I know what you’re thinking. But, how you could you not want WiFi? People today seem to forget how to be human once they’re disconnected from Facebook and Instagram. And while you’d expect this kind of overstimulated behavior in places like New York, London and Tokyo, the addiction has spread to remote places outside these big cities.
Today everywhere seems to offer WiFi — parks, airplanes, restaurants, campsites. Hell, even the Pope has Twitter! And while having the world at our fingertips can be a good thing, as a traveler I’ve also found it disheartening.
Many times I choose destinations and experiences because I believe they’ll introduce me to something completely foreign. I aim to be taken out of my comfort zone and feel faraway from social media, emails and the constant need to text. That being said, while at one time people were constantly searching for a WiFi signal, it seems now you can’t get away from it.
Last year I spent a month in Ghana, doing a homestay in the remote village of Achiase. Despite the fact we had goats in our house and no running water, the village had multiple internet cafes where you could get online in an instant. These cafes were constantly filled with people. Not just tourists (there really aren’t tourists in Achiase) but locals who couldn’t seem to put down the mouse. One day when the power went out, a common problem in the small village, the internet cafe owner rushed into the back room to turn on a generator and save everyone from Pinterest withdrawal. I still remember how everyone cheered when the internet came back on.
When crossing the Soleli Desert in Bolivia I slept in hostels without heat and plumping and lived on old hot dogs and apples. Nevermind there was nowhere to buy clothing or get warm, there was, of course, an internet cafe. I stumbled upon it when searching for some bread in one of the few small desert towns, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the sign in the shop window: “Internet and WiFi”. I can’t even get away from it in the desert?
On my most recent trip to Jordan I was privy to experiencing the traditional Bedouin culture. In Feynan, one of the few places left in Jordan where authentic Bedouin culture still exists, I sat Indian-style in an authentic Bedouin tent woven out of black goat hair watching a man in a long white robe and aymemma (head cover) roast coffee beans on a pan over the fire. Once the beans were ready, he began grinding the coffee with a mortar and pestle, playing a kind of song as he worked.
“This sound lets our neighbors and anyone passing by know that coffee is being brewed and they’re welcome to come over for some,” explained Hussein*, a local Bedouin. “This used to be how we called everyone over, but now most people just use their iPhone.”
Sure enough, he pulled out his smartphone and not only asked me for my email, but my Twitter handle and Facebook account, as well. This is a community of nomadic desert-dwellers who live in tents, surviving on goat’s milk because water is so scarce. Yet they still stay connected.
Being connected is not a bad thing. I love the fact that Hussein and I can stay in touch through social media, and that I can follow my friends and work on my blog from the road. But, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve gone to the extreme. Is there nowhere left in the world without a signal?
Have you ever had WiFi in an unusual place? Or do you have an interesting “disconnect” story? Please share in the comments below.