Bad Belize Cops
February 2, Flores, Guatemala.
The last several days have been, I don't know, lots of things. Right after the last update I rode my motorcycle back to the Midas Resort, San Ignacio, Belize. As I was pulling up to the entrance I was pulled over, in an odd sort of way, by two Belizean cops. They had no reason to pull me over and simply asked if I had insurance. It turns out my insurance had expired. I had planned to be in Belize for 3 days but was there for 4. The cop saw that my insurance had expired and told me to park my bike at the hotel and get in the truck. The whole time I was thinking that it seemed like a bad idea to get in the truck but kept reminding myself 'this is Belize, they're friendly, they speak 'reggae' and talk about good vibe's all the time, they'll take me down town and give me a ticket and everything will be fine'. If I had been in any other Central American country I would've done anything to avoid getting in the truck.
The passenger, a Hispanic guy about 5'8' who did almost all the talking, started telling me I was in big trouble and that this was going to cost me $500 Belizean dollars [$250 American]. I would have to spend the night in jail with very bad people and the magistrate might take my motorcycle and drivers license. He called me "Mistah Doug". "Mistah Doug you know you're in big trouble now" and many other things. Yeah I was in the wrong, BUT NOT $250 WRONG!! He kept telling me how bad this was as we drove down darker and darker dirt roads, further and further from town, clearly not heading down town to the cop-shop. After 10-15 minutes of this he asked which 'option' I'd prefer; we had not discussed any 'options' but it was dollar-clear where this goddam little shit-head bastard fucker was going [sorry, I'm still pissed and want to hit him very hard].
They never threatened me with any physical harm; they didn't need to, the dark back roads spoke that language clearly. Two bad cops and a lone gringo on a dark dirt road outside of town - this isn't anything like anyone I've met who has been to Belize would tell you. Especially San Ignacio, which to that point had seemed like a great little town with a fun mix of locals, ex-pat's and tourists, and it's close to several ruins and eco-sites, boating, fishing, swimming, tubing and anything fun. Maybe I'm the lucky gringo to have a 'two bad cops on a dark dirt road' story in Belize, or maybe not.
I knew the cops were full of crap in describing the severity of my one day laps of insurance but here's the conundrum; if I call their bluff and tell them to take me to jail they know that I would find out that the fine is more like $25-50 [best guess of the locals, I later found] and then I would tell someone at the jail that the two cops said it was $500 - then those two cops would get in trouble for clearly trying to extort cash. They would clearly want to avoid getting in trouble which is why there's a good chance that if I called their bluff they would have just taken the $65 Belizean dollars that I had initially offered (when they asked for $500) and probably would have let me go; but on a dark dirt road with two bad cops, both with clubs, guns and whatever other cop stuff they had, the 'ambience' of the evening didn't lend itself toward a happy 'good-vibe' ending and I was legitimately freaked out about this 'kidnapping' type of experience.
I'm getting too angry about this again. Long story short, kind of, they took me to a bank machine, I got $500 Belizean dollars and gave it to them and they dropped me off at my hotel. They told me many times how lucky I was to be dealing with them instead of the magistrate. After I arrived at my hotel I told several of the guests and the owner and a whole bunch of folks about my evening. They and everyone I've talked to were totally surprised. It felt odd sitting at a peaceful place like the Midas Resort and being so angry telling my story. They all wanted me to report it. I just wanted to wake up the next morning, get a one day insurance policy and drive 20 minutes to the border and be done with Belize forever.
I didn't sleep very well. I got up the next morning, told some other folks about it, then went into town to eat breakfast and buy my insurance and head to Guatemala. The insurance place is 30 yards from the police station. As I entered it I heard John [a Midas resident] across the street at the police station, asking me to go talk to someone. Another long story short, I ended up telling the whole story to their version of the Chief of Police. He was adamant about the fact that they would get the cops but wanted me to stay in town for two more days to testify. I refused and said I'd be glad to help with a statement and any further questions later on, by email, but I just wanted to get out of the country. The thing is, cops usually have a sort of 'fraternal brotherhood' type of relationship and ratting one out made me feel very unsafe about being there; ratting out bad cops would make me feel unsafe anywhere.
The Chief of Police could tell I wasn't going to stick around so he asked me to give a statement to one of his officers. He had read my 3 pages of angry journal rant from the night before on John's computer [I had emailed the story to John so he could report this thing after I left] but said he couldn't use it for a statement because of the foul language. The journal entry started with something like "Fucking piece of shit Belizean Cops" and only got worse from there. It was a truthful and accurate rant about those cops but was written immediately after the event so it was a very angry venting as well.
The statement guy was either the Forest Gump of statement takers or the Chief had told him to keep me there for as long as possible while they found the cops from last night; my guess is the latter because nobody could be this stupid and hold a job, not even in Belize. He asked me to describe what happened and I said: "I was pulling into the Midas Resort and saw a single flashing light behind me. I didn't see other headlights, just a single light flashing in my rear-view mirror. I thought it was a single headlight bouncing up and down because of the pot-holes in the road but then I heard a voice telling me to pull over I saw that it was a Belize police truck and the light was a large hand-held flashlight, held by the passenger".
He slowly wrote something for 2-3 minutes then said, "so you saw police lights". I said, "no I only saw a single light that seemed to be bouncing because of the pot-holes". He asked "so the headlights were on", I said "I don't know, I only saw the single hand-held flashlight, so I think the headlights were off", he asked "so the headlights were off?", I said "I think so because I only saw the single hand-held flashlight - it was the only light I saw". Then he asked, "so the headlights were on?" I asked if he was joking and he asked what kind of light I saw. I asked if there was anyone else that could take my statement and he assured me that he was the only statement-taking guy there.
This "Who's on First" style of questioning went on for another couple of minutes before I decided to speak in 5 to 8 word, very simple sentences and have him write down each sentence, word by word as I slowly repeated it until we were done with a very abbreviated version of what happened. He tested my 'time efficiency' more than the hand shakers of Belize City. At one point he actually asked me to write down the serial numbers of the bills that I had given the cops - then I asked him what the serial numbers were on the bills for the last thing that he bought; he changed the subject.
After we finished I was told that they'd 'caught' one of the cops and were searching his house and assured me that they'd both be dealt with. I hope they were, and if anyone from the San Ignacio Police Department is reading this I'd like my money back. Overall I'm glad I told on the bad cops, it was the right thing to do, but I wouldn't have told if the others at Midas didn't say they would escort me to the border. It's a short trip and although I probably would have been safe on the 20 minute ride I really wanted someone around 'till I got over the border.
It was getting late and I wanted to leave for Flores, Guatemala. Five different people in San Ignacio had told me over the last couple of days that it would take 1 hour to get to Flores from the border [I always get several opinions on things like this]. If any of those folks are reading this please respond because I will gladly bet you $1,000 American dollars that you could not drive from the border to Flores within an hour without severely damaging your vehicle, self or others [any normal street-legal vehicle applies].
Here again the details are endless but long story not short anymore, 2 1/2 hours after crossing the border into Guatemala I was a little over half way to Flores. The sun had set 40 minutes ago, it was getting dark and the cardinal rule for gringo's in Guatemala and most places, is to avoid traveling at night, especially alone and especially in northern Guatemala. I was starting to consider just knocking on someone's door to ask them to put me up for the night because I had seen exactly zero hotel signs. Finally I saw the first hotel sign between there and the border. It was a little eco-tour place 1.8km from the side of the road in Macanche, Guatemala, on the edge of a lake. It was called El Retiro. I took a ton of pictures and will talk about it later. The next morning I turbo-toured Tikal, then rode to Flores. Guatemala has been beautiful and friendly and I'm glad to be here but more than that I'm glad to be done with Belize, forever.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I put together the last page of Mexico pictures: