This is an opinion piece by Rikki, Bitcoin explorer, author and co-host of the “Bitcoin Italia” and “Stupefatti” podcasts.
All images included in this article are from the author.
Although the adoption and use of Bitcoin among ordinary people in El Salvador is virtually non-existent, as we documented in our previous Bitcoin Magazine Articleit is always so much fun to visit this country and we are so happy to be back.
Everything that happens here is really quite historic, and being able to witness it is a rare privilege.
We chose to spend the entire first week in the capital of San Salvador.
We first needed a base camp to organize ourselves. The travel vlogs we make for Bitcoin Explorers require a lot of work and logistics. Telling an adventure like ours in music and images is no easy task. The amount of work involved is enormous.
But it’s time to move. We pointed our car — rented in Bitcoin — toward the outskirts of the city and left its urban agglomeration behind us.
The first challenge of the afternoon was to fill up by paying for it in Bitcoin. Who knows why the car rental agencies here have a habit of bringing the car to you with the tank half empty. At least, that’s our experience, including the rentals we’ve done in the last year. Fortunately, it seems that at gas stations they haven’t lost their taste for accepting Bitcoin. We received only one terse no. On our second attempt they refueled us and presented us with a Chivo QR code with no backfire.
The Lightning transaction was also pretty quick, considering state sh*twallet standards, of course.
Speaking of the Chivo wallet – upon leaving our hotel we experienced moments of confusion and disbelief. We had breakfast, arrived at reception and asked for the bill, ready to leave in a few hours. At the reception they provided us with a chain address. Great. We brought it to our room and I calmly carried out the transaction from our BitBox02. I fixed the high fee, to get a quick confirmation, and without thinking about it, I started stuffing our backpacks.
Just when I was thinking about the convenience of bitcoin, allowing me to pay my hotel bill even from the room, I get a WhatsApp message from reception. They write to me that the payment transaction is canceled. Canceled? A bitcoin transaction? How is it possible?
I opened my laptop and checked the status on mempool.space. I see it there, cut in digital travertine, with nine blocks already mined after the one that contains it. So it’s not just confirmed, it’s cemented. I roll my eyes and think only Chivo can suck so badly.
I arm myself with patience and go down to the reception. I show the confirmations to the hotel staff. I explain that it is not possible for the transaction to be canceled. There must be something wrong with their wallet. The address is correct, the transaction ID is the same. They tell me not to worry, they will call Chivo customer service with all the details and they will fix it. But before they send me back, they tell me: “This bitcoin is doing really badly though…”
Do you understand? Do you also understand where mistrust comes from?
They don’t have the wherewithal to figure out that Chivo is the problem – not Bitcoin. For them, there is no difference. They have this terrible user experience, and to them that’s what Bitcoin is. Obviously, I took the time to explain what is really going on, and I recommend using another wallet. But these will probably be words lost in the wind.
It is truly striking, however, how the software essential to Bitcoin law in this country, the state wallet, more than fifteen months after its launch, still manages to perform so poorly. I mean, how does a wallet miss an on-chain transaction? Just read the time warp.
It turns out to be, in our opinion, the obvious source of many problems. Anytime we went to a store and were told they stopped accepting bitcoin because it was too complex, they were probably referring to Chivo more than anything.
The other reason they always give is that there are too few transactions. Too little volume.
Think about it. Should we really be surprised?
Isn’t that perfectly logical?
We must keep in mind that El Salvador is not Venezuela, Argentina or Nigeria. It is not a country with its own hyper-inflated national currency. People here, when they get their salaries, don’t have to storm the stores to buy immediately, before merchants raise prices, or turn to the black market to buy. any other currency, as long as it is more stable. Salvadorans receive their salaries in dollars; they live in US dollars. Even if we don’t like it, in emerging countries, the American currency remains the most sought after. Some people are willing to pay double or even triple its value for it. Why would Salvadorans prefer bitcoin in their daily lives? Do you really think Bitcoiner’s talk of monetary sovereignty, money privacy, and self-custody is appealing in these latitudes? Without an education that provides the context?
It’s perfectly normal that dollars are preferred here, so we can’t assume that the volume behind bitcoin comes from the locals. Indeed, we should wonder why even the Bitcoiners who visit here don’t spend their satoshis — but that’s another story.
Our favorite city is Santa Ana and we went there to taste the real Salvador. Authenticity is in every corner here, and that’s what we strive for.
We have a favorite place in town called Casa Verde. On paper, it’s a hostel, but it’s so much more than that — it’s a hotel, it’s a bar, and it’s a community center. It is a very special place. If you find yourself in the area, this is definitely the first place to try to stay. Say hello to Carlos, the owner — tell him you’ll pay in bitcoin and that Rikki and Laura sent you.
The city is always beautiful, with its mixture of colors and somewhat decadent colonial architecture. It’s smaller than San Salvador and that’s good. It’s much more livable.
Every time we come we always end up having a great time mingling with people. Near the central square, there is a folk market which is magnificent. All the quaint streets are dotted with stalls selling everything you could possibly want. Going through them is a pleasure. Do not pay attention to the curious looks of the locals, to the giggles of the children. They’re not quite used to seeing foreigners here yet. If they do, it’s because you’re new here, something you don’t see every day. And after all, a little curiosity never killed anyone.
It’s natural to think that if few people would accept bitcoin in the larger, more cosmopolitan San Salvador, even fewer would here. But that would be a completely false assumption. Try to ask in the markets, on the stalls. You’ll find plenty of small merchants with a Chivo wallet in their pocket and a great desire not to lose a customer (from whom they may be able to extract a few extra dollars). You’ll see them ready to put themselves in the game — to take risks, from their point of view. Note that you will likely be their first bitcoin transaction; you will have to teach them what to do from scratch.
We spent hours wandering the streets of downtown. The weather here is therefore perfect, warm during the day but still cool and windy in the evening.
We bought tubes of toothpaste, a lighter (even here you can’t help losing them all the time) and Mexican-style tortillas on the street stalls, and after pleasing a young street vendor with his first Lightning transaction we inevitably found ourselves in the central square, Plaza de la Libertad. It really is the beating heart of the community. There are always people. Elegant and beautiful, with its buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, the National Theater, in pure Art Nouveau style, the municipal palace and the all-white cathedral, the most beautiful in all of El Salvador, it is said.
That day, however, the square was particularly chaotic and bustling with activity. They were setting up a big stage, tuning instruments, lining up rows and rows of chairs. It was obvious that there will soon be a concert here. We approached to snoop, drawn to the scene like two moths to a light. As we approached, a portly gentleman in his 60s saw us and approached us. He is the director of the youth philharmonic, he told us, and explained that that evening there will be a symphonic rock event. The young musicians will mix the melodies of their classic instruments with a local rock band, performing covers of great metal classics with symphonic arrangements. He begged us not to miss the show telling us it would be at 6pm. He was happy to see two strangers and you can tell by his genuine insistence that he wanted us to go.
That face, that attitude – we’ve seen it here before. It is this deep desire to show someone from afar that there is also another El Salvador, another that is not made of violence and poverty. It is made up of people who can study, organize, play and dance. This is a redemption opportunity. They want to prove themselves. It’s an attitude that takes you to the guts, believe me.
We accepted it wholeheartedly.
We returned at the agreed time and they had even reserved two seats for us in the third row, behind the authorities. The show was everything we expected. Beautiful, sincere, authentic, moving and musically fantastic.
This is a guest post by Rikki. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.