? The world is beautiful – that is also true for the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean, our eyes were again fed to the brim with natural and artificial beauty. It made me remember a story of a few years back.

It was in Guinea. With a few friends, I had done an excursion to a place with a particularly nice view. As soon as we arrived, everybody in the group wanted to be the one to best express what a singularly beautiful scenery we saw.

Suddenly, I exploded:

”You know, the Bavarian Lakes are also quite nice“.

I meant the Königsee, the Ammersee and the Starnberger See.

Sunset on Bonaire (Foto © Luc Bosma)

Even today, my friends still teasingly remind me of this sentence.

However, I stick by it. I know no trip of mine where the beauty of this world did not fascinate me. That is true both for my bike-tours in Bavaria and Germany and for my trips through Africa and America.

There were always spectacular views. The same was true in Arctica. Every individual iceberg was a great view. And the Wedell-Lake shimmered spectacularly in the sun.

Even the industrial ruins of the Southern Georgia Whaling Industry presented themselves to me with great beauty.

Between ruins (private picture)

In fact, even the view from our “high-rise ship” in the Dominican Republic onto the sinisterly but intensely steaming chimneys in the La Romana harbour were beautiful in a bizarre way. And the view from the skyscraper down to the slums of Mumbai, too, has its attraction.

There is one impression my soul ate up during my trips that particularly impressed me. It was when we crossed the Alpes by bike on a morning after staying overnight in the Heidelberger Hütte. But even here, I would not say that it was the best landscape ever in my life.

In this context, there is probably only BEAUTIFUL, not more beautiful or even most beautiful.

Sunrise on Bonaire (Foto © Luc Bosma)

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Let me say this up front:
Our trip through the Caribbean made it clear to me that the economic-social principle of life with consumption and profit we are currently practicing can only work in special cases (as it seems to do in Germany but, if you look closely enough, not even there).

So here are my experiences in the Caribbean and what I learned there about the country and the people.

Paradise or Misery? (Foto © Luc Bosma, Bonaire)

We visited nine islands

Two of them are French: Martinique (fully integrated) and Gouadeloupe (almost fully integrated part of the French country, but not part of the EU tax system). They are both part of the EU. The three ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) are part of the Dutch Kingdom and the others (Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia are all independent states and members of the Commonwealth of Nations).

The islands have different currencies:

  • EURO (French Islands)
  • Dutch-Antilles-Gulden (Dutch Islands)
  • Eastern CaribbeanDollar (Commonwealth Islands)

Especially on the Dutch and British islands, they accept the US-Dollar.

They have different per-head incomes. On Barbados, for instance, it was 16,363 US-Dollars in 2016. Nominally, this is as much as, for example, they have in Slovakia, but I got the impression that life in Barbados is considerably more expensive than in Slovakia. On the absolutely well-developed island of Bonaire, it was about 1,200 US-Dollars, in Dominica it was certainly less. The unemployment rate is in the two-digit sector for all of them, and not always in the low two-digit sector.

Wherever we went, we found schools and universities, which means there is a relatively high level of literacy. Many of the people speak several languages. Besides the local Creole dialects, many people speak at least one foreign language, often several, mostly English, French or Dutch. However, we also often met German-speaking people.

Politically, the islands are “parliamentary democracies”, and that is what they have been for a long time. You will occasionally also find a “White House”. Yet there are also interesting – and not always hilarious – stories about corrupt politicians and dictators.

Of course, the climate has always been sunny on the islands – the normal temperatures were around 26 degrees Celsius (after all, it was “winter” when we were there). Depending on the humidity, you will think it is even a little warmer than that. That means the Caribbean is a region where physical labour – let alone piece work – is something you will not like at any time of the year.

Some of the islands have a lot of rain – and consequently they have many rivers and waterfalls in the rain forest. But you will also find very sparsely vegetal islands with few rainy days. They have to import their potable water or produce it artificially. Mostly, the islands grew from volcanic activities, but you will also find tongues of folded lime stone formations.

Most of the islands have similar colonization histories. The pre-European inhabitants were often Arawak and Caribbean. More often than not, they were eradicated by the European occupiers. The people living there now are descendants of Europeans, often of Africans and later of Indians. All over the Caribbean, most of the citizens are of African descent – which is probably a consequence of slavery.

What we saw in the Caribbean looked extremely diverse and multi-cultural. Some islands boast that people of forty nationalities live peacefully together in their country.
There is not much social security, which is also true for federal pensions. The people (maybe regardless or because of this?) seem very joyous and happy. Dominica, for instance, has the reputation of being the island of the hundred-year-olds.

There seems to be little crime. The warnings you usually get before entering a country were extremely moderate. Only in the EU countries, we were warned before leaving the ship that, once in a while, a thief from Paris is found on the island.
The islands are extremely diverse – you will find the natural paradise (Dominica with its beautiful hiking trails) as well as the industrial island (Aruba – one half of this islands is purely tourist industry, the other half is the airport and the oil and salt industries).

Similarities

However, it seems that all the islands have one thing in common. Economically, they do not really work well. The French Departments are probably just as much dependent of subsidies as the other islands.

To me, it seemed that the internet access was better than in Germany, but the streets are often in a desolate state of repair.

Varying with the islands, the income comes from growing food such as bananas, sugarcane and spices. There is a little crude oil, but the main source of income is probably tourism.
None of these islands seems to be really capable of survival.

The young generation emigrates because the islands have nothing to tempt them with. If all goes well, they will probably return as successful elderly persons and at least bring back some capital. There is a high emigration rate and a low immigration rate. Many immigrants who came because they wanted to start a new life – often as entrepreneurs – will leave after only a few years.

There is no such thing as a really lucrative business. Competitive survival is achieved through cost optimization and low incomes. And mostly the business is very detrimental for nature, which is the only thing these islands are rich of. This means we have high external costs.

To me, this looks a little like Europe. In the ever so rich EU, most of the countries are also bankrupt. More and more people are impoverished. This is also true for the victorious countries such as Germany, Austria and a few Northern European countries.

It is also true for the big USA. They, too, built their wealth on debt and suffer under the natural collapse of the inflated infra structure, which they cannot counter, if only for financial reasons.

Somehow or other, my visit to the Caribbean Islands served as a model to show that an economy that is based on our capitalist and consumption- and profit-oriented paradigms cannot work any longer. It is probably the biggest challenge for mankind to manage the necessary re-structuring – provided we want to prolong our survival a little bit.

Ship with bird. (Foto © Luc Bosma, Bonaire)

RMD
(Translated by EG)

As you arrive in  Curaçao you will read 
Welcome to Kura Hulanda Museum. 
This museum is concerned with the history of slavery  in the West Indies . No traveller should miss it.

Huts for the slaves in salt production on Bonaire (Foto © Luc Bosma)

Huts for the slaves in salt production on Bonaire (Foto © Luc Bosma)

Following the advice of our ship lector, we went to the Kura Hulanda Museum in the morning, directly after our arrival in Curaçao. And it was well worth it. In Willemstad‘s city district of Otrabanda, you will find the biggest anthropological museum of the Caribbean, the ”Kura Hulanda Museum Kura Hulanda Museum“.

On more than 16,000 square metres and in 15 different buildings, you can inform yourself about the history of those people who, between the 17th and 19th centuries, were captured in their African home countries and, after transport across the Atlantic Ocean, ended up as slaves in Curaçao. The “West Indian Company” played a huge role in the process and Curaçao soon became the biggest slave market on the American continent.

The Facts:
The entry fee for the museum is 10 US Dollars, people who are older than 70 only pay 7 US Dollars. We invested the three dollars we had thus saved in a guide (who costs three USD per person if you were a group). It is a good investment.

The Museum:
We were immersed in the dark past of the island but also of humanity and were deeply moved when we left the museum.

I had never before seen in such drastic detail how slavery used to work. In the museum, you can see how the slaves were captured in Africa and then shipped to the New World. Due to its geographical characteristics, the Caribbean was probably a very important slave market.

On the Caribbean Islands, for instance on Curaçao, other things were traded besides slaves. The invaders from Europe had more or less exterminated the original inhabitants. Consequently, a workforce for producing such sought-after products as sugarcane, bananas, spices, salt (especially on Bonaire) was badly needed. And the slave markets were the most obvious place for recruiting such a workforce.

The museum shows how brutally the slaves were treated and traded. How they were cuffed and hunted, what methods (and tools) were used for disciplining them. And also how the owner branded them.

You can also see how slavery was abolished. In the French sector, this even happened twice, because Napoleon had re-established it. Incidentally, the last colonial masters to abolish slavery were the Dutch.

We also found ownership certificates from German-East-Africa. Those are typical German documents where, as late as 1913, it was officially stated that the owners (former slaves) were allowed to decide upon their own destiny from the issuing date onwards.

Naturally, they still needed a workforce in the Caribbean, even after slavery was abolished. The necessary workers were then billed in India. And the owners of the sugarcane and rum plants soon found out that the new workers were even less expensive than the slaves had been. Because now these workers had to provide for themselves. Now an evil and provocative person could say that the abolishing of slavery, too, did not happen entirely for “virtuous” reasons, but that economic considerations played the major part.

I was so impressed by what I saw in the museum that I totally forgot to take pictures, even though this was explicitly allowed. After the tour, I spent a long time thinking about what I had seen and I did a lot of research.

And I noticed that perhaps slavery and fiefdom are connected. And that slavery is not at all very different from the fiefdom that was practiced in Europe for more than half a millennium as a very self-evident principle. Here, too, you will find a lot of information in the Wikipedia article  .

You will discover many surprising details, for instance about the mutual hunting rights among neighbours when it came to catching run-away serfs (slaves?) beyond the border.
You will probably understand that there was basically only one difference between fiefdom and slavery. The article is absolutely worth reading and very shocking.

After having read these things, the reference to our “occidental roots and Christian traditions“ made by politicians sounds like the most stupid sarcasm. Because, at the time, the “C“ also stood for nothing other than slavery and fiefdom. Those were very bleak times. Perhaps our politicians would be well advised to inform themselves a little bit about history, even if, at school, fiefdom was not on the curriculum of history lessons – which was also true for my history lessons.

There is only one difference between the fiefdom in German-speaking and other European countries and the trans-Atlantic slavery:

The slaves were dark skinned and came mostly from Africa. In former times, they were called negroes. According to the church and even according to contemporary philosophers (Kant) they were not humans but animals. At the time of Darwin, it was unimaginable that a refined “English Lady“ might, according to the evolutionary theory, be the descendant of an ape. Animals were so far removed from the ideal of the “human” that you could do with them whatever you wished to. This is also why they were not very enthusiastic about Darwin with his new ideas. And the black persons where just considered animals.

To be sure, the “bond-slaves“ or “bondmen“, who belonged to the owner of the property, were a lower class with no rights. But at least they were considered human. They were domesticated by the upper classes (feudalism, also by the church) also be means of religion. They were “only” the property of other people, either directly or indirectly through the property they lived on.

In the Wikipedia article about bondsmen  , you will find some laws and atrocities that, from today’s perspective, look rather odd. One of them is the mutual agreement between municipalities that they can hunt bondsmen who are on the run. You get a clear understand of the meaning of the phrase “town air will make you free“. After all, progress – also technological progress – happened in the town and cities.

Basically, over many centuries, the right to own persons was just as self-evident as we today consider the right to own things like property and the copyright or data protection.
And regardless of the fact that we today are giving the right of ownership more and more strength (especially in favour of artificial persons  like concerns), we actually abolished the right to own other persons. Isn’t that remarkable?

One might get the idea that, perhaps, other rights to ownership, too, should be abolished. For instance that goods of the common land, too, should no longer be considered individual property. And that absurdly high amounts of property, too, need to be abolished. And perhaps that the distinction between artificial and natural persons should be made subject to the rule of differentiation in ownership.

Here is a cynical note: 
On the ships that had sailed from Europe to Africa in order to buy slaves and bring this high insurance freight to the Caribbean, missionaries, too, were among the passengers. They were supposed to bring religion to all those African heathen. On the other hand, said slaves were officially not humans, but game to be hunted.

That is also something you learn in the Kura Hulanda Museum. Consequently, visiting the museum Kura Hulanda left me rather thoughtful.

Salt production today on Bonaire (Foto © Luc Bosma)

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Between November, 23rd, and December, 8th, 2018, Barbara and yours truly spent two weeks aboard a ship in the Caribbean. We saw nine islands. In former times, I often wrote travelling journals during my trips, and reported in great detail what I had done and experienced. This time around, I decided to proceed differently: I will just jot down all the impulses and inspirations I had during the trip.

Travelling inspires you and gives you impulses (© Luc Bosma)(© Luc Bosma)

This is supposed to introduce a series of articles about my trip. I will illustrate the articles with nice pictures. Some of the pictures have been taken by me, some are from Luc Bosma. Among those is the picture of flying flamingos you see here.

An Overview:
Setting out from La Romana, we visited the following nine islands:
Martinique (as a French overseas territory in the EU), Barbados (independent and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations), Gouadeloupe (as a French overseas territory in the EU), Dominica, St. Lucia , St. Lucia , Grenada (all three of them are independent and members of the Commonwealth of Nations), Bonaire (a special municipality of the Netherlands), Curaçao (part of the Dutch Kingdom ) and Aruba (one of the four states with equal rights that belong to the Dutch Kingdom ). The last three are also known as the ABC islands and are geographically a part of South America. They are not far from Venezuela. The other islands geographically belong to the Lesser Antilles. If you follow the link, you will find many interesting things. It is well worth reading about.

Each of those islands is a small country. For me, it was remarkable to see that some of these countries actually have no armies. Basically, some of these countries have problems beside which the fear of external enemies looks small.

In the next few weeks, I will tell you all the new things I learned during this trip and what especially impressed me.
And here is a first enlightenment that could not have happened without the trip:

If you arrive on the European part of the Caribbean and all of a sudden you can again use your flatrate on the Smart Phone, you will immediately feel very much at home.

So here is what I postulate: for many people, home is where you have unhindered and cost-neutral use of your smart phone.

There is somebody at home. (Foto © Luc Bosma, Bonaire)

As I see it, this is definitely a definition of home that should be taken seriously!

Now I will work on the first actual article as instalment #1 – it will be about slavery and serfdom.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Thursday September 6th, 2018

Vacation. Over. Short Report and Contemplation.

The campground directly on the ocean.


Now we are back. The vacation is at an end.


On the first September Sunday, we went back to where autumn greeted us. After more than two weeks of the simple lifestyle under the Greek sun. It was not a luxury vacation – it was very hot, we spent a lot of time in natural surroundings with little civilization and very basic sanitary facilities. But there was plenty of swimming and riding our bikes – and there was much to enjoy every day.

And, once again, a deflated tyre.

When we were riding our bikes, the thorns were often a nuisance, because they kept puncturing our tyres. Mosquitoes were after us and small fish kept nibbling where the mosquitoes had bitten us. It was really hot and quite warm in the tent, even at night. The fresh wind and the ocean were extremely welcome.

It was no luxury vacation, but we had a great time with many experiences. Riding our bikes, there was much we really got a chance to inspect closely. There were up to five grandchildren and they all enjoyed the days just as much as the grown-ups. Naturally, that was a particular joy for us.

Once, it even rained.

There was one rainy day, after which the days were only slightly colder. At night, there were no lights and we saw the stars – during the middle part of our stay, we even saw the full moon. The stellar configurations I had learned as a young boy re-appeared.

And, in the middle of one night, I was wondering what it would be like if the sun were not to rise one morning. To be sure, I was well aware of the fact that, so far, this is not very likely to happen. But do we really know? Well, I can only say that I was quite happy to see the sun rise every morning!

In this simple world, I understood how important the sun is for us humans – and why, over many millennia, the human race saw the sun as a deity.
The beauty of nature has always impressed us.

During our bike tour.

You only have to ride up a mountain, and already you see the world below become smaller. Unfortunately, what you see is sometimes misleading – more often than not (too often), there is a lot of trash hidden among the beauty. Our paradise, too, has its set-backs.
Another notion gave me pause. Because I swam along the beach every morning and then went on a leisurely stroll on my way back. I was really looking forward to my cup of coffee for breakfast. And on the way, I had to climb over quite a lot of small rubbish.

No beach is free of trash.

And I though: “Why don’t I carry a plastic bag with me on my swimming/hiking tour, so I can collect all these many straws? It would certainly do me no harm, would it? And I should have enough of a personality to not mind people certainly then looking at me in a strange way.“
? And perhaps the Goddess Sun would like such behaviour?
However, the next morning came and I had forgotten the small plastic bag, which means the plastic rubbish was not picked up.

On the Mavrouni cemetery, the corpses can see the ocean.

So far remote from the noise of our cities, you also start thinking about life and death. And you realize that camping might also be one of those things that potentially get a little harder as you grow older. Regardless, I would like to try it again. And if I can still do it next year, I will carry a small plastic bag whenever I go swimming in the morning – and then I will collect some trash on my way back. And I will not mind if people look at me in that peculiar way!

I promise!

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Thursday March 15th, 2018

Landing on Antarctica (including travelling report).

Roland landing in the Antarctica.

All participants of an Antarctica expedition have to take part in a preparatory seminar prior to landing. During said seminar, they learn how seriously the world community takes the protection of the unblemished nature of the continent Antarctica.

At the same time, the entire Antarctica, and especially Southern Georgia, is one large museum where many stories of expeditions and science are told. However, it also gives profound insight into the history of this world to geologists.

There are ten rules for landing on the Antarctica and Southern Georgia. You have to strictly abide by them whenever you set foot on the Antarctica and its islands.

  • Please keep quiet!
  • Keep your distance (five metres from penguins, 15 metres from seals and birds)!
  • Do not tread on anything!
  • Never bring plants or animals!
  • Respect protected areas!
  • Preserve historic sites and monuments!
  • Do not take “souvenirs” with you!
  • Respect scientific research!
  • Think of your safety!
  • Preserve the pureness of Antarctica!

That also includes that you must not spit, sneeze or piss anywhere.

Roland on his way back to the ship.

These rules are also meant to protect the animals. I was surprised to see how seriously all participants took them and how they all rigorously kept to what was required.

I, too, got used to never treading onto a green spot. We all avoided unprotected sneezing. It was not possible to accidentally forget a paper tissue.

Thus, each landing became an impressive adventure. The light, the pure air, the wonderful nature made a huge impression on all of us. Historic buildings gave testimony of a horrible industry (waling) that, by promising people good money, had motivated many people to do a gruesome job under the hardest possible conditions far away from home. There were all kinds of remains that revealed quite a lot.

Back in Germany, it really shocked me how thoughtlessly we treat our environment and our nature both on a huge and on a small scale. Even more than before my trip, the pollution of our cyclists’ paths, streets and cities horrified me. The same was true for the gigantic soil sealing of our beautiful country. And of how we, totally without being forced to, expose ourselves to a lot of noise and polluted air in the nice residential areas of our cities.

This is where I also would like to publish a report (Bericht) on the trip for my friends. It was written and illustrated by our great editor Dr. Katrin Knickmeier. She was one (not the only) person from whom we learned so much – and I can also recommend to all of you to visit this special continent.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Two days ago, I published my article about “Nomads on the Cyclades”. It was about a book I had found in Milos. Its title was:
DOCTOR HANS LÖBER

Letters from Milos, 1943-1944

During the war years, he had also founded a hospital for the local population of Milos in Plaka. His letters made a huge impression on me.

And as early as the day before yesterday, I became a “victim” and had to stay at the Plaka hospital. You see how fast it can happen – and here is how it came about:

If you are in Milos, a trip to Kleftiko will always be something you want on your agenda..

In the morning after my post, we took a small ship to Kleftiko. According to our own impression in Greece, the weather was not too good – and a strong wind was blowing. Consequently, the journey on board the ship was a rather wild affair – perhaps the worst I ever experienced in my life. On the way out to Kleftiko, all went well. After a beautiful and longish stay at the quiet harbour, we went back to Adamas, the central harbour of Milos in the afternoon.

On the way back, the ocean seemed to have quieted down a little. To make up for it, the small ship now had to ride against a strong wind that came from the side. Since, we had been drinking at noon, I risked the way to the toilet at the bow of the boat. I totally miscalculated the movement of the ship – and thus what I had coming happened: due to the intense movement of the ship, I fell down rather heavily in the boat. As they say: “carelessness goes before a fall”.

I took injuries to my left hand, the joint capsule of the ring finger was apparently rather severely affected and suffered intense swelling. Basically, this should not be a problem – it happened to me in the past and mostly it healed without much lasting damage.

However, this is the finger where I wear – or wore – my wedding ring. And as the years went by, said wedding ring sat more closely on the finger, which means even when there was no damage to the finger, I could not get it off. Later in the evening, the swelling on the finger got more and more and, regardless of a delicious dinner, I started to get a little worried, because the ring really cut deep.

Not far from our restaurant, a goldsmith had his shop. So I asked for help there. The female boss really took pains to help me towards dividing the ring in two with pliers, but there was no chance that she could succeed. It did not take long before more Greeks came and wanted to help. Since the finger did not look very appetizing, most of the ladies had to look in the opposite direction in horror.

Since the entire round was no success, I was severely advised to go to the hospital! I was sceptical, because the clock already read after 10 p.m. But the caring Greeks calmed me down. If I took a taxi, I would be in Plaka in five minutes and the doctor there is a really nice person and would quickly solve my problem.

Since I did not see any other way out, I did what they had recommended and almost ordered me to do. The taxi driver took me to the hospital amongst much expressed sympathy and waited for me. I was welcomed by a friendly nurse and two minutes later, the doctor came.

I very much liked him even at first sight. His professional advice was that the ring had to be opened by all means. He started work and two minutes later the problem was solved. Then the finger was examined and taped and I was released.

As always in Greece, the medical treatment was free. Since I had just read the book “The Doctor Hans Löber“, which incidentally had been written in Plaka, I wanted to make a contribution. I told my doctor about the book and he was so delighted that he wanted to give me a second book. It took me quite some effort to make my donation.

I received the book with a personal dedication written by the doctor who had treated me.

This experience is in total accordance with what I often witnessed in Greece. The people are always exceptionally friendly and willing to help. There are hospitals that, at least for the basic functions, offer free treatment. They explicitly do not want to be paid, because helping others is basically an honour. This is how it was twenty years ago and, thank God, this is how it still is.

After my return from the Plaka hospital, I expressed my gratitude towards all the people who had tried to help me in Adamas. And they all shared my joy about the incident having ended so well. I very much enjoyed that Greece is a special country. Unfortunately, many people in the EU and in the German Administration have not yet understood that.

The day after my accident: back in Milos in a good mood at the beach of Paliochori; in the evening, we continued our journey by ship and went to Paros.

Just imagine something similar had happened to me in Munich. For instance, in the Neuperlach hospital, it would have meant: a less than friendly welcome, a long wait, an extensive diagnosis (probably including x-rays and similar gadgets) and a treatment nobody needs. And, of course, a considerable invoice to be paid from our health system.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Tuesday May 2nd, 2017

Hiking in the Peloponnesus

Please note: the report is not yet finished.
(I published it accidentally, but will continue it as soon as possible).

To say it in a nutshell: it was really high time to do some hiking.

Between April, 20th and May, 2nd, we were hiking the Peloponnesus. We carried little luggage in our backpacks. We wanted to hike from Diakopto to Gythio.
We had a wonderful time. Also, we managed to walk quite a nice part of the way. And we decided that we will soon return and continue.

I had to re-learn how to hike. And I certainly had underestimated the high mountains of the Peloponnesus. A few days into the tour, I felt considerably better. But the beginning was truly atrocious. The first leg, Kalavryta to Planitero, was 18 km, with many metres uphill and, worse, even more metres downhill. After all, we had started at an elevation of 725 metres in Kavralita – which was the final station of the Diakopta rack-and-pinion railway.

We had our luggage with us. And that was something that really almost killed me. We actually lucked out in the evening: four Swiss ladies and their pick-up truck. We found a hotel and they gave us a lift on the loading deck of their pick-up truck. But nevertheless, I was totally out of it in the evening and during the next day. That taught us a lesson.

Rolf (from Switzerland, is in charge of E4 and also author of the book … )

Lessons learned:
Do not make plans, at least not from a distance.
Times given on the signs for distances are very optimistic.

Time of year:
April/May very good – the best time.
Cool at night – summer in the daytime.
Stoves – look like they have been constructed from half an oil barrel. Firewood from the top. Can be found in all the Kafenions and taverns.

Orientation:
Not always easy.
Preparing well with maps makes sense – alternatively, you might wish to load a track onto your mobile phone.

Paths:
Very diverse, few tarmac roads, once in a while also through (primitive) countryside.
The level of difficulty: not dangerous (no dangerous overhangs, no mountaineering,…) , but often quite strenuous.

Lay of the land and weather:
Just fantastic, very diverse, great greens and many colours, often nature pure. Fauna! The weather was fabulous. The only time it rained was during our second day of hiking in the afternoon. Initially, evenings were cool, but it got warmer with each day, yet it was never hot.

Risks:
1 snake, a few dogs that barked quite loud, but they seem to be more scared than we are. The good news was that we never got any blisters, which means we did not need the blister patches.

Staying overnight:
Diakopta, Hotel Chris Paul (1 night, 40 €)
Planitero, Hotel Achais (1 night, 40 €)
Kleitoria, Mont Helmos Hotel (3 nights, 100 €)
Dara, Arhontiko Kordopati Traditional Guesthous (1 night, 70 €)
Vytina, Archontiko Nikonlopoulou (2 nights, 130 €),
Gythio, Hotel Aktaion (3 nights, 135 €)
Athen, Urban Rooms (1 nights, 40 €)
(All prices for two including breakfast, except Urban Rooms). All hotels can be recommended. I would not choose the Urban News in Athens again.

Advice:
Hiking from Elati to Vytina was a very special experience, so were the E4 routes.

Mobility cost:

(single fare for two persons – except flight)

Going out
Neubiberg – München (Franz-Josef-Srauß), S-Bahn 23.50 €
Flug München-Athen (return for two persons) Lufthansa 236 €
Athen (airport) – Kiato, train 24.50 €
Kiato – Diakopta, Bus 9.50 €
Diakopta – Kalavryta, rack-and-pinion railway 19.00 €

Transfers from Vatyna to Gythio

Taxi and luggage transport ca. 130 €
Vatyna – Gythio (Bus)
Vatyna – Tripolis 9.40 €
Tripolis – Gythio 21.20 €

Going back
Gythio – Athen (Bus) 52.20
Athen – Airport, Underground 15.00 €
Flight see going out
S-Bahn from MUC airport to Neubiberg 23.50 €

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Wednesday April 19th, 2017

Time-Out.

Also from the Bike. And the Internet. But Much More.

Fear thee not – it is not yet “OVER”. Starting tomorrow (Thursday, April, 20th), I will be gone. But I will not be on the island. Only on the peninsula.

I will try something new. Something I never did before and something I probably would never have imagined doing. We want to hike the Peloponnesus. With only our backpacks. It is not at all very heavy, yet it contains everything we need. This is how we intend to hike more than 250 kilometres on simple paths of the mountainous area from north to south. And enjoy life in a tavern each day. You know: with Tzatziki and Retsina.

Here is one of the reasons why I am now ready for this. For me, too, driving the car used to be a common means of transport. Now I no longer use it at all. Now, riding a bike seems so natural to me that I take it even for small distances. Well, old habits die hard, don’t they? But on the other hand, I find it is not such a good idea.

I miss hiking and jogging, especially since I stopped playing soccer. So I want to “leave the bike and use the feet” (installation #2). You can call it a continuation of my mobility program “leave the car and take the bike!“ (installation #1). Now I want to realize it in everyday life and when I travel.

8Consequently, it is going to be a hiking trip, instead of the usual bike trip. Our premiere route as backpack nomads, will be the  hiking tour E4 from Diakopto to Gythio. Between April, 21st and May, 1st, we will have time to do it. On Tuesday, May, 2nd, we will go back to Munich from Athens.

We will travel to and from Athens via Lufthansa. From Athens airport, we will directly connect to Corinth by train and then on to Diakopto by bus. There, a hotel we already know will await us and on the morning of April, 21st, we want to set out. From our destination Gythio, we will take regular Greek bus services back to Athens.


The valley station at Diakofto

As likely as not, our hiking will start as late as Kalavryta. After all, there is a stretch of 22 kilometres on our first leg between Diakopto and Kalavryta (in Greek: Οδοντωτός σιδηρόδρομος Διακοπτού – Καλαβρύτων) that is covered by a narrow gauge railway a part of which works with gear wheel drive. Thus, we need not climb up the hills and the train will take us from zero to 740 metres above sea level.

Incidentally, Kalavryta is a legendary place. It is connected to the Greek Revolution (1821). The place gained a notoriety that, for me, is rather depressing. In December 1943, the 117th rifleman division.  of the Deutsche Reichswehr destroyed Katavryta along with 25 villages, killing 700 persons in the process – as says a report about the “strictest form of revenge”. We will pay this place a short visit, remember its history and then start on our journey through the Peloponnesus.

In order to keep the backpack light, I optimized, or rather minimized out luggage. For instance, as opposed to when on bike tours, I will travel without my laptop. This is a first in many years. Consequently, there will be plenty of internet abstinence (after all, UE roaming is not yet possible, either) and you will not read any IF blog articles written by me in the next two weeks.

Regardless, it goes without saying that I will be happy if you give the IF blog an occasional glimpse. I recommend: just read it accidentally. Why don’t you type “term” in the search window and see what articles you get.
You know, now the IF Blogs contains 3,118 articles, more than 2,400 of them were written by me. On all possible and impossible topics. There should be something for everybody.
And if you like an article, feel free to share it – on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or wherever you wish. That would be nice and make the hiker happy. And by way of thank you, he will often think of you when he is on the Peloponnesus. And perhaps there will also be a report.

RMD
(Translated by Evelyn)

Here is the last part of my report with some information, comments and advice, giving you the gist of the trip.

The Caribbean

The ocean and the sun, a wonderful climate, warm water from above and below, an exotic world – all these things have been a dream of mine, especially in December – and that was the most important reason for making the trip.

Travelling by ship

Going by ship is ideal for the Caribbean.  MeinSchiff 4 is a hotel that covers distances at night and mostly lies in the harbour in the day. This is how we were able to leisurely visit eight countries and ten harbour cities. We did not need a single visa. The only passport controls were when we entered and exited Germany and when we departed from the R.D. (Dominican Republic). All you need for mainland visits is the ship identification. Our passports remained in the strongbox of our suite.

The ship

Mein Schiff 4 is a German speaking ship. It is modern and well organized. The crew emanates a positive atmosphere. However, it also seems to be a product of convenience, following strict processes that are probably the same on all cruisers. You probably cannot do it any other way with 2,000 guests. The safety drill is good, but the question arises if it would actually work in case of an emergency.
The suites are spacy and functional and make a good impression. Most of the suites have a balcony. In former times, cruise ships were built in a more horizontal style. The lower decks were, for instance, reserved for the huge communal areas, such as restaurants, theatres and shops, along with the crew cabins and utility rooms like kitchen, laundry and much more. The upper decks used to belong to the passengers. Since the ships were rather broad, there were several corridors with outside and inside cabins for the passengers.

With ships now becoming broader and broader, this concept is changing. On the vertical level of modern ships, there are now the crew and service areas in the inner part of the ship at almost all central levels. That is a separate area with its own staircases and lifts. This makes it possible to have even larger community halls in the lower decks. Now the passenger area is exclusively at the outside, quasi built around the crew tower.

Consequently, almost all the suites now have balconies. We very much enjoyed ours. Whenever we stayed in our room, fresh air from the ocean drifted through the open balcony door. That was especially appreciated at night, when we were able to taste the air of and listen to the sound of the ocean without having switched on the air conditioning.

MeinSchiff 4 has two swimming pools. They are both on deck number 14 (there is no deck number 13). One of them is external and surprisingly large with 25 metres. Unfortunately, they are both operated with sweet water, rather than with ocean water. Naturally, the water used on board is won through osmose and/or distillation from ocean water. Consequently, it is not very good for the mucous membrane and the rest of the skin. That is why I hardly ever used it.

The gigantic reclining chair deposits on the diverse sundecks and inner decks are quite impressive. They almost reminded me of refugee camps. Having to service more than 2,000 passengers, you probably cannot do it any other way. Regardless of the multitude of reclining chairs, however, the German towel syndrome was ever-present. Even early in the morning, most of the reclining chairs held towels and other small supplements such as books, sun-blockers, caps or similar things to signal that they were taken. Apparently, nobody was bothered at all by the fact that the on-board instructions clearly said you should not do this kind of thing.

“Welcome back in Germany“

After a long day on the mainland, it feels good to be back on board. The crew will then say: “welcome back in Germany”. On the ship, it is also very much the same as in Germany: at least at first sight, everything seems to be well-ordered and clean – and that is probably true for normal circumstances. All the advertisements clearly follow the “German mainstream”.

But even more than in Germany, the service is provided by people from all over the world. For instance, I meet many service persons from Eastern and Southern Europe, but also from Asia. But you can look wherever you want: room service, restaurant or bar – you will never meet a German employee.

The persons working on the ship mostly do not have a German employer, either. Mostly, they are employed by agencies, for instance in Switzerland (officers), in in Cyprus (service) or in Manila (nautical). As on Meinschiff, they will then be body-leased by the holders. Naturally, this procedure is not TUI specific. The entire sector is doing it in the same way.

The work schedule, too, can only be considered in accordance with German work law if you interpret it very lavishly. They work ten hours a day and seven days a week. If necessary, extra hours are a matter of course. They only have a few days off. If someone’s work was exceptional, they get a special day off – which then, as a rule, is used for mainland visits.

The employees are happy with their jobs and their salaries. There are no deductions for social security. The countries where they are employed have very tax-friendly conditions for seafaring men. Additionally, they offer a surprisingly cheap health insurance for the mostly young persons, even if it only covers the absolutely necessary medical costs. Incidentally, this is the reason why there is no other European country that employs more seafaring men than Switzerland.

Basically, everyone who is employed on the ship is a seafaring person, regardless of where exactly they work: in the nautical, hotel or tourist sector. Consequently, they enjoy a fair net income, even though the pre-tax income is not really high. The cost of living is low, they also get tips, and they see the world. What more could you want?

All inclusive

For cruises, the TUI has an all-inclusive business model. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this concept. You often consume more than you wanted to (or should?). To make up for it, the procedure is rather simple and you really save money if you consume much. On the MeinSchiff 4 , the “all-inclusive” is actually honest. (Almost) Everything is included in the price. Even at the bar. Be it the excellent quality cocktails, the long drink, lots of beer and wine, there is a huge selection of market products, all of which is included in the price.

Only few things cost extra, for instance the specialties in three restaurants. At the bar, only very few and particularly famous spirits and wines are not included. It is true for freshly pressed orange juice and champagne.

Of the food, caviar and spiny lobsters are not included. But then, you can get caviar every week as part of your normal breakfast. Freshly pressed orange juice and the water on bottles labelled “Mein Schiff” cost extra. In the restaurants, however, both sparkling and non-sparkling water are included. There are water fountains on all decks where you can fill the carafes that will be found in your suite.

Food

The food was good quality. It is the same level as in good German cafeterias. More like Münchner Rück (MR) or Allianz than like Siemens AG.
In the (also included) “fine restaurants”, such as the big main restaurant, a several course meal is served on “posh” dishes. The food is the same (good) quality but made up to look good, too.

Self-service and service are well balanced. In several restaurants you can have both in neighbouring or secluded areas. The service does not cost extra, which means it is included in the total price, which is also true for GOSCH at the rear of deck 12. We liked staying there, especially because they had a huge open-air section. The grill bar, one deck up on deck 14, exclusively open-air, was our second favourite place. Along with the two bars nearer to the bow on the swimming pool and one deck up with their really exquisite cocktails, also all open-air.

Exercise

If you want to have enough exercise on the ship, there is a simple trick: only use the stairs and never use the lift. If you stick to that rule, you will, due to the 14 decks, the reception area on level 3 and the exit at water level on deck 2, remain in shape.…

Entertainment

The on-board entertainment is like everything else. Well organized, of acceptable quality, German mainstream like Helene Fischer. To be sure, this is not necessary my favourite, but most of the people on board seemed to like it. The same is true for the band – all of whom were certainly good musicians, but they did not seem to enjoy their own music very much – at least that was my impression. Local music – and also local food –, however, is not something you will get on such a German ship. I am sure it would not have been too hard to, for instance, take a reggae band on board between the two Jamaican harbours.

I must not forget the German Soccer League. They have public viewing on a huge screen with English comments in the open-air arena as well us under deck. Consequently, we had between one and two German Soccer League matches on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, which actually makes sense on days at sea. Of course, you get beer along with it – in huge bowls, the iced three-stripes beers from Jamaica is sitting there for you to take. The rule is: get one and drink it. If you do not like the three-stripes beer, you can also get Korona (from Mexico – my personal favourite) or one of the InBev brands (Becks, Franziskaner …). All free thanks to “all inclusive”.

For me, however, the most cherished entertainment on the ship was the great view from the top. Especially when we lay in the harbour or driove into or out of it, I was able to really collect my “great views” and spend hours just looking.

This is not what you saw from the big ship, but from the ferry after crossing the Panama Channel from the Pacific Ocean to Panama City.

Hier der Blick nicht vom großen Schiff sondern nur von der Fähre nach Durchfahrt des Panama-Kanals vom Pazifik auf Panama City.

Internet

From past experience, I know that, on board a ship, the internet access is usually via satellite and consequently not acceptable for an intense user like me. I never tried it on MeinSchiff, which means I have no idea if it was good or bad. But it was definitely rather expensive.
Consequently, I recharged my mobile phone whenever I was on the mainland. One possible way of using it are hotspots near the harbour that take a few USD for hour passes. However, I would recommend you go into the towns and either use public free hotspots or look for a coffee house where you get WLAN as part of the deal.
Digital

MeinSchiff 4 is a rather digital ship. You will find huge touch screens all over the ship. They inform you about the ship, the restaurants and the current program. The pictures showing the crew are displayed digitally and only printed after you order them. It is easy to use the ship App. Using it, I can also book trips and see how much money is on my on-board account.

Bicycle

There are no bicycles you can rent for mainland trips on MeinSchiff 4 . That was a special MS Europa service I very much appreciated. On MeinSchiff 4, you only get bicycles for specially organized tours. But you can have those both as normal trekking bikes and e-bikes. They even had e-rollers on board. But then you have a huge number of persons riding in single file on those trips, which is not an idea I am in favour of.

Renting a bicycle was possible only once at the harbours we arrived at. It seems like in Central America this is not a very popular thing to do.

Mainland trips

Everything is on offer – hiking tours, bicycle tours, bus tours, tours with boats of different sizes. You can book a jeep tour and a monster truck tour, even plane tours. In Cartageno I noticed that there was a city tour on MeinSchiff  with simple electronic scooters on three tyres.

The focus is on getting to know the country and the people, as well as cultural, historic, geographic and geological sightseeing. Many trips include the visit of an adventure or amusement park.

The trips are well organized – which, of course, always depends on local agencies. They also explicitly state this in the terms of business. The tour guides speak German or English. More often than not, the linguistic competence of the local guides is less than satisfactory. The tours are not cheap, but then the countries you visit are not cheap, either.

During our private tours, we often had nice and very positive contacts with the local population.

Day and night

Due to the time of year, the sun is in the south in December. Since the Caribbean is north of the equator, we had eleven hours of sunshine and thirteen hours of darkness. However, that is not a problem, because ten hours of sun every day are absolutely sufficient.

The guests

We probably had a good average make-up of passengers, which means we saw a representation of our society. Basically, we are talking those persons who can afford to go on a long-distance vacation. In that category, MeinSchiff  is actually quite an economical option. Regardless, I got the impression that some of the vacationers must have been saving money for quite some time in order to treat themselves to this trip, or perhaps some of them even had to borrow money for it.

Barbara said she saw a lot more tattoos than in the Unterhaching swimming pool. For me, that is not a problem, even though, personally, my attitude towards tattoos is a little on the sceptical side. Consequently, there is no tattoo displayed on my body, not even the beautiful IF logo.

Most of the persons we came in contact with were very agreeable. It only happened once that I had to suffer through a few AfD slogans during a meal …

Miscellaneous

  • Sun blocker:
    Always a good idea, although the many cloudy hours made it easier to avoid sunburn.
  • Protection against mosquitoes:
    Not necessary.
  • Diamonds:
    Can be bought all over the place, even in blue, with money returned. But they also cost a fair penny. I do not have the know-how to judge if buying jewellery would be profitable.
  • Cigars:
    Smell nice, but are also quite expensive – but I no longer smoke (except once in a while, unfortunately).
  • Coffee:
    Can be bought all over the place – but it is always rather strongly roasted and consequently not necessarily the right thing for the German mainstream taste.
  • Rum
    Can be bought all over the place – plenty of it. And it tastes rather nice.

This is it as far as IF blog.de in the Caribbean by ship is concerned until my next trip comes up.

RMD
(Translated by EG)