Day 17: The Bitcoin Car
17 dicembre 2021

The great thing about having plans is having the luxury of changing them. Even at the last minute. Especially if there’s a very good reason to do so.

We had planned to spend some time in Santa Ana visiting its lush countryside, moving as far as the Guatemalan border. All things we still desperately want to do, but that will have to wait. And that’s because yesterday we get a call from the director of CEL, the Comisión Ejecutiva Hidroeléctrica del Río Lempa, telling us that we are officially invited to visit the Berlin thermoelectric plant, one of two sites where the government of El Salvador is mining Bitcoin with totally renewable energy. We couldn’t be happier. As President Bukele says we are powered by volcano.

Small detail, the appointment is for Friday, at 9 am and we are hundreds of miles away, about three hours by car, because we have decided to travel northeast while the facility in question is southwest. But we don’t flinch. This is an opportunity we can’t pass up and we know we can find a solution.

Map in hand we try to make sense of the logistics of the next few days. But it’s clear that we need to completely change our plans. It is unthinkable after the visit to return to this side of the country. This means that over the next few weeks we’ll instead travel east, to San Miguel, then up into the mountains of the Morazán region, lapping the border with Honduras to the Gulf of Fonseca, and spending a few days in La Union. 

The itinerary convinces us, they were places we would have liked to visit anyway, rich in history and natural beauty. But at this point it is clear that we need a car. And fast. 

Oh, and we have to pay for it in bitcoin.

We immediately plugged into our phone books and asked every friend and acquaintance we had met here in the past few weeks. They are all very efficient contacts and in fact in no time at all we have a nice stack of numbers to call. There’s no way we’re going to use the big companies like Budget and Avis. Or rather, we try, but they don’t accept Bitcoin at all. Fortunately, we discover that El Salvador is full of small businesses that rent cars. They are more like auto repair shops and body shops, but they have a small fleet of cars that they rent out regularly. They are the ones who really amaze us: Bitcoin is accepted by pretty much everyone we turn to. It seems incredible to us. 

The problem, however, is a different one. We are approaching Christmas and it is a peak time for tourism here. In addition, all the emigrants who work in the United States take the bulk of their vacation time in December and return home to spend a few weeks with their families and in their homeland. Hardly anyone therefore has cars available. We are starting to worry.

It was at that moment that for some reason we were reminded of Alex, the Nueva Ideas executive we met yesterday at party headquarters. He seemed enthusiastic about our adventure and full of contacts. We write to him. After a few hours he puts us in touch with Mario, owner and CEO of Mario’s Rent a Car. We love him already from the name. He also has only one car left available, so it will have to do. He even picks us up near the hotel to take us to his workshop. He is delighted to accept Bitcoin but for insurance and security reasons he takes our documents and writes down credit card details. We are fine with this, this does not contradict the rules of our mission. However, this makes us think a lot.

Soon, a smart contract will need to be implemented that locks in a certain amount of Bitcoin as collateral. This is actually a form of protection that any rental company requires. It’s not hard to implement, it will just take the market to mature a bit and there will be a need for it. Here in El Salvador it will happen soon. 

Mario in fact does quite a few rentals in Bitcoin. We are certainly not the first. He is knowledgeable about the subject and enthusiastic about the law. He believes it will provide a great economic boost and that everything that’s happening can’t help but create a lot of new jobs. He literally says that Bitcoin has put El Salvador on the world map for the first time. And he has a point, we think. 

There is only a small instant of panic. At the moment of finalizing the payment we realize that both of our phones do not have internet access. We run out of data. However, we know that our provider Claro has Lightning network integrated into the site. We checked it out after the excellent experience with Bitrefill. And that we can then purchase a new package at lightning speed. In the meantime, however, we connect to Mario’s Wi-Fi. We’ll keep the car for ten days, it’s cheap enough. We prefer an on chain transaction, to make sure that Chivo doesn’t make our satoshi disappear who knows where. We’re not in a hurry anyway. I set the high commissions on my Blue wallet, they are quite cheap today and within a few minutes the first confirmation arrives. It’s done. He gives us the keys and we get on board, ready to drive our first kilometers in this corner of the world.

We rented a Mitsubishi that is at least fifteen years old. Electric blue with a big rear wing. Never driven anything more cheesy. It has all the warning lights on. It tells us that the tire pressure is low, the airbags don’t work and when you want to brake you’d better pull the handbrake along. But we paid for it in Bitcoin so it’s a Lambo to us. We love it and it will take us far. We hope so, at least.

Tomorrow we wake up at five in the morning. We are going to the Vulcanode with the Bitcoin Car friends.

Can you believe that?