A Café in Carricou

By Michael Kubin, Wednesday, Mar 13, 2002 12:00 AM ET

AT DANIELAS PIZZERIA + INTERNET the connection is only a dial-up, but the pizza is memorably tasty and the view, as you're checking your email, is gorgeous. You sit on a rickety wooden chair while your usage minutes are tracked by one of those wind-up egg timers. The pizza oven is only a few feet away and gets very busy around dinnertime. The main annoyances are power failures, which are common on Caribbean islands like Carricou. Especially after one of those big tropical rainstorms. Of course Carricou is still in the process of assembling its infrastructure, and tourism has picked up since they built the road.

Email is the most efficient way of staying in touch with office and home, particularly where there are coconuts and Cable & Wireless phone booths around. Cable & Wireless is the Caribbean phone monopoly, a utility with a phone card system so needlessly complicated that a simple call turns into an eight-step process:

  1. Find phone booth (not easy there aren't many around)
  2. Buy phone card (they come shrink-wrapped)
  3. Remove shrink wrap (impossible to do with wet hands)
  4. Dial number (typically one of the dial pad buttons doesn't work)
  5. Insert phone card (about half the time it will say Card not valid)
  6. When the connection is made, your balance shows up in a little window. As the seconds tick by, that balance drops faster than a hooker's underwear at a Tailhook convention.
  7. Invariably the balance remaining on the card will be less than the minimum required to make the next call. And you can't add money to the card. Meaning you are literally forced to throw good money away.
  8. The whole process has to be repeated from scratch for each new call.

Plus, to add insult to injury, Cable & Wireless charges something over $2.00 per minute for international calls, meaning that two minutes on the phone are the equivalent of a half hour (or more) on the Internet.

Bequia has two Internet cafés, neither of which actually sell café.

One has the benefit of being air conditioned, though it is so densely packed that privacy is impossible. The other is on the second floor of a building, directly above a bookstore featuring the Caribbean's most famous medical cases. Across the road is a little palm tree, sadly distressed, that was planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968. Apparently Her Majesty isn't blessed with a royal green thumb.

St. Georges, capital of Grenada, has indisputably the best Internet café in the Caribbean. Not only is the connection lightning fast, but each PC is built into a desk topped with clear glass, monitor below the glass, tilted at a pleasant angle toward the user. Wonderful and exotic soft drinks are served, time is kept on screen, and warning beeps sound as each half hour of use approaches. This may be the best Internet café in the world. Most people's favorite place, however, is the Tobago Cays. No phones. No Internet cafés. No electricity. In fact, no people at all. Just a few little white islands with palm trees, surrounded by water so clear that boats seem to float on air.

After a few days of this, communicating with the outside world really doesn't seem to matter very much.

-- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, one of the web's leading sources for online ad data.