Friday, June 3, 2011

My Police Rant

Numbers of Tickets Received: 5
Numbers of Times Pulled Over by the Police:
Mexico: 1
Nicaragua: 1
Panama: 2
Colombia: 2
Peru: 14*
Chile: 1
Argentina: 2
*Doesn't include times we ignored gestures to be pulled over
Our Traffic Violation paperwork collection
The times we were pulled over in Panama, Colombia and Chile were mostly harmless. Our interactions with the law in Mexico, Nicaragua and Argentina all resulted in one or both of us getting tickets. The Nicaragua ticket Alberto got was stupid but the other two were completely justified. Peru, on the other hand, very much felt like the exception because we were pulled over repeatedly by unbelievably corrupt police. The issues we had in Peru with the police got so bad that it really ruined my time in Peru and my opinion of the country.

I am not going to go into detail about the specific interactions, you can retrace the blog for all the juicy details. What drives me crazy about the corrupt police in Peru is the inconsistency. We had mild police interactions, such as Day 191, which lasted only a couple of minutes to long drawn out paper work competitions like on Day 177, to the most extreme where we just had to flee the scene Day 182. The police officers had no shame and it ruins it for any legit ones that might be hiding out there. Alberto had already warned me about police in Peru before we got there, so I was already skeptical of their dubious honor but even if I hadn't been per-warned I would have caught-on pretty quick. It was clear after only a few encounters that the police were lazy and always searching for a bribe not justice. It is disappointing for a country like Peru which has so much tourism potential.

Dealing with Police (in particular Peruvian Police since those were the only ones we had problems with):

Disclaimer: I am a total goody-two-shoes and always follow the rules, so much so that my own mother frequently makes fun of me. But I am also realistic and when the system doesn't work because the people in charge of enforcing the rules don't follow them it's every man for himself. I have never handed an official a fake document. All the documents I use are copies of real and valid documents, I just don't trust certain individuals with the real copies because they don't play by the rules.

How to deal – Our number one trump card was speaking only English, and taking this to the extreme. Even if the average person would understand what was going on we would continue to play dumb and speak only English. Most police we encountered in Peru were pretty lazy so sometimes this was all it took. They would quickly realize that they couldn't communicate and move on. The other critical thing to do is do not to give the police any power and do this by only giving them documents you can afford to lose. This ensures that the power stays in your corner. With the more persistent police try paper-working them to death. If they are asking for a specific document, like insurance, give them every official looking document you have. They most likely will become overwhelmed, and give your documents only a glance before sending you on your way. The key is to remain calm and stand your ground. Being really stubborn and animated can work to your advantage.

Chances are that when you undertake a trip like this you will be pulled over by the police at some point; either legitimately or not. My advice is to stay calm, stand your ground and enjoy the experience. Even the worst day of our trip (police-wise) really frustrated me at the time it makes for a great story later.


  1. I agree, I had a certain run in with Peruvian Highway Patrol which I explained in my blog (Monday, July 6, 2009), they tried to confiscate our bikes because of some made up bs. I am married to a Peruvian and our friends were also Peruvian, me, I am Canadian. And even there we must have spent a good hour yelling at the police officer, the other police office just stayed by the truck. Anyways, I have learned that if you see them, just keep going, best is not to even look at them. I enjoy reading your blog. Looking forward to some new adventures from you.

  2. Yeah unfortunately Peruvian cops have the worst reputation in Latin America and it is WELL DESERVED.

    It's too bad that many foreign riders keep bribing them because cops will not stop being so corrupt unless riders stop giving them 'easy money'

  3. You will have the same problem crossing Asian continent especially remote area's of Russia. We expected to be pulled over at least 2 times a day...Only paid a fine one time...Spent time in their office, their car, on side of the road, etc...try to speak Russian...

  4. A trip to Russia, Mongolia, etc is in our future plans. I'm sure our cop experiences in Latin America will come in handy :)