Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Galapagos and 21st Century Technology - Can You Hear Me Now?

Old-Time Communication
The title to this post is a bit of an oxymoron.  Yes, we do have technology in our cities - internet, wifi, cable t.v. and cell phone service. But, 21st Century technology in Galapagos is a world away from what you expect at home.

For those coming to Galapagos who live in large cities and take their connectivity for granted, a visit to the Galapagos Islands can be eye-opening; somewhat like when Dorothy was in Oz and told, "You aren't in Kansas anymore." Here, you are at the frontier of technology, not the cutting edge.

I've been told about a commercial in which the actor repeats, "Can you hear me now?" Always he is heard.  Cell towers are everywhere in the U.S. and Europe. I understand too that there's a television show called Crisis based on the absurd presumption that somewhere not far from the U.S. Capitol there is a mansion where cell phone signals cannot be followed.  In your world, the premise that you could be totally out of touch is preposterous. In our world, though, it's reality.

In the Galapagos Islands, until just 15 years ago, we didn't even have electricity 24 hours a day.  Imagine - after 10 at night, we had no electricity until the following morning. We didn't have enough power generation to support more electrical usage.

We've come a very long way.  Not only do we have electricity (though it's still carefully rationed, very expensive and subject to principles of environmental conservation), we also have the internet. But wifi development occurred just three short years ago. When the Galapagos Islands went "wireless" in January 2011, it was a major news story - breaking news. This break-though was hailed as a milestone and, indeed, it is. We saw it as a miracle and we certainly don't take it for granted. It was the technology that finally connected us to the mainland. It helped our schools, hospitals and our children.

Here's the good and the bad news about wifi in the Galapagos:
  • Good news: most hotels offer wifi.  Bad news: anticipate that the wifi might be inconsistent.
  • Good news: there are cyber cafes on the main islands where you can get on line.  Bad news: typical cruises dock only for a few hours a week at a major city like Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal.
  • Good news: a few cruise ships offer wifi.  Bad news: it's really expensive and available only when you are docked at a major port. (A mobile hotspot might work when you are docked as well.)
  • Good news: cells phones work in Galapagos.  Bad news: You need to make arrangements with your provider before you come to Ecuador. Moreover, they don't work everywhere. For example, while Santa Cruz is our most populated island, if you are near the highlands, the cell tower is blocked. If you are on Isabela, Fernandina or Genovesa - forget about phone service.
  • Good news - while you can be in touch with your families and loved ones, you don't have to respond to your office emails.  In case of emergency, your ship captain always has communications access directly to the Navy, Coast Guard and your cruise company.
I do use my ipad tablet constantly when I am on a cruise ship.  I draft emails and save them to send later. I load my photos from my camera to my ipad using a connection. I keep my notes on my ipad and my guests keep journals on theirs. Then, when I get to a cyber-cafe, I upload everything to the internet and send the saved emails.

Technology exists.  But, you may have to use your imagination and delay gratification a little bit.  And, in any case, this is always faster than sending a post card from Post Office Bay on Floreana.

As I recently shared with my guests when they posted a five-star review for the Galapagos Eco-Lodge on TripAdvisor, "If wifi in Galapagos is a little 'iffy' from time to time, that's just part of the charm of being in this remote living museum we know as paradise!" Welcome to the 21st Century in Galapagos!

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