Day 09: The Meetup
9 dicembre 2021

Diving into the Pacific Ocean is always a humbling experience. The vastness of the expanse of water, the violent force of the waves, which when they hit you amuse and frighten at the same time, like a roller coaster ride. These are things that have the same effect on us as a lysergic trip. They take away that stupid sense of human almightiness and show you clearly what your true place in the universe is: we are small and our experience of the world is limited.

Yet man’s intellect has the ability to dream, and thanks to the shared experience of a multitude of talents and experiences, it manages to create things far greater than individuals, designed to outlive us and survive in time, far beyond the finiteness of our lives. Like the pyramids, like the Odyssey or the Divine Comedy: like Bitcoin.

This is how we spend our morning, working on the beach of El Zonte, the most beautiful office in the world, between a refreshing bath and a chilled cerveza.

It is in the afternoon that we prepare to change scenery and move to El Tunco, a small coastal village a few kilometers from Bitcoin Beach, less anarchic, better organized but also a bit more touristy. Here the word of Bitcoin, inexplicably, has not yet arrived with the force we would expect. Despite what is happening just a few steps away, very few businesses are accepting cryptocurrency. We walk into at least a dozen small stores because we need to buy things, but we are always turned away. No one even has a Chivo app installed on their phone. We ask why, but all we get are embarrassed giggles and vague justifications. 

The rules of our adventure are clear: no fucking fiat. So we leave without having been able to purchase anything.

A little later we meet Salvo, a young local entrepreneur. He has an agency that offers tourist services, guided tours and excursions. He is very active in the local Bitcoin scene, very smart and speaks perfect English. You will hear him mentioned often in the next episodes of our diary because he will be a key resource. He tells us how he’s only really understood the deeper meaning of Bitcoin in the last few months, but also how he’s absolutely determined to study the technology in depth and become a reference. He thinks the opportunity El Salvador is seizing is unique and unrepeatable. His enthusiasm is contagious.

We jump in his car and with him we leave for San Salvador to attend a meetup of local bitcoiners: our first in Central America. 

When we reach the venue, we find ourselves in front of a large table of professionals and visionaries. Very intelligent people with whom we will have some of the most enlightening conversations of our trip. The Bitcoin community here in El Salvador is in its infancy and those who gather to talk and plan on occasions like this are the true pivotal figures in the local scene. At the table with us is the local head of Bitrefill, the in-country executive of the Paxful exchange, the entrepreneur who provides integrated Lightning payment services to businesses and operations. All figures whose stories deserve specific insights and to which we will devote ample space during our reportage here in El Salvador.

But not only that. The kaleidoscope of humanity we meet is impressive. There are journalists and hi-tech professionals who, like us, come from Europe, Salvadoran taxi drivers who only accept bitcoin, employees of crypto companies from everywhere, even a surfer-developer who travels the world, writing code and chasing the perfect wave. A true congregation of crazies: we feel exactly where we belong.

Apparently our “fame” precedes us; there are many who know who we are and what we are doing. The enthusiasm and support for our initiative is sincere and generous. Out of this noisy meeting, we already know, will come some of the most interesting stories we can tell. Time flies and before you know it, it’s time to head back to the beaches. 

On the way back, however, we are caught by an unexpected event.

When we got to the town of Zaragoza, we find out that the highway we are traveling on is blocked and we are trapped in traffic. Stuck in a traffic jam. We immediately think of an accident, but consulting Twitter we discover that the government is doing some work to upgrade the road system, and it is not that it redirects traffic or warns beforehand. It simply closes the road for a few hours. This is Central America too. 

Unable to move, in a very seraphic manner, everyone gets out of their cars and camps out on the roadway, chatting and smoking. We do the same and it turns out to be a great opportunity to get to know each other better. Salvo tells us about his business and how Bitcoin is now crucial to it. For example, it often organizes excursions away from El Tunco, which he cannot attend in person. In those cases the tourists are accompanied by his driver but, once right at the destination, he entrusts them to local guides, whom he relies on and who know the territory better than him. Before Bitcoin, however, it was very difficult to pay them for their services, because they are all strictly unbanked and the only way was to meet in person every now and then, to settle the accounts, or use an expensive money transfer service. Today a QR code sent via Whatsapp is enough and the transaction is instant and cheap. 

This makes Bitcoin inevitable. Needs like Salvo’s in remote parts of the world. Not the capital gains and curlers of Wall Street. 

Time passes and it gets late. So late, in fact, that by the time the road is cleared it will be late at night, which is why this episode of our diary comes out so late. In spite of his tiredness, Salvo still finds the strength to tell us about his parents and the civil war, the horrors they witnessed and the dangers they ran. Of how he himself, still in diapers, escaped death thanks to a lucky intuition of his mother. 

He tells us about the history of El Salvador, a long streak of blood, human rights violated and abuse suffered. We are fascinated. That’s the lesson we want to take home from this adventure, that’s what we’ve come to tell and soon we’ll have the opportunity to do so with care and dedication.