It was 10 a.m. on a sunny Thursday in Buenos Aires’ government district, and Jerónimo Ferrer was about to make his Bitcoin pitch to an audience of two French tourists.
“This is the story of how Argentina took my savings not once, but twice,” he began.
Ferrer, a 48-year-old bitcoin evangelist who works full-time as Argentina’s head of business development at Paxful, a peer-to-peer crypto exchange, has been giving the same tour about Bitcoin and Argentina’s history since 2019 in his free time. Tourists and locals pay $35 for the approximately two-hour visit around Buenos Aires’ center.
During the tour, entitled Our Local Crazy Economy & Bitcoin, Ferrer explains how the chaotic Argentinian economy works and the reason crypto is booming in the country.
“I started these tours because I needed to spread bitcoin as a tool of freedom in a country that does not have a strong currency, with runaway inflation at an average rate of 70%. That is where this cryptocurrency becomes important in terms of taking care of our own economy,” Ferrer told CoinDesk.
After his opening line in front of the Government House, Ferrer gave a summarized brief of Argentina’s economic history from 1980 to the present, and how its turbulence affected his own economy.
Ferrer recounted two crises in detail. The first one took place in 2001, when after 10 years of being pegged to the U.S. dollar, the Argentine peso collapsed and banks closed, preventing people from withdrawing their money – a phenomenon known locally as corralito.
Less than a decade later, in 2008, the government closed the private pension savings system — known as AFJP for its Spanish acronyms — and confiscated the savings of 9.5 million people, he said.
A victim of both events, Ferrer started looking for other ways of saving and found bitcoin when, during one of his previous jobs, an Italian client asked him to pay in that cryptocurrency.
“I fell in love with it,” he said.
Ferrer started touring in February 2019 out of pure passion, with the clear goal of “bitcoinizing every corner of Argentina,” as he says on his Twitter profile. With the same objective, he also organizes a monthly event, Bitcoin Night, where he persuades a restaurant to accept payment in bitcoin, in exchange for bringing a lot of bitcoiners to dinner.
Since then, he has conducted 150 tours through Airbnb, with an average of four attendees per occasion. On the booking platform, the proposal has a rating of 4.9 (out of 5) stars, and almost all attendees thank Ferrer for the visit.
“Jerónimo was able to teach me a little bit about the history, benefits and advantages of cryptocurrency. He stepped me through the process of buying and selling. I am now the proud owner of an infinitesimal portion of a coin,” David, a tourist who was part of one of the visits in February 2022, posted on Airbnb.
The tour continued with a walk to Argentina’s Central Bank Museum, closed due to the pandemic that day. Although unable to take the group inside, Ferrer described the museum as the place where “Argentina most proudly showed its greatest economic failures.”
The group then moved to Rossi, a small but cozy coffee place two blocks away. Inside, attendees listened to the whole bitcoin story over coffee, starting with Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper, through the Bitcoin Pizza Day, and on to bitcoin’s market-high price in November 2021 and, finally, today’s bear market price, which has fallen a long way off that peak.
“If you hold your keys, bitcoin cannot be confiscated – it has no borders. I can send $1 million to a Chinese bitcoin address and nobody will stop it, as it is censorship-resistant. It works,” Ferrer said, before explaining basic crypto concepts such as mining or holding.
Later, Ferrer urged the group to download a Lightning-powered hot wallet to show how “easy and anonymous” it is to transfer bitcoin on the layer 2 payments protocol, distributing 1,000 satoshis among the participants, who obeyed his command after a few moments of confusion and glances of suspicion.
After numerous inflation and devaluation processes in the past 70 years, Argentines took refuge in the U.S. dollar to protect their income. But the price of dollars now fluctuates wildly depending on the exchange, a source of frustration for locals.
Now, the country has a year-on-year inflation rate of more than 60% while, since 2019, it has been experiencing an escalating devaluation that drove the price of the peso from $0.018 in August of that year to its current price of $0.0081 in the official exchange rate.
To reduce the drain of dollars from its reserves, in 2019, the government installed a barrier — known as a cepo in Spanish — that prevents locals from acquiring more than $200 per month through banks.
As he walked and talked, Ferrer began to explain how the impossibility of accessing dollars created illegal exchange offices known as “caves” and usually hidden behind traditional businesses such as jewelry stores, where dollars are sold at a price up to 100% more expensive than the official quotation.
The French tourists, who knew little about the Argentinian economy and less about cryptocurrency, listened very carefully and asked how the different U.S. dollar exchange rates work in Argentina. Astonished, he asked for a second time the inflation rate in the country.
The group stopped at a shop with the sign “Jewelry and Watch Atelier” on the front. When an electrical door opened, there was a waiting aisle with nothing but a photograph on a shelf, showing Ferrer, the shop employees and the Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin smiling at the camera.
When Buterin visited Argentina in December 2021, he assisted with Ferrer’s tour. “I didn’t know what to do, it was pleasantly shocking,” Ferrer recalled, adding that Buterin changed some ether for ARS 93,000 — approximately $450, according to the informal exchange rate of that day — to use during his time in Argentina.
Another secured door opened and the truth behind the “jewelry store” was revealed: There was an office with an enormous desk displaying banknotes from different countries, and a man behind it asking how much the group wanted to change. Captivated, the French tourists decided to change 20 euros into Argentine pesos.
After leaving the exchange house, Ferrer guided the group to a bitcoin ATM located in a second basement of a shopping center’s garage, but unfortunately it didn’t work either.
“When I receive tourists, there are some who do not know that by spending their money through traditional means, they spend twice as much, so bitcoin helps them bring their money and make it worth its real value,” Ferrer said, without conceding that the number of places to spend bitcoin in Buenos Aires is limited.