Argentina, Bitcoin paradise – or so I heard. This ought to be a good Bitcoin week, since I really wanted to repay my tort for infringing my oath having spent so many reais while in Rio ! This week, I really would try hard not to cheat.
First issue – as usual – transportation. As soon as I got off the plane and walked into the airport, all the airport staff I interacted with asked me if I wanted to change money at a better rate than the official exchange rate (the so-called black market). I did not want to get any Argentinian pesos, be it either on the black or white market, but it was pretty late at night and I had to take the bus to my friend’s house. Since I was not sure they would accept bitcoin on the bus – in fact, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t – and I was not willing to take the risk of being stuck at the airport for the night, I decided I would change the few reais I had left in my wallet (just a bit more than 10 euros worth) and that would be all I would be allowed to spend during my stay in Argentinia in terms of fiat money.
The bus system in Argentina is quite peculiar, since you can either pay with the bus card (which cannot be purchased at the airport) or with ‘moneta’ (i.e. coins, as opposed to bills) – although you have to pay twice as much in the latter case. I was not aware of that, so I jumped on the bus with my pesos bills, which I was not able to spend. Fortunately, the bus driver was really keen to let me ride the bus for free, and in fact most of the other passengers insisted to pay for me. Considering the price of a bus ticket (about 30 cents) that kindof made sense. So I made it home without spending any pesos, and thus even more motivated to succed in not infringing my oath for the whole period. Arrived at home, I met my new friends (i.e. the friends of a friend of a friend) who were having a little party that night, so I got the chance to meet a bunch of local while eating really nice local foods. I told them about my bitcoin diet, but they did not seem to understand how I would be able to survive, since – while it is true that Bitcoin is highly popular in Argentina – no one actually wants to spend them, so there are indeed very few merchants accepting Bitcoins. This was a little bit alarming, but that made sense indeed, as I could hardly imagine Argentinians spending bitcoin over pesos – after all, the weakest currency is always the one that goes out first.
Nonetheless, I kept a positive attitude and did not give up on the idea of not infringing my oath. The transporation problem had been resolved, as I discovered that it is really easy to travel for free on the Argentinian bus. As a foreigner, I could pretty much travel for free anywhere, as long as would only show them pesos bills. So I could travel everyday back and forth from my home to the Intercontinental Hotel (the venue for the conference I was attending) without spending pesos. In terms of food, I did not have any problems either. During the conference, I could also easily feed myself, since the conference was providing quite a large amount of food, including many delicious Argentinian sweets, even too sweet at times.
The main problem was the Internet, since the place I was staying at did not have an Internet connection. Usually, I would resolve this problem by asking the neighbors if they would like to share their Internet connection, in exchange of money (Bitcoin in that case) or a gift. This time, it was much more difficult, since – perhaps because of my bad spanish – everyone seemed really scared about me even knocking at their door, and they all claimed they had no wifi, even though of course I could see the lie. So, instead, I tried to walk around to find free wifi spots, but nothing seems to have decent wifi connection. Even macdonalds, which is usually my best bet for wifi had a really bad connection which was going up and down all the time. In desperation, I started approaching places which did not generally provide free wifi, and tried to corrupt them into letting me use their Internet connection, obviously by offering them to pay some Bitcoin. I eventually befriended the staff of La Brioche Doree, who actually knew and were generally interested in Bitcoin, so they gave me free access to their Internet, without even asking me to purchase anything from their store – since they were not able to accept Bitcoin. So this became my temporary office, where I would spend most of my time which I did not have to spend at the conference.
As the conference ended on Saturday, I started to be slightly concerned. I had managed to survive without spending any pesos thus far, but if I were to survive during the weekend, I would have to find some ways to spend my Bitcoins. That night, it was the birthday of another friend of a friend of a friend, who invited me to celebrate at his place, where he was gonna make an ‘asado’ (i.e. Argentinian bbq). I felt obliged to bring something, like wine or food, but there was actually nothing around where I would be able to buy anything in Bitcoin. The so-called Bitcoin paradise only goes one-way – it only works for those who want to sell pesos and purchase bitcoin, but not the other way round. I did not want to infringe my oath, but I also did not want to show up without anything for my friend’s birthday. So I transferred some Bitcoin into a new wallet, printed it out as a QRcode on a nice looking card, which would constitute the present I would offer to my new friend. Funnily enough, at that party there were a bunch of swedes that actually knew quite a lot about Bitcoin (more so than the standard Argentinians I had interacted with so far), and after a few hours we were chatting about Bitcoin and Ethereum, I realized that they already knew me, since they had seen my Berkman talk on youtube and they actually thought I was a big deal.. I have to admit, that was absolutely the first time that I ever felt – even if only slightly – “famous” ;)