Contrary to popular belief, I have not been abducted by Columbian guerillas, nor Amazon monkeys. Rather, I have been fighting a much more indidious evil: the evil of the Internet.
First, Ecuador is a great country but I will say this: it's connection to the Internet sucks. There are a thousand Internet cafes but, by and large, they're slow, expensive, very difficult to get working with my laptop, and inevitably die immediately after I get all hooked up. No me gusta.
So I go to New York city last night for a 12 hour stopover. I head to Manhattan, thinking "Surely Kinko's will hook me up darn good", only to find that the instant I plug my laptop into the Kinko's network, paper starts spitting uncontrollably out of a gigantic printer. After the worker berates me (after all, what idiot would think that the colorful Ethernet cable they have in their "laptop station" would actually connect to a network, like every other Kinko's in the world), I remember "Oh that's right, I'm back in the First World, and we have wireless networks." I pull out my 802.11 card, plug it into my tiny laptop and start wandering all over Wall St. looking for an open network. Within moments I find a dozen networks all vying for my computer's attention, though none with sufficient strength to complete the sale. Apparently the city's steel and concrete plays havoc with RF signals.
Ok, so I head to Amsterdam. It's still First World so I expect to be doing good. Wrong. The airport will happily let me hook up in a private room at all, for a very modest $18/hour. Er, no thanks. I head to the city and look for cybercafes. They are few and far between, and invariably are the same as a normal bar with a dingy computer-terminal in the back (only allowing access through a mouse and keyboard with no ability to upload files, which is what I need to do). Eventually, after asking everyone in sight, I am directed to a gigantic cybercafe called "easyInternetCafe". Angels trumpted their horns upon my approach.
This place is amazing. Four floors of rows and rows of terminals, each with nice flat screens, mouse, and keyboard. It's clean, modern, and very nice. Very nice, that is, for people that don't need to upload files. Also very nice for pickpockets, as I'm told again and again by a pop-up window in my screen. But anyway.
I need a floppy drive. An Ethernet port. A psychic friends network, anything for me to get data from my computer to the Internet. I'm a creative and diligent guy, so once the physical connection is there, I can generally make the computer (against its will) grant me access and upload the file. However, physics trumps my ingenuity.
Thankfully these terminals have USB ports. My camera is a USB camera. It has a 128MB card to store pictures. I generally only use the card to download pictures to my computer, but I could use the card to store any files, and then dowload *those* to the computer terminal. Cackling with glee, I drop my $5EU into the happy machine and get my own personal 24-hour account name, the oh-so-catching "BIS0I6". I sit down at the machine, and start to get to work.
This is when I learn that about 90% of the Internet cannot be accessed from this machine. For some reason, it insists that many websites -- small ones like google.com -- do not exist or that I mistyped their names. Ok. Just for grins I try to connect to a server to upload files, but of course it doesn't allow FTP. Thinking I can upload my files to my 360ToGo.com website via the web form pretending it's an image, and then telnet to my server and FTP from there to other server, and then telnet to the other one and unzip the files into their final resting place, I have a plan. All I need to do is get the files to the computer.
So I take the card out of the camera, plug it into my laptop, zip up the file, and copy it to the card. Next all I have to do is plug in the USB card into the web terminal and I'm rocking the house. Sadly the house rocks me as I discover that the USB drivers on the web terminal are not installed. I go to Windows Update, which helpfully is in Dutch (after all, I'm in the Netherlands). I cannot get it to speak English. Eventually I track down drivers elsewhere and install them. During the reboot process it wipes the entire computer clean and reboots from the network, wiping away my USB drivers. I try a couple other things, and all fails.
Ok. I go talk to the guy running the show. He informs me matter-of-factly that the USB ports do nothing. As if to compensate, he explains that they were going to be installed last May, but "somebody changed their mind." Remind me to kick somebody. Now that I discover this cafe is useless to me, I ask for a refund. He said they don't give refunds -- it's all automatic, and there's no refund capability (perhaps that's in easyInternetCafe 2.0). To make up for my lost $5EU, I ask if I can plug in my laptop somewhere in the back. He tells me there is no "back" -- there is no on-site administration capability. I ask if there's an exposed Ethernet plug anywhere in the building, and he says no. He actually seems as dismayed by this as me, so I choose to believe him.
Bah. So now I have a 24-hour pass to surf the 10% of the web I don't care about, in a city that I leave in five hours. Fan-freakin-tastic.
So, to make a long story short, I'm running a bit behind on updating the website. But I've got a huge collection of pictures (indeed, while in Kinko's I made a backup of the pictures -- 2500 pictures for 1.2GB, almost 2 whole CDs. And that's only 2.5 months), and I'll post them as soon as possible. Really.
Ok, to soothe my frustration, I'm heading to one of the many beautiful cafes in the city to grab some tea. Then back to the airport and more hours in the air than I care to consider. See you in Africa!