On a visit to the Portuguese island of Madeira, a delegation of Bitcoiners surfed, met with the president and extended Bitcoin adoption.
This is an opinion editorial by Joe Nakamoto, a pseudonymous Bitcoin traveler and reporter who helped create a recent documentary on Madeira’s Bitcoin adoption.
What is a Madeira? Why do Bitcoiners keep talking about it? Does it come with fries? And why did Pleb Music (aka, Max DeMarco) shoot a Bitcoin documentary on this tiny island?
Answering those questions, a band of high-profile Bitcoiners set out to “orange pill” the Portuguese island of Madeira this summer. Pleb Music brought its Bitcoin story to life in a documentary resplendent with swooping drone shots, storytelling sleight of hand and the agile camerawork of his talented videographer friend, @Cinemuck_. With the Northern hemisphere winter biting hard, it’s worth watching. You’ll drink in a warm mug of life on Madeira and find it to be an up-and-coming Bitcoin base.
But before we get to that, let’s reach consensus on Madeira; let’s explore why this Portuguese isle should now feature on any traveling Bitcoiner’s bucket list.
THE PEARL OF THE ATLANTIC
The sunkissed island of Madeira rises up from the Atlantic Ocean some 600 miles off the coast of Portugal. A popular tourist destination thanks to Instagram-ready landscapes, a warm, temperate climate and a rich cultural heritage, it’s a peaceful patch of land. There’s a regular direct flight to New York while low-cost airlines whisk passengers to a handful of European capital cities.
Much like other small island developing states, or SIDS, Madeira’s development is restricted by its area. A burgeoning tourism industry props up the local economy, but natural resources are limited. Madeiran bananas and passionfruit — often spotted in my local supermarket on Portugal’s mainland — are plentiful but not profitable. Madeira also exports just enough tea to keep the United Kingdom quenched for about two seconds, as well as Madeiran wine.
Tourism aside, there’s a smattering of remittance sent in from the many Madeirans scattered across the world (oh look, Bitcoin fixes this!), as well as some trade in its ports.
In the winter months, tourism diversification strategies such as ecotourism and enticing digital nomads to work from the island serve two purposes: one, keeping Madeira’s economy ticking over in the low season, and two, driving down the average age of holidaymakers on the island.
Madeira is home to espetada (loads of Madeiran meat piled up on a skewer like a posh kebab), quality steak and scrumptious fish. It certainly appeals to the average Bitcoiner’s diet; while the vegetarians and vegans can be rest assured that a lot of food is cultivated locally.
Madeira boasts an educated population, absurdly fast internet and civil engineering infrastructure that made Greg Foss’ jaw drop more frequently than he deploys the f-bomb on Bitcoin podcasts. Indeed, although the Madeiran economy pretty much relies on tourism, Madeira receives a substantial chunk of EU subsidies to build bridges, roads and even cable cars.
For the 2021 to 2027 period, the European Commission will invest a whopping 1.9 billion euros in the “outermost regions” of the EU, which includes the Açores and Madeira. The Açores are Madeira’s bigger, colder brothers, hundreds of miles northwest of the island. The EU money is earmarked for improving the connectivity of the islands, transport and, undoubtedly, tunnels.
Without the substantial EU subsidies, Madeira would likely suffer and economic activity may dwindle. And without tourism — as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Madeira’s GDP contracted by as much as 10% — the island may grind to a halt.
However, the ace up this small island’s sleeve is a certain André Loja. Loja, pronounced “Loshja” (no, not “lo-haa,” Daniel Prince), is a proud Madeiran entrepreneur with business interests that straddle tourism, real estate and, crucially, Bitcoin.
Prior to developments on the island, Loja was a rather lonely Bitcoiner. Fortunately, and much like many others Bitcoiners who I have the pleasure of calling friends, he’s unhinged. Because rather than simply try to introduce his friends to Bitcoin, Loja thought, “Fodasse, caralho!” — Portuguese for “fuck it!” — “I’m going to orange pill the president of this island.”
A MADEIRAN MONETARY TRANSITION
Loja’s work, coupled with that of Prince Philip of Serbia, Prince and a brief cameo from Michael Saylor, led to an announcement by the president of Madeira, Miguel Albuquerque, at the Bitcoin 2022 conference. During Samson Mow’s keynote, Albuquerque exclaimed, “I believe in the future and I believe in Bitcoin.”
However, contrary to some rather dodgy crypto media reporting, this outburst does not mean that Madeira adopted bitcoin as legal tender. And nor can it.
Madeira uses the euro and is highly unlikely to replace or even complement the European shitcoin with magic internet money any time soon. With this in mind, our visit to the island in June 2022 was an investigation and an aid to the announcement; an ode to “don’t trust, verify.” The mission would uncover what it means for Madeira to “embrace” Bitcoin, and understand how we, as Bitcoiners, can pitch in.
Sidebar: Like all good Bitcoiners, once upon a time, Madeira shitcoined hard. The Madeira Blockchain Association hosts an annual conference, while the coworking space that Loja runs is a favorite for cRypT0pp digital nomad types. You know the sort: jabbering millennials passionate about something that they can’t quite define but will probably, definitely empower everyone online, all the time, cuz WAGMI, Web3, “Yes it does need a blockchain, here’s why.”
I deeply empathize with Loja, who I sometimes picture in his office next to the coworking space, scrolling on Bitcoin Twitter while overhearing conversations and ideas from his cowork tenants. Ideas such as how to decentralize the luggage storage industry or build the next best dapp on Ethereum that, “Trust me, bro it’s more secure than Bitcoin.
Furthermore, similar to Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert’s approach to El Salvador, Loja strives to steer the crypto scams and Ponzi schemes clear of his shores. It’s a thankless, unrelenting task. And it’s undoubtedly why not a single Bitcoiner who participated in the Madeira trip could be considered a “shitcoin sympathizer.” Indeed, for a man who lives by the catchphrase, “I don’t know shit about fuck,” the man knows his shit when it comes to organizing a serious batch of Bitcoin advocates.
ORANGE PILL DISPENSERS
And so, over the course of 10 days in June 2022, the all-star team set about showing, sending and sharing Bitcoin with locals in Madeira. From surf shops to civil servants, taxi drivers to tax officials and poncha bars to presidents, they spread the word about Satoshi Nakamoto’s innovation. (FYI, “poncha” is the Madeiran drink of choice. It’s potent. Just ask Jeff Booth).
Thanks to Loja, the group took a Lightning-guided tour of the island and its infrastructure. Not only had Loja spent hours setting up meetings with policymakers and business leaders in Madeira, but he’d also organized the obligatory Bitcoin boat ride (Yes, my private keys are now on the Atlantic seabed); a cable car to a secluded restaurant and trips through more tunnels than there are shitcoins listed on CoinMarketCap. The group got a real taste of Madeira.
Although DeMarco’s documentary underlines that the pinnacle of the trip was meeting with the president, Madeira is simply a must-visit destination. It has all of the ingredients to become a Bitcoin citadel — or a free private city — just ask Peter Young.
With 200,000-ish people, a manageable, fertile land area, warm weather, cheap cost of living and phenomenal internet speeds, what’s stopping you from moving there? Or at least, entertaining the daydream — I often do.
In addition, the tax incentives are currently among the best for Europeans looking to establish a Bitcoin business or HODL bitcoin long term. Business tax is just 5% if a company registers at the International Business Centre. For retail, as of 2023, if you HODL your bitcoin for 365 days before spending, there is zero tax.
You can buy a house with bitcoin, spend sats at a few merchants and hang out at Bitcoin meetup. The Regional Forum of Economic Education, or F.R.E.E Madeira, is on hand to help you on your journey. Cofounded by Bitcoiners and Madeiran experts, the group hopes to make Madeira one of the new homes for the “new base layer of the new internet,” as Booth explained. And this is just the start.
However. Madeira is not El Salvador. You cannot live on a Bitcoin standard in Madeira. Peer-to-peer interactions, Bitrefill, the Bitcoin Company, FREE Madeira’s assistance and many other Bitcoin workarounds will assist you in using bitcoin on the island, but be aware that cash reigns supreme on Madeira and we are still very early. In this regard, Madeira needs your help.
Ask not what Madeira can do for you, but what you can do…
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Bitcoin enthusiast or you’re at least Bicurious (no, not the horny kind). I’m going to assume, therefore, that you know 100 times more about Bitcoin than the average Madeiran does. In Madeira, a lot of people have not yet heard of Bitcoin. In my experience, over 95% of the population have not used Lightning and awareness is in its genesis.
Moreover, President Albuquerque is not quite on the same level as laser-eyed President Bukele of El Salvador. The Central American nation executed a top-down Bitcoin adoption strategy when declaring bitcoin as legal tender in 2021.
To continue the El Salvador comparison, while Salvadorans see volcanoes as a source of energy for Bitcoin mining, in Madeira, during our visit, the civil servants at the energy ministry raised the valid question, “How did you know the Bitcoin is here?” The energy specialist had not yet grasped that Bitcoin is digital, and not physical. We are still very early.
Our conversations with business people, ministers and entrepreneurs were among the first Bitcoin touchpoints. For example, if Madeira was to mine Bitcoin, who would custody the keys? Should it be sold for euros or should it be HODL’d? Is it even legal to do so, and what would the EU think?
To add to this, while the president is fully on board with Bitcoin, how far do his powers extend? It’s worth considering the impact of the EU one day banning Bitcoin mining or the MiCA (markets in crypto assets) regulation on Madeira’s decision to embrace Bitcoin — and to what extent the EU would come down on Madeira, or let it live in a gray area as an EU outer zone.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
First, book your ticket. Take a dip in the natural sea pools, ride cable cars and hike “levadas” (hillside canal walks). Break bread with Bitcoiners and laugh off the clown word we inhabit over a glass of poncha in Maderia’s capital, Funchal.
Consider the cumulative effect of all of these visits and Bitcoin connections on Madeira over the next five to 10 years. It’s a bit like Bitcoin Park in Nashville, or Praia Bitcoin in Brazil or Bitcoin Jungle in Costa Rica. If enough Bitcoiners come down, show interest, set up shop or even relocate to Madeira, the island will reach what Swan Bitcoin has coined the “intransigent minority.”
It’s of course a low-time preference goal, and some ways away. But it’s a future I can get on board with.
In the meantime, I don’t know about you, but shooting the shit with Bitcoiners IRL is far more enjoyable than shitposting on Twitter (or Nostr, sorry). And the best part about this Portuguese paradise? In Madeira, you can do both.