Comayagua, Honduras 16 Nov 05
Odometer 10,026 m 16,135 km

Few people in Latin America put much stock in their government--and even less in their police force. Infamously corrupt and forever out to administer the law as it suits them, the average guy on the street would often rather deal with criminals than those who are supposed to serve and protect. But my experience reveals that, like most stereotypes, corruption is less prevalent than legend foretells.

Nevertheless, I knew it was simply a matter of time before the bad apples caught up to me, and I too was forced to play their game of cat and mouse. Pay now and go on your way, or go directly to jail where you’ll likely rot in a dark and filthy cell. The choice is clear--maybe.

For this reason I took a number of proactive steps before even leaving the United States. First off, I used my
Mac to create some great-looking fake drivers licenses and vehicle registrations--plural. I doubt they would fool a Colorado State Patrolman, but they looked official enough to fool just about anyone else. Next, I gathered together a few lightweight and low-cost trinkets, including postcards from home, since often it’s not about money, it’s about getting something for nothing while exerting control. Finally, I studied up on other travelers’ strategies.
policia guatemala
It’s unwise to argue with a guy holding a machine gun, so conventional wisdom holds that you can play it one of two ways: smart or dumb.

Smart-school adherents choose to confront the bad cop with rules and regulations, asking for the name of their boss and demanding written receipts for every levied fine. By doing so, they hope the officer will back off out of fear of reprisal from his superiors, once he’s exposed.

The dumb-school has an entirely different approach, no less worthy, wherein they profess to speak
no Spanish--or any other method of communication. If they can’t understand the charge, how can they understand the fine or the process for paying it? Dealing with them is so annoying and time-consuming that crooked cops often give up in order to look for someone from whom payment is more easily extracted.

On the 16th of November at exactly 10:53 AM, somewhere south of Comayagua, the Honduran Special Police, easily identified by their blue-grey camouflage uniforms, ordered
me alone out of a line of maybe a hundred vehicles to pull to the side of the road and stop. Let the games begin.

I sort of pride myself on being able to talk my way out of just about anything, so now we’d see how well I could do--in Spanish. While the lucky vehicles filed past, chuckling I’m sure at the fate of the
gringo about to be had, I nervously turned El Viento off and flipped up my full-face helmet.

“Buenos dias,” I sprightly called out.

“De donde esta viene?” (Where are you coming from) the officer barked in reply.

I launched into my story about traveling all-the-way-from-Alaska-on-my-way-to-Argentina, hoping his intrigue with my adventure might earn me some sympathy points.

Unimpressed, he continued without emotion, “What’s in the boxes?”
My high-tech-looking aluminum panniers seem to garner more interest than has the bike itself. They appear to be for the purpose of transporting something very important, even when right now they’re holding nothing more than stale bagels, dirty laundry, and a two-month old issue of Newsweek. When I finally convinced them that I hauled no contraband they let me go.

I have to say I was a little disappointed. It all seemed too easy, especially after reading so many horror stories. But it didn’t take long before I got a second chance.

As I approached the Nicaraguan border a few hours later, I was stopped again by two transit cops who were clearly on the take. All right, I thought, now I can really test my theory. See, unlike the Smart crowd, who likes to feign control in an uncontrollable situation, and differing from the Dumb crowd, who likes to relinquish all control, I saw a third way.

I think most people are less likely to screw someone they
like, so my plan called for simply being an overtly nice, friendly guy. If I was right, and could cajole them with humor and interest in my Journey, I’d be allowed to proceed on my way. If I was wrong, it could be an expensive--or dark and filthy--mistake.

“Pasaporte, registro y licencia,” the officer in dark glasses demands.

It’s show time.

I hand over my
fake ID’s in case they want to hold them until I pay the fine. I then launch into a heart-warming story about my grand, solo trek, smiling all the while they’re checking my papers and inspecting my rig. I talk about the great people of Honduras and how wonderful my time there has been. And I top it all off with what a bummer it is to be heading into Nicaragua, of all places, knowing that nationalist pride is alive and well in soccer-loving Central America.

Finally, I shut up. You could have heard a tropical butterfly flap its wings. Everyone just stood there, motionless.

Then, apparently deciding I just wasn’t the guy to rip off today, the commanding officer broke his stony grimace. As his widening smile exposed a gold tooth to gleam in the sunlight, he handed me back my faux papers and chortled,
“vaya bien."

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