Saturday, August 21, 2010

Internet Connections

It's time for another Lonely Planet blogsherpa carnival, this one hosted by Jason at Alpaca Suitcase.  The carnival goes live on August 25th and the subject this time is fellow travelers' experiences with Internet Connections.  The following is my submission from Libreville, Gabon on the west coast of Africa.

As someone who grew up in New York City, a decent internet connection is something you take for granted.  If you're not paying for a high speed, broadband connection through your cable provider, you are "borrowing" one from your neighbor.  Otherwise, you can just walk up the block to the Starbuck's or the Barnes & Noble...even Central Park was outfitted with free wi-fi before the recession.  This is simply not the case in Libreville.

Internet access was achieved via two options, satellite or through the phone "system", there is no cable in Gabon.  Satellite was certainly the least expensive, but since the connection is weak and greatly affected by the weather, a better option would have been to use a box of old newspapers and magazines for search and two tins cans and some string for email.

Achieving internet access through the phone lines was the best option.  It worked 65% of the time and the connection was fast enough to bring up most websites.  Although, if you wanted to view that 3 minute video that your friends were sending around, it could take 45 minutes to download.  Of course, if you lost the connection in the middle, you would have to start the download all over again.

Electricity was another challenge.  The U.S. Embassy compound where I lived had a large generator system.  Whenever the electricity went out, which could be frequent, the generator would take less than 2 seconds to kick in.  Of course, since our internet provider did not have a generator, the fact that our lights and A/C kept running had nothing to do with maintaining an internet connection...back to the tins cans and some string.

Everyone talks about how wonderful skype is, especially when traveling.  Those people have never been to Gabon.  The one time that I was able to connect, with both voice and video, the time delay was more than 4 minutes.  Try talking to your parents with a 4 minute delay...not so wonderful.

Despite my complaining about the connection in Libreville, I was able to keep contact with friends at home, do research for work and maintain this blog.  I suppose it's just like anything else, it takes a little getting used to.

Please visit Alpaca Suitcase on August 25th to check out all of the entries for the Lonely Planet blogsherpa Carnival, Internet Connections.  Thanks

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer in NYC, Fire Island

I spent this weekend in Ocean Beach on Fire Island with a friend and his family.  I forgot how much I love this place.  There was a little drama, but I'll save that for the end, first an introduction...

Fire Island is about one hour outside of the city, followed by a 20 minute ferry ride to one of several villages on the island.  Ocean Beach is the main village, which hosts more restaurants, bars and stores than any of the others.

Outside of a few full time residents, there are no cars on the island.  You walk or bike and everyone lugs their stuff around in little red wagons.  The island is 26 miles long, but less than 3 city blocks wide, with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other.  This means that every home is really just a few steps from the water.  The majority of the homes are small and cottage-like, close together and line broad sidewalks that go from bay to beach.  There are no "streets".

A Fire Island distinction, one which I haven't noticed in any of the other beach communities that I may have visited, is the outdoor shower.  Every home has one on their deck, surrounded by a wooden privacy screen.  I suppose it was planned that way, to dissuade all of the sand from entering your house, but it is a distinction that is universally unique to Fire Island.  I wonder why every beach house doesn't have one; rain or shine it's a wonderful experience.

The island is pleasantly casual.  Since there are no cars, and you barely wear shoes, it is wonderfully difficult for anyone to be pretentious.  It's all about the beach...and maybe a few cocktails.

Fire Island is not really set up for a day visit, most people rent a house for days, weeks or months.  In Ocean Beach, there are a few small hotels with minimal services.

I have heard rumor of certain people complaining that there is not enough to do on Fire Island.  These people just don't get it, all you need is a decent beach chair and a smile.
The Drama
Unfortunately, whenever I travel it incorporates a little drama.

I woke up on Saturday excited for the day.  I was still tired, so I fell back into bed...unfortunately landing on the edge of the window sill and putting a 2 inch gash in the back of my head.  Whoever told me that head injuries can produce a lot of blood wasn't lying.  My friend said it looked like a crime scene.

They called the police.  You could hear the alarm, which signifies that the volunteer paramedics should check in with the dispatcher.  I had one alarm.  When you hear 4 alarms, that's a real problem.

They bandaged me up, but insisted that I go to the hospital to get stitches to protect against any infection.  I agreed.  Now I'm packed into a local ambulance and they take me to the dock.  At the dock, a police boat is waiting, along with a very large crowd of onlookers, to take me across the bay.  Of course I feel foolish, but it's a nice ride and the normal 20-30 minute ferry ride is cut down to 7 minutes.  On the other side, another ambulance is waiting to take me to a local hospital.  A short ride and I'm admitted through emergency.  Now I'm repeating my story for the 4th time, ugh.  A few hours in the hospital, they do a cat scan and use 4 staples to close my gash.  Everything is OK.  I just wish I had my camera.

I stayed Monday to make up for the lost beach time.

Much love and thanks to my friends and their family.  It was a great weekend, drama and all.