It’s 32 degrees Celsius in central Havana, but the dust and traffic is making it feel like 40. Yet the heat alone can’t explain the bead of sweat trickling down my forehead. The situation has become desperate. We’ve been hopefully turning on our phones on and off in each establishment we enter, but the WiFi is registering completely blank. Normally there’d be a bunch of private networks displayed which were password protected but here it’s completely barren. No Bob’s iPhone, no DGCHYNGHY. Nothing.
My hand twitches imperceptibly. Before coming to Cuba I was looking forward to an enforced digital detox. I told my friends that they wouldn’t be hearing from me because there’s no internet in Cuba. “No internet?,” they said skeptically, as though I was talking about a country which had no women or children. It turns out that I’m wrong. There is internet in Cuba. It’s just a massive pain in the ass to get it.
The sweat is really cascading now and there’s a low thrum in the back of my head like a malfunctioning AC unit. I keep telling myself how imperative it is that we check in for our Virgin flight online. Cuba’s absolutely chocka-block with English tourists and every one we talked to is going back on the same Thursday night flight as us. The dread of getting a middle seat stuck between two of the Daily Mail reading, brimmed sunhat wearing, blue rinse brigade was being magnified by my withdrawal.
But really the online check in is a ruse. I have no good reason to go on the internet. Everyone else is in the same boat with the illusive WiFi, and so it’s unlikely they’re wasting their last day trying to check in (like I am).
Besides even with online check in you still have to drop off your bags (in this case the line turned out to be gargantuan when we finally got to the airport), so it really is pointless.
I’m simply an internet addict. And addicts make excuses.
It’s only when you find yourself going online, before admitting to yourself that there was no reason to do so, that you realise how bad things are. I’m the kind of person who reads about the huge number of hours teenagers spend on social media every day and tut about the younger generation, even though I spend eight hours online most days. But I can justify it as work. I’m working now to write this blog (although) with regular forays off to other news articles. After all the years of internet (ab)use have left me with the attention span of a goldfish.
Things are getting worse and the cravings are coming on stronger. We soon try and exhaust the legal routes. Cubans can obtain WiFi cards from an Etseca – they typically give you an hour of credit online. You then need to find a WiFi hotspot, which is usually located in public places. You can tell where they are because you come around a corner and see loads of (mostly) young faces bathed in a faint blue light as they get high on WiFi.
Very few hotels have WiFi and it’s not available in people’s homes either, though there are moves afoot to change this. The cost of a WiFi Card at around one CUC may seem like nothing to a tourist – but in Cuba this is expensive. And where’s there a supply issue, demand rises.
By this point we are sitting on a park bench in a hot spot when I hear a voice to my left.
“Hey man, do you want some WiFi?”
I look over and sure enough on a bench opposite is a dealer. I can tell he’s a dealer because he has a cap pulled low over his eyes and scars on his face, probably from some WiFi deal gone wrong or a fight over territory.
I know this is risky but I can’t help myself.
“How much is the WiFi,” I ask, trying to sound as though I don’t really care and that I don’t have to have it.
“For you I got a good price for the WiFi,” he says in a Caribbean drawl. This dude has picked up some language skills through his WiFi deals.
I look around nervously. Kids play nearby and tourists bustle about behind us. No-one seems concerned about what might be about to go down.
He beckons me over. It’s not a good start though. The WiFi card is not in its plastic casing – which means it might not be pure. I start to walk away, annoyed at this scam artist but he calls me back insistently.
“It’s good WiFi man.”
I feel like my bargaining hand is stronger now. “Can I try the WiFi before I buy the WiFi?”
“Listen man, I’m sitting right here. Take it and if it’s not good then we can talk.”
My hands are trembling slightly as I get a coin and scratch the card to reveal the password. The password works, though the signal is not great. I smile at the dealer but he’s not looking over here anymore – he’s got other deals to do. Our hour of WiFi starts ticking down.
My wife looks over at my phone screen and says: “What are you doing on Fantasy Football when we’re supposed to be checking in for our flight?”