Day 23: It's Carnival
Monday 28 November 2022

This year the diary is making me sweat. 

Last year it was an evening moment, almost a liturgy. It helped me gather ideas, rationalize the many experiences I had during the day. 

In this new adventure, however, it seems that evening moments have become a rarity. We are really spinning like whirligigs, and in the evening we sometimes lack strength. It may be the age. Or more likely it is the miles, as Indiana says.

We are back east. Toward La Union, so to speak. To the poorest, most rural, but also truest part of El Salvador. We had ventured here before. We are far from the tourist routes and already in the past we had struggled to find those willing to accept Bitcoin. This year, aided by the decline in adoption that we have already discussed at length, it seems almost impossible. It’s a struggle and we often have to return again and again to the places or big chains that we know very well accept them. It is time then to feed at Pizza Hut, MacDonalds and the like. And even here, when you ask, they look at you like you are an alien. This is of course not surprising to us. It is perfectly in line with what we are documenting in the country.

It is the city of San Miguel this time that attracts our attention. It is one of the largest, lying in a big sunny valley, watching night and day the ominous profile of yet another volcano. It is scorching hot and there is not a gust of wind. Nevertheless, the streets are filled with life. There is a great buzz. Stages are being erected at all corners of the urban area. Hundreds of hammer blows vibrate in the air. A small army of rather battered trucks and vans unload musical instruments, speakers and strobe lights everywhere. Preparations are being made, in San Miguel, for the big event. The one that turns the city into the navel of El Salvador every year. The one everyone waits for: the Carnival.

It is a tradition that has been handed down for generations. It celebrates the founding of the city, among the oldest in El Salvador, and celebrates the Virgin of Peace, the local patron saint. Every last Saturday in November San Miguel explodes with lights and colors, all night long, nonstop and until dawn. It is among the most famous carnivals in Central America, hundreds of thousands of people flock to it, and we just couldn’t miss it.

It has the strangest effect to see so many Salvadorans partying, all together and at such a late hour. It is so striking to us. Remember. El Salvador is certainly not one of those places to live at night. Also complicit in the recent past of gang clashes and violence, cities tend to empty out as the night comes on. But not in San Miguel during carnival. Here the whole nation seems to be here, with no exclusions. Soaring music keeps us dancing all night long. Incessant latin rhythms. The bands are all excellent, the best El Salvador has to offer. The streets are filled with stalls, kiosks with local food and rivers of alcohol. Intoxicating chaos. Unforgettable.

At the same time, this is a thought-provoking experience. I can tell by looking at the faces of those around me. Never before have I seen such a high sample of El Salvadorans at the same time. This is a very simple people. And I say this with all the affection and esteem of which I am capable. But watching them interact with each other at this moment, seeing their manners, their party clothes, their astonished looks when we pass by-we are by far the only foreign tourists present-makes me realize that Bitcoin still has a long way to go. So much to improve. For us to understand and trust a distributed network can be a simple thing, after a little study. For us, downloading an open source wallet, installing it, writing down words, opening it when needed, framing a QR code with the camera and pressing confirm, is an easy thing. Almost trivial. We think of it as something that is really within everyone’s reach. But it isn’t. For them it is not. They are very simple people. They are blue-collar workers, farmers, housewives, very unschooled, immersed in an environment that is light years away from technology. They know how to press the Whatsapp icon and send a voice message, it’s true. But in most cases they find it already preinstalled on the phone they buy, here the phone companies do, they would not know how to install a new app. We need to immerse ourselves in the reality of things to fully understand what and how much friction there may still be, and push Bitcoin in the direction of the easiest user interaction possible. Even more. That’s not good enough. 

Cash will win here for a long time to come. There is little that can be done. It is as simple as that. Stretching a bill is an ancestral gesture, handed down and normalized from father to son. From the dawn of time. They do not feel the need for Bitcoin, they have no basic needs to solve as a stimulus, they have dollars, and a simple life. The simplest you can think of.

We need to work harder and still have a lot of patience.