Ralph Jones has learned his lesson: the next time he travels to Mexico, he will not be renting a car.
When the Chilliwack doctor and his wife returned from their most recent trip to Cancun last month, they were left horrified.
On their last day in the vacation hot spot, on their way to the airport, they were stopped twice in a matter of minutes by police officers and had to pay out two sets of bribes in order to stay out of jail.
Jones blames the rental car they were driving.
Rental cars in Mexico have specialized license plates and decals identifying them as rental cars. And in a country rife with corruption, Jones is sure that’s what pegged him off to the police officers.
“The freeway is the only way to the airport,” said Jones. “The cops were obviously prowling for hired cars … they know you’re going to the airport so they can try and up the intensity of their request knowing that you’re more likely to pay them because you’re going to miss your plane.
“It was my bad luck to get stopped twice,” said Jones.
This was the Jones’ 10th trip to the region; they love the country. And while this experience hasn’t jaded them in that love, it has left them never wanting to rent a vehicle in the country again.
“It hasn’t changed our views on the area,” said Jones. “Ordinary Mexicans are great … they go out of their way to help you. All that’s changed is our views on renting a vehicle.”
This was the Jones’ second time renting a vehicle. The first time they rented in Cabo, the car company advised them to stay off the toll roads “because the police wait on the toll roads and take people’s passports, which they’re not allowed to do,” said Jones.
But this time, the only route to the airport was the highway.
The first officer who stopped them said Jones had run a red light, even though there were no traffic lights on the highway.
The officer started writing out a ticket for 2000 pesos, about $200 US, when Jones asked if he’d accept an on-the-spot fine, which often translates into a bribe. Jones paid the officer $50 US and continued on.
“I know [bribes] happen, it’s annoying, but it’s a fact of life in Mexico,” said Jones.
Four minutes later another officer pulled him over, this time for speeding.
“There was absolutely no way I was speeding,” said Jones. “I was being very careful especially after just being stopped.”
Jones said he was also cited for disrespect of a police officer after angrily asking what the problem was when he was pulled over, and was told he’d have to accompany the officer to the police station.
“I’ve heard enough about Mexico and police stations, they’re the last place you want to go,” said Jones. “The prospect of spending time in a police station means bribes throughout, the sergeant, lawyer, cop, and everybody else to get out.”
Again Jones offered to pay an on-the-spot fine, but noted he didn’t have much money.
“He told us we could follow him to a nearby ATM machine,” said Jones, who feared that would lead to an even heftier fine.
“Luckily my wife found $40 that we had in a passport.”
The officer accepted and sent them on their way.
Police extortion is a common occurrence in Mexico. Online travel discussion boards are rife with tourists relaying their experiences of being taken for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars by local police enforcement.
In fact, just this past January, Coquitlam-Mallardville MLA Diane Thorne’s 78-year-old husband was arrested after two motorbikes crashed into his rental car; she had to pay $1,520 US for his release.
And while the Jones’ got away having to pay just $90 US for both bribes, the incident last month left them both shaken.
“Travelers need to be aware,” said Jones.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH MEXICAN POLICE:
• Remain calm and polite
• Record everything
• Ask for the police officer’s name
• Get the officer’s badge number
• Get the officer’s license plate number
• And if possible, avoid renting a car