Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mexican Economics 101: A lesson in Extorsion

(This image is for illustration only.  These cops in Mulegé were awesome guys.)


Looks like I got an early Christmas present of a bunch of sour comments.  YAY!

Seems like some guys on got ahold of this post, didn't read it all, and got their armchair quarterback panties all in a bunch.  SO BEFORE you read this post...  I have one thing to say...  "I BROKE THE LAW.  I PAID A FINE.  I LEARNED MY LESSON."  Now if you'd like to read my feelings about what went down that day read on.  -Justin

I’ve only had one thing stolen from the this whole trip, but today I ran into two crooked cops that tried to rob me of a bit of my spirit.

I left the campground in Pie de la Cuesta by 8:30 this morning.  I was really proud of myself for getting up and packing things and getting out of camp early today.  I made my way into the maddening chaos of Acapulco, missed my turn for the ‘via rapido’ and ended up in the same stop and go chaotic traffic that I was in last night.  I got aggressive and picked my way through like a local.  I was stoked with the skill I had managed weaving into and out of the craziness.  Huge billows of nasty diesel fumes blasting out of the busses.  People squeezing between the lanes and cutting people off and honking their horns at each other.    I used the skills I’ve aquired the last couple of days in these Mexican tourist towns to make my way confidently through the traffic.  Splitting lanes and rallying to the front of the row at every red light.  I managed to stay safe, only get honked at a couple of times and generally made great time through town.

When I made it to the far side of town and pushed my way up the hillside, I pulled off to take a couple pictures of the bay, jammed back onwards feeling good that the traffic mess was behind me.  I rolled over the crest and got a quick view of the next bay, which I believe was called Pichilingue.  I came down the hill with the flow of traffic and when I saw a PEMEX there I thought I might as well pull in and fill up.  Everything seemed like it was chilling out as I got closer to the airport.

I filled up and looking at the traffic near the exit of the station, I decided to loop around and head out the entry and just pop onto the main thoroughfare headed for Puerto Escondido.  I saw a gap in the traffic and cracked the throttle shooting out across a couple of lanes right where I needed to be.  A few seconds later a crappy white car with some old school cop lights on top started honking at me pointing for me to pull over.  I pretended not to see him at first but they zoomed up next to me and started yelling.  I looked over trying to figure out if they were legitimate cops or not.  Just as I looked back in my lane, I realized that two taxis had come to a complete stop in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and started skidding.  I rear-ended the cab in front of me at about 2 mph.  I was pissed now, and just blasted past them banging one of my boxes on the corner of the car.  I grabbed a fist full of throttle and made a run for it.

Two seconds later the cab was zooming up next to me and trying to run me off the road.  I jammed on the brakes, he flew by and I rallied to get around him.  He was good though and I was having trouble watching my mirrors for the cops and trying to negotiate around this damn taxi driver.  He finally pinched me to the center median and I stopped fearing a brutal accident with this a-hole.  Of course the cops were behind me now and the great ordeal began...

I started off in Spanish but remembering all the ride reports I read about playing dumb, I decided to shut up and play dumb.  I was pissed.  I would have never hit the taxi if the cops weren’t yelling at me.  The cop was in my face.  When I stopped speaking spanish and pretended that I didn’t understand him, he just started speaking English.  Shit.

So our little charade began.  I knew from the very beginning that this wasn’t about the fact that I broke the law by not using the lateral lanes to enter the thoroughfare.  This was going to be my first lesson in tourist extorsion.  So I tried to keep my cool and beg forgiveness, which wouldn’t have worked in the first place, but I gave it a try.  I also had the further problem that the taxi driver, who knew damn well nothing had happened to his car, also knew the extorsion game far better than I.  So he worked the situation as much as the cops did.  We did our little dance and 30 minutes later, after threatening to impound my motorcycle and put me in jail because suddenly the taxi driver’s neck hurt, he said we could handle this here and I could be on my way.  Or we could just do it the normal way which would lead to “mucho problems for you my friend.”  He said that I’d have to spend 48 hours in jail while the doctors made sure that there was nothing wrong with the taxi drivers neck.  I could see exactly how this would work out for me.  Me, the gringo, with no witnesses on a fully dressed adventure motorcycle and two cops and a taxi driver that had correlating stories.

So I’m working this through in my mind and I’m so pissed because we’re not talking a cheap bribe.  He wanted $2000 MEX from me.  Dick.  I’m so pissed because I’ve been trying to be so frugal on this trip to stretch my dough out and keep the overall budget down.  Bloody hell.  I play the game and try to offer him $500.  Not a chance.  He flat out laughed at me.  He told me $2000 and no less or he was going to impound my bike.  I asked for his badge number and he told me I could call my embassy from jail.  This guy was a pro.  Then he feigned that he was getting impatient and called for a tow truck from his cell.

I was in a pinch.  I really didn’t want to give in.  Obviously.  I’m the most stubborn person on the planet and dammit, I just had to get more money because everything here in Mexico is more expensive than I thought it would be.  When he was over talking to the other cop.  I pulled out my pesos and grabbed a $500 and stuffed it into a different pocket.  When he came back, I pulled out the cash as if it was all I had.  I thought there was only $1500 pesos there but I forgot about my change from the gas station.  He looked, saw there was  $1800 and handed my my license and told me to get out of there.

I was so pissed.  I put my helmet on, started the bike and revved past them all flipping them the bird.  I rallied towards Pto. Escondido.  When I made the turn for MEX200, I saw a whole crew of Acapulco police posted up at the sub-station.  I pulled over thinking I was going to rat these guys out.  They looked over like, “hey what do you need?”  I was about to wave them over and had a quick epiphany of how I would try to explain what just happened.   Like what are they really going to do?  Quick put an APB out for the crooked cops who just managed to pull $150 US from a guy who legitimately broke a traffic law and then ran into a taxi while trying to run from them?  Yeah I was screwed and I was steaming.

I shook my head and rallied off down the highway.  I had been so happy that everyone had been so nice to me in Mexico.  I was so stoked that all the stereotypes had been wrong and that I’d found such goodness in the Mexican people.  The Federales wanted nothing to do with me.  The military wanted nothing to do with me.  The State Police wanted nothing to do with me.  I was so impressed that in 24 days the only thing that had been ganked from me was the keychain compass that Heideman and Jean had given me as a going-away gift.  I was bummed the day that had gotten taken but I chose to view it as a reminder that I really needed to be more diligent with my security details now that I was mainland.  And I also decided to look at is as a sign...  Jean had said that when I decided I really didn’t want to keep pushing on, I could just look at the compass and point north and “b”-line home.  So I decided that when those kids stole that little compass it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to head home but keep pushing on.

I rallied down the highway furious, with a scowl on my face inside my helmet.  I was just fuming.  Like I said this was my first run-in with bad cops and every kilometer down the road I replayed how I could have done it different and come up with a different, more favorable result.  I had given him my AAA International Drivers Permit.  I didn’t care about the license but how could I have run from him?  I didn’t even really know where I was going.  I could have said, “Fine call in your tow truck.”  It would have taken forever and he would have probably given up or dropped his price the longer I waited.  But effectively I lost before I really started because I was so mad.  I just wanted the situation over with and I had no patience for this bullshit.

If they had just left me alone I would have never run into the taxi in the first place.  But that wasn’t the point.  Extorsion was.

For the next 100 miles, I played the story over and over in my head trying to figure out how the outcome could have come out differently.  I scowled from my helmet at everyone I saw.  I felt as though the whole Mexican population was out to steal from me.  I started to question what I was doing here in the first place and thoughts of how I could just call it quits and head home now.  Seeing as I still have money in the bank, maybe now would be a good time to pull out, go home and re-plan the trip for another time.  I started thinking all kinds of negative thoughts and how I should just bail from this sweaty filthy existence on my motorcycle.  I really had no purpose out here anyway, I thought to myself as I whipped further down MEX200.

Finally I realized how hungry I’d gotten and that it was already noon and I’d not eaten a thing all day.  So I found a good looking restaurant and stopped for some Huevos Rancheros and a Coke.  When I was paying, the restaurant owner spoke to me in English and we struck up a quick conversation.  He told me he had lived for 20 years in Atlanta.  I told him what the cops had pulled and he sympathized.  He said that just because he has a nice truck and runs a business that people are always trying to cheat him too.

After I ate and got on the bike again, I started thinking about the hundreds of Mexicans that had reinforced my belief in the goodness of humanity and how I was questioning it all now because of two dirty cops and a conspiring taxi driver.  I turned my attitude around and gassed it over another of a thousand speed bumps.  I smiled in my helmet.  Reconciling the fact that even though I could have lived on that cash for 4 or 5 more days, that it was only money after all.  Oh well.  I wasn’t going to let 3 a-holes in Acapulco ruin my image of the wonderful experience I’ve had already the last 24 days.

They can steal my money but they can’t tarnish my soul.  They can steal a bit of trust but I won’t let them ruin my adventure.  I smiled the rest of the way to Puerto Escondido and when I pulled off into town, exhausted and not really looking forward to searching out a feasible hotel, this guy walking down the road waved me over.  He shouted across the grassy median that he was here on a bike too.  We chatted for a minute.  He is here on a KLR that he rode down from New Hampshire.  He said he was staying down at the hostel in town and that it was nice enough with secure parking for ‘Gigante’.  I said that sounded great, so he hailed a cab and I followed him back to the place.

What a turn of events.  So now I’m here and it is good.  But I still say Pinche Policia que malo.  But in the hindsight, they were right.  When he said you didn’t “Respect the Signs“ he was right.  If I’d only been a little more diligent in paying attention to my surroundings, I would have never had the run-in with them anyway.  So truthfully, it was my fault.  But screw’em anyway, just for taking all my money!


Anonymous said...

Now that is an exciting Thanksgiving! I'm so Thankful you got out of that situation and are pushing forward. Miss You! Heidi

Steve Heideman said...

Dude--crazy! Extortion is a hell of a cruel mistress. Great writing. I was enthralled by the story...too bad about the compass, but oh well--at least it was something menial for them to steal so they left your other shit alone :)

Keep safe, be well and keep sending word through the interwebs.


Savas Balaban said...

We met on the road before Acapulco. Black&red klr650 we were traveling together with Tiffany...
I feel sorry that you had a difficult time an happy that you are ok and able to go on your way.
I have just arrived to Antigua Guatemala. Hope to see you again on the road.

Anonymous said...

Hey Man, Glad to see you're still "smilin in your helmet". Got home last night so its back to the grind for me, but glad to see you are still ridin. Its ALL an adventure. Keep riding friend.

Anonymous said...

On behalf of those of us that live in Mexico, do us all a favor and don't come back. We have laws, they should be respected. This is not your "wild west".

You broke the law and got caught. You paid your fine. Be thankful that you were able to pay it on the spot and go on your way. Trust me when I tell you that you do not want to get involved in the Mexican legal system.

Anonymous said...

You are an idiot and a squid. You broke the law and then cry foul. Nobody "extorted" you. You offered to pay a "bribe" for the convenience of not having to go through the normal procedure of going to the station. For all you know the cops turned the fine over to the state. Also, I am willing to bet you aren't carrying liability insurance with you, hence the threat for the jail time. You need to learn about riding in Mexico. They were nice and should have thrown your butt in jail. BTW, you are being trashed at Check the Trip Planning section, Americas. You're toast compadre.

Anonymous said...

You broke Mexican laws and whine about it rather than being happy you're not having butt sex in prison?

Anonymous said...

FYI, if you run from the law in the US you don't get set free. Hope this helps down the road.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to play dumb.

-g. said...

WOW! Sweet thanks for all the positive comments... If you read on... you find out that I came around to having the same understanding. You guys are all internet wimps that don't have time to really ride yourselves anyway.

Anyone that has met me in person knows that I typically am law abiding, I am carrying liability insurance and I met a couple that got pimped by the same cops for making a "so-called" illegal u-turn.

Some times luck is on your side. Other times it is not. I loved Mexico and never treated it like "my wild west." I spent 7 weeks without another issue.

Why don't you guys get off the internet and get travelling?

In Guatemala now and will be until after the new year. Email me direct at and we'll get together in person and have a beer and talk about what a shithead I am.

And I will gladly visit Mexico again any day, if you'd rather have a beer there.


Anonymous said...

I can vouch for Justin. Rode with him and drank hard with him in the Baja. He is a VERY stand up guy. Don't be so quick to judge a person in his entirety from just a few lines of print (even if they are his own). I would ride with this guy anytime and anywhere.
Anthony Pugliese