Day 24: There’s no way.
24 dicembre 2021

Christmas is fast approaching. It’s a matter of hours now. We have been so focused on our mission here that time has flown by. It feels like we arrived in this wonderful land only a few days ago. But it’s already been almost a month. Unbelievable.

Tomorrow we’ll be back on the road again. It’s time to head west again to visit the part of El Salvador that we still miss and that we had to leave to rush to visit Volcanode. We are glad to be back on the move, but this part of the country will remain in our hearts.

Today was a busy day. I recorded the Christmas episode of the Bitcoin Italia Podcast, dedicated exclusively to the listeners who supported us with a donation in December, then there was an interview with an Italian radio station and finally we were invited to participate in a debate for a large community of bitcoiners. Between one thing and another the hours flew by and in no time it was half afternoon.

Hungry, we set off through the streets of Santa Rosa de Lima, a city that has been our home for four days now but that we have had time to get to know very little. We are determined to make up for it and also to find some food. The streets of downtown are always overflowing with people. The general feeling is the one we have described in the past days. We are a bit of an attraction. You don’t see many Europeans here, but they’re all kind. Curious but smiling. We stop for a few minutes in the central square. To look at the beautiful church of the city. With its white stucco and yellow trim. It looks like a cake. The religious architecture is so different from that of our home.

We ask around, at the various little kiosks that cook food on the street, our favorites, but none accept Bitcoin. There would of course be the option to squeeze in the big American chains, like Pizza Hut and the like. But we got fed up, they’re still pretty expensive options contrary to what you might think and we’d like to put some satoshi into the real economy. That’s when we spot the typical street papuseria. A hotplate, the gas bottle that feeds the flame and the Salvadoran matron who kneads, slaps the buns and throws them to bake. It’s under a rather battered canopy, has a single table already all occupied but, who knows why, we approach. We ask the cook, who obviously doesn’t even understand what we’re talking about. It’s the daughter who lights up. She has a Chivo in her pocket. In the blink of an eye, a young boy with a table and two benches emerged from an adjacent alley. He places them in a corner of the street and that’s it. Served and revered. What satisfaction. You can’t imagine the feeling. What we are doing in El Salvador is getting food in the true sense of the word. We sweat it every time. The papusas that are about to serve us, it’s like we’ve tracked them down in the jungle and hunted them with a bow and arrow. 

After feeding us, the two youth approached us and asked us where we came from. The usual pleasant chat starts and inevitably ends on the topic of Bitcoin. They are happy with the President, after so many corrupt and totally ineffective governments he seems to be a new face, proposing concrete initiatives. In the country, we are told, there is a different air. Of hope. And there is a great need for it. They are interested in Bitcoin, convinced that it will be an opportunity, but they have had little chance to handle it. Not much has arrived in these latitudes. We’ve noticed.

At the time of payment we see the girl fiddling with the phone more than necessary. We know full well what’s going on. She still hadn’t opened Chivo after the update and now it’ s asking her life, death and miracles. I follow her out of the corner of my eye as we chat with the other young man. I notice that he even asks her to scan her ID again. She runs to get it, fortunately she has it with her. I wonder what the need is, from a development standpoint, to ask for a total re-registration after updating the app. It doesn’t make any sense and is an inconvenience for everyone. The developers of Chivo, which we have ascertained to be Athena, seem to be more and more amateurs at fault and we really wish they would stop doing damage quickly.

After paying, it occurs to us that we haven’t yet gone to check if they have updated the merchant version of the app, the one that supermarkets use. Maybe they have and that works better too, finally giving us the chance to do our shopping. The time has come for the couple most feared by cashiers in El Salvador to get back in action. Could this be the right time?

We don’t even waste time shopping anymore. We go straight to the checkout and buy a pack of cigarettes, the object of desire of our mission. The cashier fiddles, presents us with the usual QR code for dollars. It has the same desktop interface we have already mentioned. It runs on an antediluvian computer with an obsolete monitor and obvious graphics card problems. It displays everything out of scale, oblong. And when he finally manages to get a Lightning QR out of the system, instead of being square it’s rectangular and all squashed together. We try to scan it from every direction. He even invites me into the cashier’s seat. No luck. It is unreadable. White smoke. Indeed. No smoke, not even this time.

We’re not giving up. There’s another super not far away. We go there. When we got to the cash desk we immediately noticed that there was no computer, but an old IBM terminal. One of those made especially for large retailers. And in fact, at the moment of paying, the clerk pulls out a Chivo POS. Surprise! We hadn’t seen one since San Salvador. Curious, we watched him tinkering around. The usual code for dollars. He has no idea how to produce one for bitcoins so he lets us do it. Awesome. We get a chance to look at this POS interface a bit. It’s clean, super simple. Two options: Chivo and Bitcoin. On the BTC screen, there’s no sign of the Lightning network. Not even the unobtainable drop-down menu that characterized the old version of the app for smartphones. Chivo merchant hasn’t been updated so there’s no way it can do the shopping for us. 

Just outside is a fruit stand. A battered hawker. The sign leaves no doubt. He accepts Bitcoin. We buy seven bananas for the equivalent of one dollar. The transaction is instantaneous. And fuck the big retailers.