The cop jumped out from behind some bushes and frantically waved us down.
We had just rounded a bend on the Maracaibo-Caracas Highway and the cop was signalling for us to pull over on the soft shoulder which was marked by a white line. It was Good Friday and the highway was very busy. First reaction was to wonder why we had been singled out.
The cop claimed that my colleague, Wilton, a New Zealander, had driven across the white line marking the edge of the highway. We did not think this was correct but our denial made the cop aggressive.
The conversation in Spanish, mine transactional and rudimentary, went something like this:
Cop 1: Crossing the white line is a serious offence
Me; I’m sorry. We are business visitors to your country and we do not know all your traffic regulations. We won’t do it again. Tomorrow we are leaving your country.
Cop 1: (Unimpressed) Crossing the white line is a VERY serious offence
Cop 1 then signalled for us to follow him into a clearing behind some bushes. This made us feel very uncomfortable but, as he had his hand on his pistol holder, we decided to follow. Here we found Cop 2 seated at a picnic table.
Cop 2: You have got two options, either pay an instant fine of $US 50 or go before a judge in the nearby town.
Me: (trying the confused foreigner role) I am sorry. I don’t understand. I don’t speak much Spanish..
Cop 1 (to Cop 2). Esto tipo miente ( Trans: This guy is lying). Habla castellano muy bien como un madrileno (Trans: he speaks Spanish like a toff from Madrid).
Cop2: So (turning to us) $US 50 or the judge
Me: The second option sounds better
Cop2: Good. The judge is on his Easter holidays and will not be back till next Tuesday. Meanwhile we are going to have to lock you up. till then
Wilton (pulling a crisp greenback from his wallet): Here is your $US 50.
The two cops salute smartly, accompany us back to the car and even politely open the doors for us before saying they hope we enjoy the rest of our stay in Venezuela.
Postscript 1: Looking back on this incident after so many years I realise these cops were on the lookout for a hire car driven by a couple of Gringos. They must have had a tip off. That is the only explanation as to why they singled us out from all the heavy traffic.
Postscript 2: Later that evening at dinner with friends in Caracas, we tell them about our adventure.
“Idiotas”, they said “The cops would have been satisfied with fifteen dollars!
Sydney, April 2021