On my very first flight to Brazil, back in 2008, when I went to visit the country for the first time, I had a Brazilian guy sitting next to me, and he just couldn’t shut up about how corrupt the police in Brazil is. He had quite a few stories about his encounters with the law but I have to admit that at that time, I took the guy’s stories with a grain of salt.
In the mean time I’ve been pulled over quite a few times during my travels across Brazil in the past 2,5 years, and a few times I was lucky to escape with no fine and no bribes – like the one time when I came riding into Volta Redonda with a 25 liter jerry-can with diesel on the roof of my car because the fuel pump broke down…
Yesterday, it was “dia nacional do Motociclista” (day of the motorcyclist) here in Brazil and the weather was great, so I just had to go for an afternoon ride. In the spur of the moment, I took off on one of the 4 XT660′s, and 20 minutes later, at a gas station, I realized that I had the document of another bike with me . I didn’t think it was going to be a problem and continued my ride.
Already on my way back home, I had to pass a station of the “Polícia Rodoviária”. You know Murphy’s law? Right, I got pulled over. Just what I needed on the “Dia do Motociclista”.
I turned off the engine, took my helmet off and gave the guy a friendly “boa tarde”. He started with a compliment about the bike, and told me he also was into “trilha de moto”, and that made me more at ease. I thought if I could strike up a nice conversation with the guy, he would eventually just let me go without even asking my documents… that had worked a few times before. Piece of cake. Ha!
I managed to keep talking about bikes, traveling and accidents for about 10 minutes, but eventually his face turned serious and he asked me to show him my documents. I immediately told him that I had a document on me, but that it was from one of the other bikes. (that was probably a mistake, but what the hell ).
He invited me me into his office and I noticed that he was all alone there. I remember asking myself if this was a good thing or not. When it would come down to me paying him a bribe, it could be a good thing because he would have the loot all for himself and so I could get off the hook paying less.
He took the phone, but to me didn’t look as if he was really making a call. He said something about nobody picking up on the other side, and then laid down the law, which came down to this: if I couldn’t come up with the correct document, he would have to confiscate my bike…
At that point I was still not too worried. I asked him what that would mean practically. Would I have to pay a fine to get the bike back? How would this work? He then told me that the bike would be taken to a lot in Taubaté, because there was no place to keep bikes at the station, and that I would not only have to pay a fine, but also the tow truck to Taubaté and some other costs… the figure of 1.000R$ started dancing before my eyes… bloody expensive for a simple document mix-up if you ask me.
Ok! Now I was starting to get worried… Taubaté is about 200 km from Volta Redonda, so it would be quite an ordeal to get the bike back, not to mention the costs… so I asked him if there was no way he could let me off the hook, you know, us both being motorcycle enthusiasts and all.
I could see that he was kind of nervous as well. He was hesitating to write anything down, picking up and laying down the phone, and he kept saying things like: “ok, what are we going to do now?”, “do you want me to do my job?” “it would be really shitty if you would have to go home without your bike, wouldn’t it?”
A teacher of my guide course once told me NEVER to start talking to a police officer about paying him to avoid getting a fine, and CERTAINLY not in the state of São Paulo, but this guy was giving me so many signals that I didn’t have another choice.
I asked him: “So what do you mean? I pay you “um cafézinho” and you let me move on?”. He nodded his head and said “But this has to stay within these four walls, ok? I don’t want any bullshit”. (ok, so whoever is reading this… please keep this for yourself, capiche?)
Right, so now I knew that at least there was a way out of this mess… The question remaining now was: How much do I pay him? I offered him 50 R$ (about 35 Usd), but I immediately saw that he wasn’t happy with that. He said something like “Is that what it is worth to you? I’m really doing you a big favor here. Imagine you having to go pick up your bike in Taubaté, not to mention the fact that it is probably going to be damaged or missing a few parts”. I added another 50 R$ bill and told him that I didn’t have any more (yeah, right… that was a lie ) and he said: “Tudo bem”.
He took the money, and then he warned me to be careful because there was another checkpoint further down the road and they would pull me over again. I told him I was planning to take another way home. Then we shook hands (like good friends) and I left, pissed at myself for being so stupid, but on the other hand happy to be able to ride home on my bike rather than having to hitchhike…
Unfortunately this kind of practice still seems to be very common in Brazil, and from what I heard, all over South America. I have a post on this blog with tips for independent travelers, and one of the tips is to carry enough cash to pay for toll and in some cases gasoline when they don’t accept cards.
When you are driving a vehicle that has, well, some flaws, you should also have enough cash to get out of situations like these. I have already seen a few of these places where they store confiscated bikes (see pictures), waiting to be auctioned, and it isn’t pretty. A lot of Brazilians can’t come up with “cafézinho” money, let alone the money to pay the fine and the extra costs and so their bike gets auctioned… just like that. Sad but true.
In my case… I should have turned back and gotten the correct document when I had the chance. I played and lost… I fucked up and paid the price… I learned another lesson and the cop made an easy 100 R$. Everybody happy!
Feliz Dia do Motociclista!!