So Mira and I decided to walk the three kilometers back to El Panchan from the Palenque archaeology site in Southern Mexico rather than pay a dollar each to take a taxi van. It was a nice walk through some agricultural farm land in the jungle of Chiapas state. I was walking around looking at the birds and the trees and the big blue Mexican sky. Needless to say, I was minding my business when this little tiny twenty something year old Mexican man in a tight blue police academy t-shirt walked from down the road and affronts me on the path that I was walking on.
post written about events near El Panchan, Mexico- early May 2008
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“What is in your bottle?” He asked me in his native Spanish out of nowhere.
I was carrying a water bottle, and water was clearly what was inside of it.
“Agua,” I replied with a slight bite to my voice. I do not like being accosted with stupid questions while trying to enjoy a jungle.
“What is in your pocket?” the guy continued with his interrogation.
“F’ off” I said in English and started to walk away. I did not know who this guy was and I was not going to disclose how unexciting the contents of my pockets were to just anyone.
He followed me.
“You have to show me what is in your pocket! I am the police,” the plain clothes Mexican said in Spanish.
He was small. We were in the middle of the jungle. I was not going to show him anything. So I wave my hand at him in a ’shoe-fly’ kind of motion and keep walking on.
He stops Mira, and she actually listened to him. I became annoyed with Mira for not punching this guy in the face.
“I need to see what is in his pocket! I need to see what is in his pocket! I am the police,” begged the little Mexican, seemingly a touch insecure about his authority.
“Just show him what is in your pocket so he will go away!” Mira yelled up to me.
I let out a loud sigh and returned to where the little plain clothes Mexican, who was assuming the roll of an undercover cop, and Mira were standing on the path along the road leading from the Palenque archaeology site.
I then ripped out the little moleskin notebook as well as my ticket to see the Palenque ruins out of the front pocket of my jeans. I waved these articles in the face of the diminutive Mexican, and then stuffed them back in my pocket as I turned to leave this goon in my dust. I assumed strongly that this guy was not a police officer, and I failed to understand why Mira had not punched him in the face yet.
I began walking away. I thought to myself that Mira can stay there talking to this phony cop all day if she wants to, but I was getting out of there.
“What is in your bag? You must show me what is in your bag!” the cop yelled after me.
“F’off!” I yelled back. I was annoyed.
Mira started yelling at him.
I started yelling at Mira.
I saw a park ranger check point ahead and made a break for it. Even though the presence of authoritative infrastructure means little in regards to justice in Mexico, I figured that if I was going to be arrested, I wanted to be taken into custody by someone who was a little bigger than the tiny young “cop” who decided to ruin my walk with his stupid questions.
Mira finaly told the tiny goon to go chase himself, and she then quickly followed after me. She had also grown tired of that little man. Our actions made it apparent that we were no longer respecting his authority, so he called out after us that we had his “permission” to leave and waved goodbye.
We then walked passed the park ranger checkpoint without incident, and looked back to notice that the “cop” actually went inside of the building. Maybe he really was a police officer.
Mira and I then returned to our little cabana at El Panchan. We had to drink two big beers to rid ourselves of the lingering memory of that annoying altercation.
In Mexico – or anywhere else in the world for that matter – I have come to the conclusion that the police are not my friend.
If I have not done anything wrong, and a police officer tries to accost me, then I must assume that he is not up to any good. If I cooperate with him, then no-good will be done to me, if I don’t, then at least I have a chance to get away.
I have been attacked and/or harassed by the police in Argentina, Uruguay, and Nicaragua. Sometimes the police really were undercover, sometimes they were not. But unless there were guns pointed at me, as they were in Nicaragua, I did not cooperate with their orders. In all situations I was just walking down the street – nothing more. One time I fought two undercover cops hard and got away, another time I slip away and was later caught and beaten up in a supermarket. If a cop accosts me out of nowhere, I am at least going to give him a run for his money, for in these situations, it seems as if i have nothing to loose by doing so.
In every and any country, the police are corrupt. A traveler has no bigger obstacle than a plain clothes “cop” in the middle of the jungle.
When I first began traveling in South America in the year 2000, an Ecuadorian woman gave me some really good advice:
She said that, “If you have not done anything wrong and the police try to get you, then run. Run to the nearest embassy. The police will rape you.”
I pass this advice along, because I have found it to be true:
The police of Mexico are not your friend.
And I still think Mira should have punched that little cop in the face.
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