La Mordida – the Bribe

Well, sooner or later, it had to happen. We have driven throughout Mexico three different times, for a total of nine months and for more than 25,000 km. We have been pulled over for speeding and waved off with a warning. We have had a police officer in Michoacan (a cartel state) shake our hands and thank us for visiting Mexico – this during a time when tourism had dropped drastically due to cartel violence. We have had police officers help us when we were hopelessly lost. And in spite of our positive encounters with the law, we were both very conscious of widespread police corruption and of the infamous mordida – the “bite” put on tourists for bogus traffic violations. We didn’t think the police were our friends, but we somehow felt immune to them. Still, when every Mexican blew through stop signs and red lights, we dutifully came to complete stops.

Before I tell you our sad story, let me assure you we were well aware of the crooked practice and thought we were prepared for being pulled over. We had read the forums and knew the drill. Don’t hand over your licence, just deny the charge, stay calm and polite and insist on going to the station to pay the “fine” directly. Since the cop has no intention of going to the station, invariably he gets fed up and waves you on. But…other circumstances prevailed.

We were using Google maps on our phone to lead us out of Tecate and to the U.S. border. Unfortunately that map had not been updated since the road changed to “pedestrian only” three years ago and we found ourselves in a narrow area with virtually no space to turn around. Thankfully a kind man stopped to direct Stephen how to back up with almost no wiggle room. He proudly banged on his chest, “truck driver” and within minutes we were on our way again. We had to drive several blocks before we could make a U-turn and then head back for another try for the border. We took the turn and then the road split into three, with absolutely no signage directing us. We took a chance and made the wrong turn. By now we were both in a state.  I spotted a cop car coming in our direction, flagged him down and sure enough, he wheeled around, put his siren on and pulled in behind us. By some mystery of magical thinking, I believed this man was wanting to help us, so I hopped out of the car and walked back toward him.

That was my mistake. He became very agitated and aggressive and ordered me back to the car. He then proceeded to tell us that we had driven through a stop sign, past an emergency building and I had also broken the law by getting out of the car. All of those infractions carried a heavy price – 2400 pesos (about CA $170.00). We had two choices – we could go to the judge and plead our case and that might take a couple of days, or he could pay the  fine in the office on our behalf.  He also informed me he wanted to speak to the driver only (Stephen) as I was flapping indignantly in front of him. Stephen told him he wanted to do the most efficient thing, as we just wanted to get out of the country.

We both had plenty of money in various hiding places, but I had US$100 freshly cashed in from our remaining pesos and stashed in my pocket. Stephen helpfully pointed out that we had that sum at our disposal and that was his mistake.

These guys usually score about $10 or $20, if they score anything at all. This cop lit up like a Christmas tree and thought that sum might just help us out of our difficulties.  We followed him down around the corner and pulled in behind him. He produced a “violation book” and pointed out where our transgressions were listed. Since it was written in Spanish and we had already established our knowledge of the language was slight, it could have been a washing machine repair manual for all we knew. He instructed me to put the “fine” in the book,  he closed it up and stuck it in his jacket – as if it had never happened. He made his way back to his car, then instructed us to follow him to the border.

Then came the “If only’s.” If only we had gone straight instead of left.  If only I hadn’t flagged the cop down. If only Stephen hadn’t mentioned a sum of money. If only we had remembered to stay cool. If only we had remembered we were in the right and the cop was in the wrong.  We were caught out when we were vulnerable and frustrated and lost and we paid for it. It took us a while to get over our fury (at the cop and at ourselves) and embarrassment and self-flagellation, but as the late, great Nora Ephron would say, “everything is copy.

If it can become a story, it can become a lesson, and suffice to say, lesson learned.

This has not turned us off Mexico one little bit, but it is a good reminder – as much as we feel comfortable and familiar in Mexico, it is a foreign country and they play by a different rulebook.

Thankfully, our previous day and night in Baja was so delightful that those sweet memories far outweigh the sour taste left from the crooked cop.

Our friends Cindy and Bob are members of Harvest Hosts – https://harvesthosts.com – an organization that allows people to camp on farms and in wineries at no charge, usually for one night. The hope is that you will buy wine or produce from the hosts – an agreeable arrangement for all.

They were staying at L.A. Cetto, Mexico’s largest winery for their last night in Baja and suggested we do the same. We arrived and pulled in to this dreamy spot.

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We set up and went into the winery for a tasting of their reserve wines – three white and three red. This young man Adrian, gave an excellent tasting and was knowledgable and passionate. He is 27 years old and working toward his dream of having his own vineyard one day. He discovered wine while earning his culinary papers and has switched fields. He and his girlfriend (a biologist) want to travel to the Okanagan in Canada and to New Zealand to learn as much as they can about wine production in other parts of the world. We bought two bottles of wine, a Nebbiolo and a Terra ( made from four grape varietals in the area).

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We then went for a walk around the vineyard – it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the light was pure magic.

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Our very last night in Baja was idyllic. We have managed to have a few laughs over our border mishap, or as Stephen chooses to call it, “our special escort out of Mexico.”

We are now in Arizona, in the small town of Ajo and enroute to our first National Park (trying to fit as many in as we can while they are still open) – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  We’re having fun, but after our contact with all the young’uns in Baja with their old camper vans and surfboards and rescue dogs, this is a serious change of pace.

We are in Snowbird Country, or as we like to say, “No Country for Young Men.” Lots to report – see you again in a few days.

 

 

14 thoughts on “La Mordida – the Bribe

  1. james berlett February 9, 2019 / 10:04 pm

    That was a very interesting read Ginny! You are so descriptive and articulate. You have a real gift!and should write a book! Guess it (la mordita)was bound to happen as it has to so many of us. But thankfully you came out of it relatively unscathed, and with so many other redeeming memories. Really love reading your blogs. We’re enjoying lovely Loreto now, staying in the Romanita campground. Weather cool but still warmer than Ontario! Take ❤ care. Hugs to you both from Jim and Lynda

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 10, 2019 / 8:07 am

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying our blog – thank you! I’m curious to hear your story of La Mordida and how you handled it. I didn’t mention it in the blog, but he had a young partner with him, and that police officer looked very uncomfortable. By no means are all Mexican cops crooked, but there’s no way to tell who is honest – corruption is woven into the system.

      Lucky you in Loreto – it is about 15 degrees cooler than normal here in Arizona – down to zero at night. Have fun!

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  2. Garry Davey February 10, 2019 / 10:50 am

    Hi you two, sorry to hear about the “bite” taken out of your wallet, though no doubt there are plenty of stories with much less favourable outcomes. And a few glasses of wine will help sweeten the taste of the encounter. I’m really enjoying following along with you, I agree with Jim, you’re an excellent story teller, Ginny, a wordsmith extraordinaire! Happy easy days in Arizona and the rest of the way. Fingers crossed that the gov’t will come to its senses and the parks stay open! Cheers, Garry

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 10, 2019 / 7:25 pm

      Thanks Garry, for being a good friend and following our blog. We too are hoping the parks will remain open. We have to think the optics of robbing over 800,000 Americans of their income – again – will change this game, but we are in different times. We spoke to a Park Ranger yesterday – he and his colleagues are so fed up and our travel plans positively pale next to their need to work and pay their bills.

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  3. Lyn Morris February 10, 2019 / 12:50 pm

    Hi
    Ginny & Stephen.
    I so enjoy your blogs which have been forwarded to me by your Mom. What an adventure that was with the Mexican Police. You got bit ! Thankfully you are safe and now enjoying a different part of the world. You are an excellent writer and your photography is very good. Keep them coming.
    Lyn Morris, Langley, B.C.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 10, 2019 / 7:28 pm

      Thanks so much for following us, Lyn – we so appreciate it. You’re darn right – we got seriously “bit.” The thing with the mordida is you can’t be sure you’re going to work it in your favour, and the game is so tiresome. Not to mention – it is highly illegal to bride a police officer. Poor Mexico – they have such a web to work through.

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  4. Danielle February 10, 2019 / 1:37 pm

    Enjoyed your cops story!!we had the same encounter in Argentina, but we lost only 50$..
    Thanks for all those fascinating stories and pixs of Mexico!!!
    Have a safe trip in the US!!
    Enjoy the sunny weather!! it is pooring with …snow on Gabriola!!
    All the best
    Danielle
    +

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 10, 2019 / 7:31 pm

      Danielle – here we are in southern Arizona and moaning because it goes down to around zero at night. Apparently these temps are about 10-15 degrees lower than normal.

      Still… this is the third winter in a row on Gabriola that has so much more snow and low temps than normal. Yes..happy to be here.

      We’re travelling safe in the US – still watching our speed and the stop signs!

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  5. Heather Scott February 11, 2019 / 9:47 am

    So sorry to hear about your “issue” with the Mexican police; but, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t as bad as it might have been, considering other stories I have heard. Let’s hope for better luck from here on in🤞

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 11, 2019 / 2:28 pm

      Thanks Heather – there is a lot to be said for keeping your wits about you! We were just 5 minutes from leaving Mexico…

      We know enough to keep our speed down in the U.S. – we’ve supported the local economy here more than once, but so far – no bribes involved!

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  6. Joan Fisher February 14, 2019 / 2:41 am

    I see I’m reading these last two blogs in the wrong order. Oops! I would have been scared to death in that situation, and I don’t think Terry would be much better. The scary thing is that if the cop had been honest, he could get you for bribery. Sigh! The downsides of travel. Glad it turned out “sort of” ok.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 15, 2019 / 5:46 pm

      Our problem was we lost our cool. I had read so much about these situations – seasoned travellers know exactly what to do and they have faced it many times before. I asked someone in Baja if she had ever been stopped for a bribe and she laughed. It’s a way of life – the cop plays his part and you play yours. You stay calm and polite and don’t provoke him. Eventually he gives up. If he gets 10% of his victims to pay, it’s a good day.

      The thing is, if we had been pulled over for a real infraction, we would have been handed a ticket with instructions of how to pay and/or protest the fine. There would be no mention of a sum of money or of a way of fixing it.

      Next time…

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  7. Linda Whitely February 14, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    Awww…sorry to hear. It does leave a bit of a sour taste but as everyone has been saying….could have been so much worse. Have heard stories of a lot more money and also physical confrontations. So very happy you are both ok.💕Could really relate…that would be me jumping out of the car too. The rest of the post was lovely. Very informative, beautiful and great pics. Big hugs.xoxo

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 15, 2019 / 5:49 pm

      Thanks Linda – I wasted a couple of days feeling really annoyed about it, but it’s one for the books now. Yes, jumping out of our car and running toward a police car is not the smartest thing I’ve done recently.

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