Corruption is (hopefully) not the first thing you think about when you think about Latin America, but everybody knows it is happening here. Before we arrived here, we were a bit worried about it expecting to encounter it all the time. But all the way from Mexico to Colombia we didn’t have to deal with corruption once. Every customs agent or police officer treated us correct. Usually also friendly and helpful, every now and then less so, but being unfriendly is of course not the same as being corrupt. At most borders there was some kind of warning poster about corruption or there was a sign saying the services were free of charge. At police checkpoints (there are a lot here, it’s completely normal to be stopped, especially if you have a different coloured license plate like us) we were usually asked for our papers. Often before we could give them, they also asked us where we were from and where we were going. And often they then forgot about wanting to see papers and started to give us (unnecessary) directions, telling us about another “must see” place of interest or they would mention a Dutch footballer or something. After the conversation we were told to go, while waving at us and they never saw the papers. We always found this to be not only kind but also funny :). We get the impression that countries are trying to get rid of the negative image of corruption, although locals have told us that we also get treated differently because we are tourists. I guess it’s a little of both.

Traffic police in Ecuador

Nevertheless we have taken some precautions. We both have very good plastic (not laminated paper) colour copies of our drivers license and also one of our car registration. These copies are really good and here nobody knows what a Dutch drivers license exactly looks like. So far these copies have been accepted as originals without question, even at the border when getting our temporary import permit for the car. We keep the originals safely in a hidden compartment. Because Kilian is usually driving and the van is in his name he also has a paper copy of his passport in front, which is obviously a copy but the police accepts this as well. We also have digital photos of our passports on our phones for when we leave the van. So except for border crossings our passports also remain in a safe place.

Recently we were driving in the South of Ecuador between Cuenca and Loja, when we were stopped at a police checkpoint. It was the middle of the day and there was quite a bit of traffic. There were 6 police officers, working on both sides of the road. Two police officers came to our car which we had to park on the side of the road so other (lucky) drivers could continue their journey. Kilian gave them his drivers license and the car registration. They then took these papers out of our sight to the back of the van. Knowing that these are copies means we are not concerned at all. We expected them to give these back and tell us to drive on as always. We knew we had done nothing wrong and they don’t have radar guns or something. However they didn’t give back the papers but asked Kilian to come out of the car. I stayed inside. We figured they wanted to know what’s underneath the bicycle cover. Well they did start talking about the bicycle rack… Apparently it was illegal to transport bikes like this and we would need a special permit… Kilian told them that we have been transporting the bikes like this for years and have been in Ecuador for almost three months without any mention of it and it also wasn’t a problem at the border where they checked the car and gave us the TIP. They then started to point out all the cars that were driving by without a bicycle rack (in the middle of the week and without a cycling opportunity nearby) as if the lack of a bicycle rack on other cars made ours illegal… Kilian pointed out that during the weekend we have seen many people transporting their bikes in much the same way. They insisted that it was illegal and we would get a fine for it. And in order to write the fine they wanted Kilian’s passport. Kilian gave them the black and white copy but they demanded the original. Kilian then told them that he didn’t trust the situation and he wasn’t going to give them his original passport. He also started to write down the name and number of the one police officer that had this printed on his uniform. This led them to back down a bit although at first they said he would also get a fine for not having a passport. But after some more talking they decided that a warning was enough and gave back the papers. It is of course a bit difficult to write an official fine for a fake violation. So after about 20 minutes we could drive on.

The “illegal” bike rack…

All this time I had been waiting in the car. At first I wasn’t worried but when I heard Kilian’s voice change from relaxed to a bit stressed, I wasn’t sure what to do. Get out of the car and support Kilian so he wouldn’t have to deal with it alone or stay in the car and therefore have more control over the car and everything in it? Of course I would lock the car when leaving it but it would be quite easy to take the keys from me, it’s not like I am going to fight off two police officers. Afterwards we talked about it. Kilian would have liked the support but agreed with my decision to stay in the car to keep control over the vehicle. We also agreed that if we don’t trust the whole situation as soon as we are stopped, he won’t be getting out of the car either. In this case there was no risk of actual violence with so many people around in broad daylight. And if they insist on seeing the original passport, next time we will hold it up behind a closed window, you don’t need to hold our passport to look at it. But lets hope there isn’t a next time, not just for us but also because I find it such a sad state of affairs if you can’t even trust the people who are supposed to protect and serve.

And we later checked and our bike rack is indeed perfectly legal.

6 thoughts on “Corruption”

  1. Wat een avontuur. Dit lijkt me bijzonder spannend. Gelukkig hebben jullie dit al die tijd nog niet eerder meegemaakt. En wat een goede voorzorgsmaatregelen hebben jullie genomen. Complimenten!
    Hoe is het verder? Hier kabbelt alles een beetje voort en voor nu vind ik dat wel prima. Bedankt voor deze blog, ik kijk al weer uit naar de volgende. Groetjes! Ilona

    • Hoi Ilona,

      Bedankt voor het compliment! Altijd leuk om iets te horen van volgens mij onze trouwste lezer 😉 Fijn dat bij jullie alles goed gaat. Zodadelijk ga ik de volgende blog posten;)


  2. Dat was dus weer een heftige ervaring bij die controle. En je weet nooit hoe ze zullen reageren. Qua veiligheid was het goed dat er zoveel mensen in de buurt waren. Je maakt steeds weer iets anders mee. Hopelijk blijft het jullie bespaard voor de rest van de reis.

    • Ja, het lastige bij corruptie is dat ze naar geld vissen, maar dat geld aanbieden aan een ambtenaar (omkopen) strafbaar is. dus… gewoon rustig aan uitzitten. Zoals anderen ook ervaren hebben, geven ze het na een tijdje op.

  3. Wat spannend allemaal. Goed dat je je poot stijf bent blijven houden, Kilian!!
    Wat ‘n avontuur! 👍🍀🌷

    • ja, we zijn natuurlijk niet de enigen die zoiets meemaken, maar uitstralen dat je alle tijd hebt helpt vaak wel. En respectvol blijven. zodat ze zich er fatsoenlijk zelf uit kunnen lullen zonder gezichtsverlies.


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