed to and a variation of Turkish coffee which comes in tiny cups and is really semi-solid rather than a liquid. The anti-smoking movement hasn't hit Egypt. Every desk and table has an ashtray. Cell phones are used more in Cairo than in the U.S. One reason apparently is that land lines are limited. There are metal detectors all over, including at the entrances to hotels, but many, if not most people walk through and the warning buzzers are ignored. There are still a lot of animals used in farming including camels, donkeys and water buffaloes.

  Egypt has grand plans for spreading use of Nile water away from the river, using storage from Aswan Dam. A new valley is being created west of the Nile and there is a plan for taking water underneath the Suez Canal to an irrigation project in the Sinai.

  Egypt is a fascinating place to visit. It boggles the mind how the ancient Egyptians were able to handle the huge weights of stones they used for construction 5000 years ago without power. On the Nile at Luxor there are small cruise ships that take river tours as long as a week. This is something I want to do one of these years. And the Egyptians are developing resorts along the Red Sea south of the Suez Canal and others on Sinai. The diving there is reputed to be some of the best in the world. This trip wasn't the first time I have been to Egypt and I hope it won't be the last.

  (OCT. 31, 1999 - Today we received the news that an Egypt Air flight, the same 11:30 p.m. night flight we took 13 days ago from New York to Cairo, crashed off Nantucket Island north of New York apparently killing all 217 persons aboard.)

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