Klaus Hnilica
Saturday March 16th, 2019

(Deutsch) Teneriffa und seine diebischen Elstern

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Klaus Hnilica
Thursday November 29th, 2018

(Deutsch) Zahnarztgeplauder mit Bohrer und Speichelabsauger

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

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:

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.

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Monday May 29th, 2017

Nomads on the Cyclades – MILOS

This time around, we started our island hopping 2017 on May, 22nd in Serifos, coming from Piräus.We continued via Sifnos to Milos. Tomorrow, we will leave Sifnos and go to Paros and Antiparos. And on May, 29th, we will return to Piräus and spend our last Greek night before the return flight from Athens to Munich there.

I managed to read the book (almost) in one go – sitting on my balcony in the hotel Beach Lagada.

When we arrived in Milos, I found a book in the Adamas coal mining museum. I found it so exciting that I read it in one go. The title is
Letters from Milos, 1943-1944
Edited and with a comment by Dr. Hanns-Georg Löber and Gregory Belivanakis.

This book made such a huge impression on me that I absolutely recommend it. So, dear Cyclades hiker: if you ever come to Milos and if you wish to know more about the island, you want to buy it.

Here are a few ideas: 
During WW2, many Greek islands were occupied by the Deutsche Wehrmacht and the army of the Italian allies. Consequently, they were military strongholds. Dr. Hans Löber was a marine medical officer who, after having been sent to various battlefields also had had the order to build up a medical “district” in Milos on the “North-Ocean” in 1943. This district was supposed to make sure the German soldiers injured during the intended military operations in the Mediterranean Sea had sufficient medical attention. Thanks to his special organizational talent, he was very successful, regardless of extremely difficult conditions.

Quasi as a side effect, he also built a military hospital for the locals of Milos who were not at all well cared for medically. Among the natives, this brought him a lot of respect, appreciation and gratitude.

It happened quite frequently that I found testimony of the German occupation of Greece during WW2 when visiting the Peloponnesus and the Cyclades. Especially in Kavralyta (see my  pre-view of the Peloponnesus hiking trip early in May 2017), I was deeply moved when I heard about the Deutsche Wehrmacht massacre, which had been a reaction to partisan skirmishes and where some villages were destroyed and around 100 people were murdered.

In this book, the letters Dr. Hans Löber sent home during his time on Milos are published, probably unabridged. They are supplemented by a few commentaries by the editors and a selection of historical photos.

What makes the book special is the high amount of humanity that the letters convey. These are the reports and confessions of a highly religious and “true and upright” German. And I mean true and upright in the best sense of the words.

However, they are also impressive contemporary documents. For instance, the writer of the letters constantly relates events of the war and political events he heard on the island. The letters convey both his unbroken joy of life and his big personal misery caused by the death in action of two of his brothers.

But the documents also show how perfect and perfidious the Wehrmacht was organized and how humans were used in the war as resources in order to reach a questionable goal. And also how WW2 was minutely planned and realized by the German Administration. That was also true for fringe topics such as field post or air field post or the German Military Radio Station in Athens, from where a program from Milos was broadcast on Christmas Day.

Above all, this book is – even if that is not said expressly anywhere – an impressive appeal for PEACE. That is why I recommend that every upright person should read it.

Milos, May, 29th, 2017

(Translated by EG)

You can also order it online – the proceeds will support a hospital in Milos.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 €

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Wednesday April 19th, 2017


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.

(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.


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.


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.…


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.


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.

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.


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 …


  • 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.

(Translated by EG)

In this article, I will tell you about the second week of our cruise through the northern Caribbean on the MeinSchiff 4. In an earlier IF Blog Post, I wrote about my adventures from the first week of this trip, between December, 9th and 16th. Those first seven days were over on December, 16th with our arrival at Roatán in Honduras. We had explored the area on our own and had taken a long and beautiful walk along the Westbays.

From Roatán, we started the second week in the evening with a day at sea on December, 17th. Puerto Limón in Costa Rica was our first destination.

December, 18th – Puerto Limón – Costa Rica – – BOAT, BUS, ON FOOT
Arrival time 7:00 /departure time 22:00; organized trip

Today is the fourth Advent Sunday and we arrived in the beautiful and warm Costa Rica. We booked a one-day trip.

The first leg is by boat to the Tortuguero Channels and then up to the Varagua Rainforest by bus. We are lucky, because our guide is from Germany and her name is Susanne. As a young girl, Susanne got stuck in Costa Rica in 1981, where she married a Costa Rican. Consequently, she has spent 35 intense years in this special country. And there are quite some stories she can tell.

Today, she is a grandmother and lives in Costa Rica with her family. It is her true pleasure and happiness to feed the hens with her grandchildren.

Apart from that, she is active in organizations that promote environment protection and trying to make tourism beneficial for the local population. And she works as a guide for ship tourists.

I said we were lucky because there were three groups doing the same tour. The second one was listed as English-speaking – which meant it was only for people who actually understood English. Unfortunately, however, the guide of that group hardly spoke any English (and, of course, no German). The third group was “German speaking”. However, their guide hardly spoke any German (and no English at all).

Bad news for nature …

This is a sad trip to the Tortuguero Channels, because what you see will soon no longer be …

The things Susanne told us about the Tortuguero Channels makes me rather sad. Costa Rica has a unique richness in species – perhaps due to its geographical position. Even from the boat, we can really appreciate it. You can see sloths with two or three toes, special water birds, crocodiles and much more, all of which we see at the riverbank. We admire the Mangrove Forests (Mangroven-Wälder) and understand how important they are for the eco system.

And then she tells us that this entire idyllic scenery will soon be no more, because at exactly this spot a new gigantic container terminal for the new and rather big industrial harbour will be built. And that the houses along the riverbanks are so dilapidated because the inhabitants have left the area a long time ago.

Apparently, the Costa Rican administration believes that such a gigantic infrastructure will be necessary in the future. Nobody really knows why. But that is irrelevant. And now, the big project will be realized after many years of protests, which means many hopes are shattered. It happens regardless of intense and international protest with many good arguments.

It was my general impression on this trip that most of the cranes in the harbours of Central America I saw seem to sleep an eternal “Big Sleep”. Even later, in Panama, which, as we know, is an important business and reloading point for merchandize, most of the cranes were idle.

But this seems how matters are on this world. Politics – pushed by lobbyists and industrial corporations – believe they can boost the local economy with huge infrastructure investments. And as soon as the things are built, they usually experience the great hang-over.

Intel produced many chips in Costa Rica. Now the Asians produce them. Who else? When all is said and done, countries such Costa Rica need tourism to survive. And tourism needs nature (incidentally, even in Panama, tourism does more for the economy than the cash cow Channel).

Regardless, the Costa Ricans are quite upbeat. They greet people with “Pura Vida“, which means something like “pure life”. Whenever people meet in Costa Rica, they tell each other “Pura Vida” and are happy. That is what I, too, will do in the future.

After the boat trip, we continue by bus to the Varagua rain forest. Even the trip by bus is an adventure. Through extremely bad and narrow streets with many sharp corners, the bus fights its extremely slow way up the hills. The bus driver exudes a serenity that is absolutely imperturbable. He gives no indication of impatience, regardless of the fact that, occasionally, this trip really makes you breathless.

As soon as we arrive at the top, our mood improves. Not only are we served a fair local meal, but it is also a beautiful place. The sheer nature experience of seeing the rainforest leaves us stunned.

We have a very diverse program. Night animals such as the red-eyed frog can be seen in a building where it is night in the daytime. There is a wonderful voliere for many colourful butterflies and a small zoo with all kinds of reptiles. We learn a lot about the colours of butterflies, the poison of frogs and snakes, life in the rain forest and much more.

I am a little thoughtful as I climb the 350 steps up from the Puma waterfall to the cable car station.

One of the highlights of this tour is the presentation given by a young gentleman. He tells us what he as a scientist and his institute do to ensure the survival of, for instance, frog species that are threatening to die out. He explains his Spanish slides in Spanish. Susanne gives us excellent translations of what he says, just like all her explanations are always valuable and entertaining.

Another highlight is the way down into the valley by cable car that goes down steeply to the Puma waterfalls through the rain forest. Among other things, we see numerous monkeys doing gymnastics on the trees at eye-level with us. It is the “pura vida“ – even if it makes me a little thoughtful that we no longer can experience the beauty of the original rainforest with its gigantic trees. Instead, all we see is the secondary or tertiary rain forests. Because the huge tree giants of the original rain forest were removed by homo sapiens a long time ago through overexploitation.

As an alternative to this trip, we could have booked a journey with an old-timer train. That is also one of the things Costa Rica has to offer. Apparently, the railways were destroyed during the great earthquake in the early 1990ies. The company that did the calculations about whether or not re-building would be profitable was the biggest coach owner in Costa Rica. Consequently, the only small stretch that was rebuilt for tourist purposes was in Puerto Limón. The rest was abandoned.

December, 19th – Colón – Panama – – BUS, BOAT
Departure time 7:00 /arrival time 17:00; organized trip;

Taking nine hours, the journey from Puerto Limón to Colón was on the short side. And we had booked another organized trip in Colón. After all, Barbara and yours truly wanted to be on the Pacific Ocean again – even if only for a short time – and see the skyline of Panama City. More than anything, we also wanted the experience of sailing on a segment of the Panama Channel.

Apparently, we were not the only ones who wanted that. The trip was rather overbooked. Sixteen busses were waiting in front of our ship exclusively for the ship passengers. The passengers were assigned to busses in an almost military-style way in the ship theatre. Everybody wants to ride on the Panama Channel (or at least on some of it). And, as I see it, the trip was well worth the money.

From Colón it is about one hour’s drive to Gamboa. We have a wonderful guide. She exudes pure life. To be sure, her English is a little limited, but you can easily understand what she says. Her presentation is great, once in a while she even shows considerable cabaret talent. It is a true pleasure to listen to her and time flies during the bus ride.

We pass Manuel Noriega’s jail. To me, the building looks like something between a castle and a stronghold. Gamboa is almost exactly the midway point of the 82 kilometres of length that the Panama Channel measures between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In Gamboa, we were transferred to two huge ferries (at least they are considerably bigger than the tour boats we were used to). They are to bring us to the Pacific Ocean. These are simple ships with open decks on two levels. Since the day is warm and the ships are rather crowded, the seats under the shadow are very sought after and quickly become a rare luxury.

Unfortunately, the guide on the ship is nowhere near as good as the guide on the bus was. The loudspeakers have been set too loud and the journey is rather tedious. They cannot exactly predict how long the ride will take, because it depends on the traffic. If a water giant comes along, she will be given right of way. After all, these huge ships also pay enormous amounts of money for the transfer. For the really huge ships that, due to recent construction projects, can now also pass on this part of the way, the toll fee is allegedly up to one million USD.

The duration is an estimated four to five hours. Passing the water-gates on the way to Panama City, even though they allow us to overcome a difference in altitude of around thirty metres, does not really fascinate us. After all, we are quite experienced with the house boat and consequently know about water-gates. Besides, we have often experienced the quiet Rhein-Main-Donau Channel and, a short time ago, we visited the Oder Ship’s Lift during our bike tour from Penemünde to Berlin. Consequently, the sluices are less impressive in our eyes than the artificially created lake scenery.

The narrowest part of the channel, the Gaillard Cut, is part of our way. The two peaks – at least one of them has been cut – are really worth seeing. Near the sluices, we pass rather crowded channel observation points. There is plenty of activity.

As we are on the way into the Miraflores Lake there is an announcement that comes as rather a surprise: today, passing the channel was very quick and we will be at our destination in 45 minutes. That would mean only 3.5 hours total traveling time. But before we pass the Puente de las Américas the channel administration stops our ferry.

We have to wait for a gigantic container ship. We wait almost two hours for her to pass, then we continue on our way. This is how, eventually, the trip is almost five hours, after all.

As we exit the Miraflores Lake we are on the Pacific Ocean until we come to Balboa, which is the most remote of a small series of islands that are connected with the mainland through a dam. We are standing at the stern and see the Puente de las Américas get smaller and smaller. On the larboard side, the silhouette of Panama City slides past. It is all rather impressive.

In Balbao we leave our ferry and again board our bus. Our super guide is there to welcome us and makes the time on board the bus pass quickly. The bus runs on the motorway all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean until we are back at the ship – on time for our departure at 6 p.m. Said departure is particularly enjoyable, because at 18.00 hours local time you can still see quite a bit of Panama in the light of the setting sun.

December, 20th – Cartagena – Columbia – – ON FOOT / TAXI
Arrival time 9:00 /departure time 20:00; private tour;

The last two days were spent doing two one-day trips that actually were quite exhausting. Consequently, we want to be a little leisurely today and thus set out on our own.

Shortly before the old city after a longish hike from the container harbour. One more bridge – and then we will have reached our destination.

With more than one million inhabitants, Cartagena is a truly huge city. The silhouette of the city contains many skyscrapers and is no less impressive than that of Panama City. However, there is also a comfortable old city – partly still enclosed in the original, well preserved city walls – that beckons with many museums and other attractions.

Our ship lies in the container harbour. The city map at the harbour information centre lets us conclude that the way to the old city is almost ten kilometres. However, the way looks pretty straightforward, so we start walking. And again, many taxi drivers try to tell us that the way is far too long on foot. By now, however, we have quite a bit of experience when it comes to resisting the calls of the sirens …

The traffic is dense on the two-lane one-way road. The pedestrian’s paths, too, are rather full. More often than not, we walk faster than the cars can drive. We feel relieved when we pass a bus with an “organized trip” from our MeinSchiff 4.

Many small yellow taxis are also stuck. In this country, they are considered public transportation. But there are also many public busses. I discover that quite a few of the yellow taxis are electronically powered. They are the KIA brand.

It is a very impressive hike to the old harbour. We pass the entrance and see a huge portal in the city wall. Here it is: the old city. It is rather tempting: there are museums, bars, pubs and shops.

We take a lot of time strolling around and window-shopping. Afterwards, we are really tired. So we want to go back to the ship to enjoy the time and look for a taxi. We quickly find it and later spend a wonderful late afternoon on board the ship.

Now our journey will soon come to an end. We have to go back from Columbia to the Dominican Republic. Our next to last destination before the return flight from La Romana is Santo Domingo. It is quite a way to go there, which is why we start our last day at sea, on December, 21st, at 8 p.m..

It is a wonderful exit. We can see the lights of Cartagena and Columbia for a long time and slowly take our leave from Central America. Even though we are no longer in Panama, I buy myself a Panama hat for the German and Greek summer of 2017.

Barbara also weakens and gets a wonderful lady’s hat – also for the hot summer of 2017. After short but determined haggling with the flying hat merchant, we get both hats for the total sum of 14 USD. At the airport, my hat is 20 USD – the ladies’ hats are a lot more expensive.

December. 22nd – Santo Domingo – Dominican Republic – – ON FOOT
Arrival time 8:00 /departure time 20:00; private tour;

Two days left until Christmas Eve.

The end of our journey nears. There is one full day on the Caribbean left, along with one night on board our ship – and then we go back, away from this warm weather. We want to arrive in Munich on Christmas Eve and then celebrate with our children and their partners.

Today, we take another walk. This time around, the way from the harbour to the city seems rather short. So this is our last stroll in Central America. Not at all far from where our ship lies, a swimming bridge spans the arm of the sea that leads to the harbour. And then we arrive.

Regardless of Santo Domingo being a huge city – with many people living around the city – it also has a really charming old city. It really invited us to do some strolling. It is not very extensive and has only flat buildings and a few parks.

In one of the parks, they are recording a film. Parts of the street are kept empty, which takes a huge effort by the filming crew. There is a lot to see for us. Again and again, we meet a group from our ship with the guide walking at the front and holding his sign over his head.

Bars and pubs with “free WLAN” can also be found. Consequently, we go and drink a coffee, at the same time giving our cell-phones some nourishment. The invoice comes in local currency and also in USD and EURO. What a small place the world has become!

Incidentally, the abbreviation for the Dominican Republic is R.D. – my initials. I see baseball caps, t-shirts and other products to remember the place by all over the place. They all carry my initials. Consequently, I succumb and buy an R.D. baseball cap. It will be a Christmas present for my son Rupert Dürre (another R.D.)
As for the rest of the day, we enjoy being together and look forward to Christmas.

December, 23rd – La Romana – Dominican Republic– – BOAT
Arrival time 8:00 / Transfer to the airport 14:45; organized trip;

This is our last day. A few days ago, we booked an organized trip for this morning. It is a boat trip including snorkelling and visiting the beach. It is scheduled to be finished at 2 p.m., which should give us enough time for the direct transfer to our plane.

We already packed yesterday evening. The luggage had to be in front of our doors by midnight and has already been picked up. I also added my backpack with the warm clothes. Consequently, we are all set and all we have to do at the airport is identify our luggage and then hand the two suitcases over at the check-in counter.

Again, the trip is well organized. Our boat is already waiting for us at the stern of MeinSchiff 4. We have a crew of three, a lady from Switzerland and two locals. Everybody is really in high spirits. On the way, we get cola, sprite … and lots of rum. Cuba libre! For food, they took Pastelitos, that is some kind of filled pastry.

Our first stop is for snorkelling, then we drive to the beach. The area with the blue reclining chairs is for us. It costs 2 USD to use the reclining chair, lying at the beach on your own towel and swimming in the ocean are included in the price. A “Costa“  cruiser is sitting on the beach and busily “tendering” guests to the mainland who apparently are mostly Italian. The place is as busy as the Munich Marienplatz

This is the day before Christmas Eve. It is all about eating, drinking, sunshine and enjoying the water, along with “being at leisure”. We particularly enjoy this last time of the tropic atmosphere on the ocean and go into the water more often than on the entire trip. Then the boat takes us back to the ship – adieu Caribbean!

The boat gets us back to the ship on time. On the 12th deck of MeinSchiff4, we eat our last hamburger at the grill bar and wash the remainders down with Corona. Then we go to our bus that takes us to the plane. After all, we want to celebrate Christmas at home under a green tree tomorrow.

At Christmas Eve, we are at the airport S-Bahn train platform at 8.30 a.m., waiting for the line 8 to Munich East. There is no problem with changing to line 7, all trains are on time. Around 10 a.m., we arrive in Neubiberg. My first activity is riding my bike to Butcher Schlammerl in Ottobrunn and buying some Weißwürste. Then I ride to Baker Schlank in Putzbrunn to buy Brezeln to go with them. Lunch is on – and – Christmas Eve can come!

The hotel that was our abode for 14 nights and drove us through the Caribbean.

This is all! I will write another article and give some advice on the cruise ship – and then I will get back to other topics.
For instance what is basically the system-theoretical problem in our society.

(Translated by EG)

Klaus Hnilica
Tuesday March 29th, 2016

Soles Worn Thin

Carl and Gerlinde (Episode No 48)

“You always either suffer from diarrhoea, or are drunk, or else sit in front of the TV set watching soccer!”, Gerlinde barked from the balcony into the darkened room of her much-loved hotel Barceló Santiago.

ZZZZZZ_173721“My dearest Gerlinde! Do not be so upset with me, just because of one beer I allow myself each day while watching Kloppi and his FC Liverpool“, Carl grunted back.

He was pleasurably reclining, lying down and never once taking his eyes off the screen on the wall for a single second! After all, there was something at stake in this Europe League! And – after the surprising first goal – the brave Augsburg players were still coming along nicely against the Klopp troupe …

“As always, you are just talking nice! As it happens, my expectations for this spring vacation of ours on Tenerife had been rather different from what it turned out to be so far!”, Gerlinde kept complaining, regardless of the fact that her nagging was totally drowned by the noise the Atlantic Ocean made on the black reef – directly below the hotel.

By now, she was quite annoyed. It was already the fifth time this afternoon that she threw herself onto the deck chair and melancholically stared at the trashy blue ocean with the archaic three-mast ship in full sail, from where, yet again, numerous tourists who had been tricked into coming here were in vain looking for dolphins and whales.

Just like she had been trying for hours in vain to tempt her Carl to come outside and get some fresh air: mind you, it had taken her three years to talk her hard-bodied non-vacationer into finally flying to this unloved island of Tenerife – where her ’Ex Husband’ Jürgen still owned the formerly shared apartment.

Yes – it had been a total of three years during which she had tirelessly worked towards persuasion. And at the end of it, the moron was now sitting in the hotel room in front of the TV set, or else, if she was lucky, could be made to move his buttermilk cadaver up one flight of stairs to the pool area and swim a few negligible rounds; of course, he always wore his sunglasses and kept his stubborn head above the water at all times, because he had to be careful not to get his ’perm’ wet. To make up for it, a stiff neck was guaranteed, which meant that he could flee the pool after no more than five minutes. …

Maybe it was even less than five minutes!

After all, the borders of the pool were at all times under siege from beer-drinking English families with ’brexit’ favouring fathers who liked to scuffle and who often catapulted their resisting monstrous offspring towards the middle of the pool like misguided North-Korean missiles. If, under these circumstances, you persevered at the pool, you were at both lucky and unlucky. Because the survivors not only had totally wet hair on their heads but also found that, due to the huge waves, all sunglasses that had been originally worn were irretrievably diving towards the unfathomable pool bottom as quickly as a zebra fish.

And woe if, while fleeing in panic from this ’British Tsunami Chaos’, Carly was caught and shaken by a stray fall wind blast from the snowy tide that had been waiting in the background. In that case, Gerlinde could definitely forget the remainder of the afternoon!

Whenever such unspeakable adversities happened, Carl would wordlessly throw his dressing gown over his shoulders and ignore every deck chair, no matter how attractive it looked. Instead, he would stride towards the pool bar with determination!

It went without saying that, once there, he would not leave before he would manfully have downed four double ’Carlos’ into his tormented body – regardless of how Gerlinde was complaining!

So it can hardly be a surprise that Carl would, after such a display of assertiveness, astonish a totally perplexed Gerlinde on the very next day after the obligatory breakfast of fried egg by asking if she were spontaneously in the mood for a small hiking tour.

“What – today?“

“Well, yes. Why not? Two weeks from now, we will no longer be here, will we?“

“If that is what you want – with pleasure. You know I am always in favour of spontaneous decisions, my dear Carl.“

“That is exactly why I love you so much, my dearest Gerlindy”, Carl sucked up to her while clandestinely spooning the orange jam Gerlinde had gathered for herself onto the last remaining piece of white bread.

Since, however, the bus for the ’initiation hike’ she had been booking days ago already left at eleven, this was one of the exceptional cases where all protest was vain!

What was far more important for her was the fact that, less than forty minutes later, her ’hiking eager’ Carl stood next to the bus to Santiago del Teide ready to go and carrying his backpack. And, mind you, it was all for no more than 3 Euro and 30 cents – for both of them!

You definitely could not get more economical, could you!

Carl, too, was in the best of moods. During the speedy, curvy drive up, he pointed out for several times that there probably were only very few couples who were capable of deciding something so spontaneously and then of acting accordingly as they did.

It was unique, absolutely unique, this harmony between the two of them. Wittily, he pinched his Gerlinde’s upper arm so hard that she shrieked like a piglet. And since Carl grew more and more enthusiastic with respect to harmony and even mentioned Kurt and Hannelore – who seemed to find no common ground at all for shared experiences – he was rather surprised when Gerlinde, as early as after the third stop, urged him to exit, discreetly pushing him towards the entry point of the hiking path she had chosen:

10.3 kilometres to Tamaimo!

“Ha, this is ridiculous”, Carl was quite jubilant, “I could do it with one leg tied down!”. No sooner had he said this than he had already jumped from stone to stone without hiking sticks until he reached the bottom of the first steep decline, where he laughed and waited for Gerlinde, who preferred to start the journey a little more cautiously.

There was no question that the route was truly picturesque. Gerlinde really had done a great job choosing this tour. To the left and right, the terraced fields were still untended at this time of year; in between you could see well-stocked ponds and green meadows all the way to the steeply climbing hills in the background. And no human being anywhere. Only a few scattered palms and, very far on the horizon, a white house. Somewhere in the distance, a few dogs barked.

But the path was not easy!

Almost all the time, the way was steeply downhill and on the occasional flat parts, there were always razor-sharp small stones where you had to be careful indeed to avoid stumbling.

But then, wearing the good ’Lowa Shoes’ and being fit enough, all this is no problem, Carl still believed so when he started feeling that his right shoe seemed to swim away from his right foot. When he lifted his foot in order to see what was the matter, he was horrified to discover that the total profile sole was hanging at a thread; the only thing it needed to totally break off was a small rip!.

“So what now?” Gerlinde asked anxiously.

“I have no idea!“

“What about the left show?“

“Well, the left shoe still has its sole – no! On the left side, too, it is already hanging by a few threads …“

“Oh my God – what now?“

“Nothing – we continue on our hike!”, Carl grunted, sounding as if he were walking in fish oil.

Which is exactly what he was doing!

And he still did it when even what remained of the soles was practically no longer there. And even when the insoles where hanging from their last threads inside the shoes! And when the hiking socks were nothing but holes, and when the shirt and the t-shirt he had tied around his feet dissolved into bleeding fringes. …

But by that time they had actually reached Tamaimo! And there was a bar from where, after Cortado and water – God be Praised – they could order the taxi that took them to the hotel. …

“What a pity”, Gerlinde lamented after she had named their destination to the friendly, young taxi driver, “that this had to happen at the very start of our hiking program”!

Acidly, Carl agreed, although he had long ago decided that ’lost soles’ at the end of a ’hiking vacation as planned by Gerlinde’ would have been a lot worse.

Regardless, the bitter complaint they were going to send to the ’Lowa Company’ would never turn into an exultant thank-you letter. He owed Gerlinde that much. …

(Translated by EG)