I didn’t think almonds would be involved, but life is unpredictable and funny.
I have paid my first bribe.
(I’ve been told in the past that most travel issues can be revolved with a $20 and a little sleight of hand. In my case, the rule would be more like a $20, and a bag of almonds.)
I had invited Jesse (a good friend of Carrie and me) to come and experience Panama while I was housesittng for Dave and Cora in Boquete, in the province of Chiriqui, in Panama.
I also invited my mom and grandma.
Since they all took me up on the invitation, Jesse and I were driving to Panama City to pick up my mom and grandma.
As we’re moving down the road, this guy literally walks into the middle of the Panamerican Highway, buts out his hand and has me stop.
It’s as I’m slowing down that I realize he’s a police officer, so I pull over.
He shows me the radar gun.
According to the radar gun, I was driving about 107kph (which was over the speed limit by about 27kph – that’s kilometers per hour)
I give him my passport and driver’s license, as well as the permission form that David and Cora gave me to drive their car.
Panama Policeman says the equivalent of “You were going too fast. You’ll be getting a ticket.”
The he goes off to talk to another lady he pulled over before me.
So I pull out a bag of almonds and wait.
Jesse and I are sitting in the car, munching on almonds, waiting for him to get done.
After a few minutes, he comes back to the window.
I figure… What the heck, I’ll give this a shot.
“Quiere almendras?” (Would you like some almonds?)
This could be good.
So I give him a small handful of almonds, and he says that I was going too fast, and that he’s going to have to give me a ticket.
I ask him where to pay the ticket, and how much it will be.
He says $75, and in a town far away.
“But if I help you,” he says, “what will you do to help me?”
I don’t quite catch this in Spanish, but Jesse does and translates it for me. (Really glad Jesse was there.)
In the meantime, I ask Panama Police Man something to move the conversation along (don’t remember what exactly), but pretty soon we’re talking about Chiriqui, which is the province where Boquete is located. Again, Boquete is where I’m house-sitting.
Turns out, this police man is from Chiriqui, in the city of Gualaca.
I tell him how beautiful Chiriqui is… which is true.
I’ve recently come to know pretty well a family from Gualaca, so I tell him that.
We talk about Boquete, the mountains, the rivers, the food, etc.
We exchange about 5 minutes of chit-chat.
He’s smiling and laughing, all is going well.
Then he says again that I’ll probably have to get a ticket but that he can help me.
Seeing that I’m not taking the bait, he then just asks outright (still in Spanish): “If I help you, what are you going to give me?”
So I pull out a $20 bill.
He points at the bag of almonds and says “and those.”
I hand over the $20, the almonds, and we’re on our way, with advice about where we should slow down further down the road, for the next speed trap (which turned out to be helpful).
And that is how a bag of almonds (and a $20 bill) rescued me from a speeding ticket with the Panamanian Police.
On the way back from Panama City, I got pulled over again. This time the price was $40.
The lesson? Bribes are rare. This is my first one in 40+ countries. However, just in case (and for reasons other than bribes), always travel with no more than $20 in your wallet. Put the rest of your money somewhere else.