Paying with Bitcoin using my umbrel node and Zeus wallet in Boracay

Paying with Bitcoin (Zeus wallet) in Boracay via Umbrel: A Guide

Bitcoin Island, Boracay, in the Philippines

I am currently at Boracay Island, a.k.a. Bitcoin island. A remote spot in the Philippines where  "pouch.ph" has managed to -currently- get over 250 vendors to accept lightning payments, an awesome achievement.

Now, I am a big fan of the lightning network and Bitcoin:

  • It corresponds with freedom (most important).
  • It empowers small and medium enterprises.
  • It makes it possible everyone in the world gets a "bank account".
  • It makes cross border transactions very very cheap.c
  • It will greatly enhance the payment user experience, because the network is open.  Competition -between wallets- will be especially on the user interface level. This creates better experiences for all.
  • Both the monetary and the technical part are highly interesting and solves many problems and I encourage everyone to dive into that.


Imagine that not only banks or large financial institutions create payment apps, but everyone can create and collaborate on creating a safe well working payment app and maybe even beyond that. It will greatly enhance the customer experience -before and after the transaction-.

Already I experienced smooth user interfaces and UX for payment in China, that made paying fun. WeChat and Alipay are so far ahead on other countries, especially the western world.
I hope with the lightning network, this great experience -and even better- will be possible everywhere in the world in the (near) future.

Cross border payments without bitcoin

It is worth mentioning, that even if you don't like bitcoin, the lightning network still is a very unique and impressive technical way to make payments worldwide. All payments go via one of the 17k+ lightning nodes in the world. These nodes are often setup and maintained by volunteers, like myself.
It doesn't matter (as often is the problem with credit cards) if you purchase something expensive or just a cup of coffee, there are almost 0 fees for each payment.

Having bitcoin to make a payment is not per se needed. The payment goes via the second layer network from Bitcoin, the lightning network, some people also call it the bitcoin rail. It depends on the configuration or app you use, if you actually need bitcoin to make these cross border payments.
With some apps you can send US dollar across the world via the lightning network and the receiver receives either local currency or US dollars for almost 0 fees!

Bitcoin Island: Boracay

I especially went to Boracay to test these bitcoin payments. Quite a travel to end up at Boracay, it requires several flights, a chaotic boat transfer terminal and a short boat ride to the island and a trike ride, but I made it. First thing, after I checked into my hotel, was to search a vendor that accepted Bitcoin payments, preferably one that sold beer :)

My first attempt to pay, didn't work, I explain below why, but I got it to work on my second attempt in a coffee shop and this I show in the video below. The vendor receives the local currency, pesos.

A video on how I used Bitcoin and the Bitcoin rail to pay in a coffeeshop in Boracay :


 
Making a payment via my own lightning node with Zeus wallet

 
Or watch the same video at Rumble.

Now, how did this lightning network payment work?

  • At home, I have setup a Bitcoin node with the software "Umbrel". It is free software. The node itself is a raspberry pi with a hard drive. It is easy to setup and not expensive. There are several written guides to be found on the web, for example here and here, also youtube is full with guides. With this setup you will have access to your brand new "Umbrel Wallet".
  • After I had done the setup (I just faced a few technical difficulties, that were quickly solved by asking the community), I bought some satoshis (not a lot, just to test) and send that to my Umbrel node, which now is so to say, my own private bank. From here it gets more complicated.
  • The lightning network works via "channels". There is a lot of documentation to be found how to optimize and create channels, but basically you need to connect to other nodes that then can re-route your payments to anywhere in the world.
  • As I wanted this setup to work here on Boracay, I created a payment channel from my personal node, with "pouch.ph" the software all vendors here use to receive their payments. That's an easy job, just clicking a few buttons.
  • Now that my node is directly connected to pouch. I am sure I have a connection to make payments here on Boracay as all vendors use the pouch wallet to receive their payments.

  • After this step I have setup "ZEUS" at my phone in combination with Tailscale. Tailscale is easy to setup at the Umbrel node and this ensures a secure and fast connection with my node at home. Basically Tailscale makes a direct secure connection from my phone to my umbrel node. This is much faster then when I (as the standard setup is), use the TOR network.
  • Now all I need to do is to travel to Boracay, buy something , create an invoice (done via the pouch interface at the local shop) copy this invoice in my ZEUS wallet and press pay. A second later it is paid.

So, so I did and really cool to see it working, within a second I paid a vendor here, via my own node in the Netherlands. This I demonstrate in the video above.


The channel I opened with pouch via my node
 

 

 

The channel I opened with pouch via my node

Now you ask, can this not be simpler?

Of course it can. If you are less of a tech person, you can also use one of the larger wallets, like Wallet of Satoshi, BlueWallet and many more. They are all available directly at your Android or Apple phone.

These wallets are already connected with many nodes in the world, so you don't have to worry about not being able to pay, because there is not a channel open to the merchant. You also don't have to run your own (umbrel) node to make lightning payments.

It is simply downloading an app, transfer some funds and make a payment.
This option has you ready to pay in a just a few minutes.

I however, choose to setup my own Umbrel node, to learn how the lightning network works from a technical perspective, to play with it and to really understand it.

A small vendor in Boracay (a barber) accepting Bitcoin
 

So how is the overall experience so far?

Walking here in Boracay, I tried to pay with Bitcoin or maybe better, pay via the bitcoin network, as much as possible. Pouch super fast converts the sats, I send over, to Philippine pesos and that is what the merchant receives.

The first time I made a mistake, I scanned the QR code at the table and I got an error message that was not really understandable. It didn't work, and the waitress at the restaurant also could not help me out. 
So I think that is of course an improvement that can be made to educate the staff more, or to make the sign better to understand for non native English speakers as myself. It can also be that I just need to get smarter :)

After contacting pouch I got a reply (very fast even at sunday) and I found out I misunderstood the sign at the restaurant.
I needed to scan the QR code with a normal QR code reader, not with the QR code reader from ZEUS wallet or Wallet of Satoshi, as I did.
When I scanned the QR code with a normal QR code reader, I got redirected to the page where I could create the invoice and pay. It went very smooth and I could finish the payment. 
 
 
This is the cart the vendor has that the customer needs to scan. I misunderstood this cart.
 

This is the interface where you fill in the amount of the receipt and generate the invoice in sats.
 
An improvement suggestion, for this interface above, would be to show the sats amount directly after entering the pesos amount. This way it is easier to confirm you pay the right amount of sats when you are making the transaction in your personal wallet.

The other day when I wanted to do my laundry, I went into the laundry shop across the street from my hotel. They had a big "Bitcoin" sign on the door, so of course I smiled and went in to do laundry, but they refused to accept it. I had to pay in cash.Can happen, I didn't go into discussion on the why, as the English of the laundry shop staff was not so good. Also tried another laundry shop, same effect. And I tried a restaurant that is on the available vendors map, but said they didn't do bitcoin payments. So this also can be improved.
 
Another experience I can write something about, is that by using ZEUS wallet, the confirmation page is a little technical. After payment the vendor asks you to show the confirmation screen to confirm the payment is done. The ZEUS confirmation screen is not so user friendly as it is with wallet of satoshi for example. Two times a vendor needed to actually double check if the money arrived, it took a few minutes for him to figure out how to get the info.

It is still, sometimes a bit of a search for a shop, restaurant or bar that accepts bitcoin here at Boracay, but I am sure that is something they are working on. On the map they provide you will find all vendors, but when walking there sometimes the bitcoin sign is not per se clearly visible at participating shops.
 
Making these payments,  itdoes really feel like you are ahead of the others, when people see you pay this way, sometimes they are interested and ask how it works.  
 
But in general it works pretty smooth at Boracay. I hope they get more vendors accepting bitcoin so it is even easier to buy things.
 

How much does it cost to set this up?

Well actually it is all pretty cheap and a very interesting study project. In my case I bought a raspberry PI with both a hard drive (USB) and a flash drive. I opened up a channel with pouch (and a few other nodes) for about 200 usd and I converted 100 USD to satoshis's to make the actual payments in Boracay.
That's all I did to test the network and setup via my own node. 
It is also possible to skip the raspberry PI hardware and just install Umbrel  or it's competitor, Citadel, on your own linux laptop or devices.
 
If you just want to do lightning payments, without all the configuration and hardware, it can even be cheaper. Just download an app like Wallet of Satoshi, on your phone, put any amount of sats on it and do a payment in any shop or vendor that accepts bitcoin lightning payments. If you don't have one around, then you can use a service like "bitrefill" , where you can purchase giftcards for almost every major online retailer with your lightning wallet.

If an app like "strike" is available in your country you don't even need to convert fiat money to sats to use the network.
 
It's that easy! I can recommend anyone to just play with this, to learn about networks, payments, interfaces and much more. If you just use low amounts of money there is hardly any risk.

The near future for BTC payments in the Philippines

Things will change rapidly especially in the Philippines. Strike, the US based company today announced to start in the Philippines with their remittance service. Filipino's in the US can send dollars to the Philippines that arrive in pesos seconds after transmitting. 
Nobody has to touch bitcoin if they don't want. Just the lightning network is used to send the remittance money for almost 0 fees to the Philippines. Maybe in some cases this remittance money is re-routed via my or your little node at home.
 
I wish Pouch all the best with this great initiative to help the people on Boracay, after that in the greater Philippines and eventually in the rest of the world. Go for it and make the world a better place!

More info on retail in the Philippines you can read in this post, I wrote during my holiday.

Update:
 
I am happy with my new name: the badass bitcoin tourist 😅 :
  

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