Markets and Malls: Day 4 in El Salvador

Photo oof Palacio Nacional

Palacio Nacional

I went to take a tour of the Palacio Nacional. I was the only visitor there on a Saturday. Perhaps it’s not a widely frequented tourist attraction?

Regardless, I’m glad I went. This building is the old seat of government in El Salvador and is now preserved as a historic site. I was fortunate that one of the members of the staff spoke excellent English. She gave me a tour of the building and I learned a lot more about the country’s history.

Centro Histórico

The area surrounding Palaco Nacional is known as the Centro Histórico. Many of the streets and alleyways are lined with a sprawling outdoor marketplace.

A cathedral in Centro Historico

I allowed myself to become lost in the marketplace…it felt like it stretched on for at least a mile, but I wasn’t really measuring. People sold all manner of things: fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy, cell phones, DVDs, toys, clothes — everything.

I saw Peter Young’s tweet about bitcoin being accepted in the marketplace.

I did not find any “Aceptamos Bitcoin” signs. This was definitely a largely cash-based market. Fortunately, cell phone signal was decent in the area, so Bitcoin is an option here.

After wandering the market for a while, I had a great lunch of Torta de Carnes with Jugo de Zanahoria to drink, prepared by one of the street chefs.

Tortas de Carne


I then went over to the MetroCentro mall and wandered for a bit. “Aceptamos Bitcoin” signs are few and far between. I saw a homemade sign at a t-shirt vendor’s booth, as well as some official Chivo ones. I decided to do some more experimentation with Chivo.

Super Selecto

The Super Selecto grocery store in MetroCentro has 10 checkout lines. 3 of the lines have Bitcoin/Chivo signs. On this day, only 5 lines were open, 4 fiat and 1 Bitcoin. I got in the Bitcoin line, obviously.

Incorrect PIN

I watched a man and woman in front of me in the line trying to buy groceries. They were trying to pay with Chivo wallet but an error message kept popping up.

I approached and asked “Tu necesitas ayuda?” I wasn’t trying to be nosy, but he was holding up the line and I wanted to see if they were having some of the same issues I have been having. Also, the young girl running the cash register was completely disinterested.

I watched as the man typed in the amount of funds to send and clicked the “Send” button. It then prompted him to enter a PIN. After punching in a PIN, the error said something to the effect of “incorrect PIN”.

I realized then and there that I could not help in any way. After several more failed attempts, the man and woman left the store without their groceries.

It was sad to watch. It was a somewhat small order, about $10. Its nobody’s fault that the man forgot his PIN — but this should be a reminder to designers how technology affects people’s lives.

My turn

When it was my turn to purchase, I asked to pay in Bitcoin. She asked me “Chivo?” and I said “Si”.

The girl rung up my products and pulled out a Chivo merchant device. It looks similar to a credit card reader device. The touchscreen is used by the cashier to prepare the transaction. Once payment is received, the device prints out a receipt.

The device displayed a Chivo QR code. I scanned it knowing it wouldn’t work, then asked the girl to switch it to Bitcoin.

Chivo Sign
What I call the “Chivo merchant device”

At this point, I am starting to differentiate between the different versions of Chivo. This version of Chivo, base in this small dedicated device, does not seem to support Lightning. I ended up using Casa wallet to complete the transaction on-chain. We did not need to wait for a block confirmation, however we did need to wait perhaps 20 – 30 seconds for her Chivo merchant device to recognize that my transaction had entered the mempool.

The Chivo merchant device prints my receipt

Dollar City

Dollar City

Dollar City advertised Bitcoin and Chivo at their door. At the cash register, I asked to pay in Bitcoin. The woman at the register asked me “Chivo?”. I assumed that Chivo and Bitcoin were synonymous to her, so I said “Si, Chivo, por favor”. She pulled out the same Chivo merchant device that was used in the supermercado, then we did the usual routine of switching it over to Bitcoin.

I paid on-chain using Strike wallet here. After about 30 seconds, her device had no indication that my payment was received. She guided me towards attempting to perform the transaction again. Playing dumb, I followed her instructions and sent another on-chain payment. 30 seconds later, she still has no confirmation. Perhaps this is because I used the Bitcoin tab in Strike and not the regular Pay tab?

The woman calls over another employee for help. They both look at it puzzled. Suddenly, they receive a notification that my first transaction is received. Relieved, they punch into their main POS terminal that the transaction is complete, give me my Dollar City receipt and Chivo receipt, and tell me good-bye.

I try to explain to them that I paid them twice and I need my money back, but we are having a language barrier and they are getting tired of me anyways. Dollar City was bumpin’ today and I was holding up the line. I left taking solace in the fact that my second on-chain payment was sacrificed for science.


Several of us decided to meet up at a local Cervecería for drinks. I decided to grab a quick bite at Wendy’s beforehand.

Wendy's Bitcoin Sign

Wendy’s also advertises their Bitcoin acceptance over the dedicated bitcoiner terminal. I paid them over Lightning with IBEX Mercado. I am really starting to appreciate IBEX — their merchant service supports Lightning and always seems to work.

IBEX Mercado wallet at Wendy's

A local man in line behind me saw me paying in Bitcoin and approached me to ask about it. We spoke for a few minutes while waiting in line, and then after we ate as we were both leaving.

I explained that I was here researching how people are using the technology. I asked him how he felt about Bitcoin. He said that at first it just seemed like a political thing to him, but once he saw the value of Bitcoin rising, it made sense to him as a potential investment. He asked me what the best places where to get Bitcoin. We talked about places to buy and I explained to him the idea of HODLing and thinking of Bitcoin as a savings plan or long-term investment, rather than trying to game the market. I also told him about the Mi Prima Bitcoin folks I met the other night.

Cervecería Chapultapec

cerveceria chapultepec

I knew the word cerveza, so I assumed cervecería was a brewery. It turns out it can also refer more generally to a bar. So this establishment wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but we had a good time anyways. Continued to unravel the different versions of Chivo over drinks with other Bitcoiners.

A look at the Chivo personal wallet

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