We first realized something was up with the Internet in French Guiana when we had newly arrived and were trying to get work done remotely in a hotel, the Best Western Amazonia, in Cayenne, where we lived while we looked for housing. To get online, the hotel had us log in using complex usernames and passwords from little pieces of paper the front desk staff would cut out and hand to us. The codes seemed to belong to a coffee company that doesn’t exist in French Guiana.
While the codes were supposed to last five days, they quickly expired. We often had to log in every few seconds, and sometimes spent more time typing login information than getting work done online. It was hard to get a wifi signal. We’d tell the front desk staff about it and they’d shrug and say, “It’s like that everywhere. It’s just French Guiana.” Then they went back to watching the TV, which alerted us to a snowstorm in Paris while we took cover from the tropical heat.
After several weeks, the hotel staff admitted that it wasn’t just a French Guiana problem, that it was partly their low-budget wifi. For the first time, they acknowledged they had an IT staff member. They handed over his email address and, this being France, a form to fill out. But when I wrote to him explaining the problem, he replied, in what another local described as the I-have-no-fear-of-ever-losing-my-job fashion,
When I pointed out that I’d been trying to solve this problem for weeks, that everyone in the hotel was having problems with the wifi, but no other guests knew how to reach him, he just replied,
With this kind of tech support, the problems persisted, but I heard different types of internet complaints from people outside the hotel too.
When I asked why —and whether— the internet was so sketchy in French Guiana, I heard stories with varying degrees of believability. One man said that since French Guiana is actually part of France, there is a single cable from Paris to South America connecting us to the internet. A woman told me the local connection to the internet was set up haphazardly on a shoe-string budget. Since everything is so expensive in French Guiana, even a shoe-string budget would be exorbitant. Probably even a shoe-string itself would be high-priced.
Putting together what everyone said , I began to get a picture of how the local internet connection in French Guiana must work:
But just as I’d grasped this, the news got weird.
Our internet was still working —if you can call it “working”— in Cayenne, but the western half of French Guiana had lost its internet connection completely.
The reason? A thief had come in the night and stolen the part of the cable that connected that half of the region to the internet. The thief reportedly wanted the scrap metal, and presumably didn’t want to be able to check Facebook anymore.
“Who would do that?” Bo asked rhetorically.
“An ass,” I tried to say, but it sounded like ananas, the French word for pineapple. And then I thought I might be onto something. I wasn’t sure if the police had any leads, but my newfound image of how internet works in French Guiana gave me cause to suspect a motivation other than scrap metal.
Life in French Guiana, I had learned, so surpasses an expected level of weird, that sometimes the strangest flights of the imagination are more normal than the truth. With this in mind, I could picture the suspect already, an ananas on a budget in need of a shoe-string.
I pictured the internet cable stretching west of Cayenne, probably from Kourou to the border at St. Laurent du Maroni.
The thief must have come in the night.
And waited until the right moment.
The cable was gone.
I don’t know if they ever caught the thief, or if they had to get a new cable shipped in from Paris. Meanwhile, the thief might just be blending in with the tropical French culture.
Was the loss of internet quickly remedied, or did it turn life in the west upside-down? Was the thief acting solo or part of a ring? If accomplices were involved, and they screwed up, were they canned? I’m afraid I lack these juicy details.
It seems so strange to steal an internet cable, something with no practical value to oneself. Even if for scrap metal, where exactly would one manage to re-sell the gigantic item everyone in French Guiana is looking for?
This just adds credence to my alternative theory. As the hotel staff said, you have to be creative to live here, especially on a shoestring budget.
Not that anyone’s asked me. And maybe I’ll keep my suspicions to myself. I don’t want to sound like an ass.