Mexican Federales

November 26, Mexico City.

I knew it would happen sooner or later, now I finally have a story about a run-in with cops south of the border!  On Saturday afternoon I rode from Puebla to Mexico City.  I had been getting lazy in Puebla and I need a change of scenery so I’ll be spending four nights in Mexico City [Saturday, November 25 through Wednesday, November 29].  I still have a page or two of pictures to catch up on from Puebla and I’ll try to get those on the website in the next couple of days.

I was descending the peak of the mountain pass between Puebla and Mexico City [the highway’s high point is about 10,500’].  At about 8,300’, 5 or 10 miles from Mexico City, I saw a clearly marked black and white Ford Expedition, Mexican Federal Police vehicle on the side of the road.  They saw me and began pursuit, it's not clear exactly why.  I was going a bit over the speed limit but other cars were still passing me so I knew it wasn’t a speed trap.  After a mile or so they slowly passed me on the left, then simply turned on their lights and began slowing down.  I knew I shouldn’t pass them on the right so I just slowed down with them.  I was pretty sure they were pulling me over but it wasn’t completely clear yet.  They slowed from about 60mph to about 25mph which made it clear they were after me so I started to pull over.  A hand from the back right window motioned for me to follow them.  We went slowly for another half mile to a wide spot in the road. 

I was calm and actually looking forward to the experience of dealing with Mexican Federales.  We arrived at a wide spot on the highway and they abruptly pulled off and slammed on the brakes in an area where there was a layer of pea-sized gravel on the pavement.  They skidded and so did I.  I was very close to losing control but I managed to 'keep the shiny side up' [remain upright].  I’m pretty sure they stopped like that to catch me off guard.

Four Mexican Federales got out of the Expedition immediately after they stopped.  By the time I had both feet on the ground, still sitting on my motorcycle and trying to catch my balance, there were two of them on my right and two on my left.  One on each side had their semi-automatic pistol pointed somewhere between my face and chest.  The other two on each side had their hands on their pistols but they were still in their holsters.  The one to my right that wasn’t pointing his pistol in my face began asking me questions about where I was going, how long I was going to be in Mexico, and where are my papers; he was clearly the lead officer.

Their disposition was intense, like they were pulling over an armed criminal but I was pretty sure they were just going through the ‘standard operating procedure’ that all cops use because they have to assume the worst so it didn’t bother me.  I started telling the lead officer that I had papers in my back left pocket and sort of non-verbally got permission from the trigger guys as I cautiously reached for my passport and vehicle identification and handed them to the lead officer.  He quickly looked through the documents and asked why my vehicle ID sticker wasn’t on the motorcycle.  I explained that the vehicle registration office in Nuevo Laredo told me to keep the sticker with my passport because if I put it on the motorcycle windshield it would be exposed and could easily be stolen.  He seemed satisfied with my explanation and passed my papers on to his trigger guy. 

The four of them passed the papers between themselves, briefly glancing at the documents, as the lead officer kept asking me questions about how long I would be here, etc.  The pistols were no longer pointed directly at me but there was always at least one guy with his pistol pointed in my general direction.  I explained that I was coming from Puebla and would be in Mexico City for four days.  Our discussion became more detailed and I realized that the cards I had printed, explaining my journey from Seattle to Tierra del Fuego, would be perfect here.  I told him that my “tarjeta” would explain my purpose better than my bad Spanish and that I had one in my front left pocket [my younger brother wrote the cards for me and he speaks perfect Spanish]. 

After the necessary non-verbal permission from the trigger guys I got one of my cards from my front left pocket and handed it to the lead officer.  He quickly read it and passed it onto the others, who only briefly glanced at it.  He then told me to remove my helmet; I hadn’t realized it but everything happened so fast that I never had a chance to remove my helmet!  I thanked him and said it was a relief to take off my helmet.  He asked me to open my bags so that they could search for drugs.  He assured me that it was only a “typical search” and I very quickly agreed to it saying “of course, no problem” and other cooperative, nice-guy things.

I slowly stepped off my motorcycle and opened the back bag, then removed the two side bags and opened them along the side of the highway.  At this point my only concern was that they would tear through everything and I would have to spend 20-30 minutes along the side of the highway putting it all back together; but it was immediately apparent that they were not going to waste their time tearing through my things.  The lead officer was asking if I was going through Cancun to get marijuana and if I took drugs.  I said no.  Then he asked if I liked to smoke “matte” in Cancun because it was kind of like marijuana but legal.  I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and politely told him so.  The only “matte” I’d heard of was a tea like drink in South America; it’s very popular in Argentina and Chile and the taste is somewhere between green tea and cow manure, and very bitter.  I wasn’t going to bring that up because it would’ve sounded like I was correcting him. 

By then I was actually getting bored and was wondering if they were going to provide some sort of ‘bribe opening’, like mentioning a fine or something, giving me the opening to ask if I could just pay the fine now so I wouldn’t need to go to court.  But this encounter came to a boring and pleasant end as they all began looking at each other like they had better things to do.  The lead officer said I could leave and they all shook my hand with “nice to meet you” and “have a nice trip” sort of pleasantries being exchanged. 

That’s it.  My first run-in with cops south of the border turned out to be nothing more than a pleasant pit-stop on my way into Mexico City.  Maybe I could have been more dramatic about the guns being pointed at me or how fast they jumped out of their car and surrounded me but it really just seemed like they were following their basic cop-school training and it wasn’t that alarming.  I just played the good cooperative Gringo role and all was well.  I hope all my cop interactions between here and Tierra del Fuego go this well…