Bad Cops, Retarded Gringo
August 8, Barranca, Peru
I started my day in Lima, looking for a tourist police office so that I could get some kind of official looking business card, or any kind of document that could make it look like I know someone important in Lima, so I could show it to any bad cops I might meet on the trip up the coast. The Peruvian coast is very well known for bad-cop bribing and I felt lucky that I made it from Nasca to Lima with no problems, but that was probably because I made most of the trip on a Sunday when the bad cops are at church, I guess. In my brief morning search I met several people; many agreed and said there are bad cops on the coast of Peru; those who disagreed, saying there are no bad-cop problems on Peru's coast, had never driven there. I ended up in some official tourist office on the phone with Raquel Cuzcano, from the I.Peru office; she assured me that there are no bad cops on the highway on the coast of Peru; she's never driven the coast of Peru.
W. Cornado S. is what the badge most likely said but the "orn" was covered by a uniform strap. I had passed 6-8 other highway patrol SUV's without a problem. I was coming into Puerto Supe, a little town just south of Barranca and a couple hours north of Lima. I hadn't gotten as far north as I wanted because it took 90 frustrating minutes to get out of Lima.
I saw the two cops standing in front of their cop SUV as I was being passed by a bus and I was in a long line of slow moving traffic. One of the cops immediately motioned for me to pull over; it was like a very rapid, well conditioned reflex that kicks in when he sees an obvious non-local motorcycle, or gringo vehicle, and it was about 96% clear that his whistle and arm motions were directed at me but I decided to go with the 4% chance and ignored him because I was 100% sure that his reason for stopping me was to play the bullshit bribery game. I've heard that ignoring them actually works sometimes because they really don't want to waste the gas to chase folks unless they have to, but there was a speed bump about 100 yards ahead and all traffic came to a stop so they didn't have to travel very far to catch me.
They pulled in directly behind me, then beside me while I was waiting in the long line of traffic, and they were honking their really loud annoying cop horn the whole time as I just kept motioning for them to go ahead and pass already! They used the SUV to force me to the side of the road, at walking speed, and the passenger got out and asked my why I was running. Let the dumm begin; the next 15-20 minutes were frustrating, but maybe a bit entertaining, for the cops. It was the passenger who was trying to communicate to me that money needed to be paid for my infraction. He never asked me to get off the motorcycle or remove my helmet, which helped me because he obviously wanted this to be a quick transaction and the longer I could draw it out the better my chances of saving cash. Also, leaving the helmet on allows me to produce a sort of bobble-head effect to accentuate the idiot factor, helping to draw things out.
He tried to explain that the sign said 45km and I was going faster than that and after several minutes of claiming to not understand what he was talking about I started telling him that the big big bus was going faster than me, in the worst Spanish I could muster, and therefore I didn't know why he was pulling me over for speeding and not the bus. I was on the side of a busy road at the edge of a busy little town in broad daylight and felt pretty safe so I decided to take dumm to the limit. At one point I actually started singing "the wheels on the bus go round and round" and then pointed to my tires and made a slow wheel motion, then I pointed off in the direction that the bus and other cars were going and made a faster wheel motion with my fingers. He just sort of looked at his partner, who really didn't seem to be invested in the whole bribery project, and chuckled.
Then he started trying to emphasize the fact that I ran from him and I needed to pay for that. He took out a little booklet with dozens of pages of infractions and subsequent fines and pointed to the one that said 340 soles, about $110 US dollars. At many points in the conversation while he was trying to explain the situation to me, I took to endlessly staring out into space - like I may have been trying to figure things out, or maybe having some kind of silent brain seizure. I had a couple of hours of daylight left and I could do this as long as it took. I was consistent in not understanding the whole notion of trying to run from them and just kept asking about the bus, and what are we doing here; besides, if I'd actually tried to out-run them, we wouldn't be having this conversation (but I only said that part in my head).
He kept on pointing to the 340 soles number and saying I needed to pay that to get my papers back and I just pointed at his notepad, where he had put my papers, and shrugged my shoulders and said "but they be there, all okay" [They always get some document from you that you need. I've heard it's a good idea to get copies of everything, which I had given him, but they just keep asking for things 'till you have to give them an original, or simply make you produce the original because you can't really say no to that, then they simply sell the document back to you for whatever they think they can get from you].
So the last time he mentioned the 340 soles I just pulled out my wallet and laughed and showed him that I only had 60 soles, about $20 USD, which is all the money I've kept in the open part of my wallet since I've hit the coast of Peru where this kind of bad-cop-bullshit thing is very common. He said I needed to go to a bank machine to get money for him, then I started having a little Belize flashback; if these guys were going to ask me to get into their car to go to a bank machine they were going to not only have to pull a gun on my ass but they'd also have to convince me that they might actually use it because I'm never making that mistake again. I went back to the blank stare thing while I thought about numerous ways to stop traffic, get everyone's attention and make their job more difficult than they wanted.
Instead of getting mad about my Belize flashback I decided instead to push dumm to even further limits, misunderstanding the concept of a bank machine to get money, and kept asking why I was now supposed to pay the bank money I didn't have, and why was the bank involved in this thing, and what are we doing here, and isn't it dangerous to be on the side of the highway like this; with blank stares between each new, poorly communicated thought and a couple partial reruns of the "wheels on the bus" song.
By that point I think this cop was really starting to wonder how I could even dress myself in the morning and I was even starting to annoy myself with these far reaching limits of dumm so I pulled out the handy old business card, acting all giddy and excited like I finally came up with the solution to this whole problem, and explained that my brother wrote the business card and he speaks Spanish and it will help explain that I'm here to write a book about this country.
He read the card and handed it back to me and wrote a new number on the pad - 50 soles, about $18 USD. I could handle this number but I still had to act confused about the whole thing because if I agreed too quickly he would have seen through the act, and I was still hoping for a free ride. Long story finally ending, I eventually handed him the 50 soles, got my Peruvian motorcycle registration paper back and now I'm sitting in a cheap hotel only about 5 miles north of where it happened. He had asked where I was staying tonight and I told him that I would keep riding for another hour or two because I didn't want him to know that I would be staying there in his neighborhood.
When we shook hands at the end of the transaction I said "gracias Sr. Coronado" and he corrected me, saying "Cornado", so I guess that's his name and I need to tell someone here in Peru that gives a shit about stupid bad cops hurting their economy.
August 11, Huanchaco, Peru
I started the day in Barranca and talked to several locals before hitting the road; everyone with a motor vehicle said they also hate the cops on the coast of Peru, but I learned that the going rate for a local bribe is only 5-10 soles, while mine went from 340 to 50 soles after a 20 minute retard show. From now on I'm carrying even less money in the open part of my wallet.
Yesterdays ride to Trujillo was long but I only met with one brief cop situation. It was in the middle of nowhere and when the highway patrol guy motioned for me to pull over I couldn't really pretend like I didn't see him, but I was very tempted to punch it and see if they could catch me. I pulled over but stayed in the middle of the road. He introduced himself as a member of the Peruvian police force, which seemed a little odd, and asked my nationality. Some folks have told me that I'm somewhat transparent and it's easy to tell what I'm thinking; if that's true then he could plainly see in my eyes that I hated every molecule of oxygen that supported his life, as I slowly responded with a slow growl through my gritting teeth that I was from the USA.
I was so instantly enraged by the notion of another bribing cop that I may have had smoke coming from my ears and nose. I was still recovering from the slight brain damage of the previous days dumm act and wasn't in the mood for another quite so soon. Just like when your mom told you to stop crossing your eyes or else they'd stay like that, if you stretch the limits of dumm too many times it'll stick and you'll find yourself in a grocery story staring endlessly at the cans of food, just wondering how the hell they got all that food inside the can. Anyway, the cop acted like Mr. happy hand-shaker guy and asked me if I had any water or soda and said he was very thirsty from standing in the road all day. I had a partial bottle of water strapped to my bike and I handed it to him, then I said "todo bien" and rode off. I looked back to see if they were going to pursue me but they were clearly not going anywhere. In retrospect he probably guessed exactly why I looked so hateful and figured that if I was that angry looking I probably had no money left to give him and he therefore settled for a beverage.
When I got to Trujillo I went to the I.Peru office and asked if there was any group that I could report bad-cop events to and they just said the police. That doesn't seem like a wise choice, at least not while I'm still in the country. The next morning at my hotel there was a group of important looking military folks and a couple of them were from the USA. I was going to ask them if they had any ideas about the bad-cop problem and as I was waiting a guy in a suit named Daniel M. asked if he could help me. He's from the US Embassy and works closely with the Peruvian Police force and gave me his card and asked me to send him an email with the details of my police incident and others I've heard about, which sounds like a much better idea than marching into a Peruvian police station to complain about Peruvian police.
Now I'm in Huanchaco, a small surfing, tourism and fishing town just 10 miles north of Trujillo. I was here several years ago and wanted to take pictures of the tiny, straw fishing boats they use, that are pretty much the same as they were 2000 years ago. This is the place I would recommend for anyone that wants to take a surfing vacation. The waves are constant, strong and I don't know enough about surfing to say exactly why, but many surfers say it's great here. You can tell from the satellite view of the town just how good the waves are.
Tomorrow I head to Chiclayo and then it's off into the mountains for a look at an old ruin called Kuelap, I think. I'm way behind on pictures but have another page coming soon. It's more difficult in this part of Peru to find a good internet connection for that kind of thing.