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By Joe Harkins - Aug 26, 98
There you are, virtually speaking, in San Ignacio, a small blip on the map of Belize, an English-speaking country nestled under the shoulder of the Yucatan Peninsula.
So where in paradise can you go to check your email or get an Internet fix? Until the rapidly approaching day is here when you wont be able to escape the beep of an incoming email on your wrist watch's wireless modem, cybercafes offer a comfortable alternative. And, while youre at it, you even may be able to get a decent cup of coffee.
At first, the concept of cybercafe was kind of murky. The initial suspicion was this was merely a hangout for web surfers who had maxed out the free AOL hours off one of those disks in a plastic sleeve attached to the back of every computer magazine. Then I found Cybercafe, a book and web site.
"Cybercafes, A Worldwide Guide for Travelers" lists 530 cybercafes in 65 countries, including their exact hours, rates and equipment. Best of all, it even gives detailed instructions on how to find each location. In many countries of the world, street addresses are non-existent because residents hold to the charming but maddening pre-literate theory that if you dont know where any given building is or what its next to or what used to be around the corner, you dont belong there.
That may well be the situation in Belize. I dont know. Remember, this is a virtual journey. If you are ever there, check out the accuracy of the listing for Evas Online Café. If the web site is an accurate indicator, Evas tables are clean and the snacks are wholesome.
When I first encountered the Cybercafe Guide on its web page, my initial greedy thought was, "Why would anyone buy the $9.95 printed book when the listings are all online and free?" Then I tried stuffing my 17-inch monitor and 300-meg Pentium MiniTower and Cannon printer into my backpack. Thank goodness, the pocket-sized guide fits nicely into one of the zippered pockets.
One of the best things about the hard copy, aside from the portability that suggests print materials will be around for a long while yet, is the precise instructions on configuring your own computer to function with strange dial-ups or solving the mysteries of collecting your email through remote connections. As a bonus, certain cybercafes marked in the guide with a unique symbol have agreed to provide discounts and/or freebies to first-time visitors who display a copy of the book. It will take only a few spiffs like that to recover the cost of the printed edition.
Another web site that does a good job of explaining these arcane secrets in plain English is RoadNews. They seem to deliver on the promise, "You can go online with ease, send and receive faxes, check your Email, and log onto your company's home computer, whether traveling in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America, North America -- or anywhere in the world."
Other cybercafe web sites have sprung up, but I still am perplexed as to how a traveler will use them on the road. For example, CyberCaptive may have accomplished a feat similar to that of teaching a dog to talk only to discover it hasnt anything interesting to say.
Its true you can use its garish search engine interface to locate a cybercafe in Tokyo or Berlin, but unless you are going there or intending to sell them something, whats the point? To make matters worse (better?) CyberCaptive is one of a number of Rings, organized groups of similar web sites that exchange links among themselves so users can surf from one to the other within the interest group but without risking exposure to web sites with dissimilar content.
Still if online lists of cybercafes, sans portable hard copy, are what you want, heres a few of the more comprehensive.
(note: The material that appears below may or may not have been published in your local newspaper depending on the available space in this week's edition.)
Net Café Guide
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