September 20, 2021

Damon Goes To El Salvador Where Bitcoin Is Legal Tender

Bitcoin became legal tender in El Salvador Sept 7. Damon gets brave and goes to see how it works.

Damon Goes To El Salvador Where Bitcoin Is Legal Tender

A week ago Mitzi and I decided to get brave and buy tickets to France. We've been wanting to go since our dating days. Once the lockdowns started last year we kind of figured we may never get to go. International travel sounded overwhelming.

Thorsten Overgaard scheduled a photography workshop in November in Paris. As we talked about it we got brave and decided to book our tickets. And spend a month there after the workshop.

This is not normal, us being brave. But we are doing it more in this new life.

That opened up possibilities in my mind, buying those tickets to France.

The next day I said to Mitzi, when you are in St. Louis next week what do you think if I go to El Salvador? She thought that was a wonderful idea and was happy to see me proactively thinking about doing something for myself.

El Salvador is the first country to make Bitcoin legal tender. It became official on September 7, a couple weeks ago. I've been buying and learning about Bitcoin since January. A huge passion, I'm a Bitcoiner for sure.

The desire to visit El Salvador and buy food, doodads, and regular stuff with Bitcoin has been strong. I want to see how it works in an economy. I think this is monumental for history and I want to check it out.

I got brave. Bought a ticket. And travelled to El Salvador alone.

Day 1 - Sept 20

Made the flight from Panama City Beach to Houston to El Salvador. The lady guiding people through customs pointed me to the domestic line. I didn't realize it until I got to the customs agent and handed her my passport. "You need to go to the foreigner line," she said. Haha I kind of passed for a Salvadoran :)

I tried to pay the $12 visa fee in Bitcoin. The lady gave me the QR code on her phone. I fired up my Bitcoin wallet on my phone and scanned it. Then realized I hadn't converted my Bitcoin to the pay portion. Rather than slow the line down I just paid with the cash I had on me. First Bitcoin transaction failed haha. The next one is highly likely to succeed!

I got a ride from the airport to the Garten Hotel in El Zonte, a small beach village.

The hotel room is comfortable and attractive.

I walked down the beach. Wow! Black sand, beautiful waves.

I'm not ready to venture out yet. Just proud I got myself to the hotel :) So I had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. It's a beautiful view, just as it was getting dark.

A little sushi for dinner never hurts :)

Day 2

I woke up in El Salvador. It wasn't a dream after all. Ate breakfast at the Garten restaurant Proa.

Still not ready to venture out, but tomorrow at 11a I have a surfing lesson so I'll be heading out then!

In the afternoon I went down to the pool. Had a Club Soda with lemon juice. Actually two of them. Refreshing! It's so hot and humid here that you sweat like crazy and need lots of liquid to stay hydrated.

Then I lounged around for a while at the infinity pool. It's so beautiful here.

I did a swim workout in the pool. It's just wide enough. Then I was hungry so ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and had it delivered to the room.

I'm getting more confident. The staff doesn't speak much English. It's always stressful when I can't communicate well with people. So being in a foreign land and a language I don't know creates some anxiety. I'm just pushing through it. Finding it interesting, and thinking it's making me stronger somehow.

My big event today was learning how to make pupusas. I've never had one before. They let me into the hotel's kitchen and the chef taught me what to do. They did make me wear a hair net, I was in their kitchen after all.

Step 1, take the corn flour/water mixture and make a pancake with it.

Step 2, stuff beans and cheese in it.

Step 3, flatten it out again into a pancake. Now all that stuff is on the inside. It's like a stuffed pancake but made with different ingredients.

The Chef did the grill work and plating.

These were served with coleslaw and tomato sauce.

He said that Salvadorans use their fingers to eat it. He offered me silverware. "Nope," I said. "I want to eat it like a Salvadoran!"


Day 3

Last night Mitzi was super kind and gave me a call. She could tell I was struggling. She encouraged me to be confident and also to get out and do some activities. It helped a ton!

I met Tom and Nancy at breakfast this morning. They are from Maine and in their 60's. Super friendly. Totally into Bitcoin! It was fun to finally talk to people passionate about Bitcoin in all the same ways I am, and in a language I speak :)

They are looking into creating a hospitality business here in El Salvador. They want it to be a Bitcoin business. They have some connections in the country and are meeting with them this week to get familiar with the lay of the land.

Breakfast was excellent. Breakfast Burrito Salvadoran style. With a Mighty Mango smoothie made from scratch with fresh fruit!

Then I had a surf lesson with José and his brother Carlos. I wasn't able to get a picture, but trust me, I caught some waves! Small ones for sure, but I actually surfed. After about 6 runs I was tired and knew it was time to quit before my body complained.

I wanted to pay Carlos and José a tip in Bitcoin. They were very excited. I sent them 20,000 sats to their Bitcoin wallet on their phone. They are their own bank because their money is on their phone where they have 100% control over it.

Here is me and José. I was elated to have successfully surfed and also completed my first Bitcoin transaction for a service. And here is Carlos checking out his Bitcoin wallet on his phone as the money went from my phone to his.

After surfing I needed to clean off the salt water. Ahhh, fresh!

In the afternoon I had a massage scheduled over at the Garten Villas. Just down the street from the Garten Zonte where I'm staying. It was a great massage, I'm so glad I did that. I've been pretty tense the last few days haha.

I paid the masseuse a tip of 57,460 sats. She had the BitcoinBeach wallet on her phone. She hadn't received a tip or payment on it yet so I showed her how to use it. Then I sent the sats over and it took about 2 seconds and it confirmed on her phone. She was so excited!

So check this out. In dollars I sent her $24.98. The transaction fee on the Lightning network was $0.09. If I had paid her with a credit card the transaction fee would have been about 3.5% which is $0.87. It's worse than that though. They always charge a fixed fee for each transaction, usually $0.25 to $0.35. Using a credit card would have incurred a minimum charge of $1.12! And the masseuse would have had to pay that.

With Bitcoin and Lighting the customer pays the fee and it's tiny. So so so so much better. Technology has disrupted so many industries, but not money. It's starting to happen though. Changes be coming.

So, the lightning fee is almost 10x smaller than credit card transactions fees. And the Lightning network is decentralized. No institution, government, bank, or person controls it. Nobody can manipulate it. There are no central authorities like credit card companies or banks deciding what you can and can't spend your money on. Nobody limiting what you decide to do with your money. I love it!

These transactions are directly between the buyer and the seller. There is no intermediary, no third party. The buyer and the seller make their choices and that's it.

Here are the two payment details from the transactions today (the surfing tip was transacted on the Bitcoin base layer blockchain, not through Lighting, hence the larger transaction fee):

I got the deluxe Penthouse room at the Garten, but couldn't book it for all the nights I'm here. I have it tonight and tomorrow night. Oh my it's amazing! Totally worth the extra cost.

I started dinner as the sun was starting to set. It's so pretty here.

For dinner I tried something new – Paella. It's a Spanish dish from Valencia. Rice with mussel, crab, shrimp, and lobster. Boiled in coconut milk. Really good!

Today has been the best day so far! I'm getting more comfortable with each little step :)

Day 4

Started the day with Avocado Toast for breakfast. Sat with Tom and Nancy. They are looking for a property to start a hotel/restaurant business here in El Zonte. They put their Maine house on the market Monday before they came here. They are all in!

I headed into the volcano heights of El Salvador today. It's beautiful up there. Our first stop was in Sansonate. I purchased some Rambutan in an open air market.

Followed by another fruit I don't know the name of. I'll call it Tart.

This was hilarious. A furniture store uses this Mini Cooper for their deliveries. That's a chair on top :)

I purchased some fresh made juice from these two. It was put in a plastic bag with a straw. Quite refreshing! Jonathon my surfer tour guide who speaks English and Ricardo my driver are enjoying their juices as we walk around.

There were a lot of pickup trucks with the back set up to transport people.

Mitzi said when she saw this captivating picture, "Such an interesting picture. That boy is going to grow up in a Bitcoin world." So true.

The mountain behind me in the clouds is actually an active volcano. The Salvadorans are building a renewable power generator from the steam coming out of the volcano that will power Bitcoin mining machines.

This man grows macadamia nuts on his property and sells them on the street.  They are fresh and delicious! Bought 3 bags, one for each of us.

Had a nice lunch.

This happened while we ate...

I tried 3 times to do a Bitcoin transaction on the Ruta de las Flores. Each time it failed for one reason or another.

One restaurant had a Bitcoin sign but when they went to generate the invoice they couldn't get cell data at that time.

The macadamia vendor had the Chivo wallet on his phone but his screen wasn't recognizing his fingers swipes so he couldn't generate the invoice.

The gas station said they took Bitcoin but the lady working there couldn't figure out how to use the app. We tried to help her but were not successful.

There is education and training and infrastructure work to do for Bitcoin to become widely used. It will happen.

Gradually, then suddenly.

I had two successful Bitcoin transactions. One was the tip for the driver Ricardo, the other the tip for Jonathon my tour guide. The first transaction was on the Bitcoin base layer. The second was on Lightning. Again like yesterday, a tiny fee and instant transaction over the Lightning network.

I got back to the nice hotel room and relaxed reading in the hammock and taking a bath overlooking the beach.

Sunset from the balcony as the bath fills up.

To end the day I talked with Mitzi. She sent me the most darling pictures of Benson whom she is visiting this week. She's been a huge supporter of this trip of mine, I am very very grateful for her.

That wraps it up for day #4 :)

Day 5

Started the day off right with homemade french toast :)

Bo Friddell built and owns the Garten Hotel. He headed out to catch some waves this morning. A big swell is coming in.

Bo was very generous and gave me a tour around Bitcoin Beach. It's the project that inspired Bitcoin adoption in El Salvador. It's the perfect place to deploy it. Everyone has cell phones. Nobody has a bank account. A lot of people here have relatives in the U.S. who send them money.

You have to travel an hour to get to the nearest Western Union from here. And $10 fees are taken out of a $100 remittance.

Not anymore. For essentially free, relatives send Bitcoin in 2 seconds. Across borsers from anywhere in the world. What a wonderful use of technology.

Another challenge is local businesses here can't quality for a merchant account which is required to accept credit cards. Now they all accept Bitcoin and there is no need and no advantage to process credit cards.

The Bitcoin Beach welcome sign.

Hope House is a community outreach center. They are giving young people opportunities who don't have the ability to get a higher education. Computers, English, and life values. I purchased a Bitcoin Beach t-shirt here to support them. $10 dollars. Paid over the Lightning network. No fees, 2 seconds to complete.

Then we headed over to the Garten Villas. Here is Tom paying for his drink and muffin in Bitcoin.

Those muffins are really good! I paid for mine in Bitcoin too :)

Then we headed over to Maria's pupusa place. She's been making these for over 50 years and recently became famous because of all the news.

She was kind to let me take her picture along with Nancy.

These pupusas were about 20 times better than what I made a few days ago. They are really good. I can't even describe them in words. If you are ever here you need to get some!

I paid for the food over the Lightning network. $7 and no fee. 2 seconds. Are you seeing a pattern? :)

I went out with Tom and Nancy to dinner. It's been really nice hanging out with them here and there.

We went to a beautiful restaurant called Covana. Next to the ocean.

Dinner was 164,808 satoshis ($70.54). The fee was 210 satoshis ($0.09). It took two seconds :) No bank, no credit card, no merchant, no nothing except me and the restaurant and the decentralized Lightning network running on top of Bitcoin.

This was a nice way to end my trip. I leave for the airport at 5:30a in the morning. So not sure I'll have another post to write unless something interesting happens tomorrow. I'll have my camera at the ready just in case :)

Seeing Bitcoin in action first hand has been exciting. I've felt more anxiety the last 5 days than the last 5 years though :) I'm proud of myself for working through the resistance and not giving up or curling up in the fetal position and laying down comatose!

I'm really glad I made this trip. Proud of myself. And super grateful for Mitzi's support and encouragement. And I can't wait to see her tomorrow!