Patti Esperanza and her tour group meet with Gen. Khaled Foda, governor of Egypt's South Sinai, after their kidnapping.
Patti Esperanza, a tour company owner from Los Gatos, Calif., handled her kidnapping like a pro. When armed Bedouin stopped her tour bus and told her they needed to take three of the six people she was traveling with, she calmly offered to go with them as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Esperanza, her husband Romeo, three other tourists, a tour guide and plain clothes policeman, were leaving St. Catherine’s 3rd Century monastery and crossing the Sinai desert on their way to Cairo when two vehicles caused their minibus to slow to a crawl.
Her driver laid on the horn, but the vehicles in front of them stopped. When he thought they were having engine trouble, he gently nudged the vehicle thinking it would help.
But when armed men got out of both vehicles, Esperanza’s group realized they were the ones who needed help. The Bedouin held their guns at their side and never pointed them at the hostages, but the meaning was clear.
In the meantime, the plain clothes policeman, accompanying Esperanza’s group for protection, moved to the back of the bus and appeared to be trying to call for back up. But the Bedouin demanded everybody get off the bus. They said they needed to take three people with him.
Esperanza took control. She immediately offered to go in order to keep everyone calm and friendly. She was joined by her Egyptian guide, who translated for her, and tourist Norma Campa from Union City, Calif.
Esperanza’s husband, who is in a wheelchair, stayed behind.
A kidnapper explained to her that they were taking them in exchange for the release of friends who were captured by the police.
He told her, “This is the best way to help us.”
When they climbed into the Toyota 4x4 van, she asked, “Where are you taking us?”
“We drive, we drive,” was the answer.
For two hours they bounced through the rugged Sinai Desert. Esperanza kept the conversation light and friendly, praising the beauty of the stark mountain scenery.
They stopped in the middle of the desert and the Bedouin lit a fire and boiled strong, sweet Bedouin tea in a tin can and offered tuna, bread and dates to their unwilling guests.
Although Esperanza was not hungry, she urged her companions to eat in order to oblige their armed hosts. “Eat slowly to join them and act like we are with them,” she suggested. She explained to her captors how as a tour guide she often took tourists through the Sinai to marvel at the stunning scenery and that they often hired Bedouin guides to help them.
After tea, the Toyotas climbed up strikingly colored rocky hills to a place that was evidently close to the Bedouin’s home.
Esperanza felt they were trying to put the hostages at ease. When they got out for the second time, two teenagers, one of them a nephew of the kidnapper who appeared to be in charge, met them.
The kidnappers went off to collect wood. The teens left and returned with heavy blankets for warmth, boiled more tea and offered snacks.
By now it was 2 p.m. and they had now been detained since the morning.
Esperanza, a deeply spiritual woman, went off to pray.
The chief kidnapper asked her tour guide what she was doing. “Praying to Allah,” he answered.
When Esperanza returned, she exchanged stories with her captor about their families. She explained how her husband needed her to help him since he is physically challenged.
The captor told her not to worry. He said that an elderly man went with the sheikh of the tribe to negotiate her release with the army. “As soon as they say yes, we will bring you back,” he reassured her. He suggested they get some rest.
Esperanza’s guide and friend and companion slept, but she stayed awake praying and felt a sense of calm. As she continued praying she said she saw a silhouette that looked like the Virgin Mary and the image of Jesus face in a rock. She woke Campa who didn’t see the image.
Soon after, the elder tribesman returned, smiling broadly. “I will bring you to the Army and sheikh now,” he promised.
After a fast, bouncing ride through the desert, their ordeal was over.
When she rejoined her husband, he said: “I knew God would take care of you.”
They decided not to tell their children but later discovered that the world’s press already had last Friday.
Esperanza said they have been treated like royalty since they were returned to Egyptian authorities.
The South Sinai governor invited them to dinner, personally escorted them to Sharm El Sheikh where they stayed in a luxury hotel and were flown the next day to Cairo where they were received by representatives from the governor’s office.
The indomitable tour leader, now escorted be several police cars, shepherded her group through the King Tut exhibit of the Egyptian museum.
Esperanza sees a higher purpose behind her ordeal. She feels it has given her a chance to get the message out that Egypt must do more to protect its tourists and help revive the tourist industry, Egypt’s number one foreign currency earner.
“I believe it is good if they implement security, it will help the poor people here. More people will come.”
Tomorrow, thanks to her new high-ranking friends, she will have the chance to carry her message to the Minister of Tourism along with another message for Egypt’s next president. “ Any leader in the world needs to call on God for wisdom.”