Hit By A Car in Brazil? Don’t Call The Police

We were hit by a car in Brazil.

It happened 130 kilometers from the Guyana border in Boa Vista.  We took a no travel day to stock up for the pedal to the Guyana border. We filled the right rear pannier with food and bottled water, and were headed back to our small hotel. We’d just turned into the empty roundabout and headed for the first exit, legally, when we both saw the car headed for us from the right, at excessive speed.

There have been a very few times in my life when time seemed to slow, if not stand still, and this was one. I could see the car headed for us broad side, in slow motion, too late to brake, to late for our acceleration to help.


Zippy’s back end went sideways, but we somehow stayed upright. I steered for the center island curb and we dropped Zippy to the curb. I could tell Claire was okay, she was already running for the pannier laying in the middle of the street. Quick thinking: save the food!

The car stopped in the middle of the street, the driver yelling at ME in rapid Portuguese. I ran to the open passenger window to give him what-for in English, Claire arrived seconds later, gesturing to our pannier, and giving him hell too. He was blaming us, but I knew the culprit; the cell phone he had dropped on the passenger seat.

I made a show of memorizing his licence plate, as he drove slowly away, but there was no point is trying to detain him.

Neither of us was hurt, the food sustained minor damage. The pannier was the one we crashed on in Tibet two years ago, and was by now getting accustomed to taking hits. (Thank you Cannondale for making equipment we cannot destroy!)

It was a minor accident, but instructive.

The point of this post is not our close call:

The point is that neither the driver or us even considered involving the police: he because he was Brazilian and has known all his life to distrust them, and we because we had been warned not to involve police in anything, not even an injury accident.

Joe, owner of our small moldy, but relatively clean hotel back in Manaus, told us he had been the victim of a hit-and-run the year before on his motorcycle. He called the police to the scene (someone got the license number) but before they would pursue the motorist, they demanded a bribe. He said often both motorists in an accident are threatened with fines, if they don’t pay up. Joe told us to try and work it out with the driver, if it ever happened to us.

Have you ever considered offering a police officer a bribe in the U.S.?

I grew up knowing I would end up in jail if I did. Most of you did I’d guess. But in much of the world that is not the case.

In much of Latin America, a culture of corruption from above, makes it seem to the minions that it is just the normal way of doing things. The reasons for rampant corruption at lower levels of government are complex.

One of the reasons can be low, or non-existent pay. On our first trip around the U.S. we were told that the Mexican border patrol agents at a remote outpost near the Stillwell Ranch, and Big Bend National park, received no salary. They lived on “fines” levied against poor Mexicans bringing in used tires and other goods to sell in the remote villages near the frontier. It’s pretty hard to argue against them, but what about the higher ups who probably pocket the salaries before they get to the agents?

Corruption around the world is a huge subject, far too complex for this blog to cover properly, but is a huge drain on the cultures affected, and ultimately on the creation and preservation of a strong middle class worldwide.

On our Silk Road Crossing, four years ago, in Western Turkey, we were told by a local business man, that the mid-day black-outs are a normal part of life in Turkey, and cost untold millions in business losses. Corruption in electric power administration is the cause. He also complained that, though he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in carpet sales each years, that he only pays a few hundred in taxes.

He would rather see a corruption free public sector, pay significant taxes and have a reliable infrastructure.

That won’t happen soon, because too many pockets are lined, in all levels of government, and sometimes in business.

Do we, have we, had corruption in the U.S.?

Yes, of course. But, we don’t have a pervasive culture of corruption. As long as we have a strong middle-class, we will resist widespread corruption.

Would you want to live in a country where you are afraid to call the police?

Just one more reason for Americans to be appreciative of our system of government, our government employees and a culture with reasonably high values. Even though the highest level of our government is in a temporary period of confusion, and political uncertainty is high, we have much to be thankful for.



Hit By A Car in Brazil? Don’t Call The Police — 2 Comments

  1. Good article Bob and Claire, we don’t have a perfect system in the US but it is still better than most. Shirley and I were delayed in our arrival in Tucson because of an accident. We were sideswiped by a dump truck in Indiana. Our encounter with the police was very pleasing with no graft involved! Had to go home get our trailer and truck repaired and we will start back in a week or so, good Lord willing and the creek doesn’t rise.

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