How (not) to bribe a Mexican cop

Tulum is uneventful, unless you consider shopping, yoga, food and beach time eventful. I try not to voice my opinion that I feel like I’m stuck in some alternate reality created for tourists, although I frequently fail. We leave for home at 3:45 am on Christmas Eve, filling up the gas tank on the way back. The gas attendants tell us it’s cash only, after we’ve filled the tank. We scramble to ply together the last of our pesos to pay for it, and then roll on. Half an hour later, we get pulled over by a Mexican cop, who tells us we were speeding. I don’t doubt it, and he seems reasonable, almost like he’s about to let us off with a warning. Surely, I think, in the middle of this super-touristy upkept resort strip, he’s not going to do anything weird.

However, the second he gets Collin’s driver’s license, he tells us (specifically me, since nobody else understands him) that we will have to pay the ticket at the police office 20 kilometers away, and it doesn’t open until Monday, and he needs to keep Collin’s license to make sure he pays the fine. We can’t, I tell him, because we’re on the way to the airport and won’t be here on Monday. Well, says the police officer, then maybe just one of you can stay behind to pay the ticket? I shake my finger at him. “No está possible,” I inform him.

At this point, the police officer asks Collin to get out of the car and come back to his car with him. I get out my wallet and survey the pesos we have left: maybe $10 worth, mostly coins, and I’m not sure how much bribing a Mexican police officer runs these days, especially on the resort strip with their gargantuan edifices. Collin opens my door and hisses: “he wants $150 US. And of course nobody carries any cash but me!” Ben hands us a US $20 he has, and Collin takes the wad of small bills. I dump my coin purse into my hands and go to help negotiate; Collin is notoriously shy about any type of haggling, and I have a feeling the cop can sense it. I gesture to the money we have and say, “está todo, está todo,” and Collin shows his empty wallet just to prove it. The cop asks when our flight leaves. “Ahora, ahora,” I say. The cop shrugs reluctantly and says Ok, he’ll take it. I pretend to give him all the coins, although really I only give him some and palm the rest. Meanwhile, he tells me sternly not to speed. “Si,” I say, and jump into the car. “He wouldn’t even write the amount on a piece of paper,” Collin says as we inch away. “He wrote it on his hand, with the peso amount next to it.”

We make it to the airport on time; our flight has been delayed 15 minutes. We make it back to snowy Idaho within 12 hours, and play a certain track from N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton on the way home.

Meanwhile, over the internet, our friends give us advice on how to handle this situation, lots of information, none of it useful unless we decide to revisit a place where bribing police is a thing. Specifically: don’t act like you’re in a hurry. Make small talk. Don’t give them any important documents they can hold hostage; bring photocopies and give them the photocopies. Say “well, how can we fix this?” and offer them the equivalent of $5. Next time I have to bribe a public official, I’ll be sure to keep this in mind.



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