My cell phone is in a leather case, attached to a lanyard that I wear around my neck. I’ve carried my phone like this for maybe five years. The original case was intended to be worn on a belt so it has a strong metal clip on the backside of the case. I keep my car and motor scooter documents in plastic cases clipped into place behind my cell phone.
I wear my cell phone around my neck so I can hear it when it rings. My hearing loss, even wearing aids in both ears, is fairly significant and in my pocket, I never hear the phone. Keeping the car and scooter documents clipped to the phone around my neck is very practical. Road blocks are a fairly frequent occurrence here in Ecuador and they always check “documentos”.
Yesterday, I had ridden Diane’s motor scooter into Bahia for some shopping and errands. It was a gorgeous day and riding the scooter along the coast and across the bridge into Bahia de Caraquez was pure joy!!! I enjoyed breakfast with friends and completed my shopping while Diane was already busy on a class project. The day was off to a great start. The sun was bright and the sky was brilliantly blue and I could smell the clean salt air blowing off the Pacific.
The Mercado had been busy but the vendors all had good supplies on hand. My regulars saw me coming and were eager to assist, waving me over and greeting me by name. I finished the shopping and continued walking around the market just taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Soon enough, I returned to the scooter. The storage compartment under the seat as well as the small, lockable trunk were both filled with fresh fruits and veggies and two pounds of freshly ground peanut butter as I headed out.
The traffic is always a bit hectic around the market in the mornings with taxis and pedi-cabs all converging to pick up and drop off passengers and vendors. The scooter is perfect for heavy traffic and even better when needing to park.
The squawks and screeches of live chickens headed to market blended with frequently honking horns, dogs barking, whistles and good natured bantering between friends on opposite sides of the street. Explosions of color filled the booths of the flower vendors spilling onto the sidewalk and several tiny and very old indigenous women wearing traditional hats and shawls decorated the backdrop with wrinkled, toothless faces that belonged on the cover of National Geographic. The powerful smells of the sea blended with the aroma of freshly-baked bread as the fish vendors and bakers offered their goods mere feet from each other. One’s senses could easily become overwhelmed with the richness of the experience.
As I crossed the bridge back into San Vicente,loving the warm breeze on my face, I wasn’t surprised to see a roadblock ahead. Both the northbound and southbound lanes were blocked by police in their typical fashion. They waved many cars and motos through, selecting some to pull over and check. As I approached, I was waved to the side of the road where three officers waited.
They asked for my documents which I quickly pulled from the clip on my neck lanyard. My documents are in perfect order. Usually, this is all they want to see. Not today. Next, they asked for my driver’s license…which I had. Then they wanted to see my passport or cedula (national ID card) which I also had and presented. Then, they asked me to dismount from the scooter and they proceeded to frisk me for weapons. Next, they told me to open the storage compartments of the scooter, which they searched thoroughly, sifting through my fruits and veggies. Finding nothing out of order, they returned my documents and dismissed me to get reorganized and be on my way.
Probable cause for the stop and search? Nah….not required here. On several occasions as I have been waved through these roadblocks, I have noted others being searched and still others being handcuffed. Apparently, these roadblocks do snag a few. But here’s the thing. The system of justice here can be tough to navigate, particularly if you are a foreigner. It has only been in the past few years that the legal system has begun to move from “guilty until proven innocent” to “innocent until proven guilty” and it is a slow process!
After I was once again on my way, I allowed for a bit of daydreaming. What if they had found something or…planted something. It’s been known to happen. My experience would have been much different. Gringos here are sometimes perceived as wealthy and in fact, compared to much of the population, we are even if retired. I don’t mind parting with the occasional $5-$10 roadside “fine” paid directly to a police officer to clear up a minor perceived infraction. But I don’t want to have to ever deal with something like going to jail. Not here. Not anywhere!
As I was relating my experience to Diane when I returned home, I recalled that of the three officers who conducted my stop and search, one was clearly the senior officer to the other two. Perhaps it was a training exercise. Or maybe it was just the normal routine and I just drew the “search” card. What I do know for sure is that driving a vehicle here in Ecuador is far different from driving a vehicle in the states. Not only are the driving conditions and rules of the road much different but the laws are enforced in ways that one may never fully understand.