Listening to the dismal news about the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh has me thinking back to when I was there in 1982, in the final months of its occupation by Israel. It was a very different place than it is today – no fancy resorts that I can recall. The Israelis were preparing to give the place, located at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula, back to the Egyptians so it was a near ghost town, almost empty of life and people. (The number of resorts increased from three in 1982 to 91 in 2000, according to Wikipedia.)
I remember walking through a small supermarket lined with bare shelves; camping out on the beach with fellow travelers from the U.S. , England and Australia, an amazingly clear view of bright stars in the night sky; renting snorkeling equipment from a grizzled old shirtless Australian hippie who lived in a cave near the water and some topless young Australian beautifies who made necklaces out of shells. I remember snorkeling in the Red Sea (after gliding out to the edge of the reef , swimming carefully just inches above “stinging” coral) and barren dusty desert landscape. I remember the long bus ride back to Tel Aviv past bedouin camps in the Negev (and oddly, bumping into a guy I knew from college on the bus, who was dipping crackers into a plastic jar of peanutbutter.)
It felt like the end of the world, remote, wild – – no glitz, no resorts with fancy pools and ballrooms. But I did have a sense that I might never be able to return – but not for the reasons that have cropped up today, 33 years later. Back then, the thinking was that Jewish people wouldn’t be able to go there anymore because it would be part of Egypt, not Israel…which is why I went there just after arriving in Israel. “Go while you can,” Israelis told me.
Now, sadly, there’s another reason not to go there : the threat of terrorism, in the wake of the recently downed plane full of Russian tourists, which may have been caused by a terrorist’s bomb. For much the same reason, sadly, both Egypt and Turkey are off my list of places to travel (or in the case of Turkey, return to) for awhile.