policia traffic stop in Chapala, Mexico

POPPED! Our second stop by the policía.

Policía in Chapala, Mexico

OK, well apparently my post about being stopped by the police in Mexico was actually the first in a new series.

Here’s what happened this time. This is a long story, so make yourself comfortable.

All four of us—Mark, Archie, Scout and I—were in the car after picking Scout up from school. We were heading back home along the carretera, the main highway that connects the little towns that ring Lake Chapala, and decided to swing by the bank on our way home, since we were low on cash.

Going to the bank involved turning left at a particular three-way intersection.

LIKE ALL GOOD STORIES, THIS ONE BEGINS WITH A MEXICAN MIME.

There’s a mime that inhabits this intersection where we needed to turn. At red lights he approaches stopped cars and pretends to wash the front window. Hysterically, many of the old gringos around here freak out and wave him away agitatedly, like he’s a real window washer.

Archie fears/loathes the mime and flips out whenever the guy gets within 10 feet of our car. The guy knows us by now, and unfortunately we laughed the first couple of times, so now he always comes up and does his schtick whenever he sees us.

It’s the same thing every time.

Archie starts barking and lunging, and then the mime puts on his big show, acting all terrified with a dramatic o-mouth, wide eyes, and his hands up in the air, which of course makes Archie go nuclear. I have to grab his collar and put him in a body lock to keep him from lunging through the open window and rushing the mime. It was cute (sort of) the first couple of times, but now it’s getting to be a real pain.

THE LEFT TURN

So this particular day we found ourselves waiting and waiting and waiting for the left turn arrow. (There’s no red arrow, just a green one or nothing.) There were no other cars around, and of course the mime was there and Archie was going nuts. Mark and I wanted to get away from the mime, but we weren’t sure about Jalisco’s left-turn-on-green law. The barking in the car was deafening. And because we were the only car at the intersection, the mime had nowhere else to go. He just…stayed. It was super aggravating.

We were stressing and there was no sign telling us NOT to turn on a general green, so gave up on the arrow and turned anyway, just to get away from the mime and the din he was causing.

Big mistake. About up 100 meters up the road (obviously waiting for left-turn-on-no-arrow gringo scofflaws) was a big hulk of a police officer motioning to us to pull over. Crap.

We pulled over, and then he came over to our Subaru, leaned in and said in English,  “You weren’t supposed to turn back there. Oh, and you two (Mark & Scout in the backseat) aren’t wearing seat belts. Very bad.” Double crap.

Well, here we go.

The last guy that stopped us was really cool and turned us loose, but this guy was obviously not that nice. He took Mark’s license, asked for the car paperwork, and then started on about how big the ticket would be (“maybe $3000 pesos”).

FROM BAD TO WORSE

I opened the glove box to get our registration and Mexican insurance.

But it wasn’t there.

Oh my God. We always have our paperwork in the glove box. Neither Mark nor I had taken out of the car. Where was it?!?

All this left-arrow and seat-belt stuff was minor, but driving in Mexico with no paperwork is big deal. A very big deal.

At that point annoyance morphed into palpable fear as we anticipated getting tossed into Mexican jail. Now the officer started talking about another $1000 pesos to cover the tow truck we’d obviously be needing, since we were about to be hauled off to jail and all.

We had a couple of tense, scary minutes until about the 5th time the guy mentioned how expensive this was going to be.

The thing is, if a cop is going to write you a ticket or tow you or arrest you, they just do it. But when they repeatedly THREATEN to do it, and keep mentioning how much it’s going to cost you, well that’s different. At that point it’s safe to say you aren’t being arrested. You are being shaken down.

If it hadn’t been for the missing paperwork, Mark and I would have waited him out, but with no paperwork he had us over a barrel.

We weren’t exactly sure how to proceed. We weren’t going to start offering him money, so everything was at a standstill for a few minutes. Finally after reminding us a few more times how much trouble we were in, the dude said we’d have to follow him to the police station. Scout burst into tears, and then—get this—the guy seemed surprised and asked “What’s wrong?”

Seriously, you miserable asshole? (Sorry, Dad…)

I was pissed and snapped, “SHE’S CRYING BECAUSE YOU’RE SCARING HER!” Duh. At that point the guy had the decency to look somewhat sheepish.

RESOLUTION

The awkward standoff continued for a few more minutes.

Things loosened up when the officer ordered us to follow him to the station…though he would let us stop by our house on the way, so we could drop off the dog.

That’s when it became clear to me he was trying to wind this thing up too. We didn’t really want him knowing where we lived but didn’t have much choice since he still had Mark’s license. So we headed home with the police truck trailing along behind us. During the drive Mark and I discussed our strategy.

We had been low on cash, almost out in fact, which was really lucky because it meant Mark only had about $300 pesos in his wallet. Of course we could have hidden any extra, but I found it mentally helpful that $300 pesos really was all we had.

When we got home I jumped out and took Scout and Archie inside, per the plan. Once we were in the house there wasn’t much the guy could do to us. And he and Mark could come to terms faster alone. You know, man to man. That’s what we hoped anyway, and fortunately that’s what happened.

I’ve never been so relieved to walk back into my own house in my life.

I crossed my fingers that Mark would appear soon, and he did.

What happened after I left the car was this. Mark let the cop see his wallet, and the guy asked how much cash Mark had. Apparently he was unimpressed with the answer, because he asked if we had more cash in the house. (Really? “You bet, we’ve got lots more cash in the house! Come take it.”). Mark said no, so the cop grumbled, acted like he was doing us a big damn favor, cleaned out Mark’s wallet, tossed his license back, and then drove off.

Normally I’d have been super pissed, but by that time, I was pretty damn glad to have the whole mess go away for about $22 USD.

EPILOGUE

We’d seen this cop before, hanging out at the hotel next door. Fortunately we haven’t seen him since.

And what happened to the mysterious disappearing car paperwork? We’d cleaned out the car a few days earlier before taking it to be vacuumed.  We’d dumped everything (Scout’s swim goggles, fins, a towel, books, Archie’s spare water dish, etc, etc) into a bag. That’s where we found the car paperwork. It must have slipped out of the glove box and gotten scooped up, though I will never understand how that happened.

The end. I need a drink.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Living Outside of the Box February 25, 2013 at 12:31 am

Ahhh!! Super freaky, IMO. I hate that he was quoting you an atrocious fee ($600-$800 pesos would be the max, and even then…if you pay the next business day you would get 1/2 off that fee). What a liar! He was DEFINITELY trying to just make some easy bribe money. NOT what Chapala/Ajijic need.

Oh, and if you’re talking about the turn in front of Walmart…geesh. They could get a billion bribes a day by sitting there…as it seems laws don’t apply to most people driving there (we’ve seen some crazy freaky turns there)–mostly locals, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow–geesh. Glad you guys got out of his ego trip. NO FUN!!

p.s. Never ever ever ever invite a Mexican cop into your home. EVER. It is then an open-invitation for them, but they are NOT allowed to step into your home until invited. In theory, that is. But my Mexican friends say NEVER invite them in.

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2 Renee February 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Alisa, oh yes, it was that turn by the WalMart. The guys was being such a jerk, but as I said, once I realized our paperwork was missing, my attitude changed in a hurry. Oh, I know what you mean about locals. Occasionally I see a Mexican drive pulled over, but let’s be honest, it’s mainly gringos. I’m getting sick of it.

Thanks for the tip about never letting a cop inside, though Mark and I had discussed that in the car beforehand. No WAY would we invite one in the house. Can you believe he asked Mark if we had more money inside? I still can’t get over that…

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3 Kerri February 25, 2013 at 6:25 am

Yikes….how very scary. Glad to hear that it turned out okay!

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4 Renee February 25, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Thanks, Keri. Me too!

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5 Jen February 27, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Wow, I totally understand your need for a drink after that. You all handled that well and really did a great job telling the story! I haven’t told anyone this but a few weeks ago we outran the cops. We were on MX200 going to PV on the mountain road just leaving Sayulita. On this road trucks can go less than 10 miles an hour so at some point you need to pass. Like you, we are not sure the exact laws because we see everyone pass even the cops but it is always a double yellow. After a long time behind a slow truck and multiple cars passing from behind us we went for it. As my husband pulls out he sees a cop 5 cars back. The cop puts his sirens on when he sees us. We are now in front of the truck and he is stuck behind the truck because the road gets too windy and cars are coming from the other way. We floor it and take the first turn we can find. We still are not 100% sure he was going for us but it was likely. The entire day in PV we joked about how we were on the run. In Bucerias they are always looking for a reason to pull you over so we make sure to do the 40km speed limit etc…but sometimes it’s really difficult and dangerous to actually follow the law.

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