On the busy transit road between Belém and Icoacari we encountered a blitz: The police had cordoned off part of the road to pull a large number of vehicles to the side of the road. We were among the chosen ones.

This doesn’t happen often. Most of the time we’ve waved on, and when it does happen the police officers generally ask for our papers and want to chat a bit.

No Beating Around the Bush

This time it was different. A police officer, typically dressed in a dark-colored uniform and with a bulletproof vest, leaned into Coen’s window. He didn’t ask for car papers though.

“Hi there. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Everything okay.”

“So, do you maybe have a donation for me to pay for my lunch?”

We needed a second to register his words. Were we hearing this correctly? Did a government official just ask us for a donation? Straight to the point, without beating around the bush? Was this guy speaking Portuguese? Were we understanding his question?

5x Yes.

“No, I don’t think so,” Coen answered and we both smiled our sweetest smiles.”Okay, please move on then. Have a good journey,” the officer said, slapping with his hand on the Land Cruiser’s bodywork and waving us on.

“Okay, please move on then. Have a good journey,” the officer said, slapping with his hand on the Land Cruiser’s bodywork and waving us on.

How the Story Could Have Gone

Later we talked about the encounter and imagined what could have happened to another traveler, which is how we get these “I have to pay all these bribes in Latin America” blogs on the Internet, with which we cannot identify ourselves at all.

It could have gone something like this:

A police officer leaned into my window.

“Hello, everything okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Everything okay.”

“So, do you maybe have a donation for me to pay for my lunch?”

I understood his question all right and all kinds of thoughts rummaged through my head. This was Brazil, a country known for its corruption and never-ending bureaucracies. I had read enough to know that dissatisfying a police officer could land me in prison or give me enough paperwork to be stuck in this city for a month. 

I realized that if I didn’t pay, he might be calling his colleagues down the road to stop me and fine me, never mind the fact I wouldn’t be breaking any law. And obviously, this would cost me more than this so-called donation for a police officer’s lunch.

Fortunately I had a 10-dollar bill in my pocket. I retrieved it and handed it to the police officer with a smile.

“Sure, no problem,” and could move on.

Having said that, bribery does occur and Drive the Americas has given some very practical tips on how to deal with it.

How have your experiences been with South American police officers? Don’t be discouraged by our imaginative tale, we áre interested in your story (but leave the exaggerated version for a night around the campfire, please).

For more on Road Travel, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

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