On Friday, Ellen and I had dealings with three different law enforcement officers in Ecuador and Peru, and I’m pleased to report that they didn’t live up to their bad reputations. Our first incident came as we were hitchhiking out of Loja, Ecuador, in the morning. We were riding in the back of someone’s pickup when we were stopped at a police roadblock. The officer barked out “carrying passengers in prohibited spaces!” and had the driver pull over and stand on the side of the road to be ticketed. Ellen and I looked guiltily at each other as our very kind driver reassured us that we really hadn’t inconvenienced him that much. While he was waiting for his ticket, another cop wandered over to the truck to chat with us. The jovial officer wanted to know all about our trip and was asking us all sorts of questions, when our driver came back to let us know that the severe cop had ordered us out of the truck. Our cheerful friend was scandalized. “Why?! For riding in the back of a truck? But it’s not like we’re in the city, or anything!” With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the other officer’s objections, cancelled the ticket, and sent us on our way. Ellen and I grinned and laughed about it for the next twenty kilometers at least.

Although we’d planned to spend the night in Ecuador, our good luck with rides continued and we ended up crossing the border to Peru in the mid-afternoon. Here we had our second run-in with the authorities, as I had to get my exit stamp despite overstaying my Ecuadorian visa by eleven days. The immigration officer wasn’t impressed with my excuse: “I was waiting for my sister. I’m very sorry.” However, he didn’t make any serious attempts to solicit a bribe. After asking me several times why I stayed a hundred and one days instead of ninety, he started mumbling things about detaining me. Luckily, Ellen and I knew that the border authorities don’t actually have the right to fine or detain people for overstaying their visa. I answered all his questions with a simple, “I’m sorry I overstayed. I guess I need to leave Ecuador now. Can you stamp my passport?” After a few minutes of grumbling and pretending he couldn’t process my papers, he finally gave me my exit stamp and we were on our way, without even a mention of a fine or bribe.

Once Ellen and I had entered Peru, it took us mere moments to get a ride to the next town, Suyo. From there, though, no cars were going onward and it was getting on for late afternoon, so we decided to ask around in the village for a place to camp for free. A couple of local women suggested the stadium, so Ellen and I thought we’d check with the town’s cops before setting up our tents in a public place. We found a pair of uniformed town security officers in the main square, and once again South American law officers surprised me. When I asked them where we could safely camp, they seemed shocked. “Of course you can camp in this town’s public spaces! It’s safe here. Nobody will bother you!” They invited us to camp right in the main square, if we so desired. That seemed a little too public for us, so Ellen found an abandoned lot next to the house of a friendly woman, and we camped there instead. As the cops assured us, nobody bothered us or paid any attention to our stuff. So far, we’re very impressed with Latin American law enforcement!

Edited to add: After I wrote this but before publishing, someone riding in the car with us tried to steal valuables from my backpack. He got my flashlight, phone charger and cord, and one of my knives, before the person sitting next to him told our companions as the thief was getting out of the car. Our friend instantly punched the thief in the face and grabbed my flashlight and phone charger back, but didn’t realize the knife and cord were mine. Consequently, I can’t upload pictures from my phone until I replace the cord. We’re not too upset, though – it was the first theft we’ve had in six months of travelling, and nothing of great value was taken.

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