The rice paddies on the hills in southern Sumatra were simply beautiful at that time of the day. The sun, low on the horizon, cast its late day rays on the water brimmed rice field terraces that cast an orange glow everywhere. A picture perfect moment I thought as I rode along and considered a spot to stop and make use of my Nikon. Just one more bend on the narrow road and for sure there would be a good photo opportunity waiting for me I told myself with tripod and lens selection on my mind. I veered into the glaring sun, but what I found around that last bend was far from the perfect opportunity I envisioned.
Getting pulled over by the cops is rarely a welcome event. I have been stopped, or been signalled to pull over, by law enforcement officers in almost every country I have travelled through on my overland trip across Asia. Rarely however, did these occurrences turn out to be stressful nor did they entail any confrontation. Actually, most encounters with the law ended with laughter, hand shakes and selfies. Most of all though, there was negligible or no monetary upset.
Here are a few rules of thumb I stuck to while travelling across Asia. They are my own personal approach and, good or bad, these rules worked for me.
This can sound controversial but to me it’s perfectly plausible in scenarios in which:
A) The would be copper is not wearing a uniform, or an outfit that identifies him as a man/woman of the law.
Of course, good judgement is needed but equally there is no need to feel intimidated by everyone who signals to you to pull over. Twisting the throttle and keeping up the momentum is fine and keep in mind that there are plenty of time wasting scammers eager for cash everywhere in the world: stop for nobody without a uniform.
Also, worth remembering is that flashing blue lights on an unmarked vehicles are absolutely no guarantee of the law outside the western world. Don’t be fooled.
B) No clear and safe area is available to pull over without risking an accident.
This is a very real issue in countries like Iran, Pakistan and India where traffic can be fast paced and simply insane especially after dark in urban areas. Policemen should be aware of this and will understand if you fail to find space for stopping safely.
C) You are waved down simply for a chat (happens often).
You develop a feeling for this sort of scenario. A solo traveller on an exotic machine with a foreign numberplate stands out from the crowd and attracts curiosity. It’s a chance for some officers to break the day’s monotony, chat, perhaps ask for cigarettes or similar. When I suspected this was happening I would slow down, smile, wave a hello and carry on.
In all of the above scenarios (A, B, and C), I have never been chased, though this has happened for other reasons!
You’ve pulled over
It’s hard to argue any violation if proof is caught on camera but there is usually always space for a little negotiation. For example, insisting on a receipt before paying any cash works wonders in some circumstances.
Furthermore, frowning, stiff lipped officers changed attitude towards me when I managed to appeal to the person behind the uniform. Commenting on a desire to go fishing, showing an interest in football, an interest in motorbikes or cars, enquiring about the attitude of local women, or where to find good local food usually worked. After a little banter the issue for being pulled over faded and even forgiven (albeit not forgotten).
I have been “forgiven” for speeding, failing to produce an insurance document, riding in lanes reserved for public transport, using roads closed to motorcycle traffic as well as crossing a border without the correct stamps in my my travel documents. I have received help from enforcement officers to find accommodation, find money changers, locate hot fishing spots. Most cops I encountered were cool guys, only one or two were fixed on giving me a hard time.
I have noticed…
A helmet action camera encouraged law enforcers to get rid of me quickly.
Using an open face helmet, sun glasses and riding a white bike with a tall wind shield occasionally got me confused for a copper myself with some amusing scenes from my “would be” colleagues such as being once accepted at the tail end of a motorcade.
I never handed over my original driving licence, vehicle registration document, or passport to the police. I carried high quality laminated colour copies of these for inspection at the side of the road and they worked just fine.
So, that late afternoon in Indonesia as I rode into a police road block things went just fine. There was a photograph opportunity after all as you can see above. It just was not the kind I was expecting. I think a hint of that orange evening glow was caught in the frame regardless.
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