This is opinion editor Ricky, author and host of the Bitcoin Italia and Stupefatti podcasts. He is one half with Bitcoin Explorers Laurareducing worldwide Bitcoin acceptance to one country at a time.
Laura and I continue our adventures in Central America with the goal of gaining an in-depth understanding of the idiosyncrasies of Bitcoin adoption in the many different countries there and providing unbiased information on our YouTube channel, Bitcoin Explorers.
After spending over a month in El Salvador and leaving it behind, our biggest interest is trying to understand what people think about Bitcoin in countries where there is no government propaganda, no media coverage, and no such obnoxious government programs. Chivo wallet to complicate things. Therefore, countries where adoption does not happen by decree, but only by the free initiative of citizens and the work of private companies that believe in Bitcoin and build products and services based on its protocol.
But the question we will try to answer is not the simplest one: Is bottom-up Bitcoin adoption better than the top-down adoption advocated by the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele?
Investigating Bitcoin’s Grassroots in Guatemala
Our final destination to find answers was Guatemala, which in some ways is very similar to El Salvador. As of 2017, there were 16.5 million residents, approximately 60% of whom lived below the poverty line, possibly unbanked or unbanked, and 23% in extreme poverty. At the time, 0.001% of Guatemalans owned more than half of the country’s wealth. These are ideal conditions for appreciating Bitcoin’s intrinsic properties.
Unlike El Salvador, Guatemalan government policies are not favorable to cryptocurrencies, in fact quite the opposite. Significant laws and regulations have been enacted to harness and control this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, around Lake Atitlan, one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations, a small group of pioneers has been organizing an alternative economy experience in Bitcoin for about a year, like what is already being done in El Zonte by Bitcoin Beach. The chosen name for this experiment is Bitcoin Lake, and this was our chosen location.
We spent about ten days on the shores of the lake and what we documented surprised us in a more positive way than we expected.
We found ourselves in a place of rare beauty. A large body of water surrounded by volcanoes and impenetrable jungle – tropical nature at its purest.
A few local settlements on the shores of Atitlan, some larger towns like Panajachel, which really has everything you could want for a few weeks of leisure and relaxation, and other small villages, such as San Marcos, were completely submerged. in nature and definitely more suitable for those who want to relax, meditate or walk. These are very different places and thus manage to meet the needs of all types of tourists. And indeed, the lake thrives on tourism. It is remarkable how many hotels, bars, restaurants and activities are offered to those who choose to spend their vacation here.
But there is one thing that unites every activity here: cash. Even in Guatemala, access to electronic payment instruments is very limited and credit card fees are exorbitant. Any tourist will soon realize this because while traveling here, they will find that the few businesses that accept credit cards charge 5% or 10% more than your bill if you choose to pay with Visa or Mastercard. This is another ideal condition for building an alternative economy with Bitcoin in Guatemala.
And it’s an opportunity that some local companies are understandably seizing. In addition to the plethora of open source bitcoin wallets available, there are apps like Osmo that allow people to receive and send bitcoins and instantly convert them into quetzals, local currency, or even US dollars. . There are local payment services like IBEX that offer merchants a state-of-the-art implementation of the Lightning Network, ideal for larger businesses with reporting requirements. These services actually perfectly replace a bank account or a point of sale (PoS) provider thanks to the Bitcoin protocol. Perhaps this is why there is so much enthusiasm for this technological innovation in the lake, and its adoption is so strong. Considering that Bitcoin Lake’s experience didn’t even begin a year ago, it’s impressive how many businesses and merchants are already accepting bitcoin: a system that’s faster, safer, and cheaper than credit cards.
What is it like to live with Bitcoin in Bitcoin Lake?
So what is it like to live with bitcoins in Bitcoin Lake?
There are many options for Bitcoin travelers. We ate lunch and dinner at fancy restaurants, had breakfast tasting great local coffee, danced late into the night with great cocktails, even went paragliding over the lake, rented a boat and took a tuc-tuc: all while paying in bitcoin. There are dozens and dozens of establishments that accept them and one is honestly spoiled for choice.
The comparison with Bitcoin Beach is cruel in this regard. Atitlán is a larger and more organized resort, so given the wider scope for adoption, the supply of bitcoin will be greater. El Zonte, located by the ocean and the surf, has very little to offer and is a very small village where you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant open at 8pm. But, for example, Panajachel is a resort that manages to have a good night out. You can happily come on vacation with your spouse or pre-coiner friends, enjoying a nice Bitcoin vacation without fearing that it might get boring.
But how do merchants react when you walk into their store and ask if you can pay with bitcoin?
We were also very impressed with their reactions! They often gave us toothy smiles and said yes with a pride and enthusiasm not often found in most traders in El Salvador. When it came time to pay the bill, they took out their tablets or smartphones with incredible confidence, opened their wallets, and showed us the correct QR codes with four taps—amazing awareness and knowledge of the tech tool.
Needless to say, of course, this was not always the case. There were people who panicked, who replied to us that they can’t accept our transactions because the owners are not there and the bitcoin wallets are on their smartphones, who told us that “Bitcoin is not working today” and so they apologized, but they only accept cash. they knew.
In short, Bitcoin Lake has everything and more, and it’s still too early! But the feeling we have is that there is a lot of interest on the streets. When we stopped to talk about Bitcoin with the locals, we always felt great interest. They often asked us questions, they wanted to know more.
“Is it true that it’s free? Can I really get quetzals or dollars even if I pay in bitcoin with the right app?”
There are no testy phrases like “I don’t care about bitcoin because I hate Bukele,” no snarky faces, or politically aligned responses.
At Bitcoin Lake we were only a few hundred miles north of El Salvador, but it seemed like a completely different wind was blowing. We have no doubt that it will soon become a very popular place among bitcoins. After all, why shouldn’t anyone who visits Bitcoin Beach in El Salvador spend a few days here as well? There are special buses that directly connect the town of El Tunco, located next to El Zonte, with Lake Atitlan. It only takes a few hours of travel time, is a very cheap transport option and you will travel on safe roads through magnificent scenery.
Our journey to Central America continues, but our impression is that this part of the continent is waking up. There is a lot of economic and tourism potential here, and Bitcoin fills a real need. The horizons of the Bitcoin traveler are, in short, expanding rapidly, and as we have shown, the number of options is not limited to El Salvador.
This is a guest post by Ricky. The views expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.