Little does it matter if Uber is a useless company, this morning after putting our few things back in our backpacks and getting ready to leave, we ask the front desk of our hotel to call us a cab and ask the driver if he would be okay with being paid in Bitcoin. The first person to respond immediately agrees and after less than fifteen minutes we are already filling the trunk of his car. He sets up the Lightning transaction himself on Chivo: you can see that he is familiar with it. As soon as we leave he asks us if we are still in El Salvador after the big conference that took place a couple of weeks ago, he tells us that many Europeans and Americans came for that one and that according to him this legal tender thing is a great development opportunity for the country. He’s already had passengers pay him in Bitcoin and what he’s accumulated he has no intention of converting to dollars. He’s realized that over time they will appreciate a lot. Good boy.
Leaving the chaotic streets of San Salvador, we throw ourselves into a lush, sunny countryside of rolling hills that slowly slope down to the sea. There is no traffic outside the capital and we travel fast. The road is dotted with small rural settlements, walls crumbling from the sun and humble, wrinkled faces. We don’t travel very far and the great blue expanse already stands out before our eyes.
I’ve always viscerally loved the Pacific Ocean and it’s along its shores that I’ve always focused the bulk of my travels. It’s less obvious and turquoise than the Atlantic, less docile, less provincial and doesn’t smell of Chanel suntan. Less Milanese, in short. I respect him. Its size always takes my breath away. It stands before us huge, dark, always threatening, with its gigantic beaches and its long waves.
The road we are traveling on has become a coastal road, running sinuously between palm trees and shoreline villages. The car rounds a bend and plunges into a long straight stretch at the end of which we can distinctly make out two large white signs, with a familiar central orange ₿ and an inscription: welcome to Bitcoin Beach.
It is difficult to define El Zonte as an urban agglomeration. You don’t have to imagine a small town, with a center and squares, maybe a church. It occupies that strip of land between the asphalt road and the pounding of the waves, a few hundred meters at most in length, and is rather a collection of anarchic settlements, totally un topsy-turvy. Dirt roads, hovels arranged in the best possible way, surrounded by palms, dates and tall banana trees.
Our hotel is a sort of base camp for surfers, very nice, a bit freaky and casual looking. Our room is cozy and a little spartan. It has a military feel to it, we like it a lot, it’s perfect for the adventures we’re about to have. We take possession of it right away, setting up our things, and set off to explore.
On the bumpy streets of El Zonte everything, literally, bears the Bitcoin logo. Toyland madness. Every sign, every business, every flag, every t-shirt. It’s everywhere. The very symbol of the settlement. We are hungry and find a little restaurant right on the beach. The sun is scorching and the sand, dark and volcanic, is hot.
We look around. The people here are different than in San Salvador. There are locals, of course, but also many tourists. We distinctly hear a lot of American talk coming from the various tables. This area is also considered a paradise for surfers and many people flock to these shores when the season starts. They probably have no idea what’s going on here and they definitely don’t know what a cryptocurrency is. They definitely think of it as stuff for white nerds and don’t care. If only they knew it’s freedom as much as their waves….
Sufficiently nourished, we start to walk along the tracks of El Zonte, when we notice a gentleman wearing a pink t-shirt with a large “End Fiat” written on the back. He is in the company of other people and we ask him if we can photograph him for our blog. We stop to talk. He is an American entrepreneur, he invested in Bitcoin years ago and is here to buy a large plot of land, on which he wants to build a citadel, a kind of compound for bitcoiners. He often comes to El Salvador and considers it a viable alternative to the States, where he can buy and build, even for his own family and children. The talks are what you would do on the sidelines of a conference. We talk about technology, inflation, central banks and social revolution. We feel at home, even though we are on the other side of the world. Perhaps that is what this place is all about.
Evening falls quickly in the tropics and before going back to our room to work we decide to meet another westerner, known in a Telegram group made of bitcoiners who gravitate around the Beach. He is German, but has lived in France for years. He has a career in technology behind him and has been buying bitcoin since 2015. Today he no longer works, he trades other cryptocurrencies and it was a mid-life crisis that brought him to El Salvador. With no specific destination and no set date to return. He is very knowledgeable and is a pleasure to talk to, tell and listen to.
It only took a few hours in El Zonte to understand that in this place we will meet peculiar people and that it is a sort of bubble, completely detached from the rest of the country. For some strange reason this is a geographical area that for years now has been attracting people like us, capable of being the first to realize that this thing is destined to change everything. Forever and irreversibly.