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Friday, March 22, 2013

A Trip with Granny's Cousins - Part 1

My friend ‘Granny’ from Nashville…oops, sorry….Nashvull, Tinnissee had family coming to Ecuador for the first time.  Mahmaw, her 2nd cousin, and her two kids Maddy-Mae (15) and Opie (14) flew into Guayaquil late Friday night.  Granny went down to meet them and stay with them in a hostal for their first night in EC.   I followed early the next morning to pick them up and all of us headed off to Puerto Lopez on the coast.
It was a new route I hadn’t traveled before and, for that part, it went off without a hitch.   Well…until I got pulled over at the border of the provinces of Guayas and Manabi.  The crossing was 100 meters in front of us.   I didn’t think anything of it at first because I’ve been stopped by Ecuadorian police checkpoints many times in the past.  It’s common here.  They check for proper vehicle paperwork.   However, in the Guayas province they have much more technology aboard their vehicles.  After officer A. Sanchez  asked me for all my papers (passport, cedula (EC Id), drivers license, matricula (vehicle registration), SOAT (EC insurance) he proceeded to show me on his pad device that I was past due 2 years car registration fees, totaling $374.   I didn’t know a thing about it because my matricula specifically states it expires in 2014.  So, if I registered my car when I bought it, and paid fees at that time, and I’m handed a slip of paper that says it doesn’t expire until 2014, why would I ever think I owe something annually?   Apparently, we’re supposed to pay some fee on an annual basis.
Ok, so I needed to correct the matter, right?   Mind you, the entire conversation between the officer and I (me?) was in Spanish.  None of the other 4 people in the car spoke Espanol.   And, it was about noon on a Saturday.   He informed me I could not be allowed to proceed….to cross into the next province.  I offered to turn around and go back to the last town not far away and pay at the bank (where most fees in EC have to be paid).   He said ‘no’, the bank was closed.   Hmmm, I thought….don’t they close at 1pm?   Later, I verified they indeed were open til 1pm.  I also asked why I never had any problem with the other dozen or more times I’ve been road-checked by police?  He told me the only way I could proceed was to go back to the previous town, park the car (aka impound) and the 4 others could proceed on a bus while I stayed behind until Monday.   GRRRRRR    I tried to strike a ‘nice nerve’ in his body by telling him the mother and 2 kids just arrived in EC and this was their very first day here and we had reservations in Puerto Lopez.   Didn’t care.   He seemed nice enough, smiling, not being rude but I was beginning to notice a smugness in his demeanor.
Of all the documents I handed him, all were copies EXCEPT my drivers license.  He did some waving of hands and went back to his vehicle where his partner was sitting in the drivers seat.   I didn’t know what he meant or wanted us to do.  But, he still had my original USA drivers license.   So, I walked back to his car and asked him if I could pay him the $374 so we could proceed.   He said $250.   Huh?   It boiled down to him extorting $250 out of me to let me proceed.  Payola.   He was holding my original drivers license as hostage.  He billed it as a ‘fine’ or ‘ticket’ but he never gave me a ticket.   I went back to my car and, luckily, had $250 on me.   I folded it, walked back to the driver, and handed it to him through his window.  He never counted it…just tucked it away.  I asked if they were going to give me a receipt.  Nope.  GRRRRRR   I asked them what if police down the road somewhere pull me over…how would they know I paid the ‘fine’?  They said the transit police in other provinces don’t have their level of technology (to run a check on a license plate while on the road) so they would never know I was past due.   In hindsight, I later realized that anyone looking at the paper copy of my matricula should be able to tell it is out of date because it says 2011 on it (though it has 2014 expiration).  Who knows how I ever got through all the other past road checkpoints.

We proceeded on our way.   $250 over budget.


We spent two nights in PL where we took a near-all-day trip to the Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast via a 1 hour+ boat trip, commonly referred to as the Poor Mans Galapagos.  More on that in Part II.   While there, I decided to make a photocopy of my drivers license so the only documents I would relinquish to the police would be COPIES….no originals.
Our next stop was Montanita….a hip surfer-dudes beach town about an hour south of PL.   Just as we were closing in on Montanita, the cops pulled me over AGAIN!!!   Still in the same province, same technology.   I immediately told Granny to take my pad and pen and jot down whatever observations she could such as the officers name, badge number, facial features, etc.   And, Mahmaw whipped out her trusty I-phone to do what she could from the back seat, such as snap photos, take notes, etc.  I wanted the officer to take note that WE were taking notes!!!!
The first officer who came up to my car had the same issue….their computer said I was past due.   I gave officer O. Junco all the requisite documents….all copies… no originals.   I told him the story of the previous officers extorting $250 out of me.  He reacted surprised.   I explained, at the time, it was a Saturday  which is why I couldn’t pay.  He beckoned the other officer from the car and switched places with him….muttering something to him as they passed each other.   As the other officer approached my car, he zipped up his jacket.  We could no longer see his name or badge.  This, in hot/humid weather.  He kept repeating himself over and over about the fact I had a past due registration.  He asked for my original drivers license.    AH HA!!!   I said I didn’t have it (liar)…that I never carry the originals of any of my documents because it is ‘muy peligroso’ (very dangerous) because of ‘ladrones’ and ‘robados’ (crooks and robberies).   That took the wind out of his sail.  He had no leverage against me and, ultimately, let us proceed.   I told him I would pay in Salinas because there were no banks in Montanita.   GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

By this time, our nerves were on edge every time we saw a cop along the road.  Will we get pulled over AGAIN??
We checked into our rooms in Montanita.  They had no A/C and it was very humid.   NOT my cup of tea.   The others went out to swim while I laid sprawled across my bed miserably trying to get cool and comfortable.  Nothing worked.  I finally leaped off the bed with the idea to drive in my AC’d car 50 miles south to Salinas to pay my debit.  But, before I left, I went out to a large mud puddle in the parking lot and flung mud all over my car (which was already very dirty from the trip beforehand) and purposely made both license plates difficult to read.   In Salinas, I stood in line at the bank with 25 people ahead of me to pay my debt.   Then, I drove the other 50 miles back to Montanita with receipt in hand in case any other @#%U^&! attempted to pull any s__t on me.
$624 over budget
Here’s a few suggestions for my readers to heed should you drive in EC:
  • NEVER carry originals of any of your documents (Cedula, Passport, Drivers License, SOAT, Matricula, etc)
    • You only need originals of some of these documents for immigration purposes such as crossing borders
  • Take note (jot down, take a photo, record voice, etc) of the officer’s name and badge number and any other identifiable characteristics as well as the license plate # off their vehicle.  Preferably, have a passenger do this.
    • If they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, this will likely make them back off as they don’t want to be reported
  • Make sure your car registration is paid current, even if it’s a rental car
  • IF you should have to pay payola, do it publicly, out in the open.   If I had my wits about me, I would have handed those cops each bill, one at a time, through their window and into their greedy hands, so passersby could clearly see money was being exchanged.
  • Try to not understand what the officer is saying.   If you don’t speak/understand Spanish (even though you might) the officer won’t be able to convey an ‘offer’ to let you go in exchange for $$$.  He will get frustrated, but probably give up.
  • Know the emergency phone #’s for the area you are.  Most of EC is becoming standardized.   911 is emergency, 101 is Police.   If you are able, have someone dial the police #.   Ask if anyone speaks English.  Try to convey to the party on the other end that you are being extorted by police along the roadside.  Tell them whatever info about the officer you were able to gleen.
    • Again, If they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, this will likely make them back off as they don’t want to be found out
  • Know the terminology:
    • Multa = Fine
    • Citacion = Citation
    • Extorcion = Extortion
    • Soborno = Bribery
    • Coima = Payola
    • Billete = Ticket
    • Recibo = Receipt
  • If they want money, tell them to write you a ticket (or citation). They
    won't want to do this as it would cause a record to be accounted for.
    • Escribeme un citacion (or billete).
  • If you are paying money, demand a receipt.
    • Escribeme un recibo.
  • If they refuse to write a ticket and/or give you a receipt, then you are being extorted. Tell them extortion is illegal, no bribery.
    • Senor Sanchez (name from badge) Extorcion is illegal, no soborno!!
  • Even though these may seem confrontational, it will make them back off because you have shown them you are onto them, have recorded information about them, and they don't want to lose their jobs. They will move on to the next culprit who'll, hopefully, be weaker and more easily intimidated than you.
Hmmm....makes me wonder.  Given all the flack I've received about being an Ugly American, go back where I came from, blah, blah, blah...is this where I'm supposed to bow down (or is it bend over?) because I'm constantly told I'm a guest here (even though I'm a legal resident, voted, pay taxes, etc)  and I should just adapt to the EC ways and not try to change things?   Is this where I should appreciate their culture and continue to uphold and support their ways because it's always been that way and NO ONE can change it unless an Ecuadorian changes it?
I'm just askin.

Stay tuned for Part II
My friend Mano....errr....Granny

Officer O. Junco, Ecuador's finest (at extorting money)


  1. i think you should post this amazing and well written article on the Gringo tree chat line. It made me sick.

    1. The above comment was sent by me, Larry in TX who got a lot of hate mail because I asked about GLBT acceptance there a while back.

  2. WOW Dano!!!! Your Karma sucks. Let us buy you drinks and dinner... name the time and place. Amazing story!

  3. Dan, I always enjoy your postings but this one stinks ! You owe it to yourself to make this public. Gringo tree and newspapers, local and nationwide. I would even go a step further by sending a formal complaint to the Minister of the Interior and to the Minister of Relaciones Etranjeras. For sure this was not the first time this happens and many others must have experienced the same before you. Go for it man, you'll feel better and so will we. Even if you cannot substantiate it, it will be an eye opener for the authorities (!?) and eventually something will be done ! Mitri

  4. You should send the picture of the Officer and an explanation of what transpired to Correa's office.

  5. Corruption, the only name for what happened, this officer (thief) should be in jail for taking advantage of good people that are just visiting their country to help the economy and bring them revenue!!


  6. Thanks for sharing the tips. Sorry you had to endure such crap. I hope those poor examples of law enforcement officials get busted.

  7. Dano.....I'm prettier than the pic.

  8. My wife and I stayed at your apartment in Cuenca in January. We were driving our rental car through Guayaquil and were pulled to the side by officers that wore uniforms similar to the one you pictured. They said our rentals licence plates were not permanent but temporary. We do not speak spanish so this conversation was frustrating for both sides. We put our rental agent in Cuenca on the phone to explain to the officer. After much back and forth passing of the phone we learned from the agent that the officer wanted 100 dollars to let us proceed. I offered him $60 and he smiled and said "Vamos". My story continues much like yours in that we were again pulled over in Puerto Lopez and this time I just kept saying that I didnt speak spanish amd finally got away with paying $40. After having read your bog ,Im beginning to wonder if there isnt some kind of communications between certain officers in that area about incoming tourists. Heck of a coincidence !!!

  9. Excellent post and excellent tips on dealing with police. Much appreciated. My husband and I are considering Ecuador (along with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama) as a retirement spot. This seems to be a common problem in all of them. We have much more research to do but I hear what you’re sayin’, when do you stop being a gringo with a target on your forehead?
    PS. Love your blog!

  10. Dear Mr Dan:

    La Comisión de Tránsito del Ecuador needs to contact you to talk about the extortion case that you`ve being through with one of our officers in Ecuador, we are deeply sorry for this situation, therefore, we most investigate this case, to improve and erradicate actions of corruption that exist in the Institution.

    Our e-mails for contact are:

    jalvarado@cte.gob.ec and cfebrescordero@cte.gob.ec

  11. Dano, what's your name in Twitter? I will report this with the Police, and would like to tag you there. I see that someone from CTE has already asked you to contact them, but it is helpful to report it in as many places as possible.


    1. Hi Andres...thanks!

      Twitter?? bwaaahaaahaaa!!! I barely use Facebook!! Lo siento, yo no tengo un cuenta de Twitter.



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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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