I write this from a cafe in Amecameca, feeling my blood pressure dropping after this crazy encounter with corrupt police.
As Kelly and I drove south past Mexico City, making for The Sleeping Lady, our mountaineering objective for the coming days, we were flagged down by police just after a toll. It was a somewhat last minute flagging, so we were a smidge close to traffic when we were able to stop, and two metro police soon came to both the passenger and drivers sides of Savannah.
The woman on the drivers side did most of the talking (she was very close to traffic, at one point her hat was even blown off!), and asked for our tourist permit. We gave her everything we knew to give: our FMMs and TIP, with Savannah's registration at the ready. She quickly explained in spanish that we needed a tourist permit to drive in the metropolitan area, and if we didn't have one it would be a $2000 peso (roughly $100USD) fine if we didn't have one. She said we could easily get the permit online, but we needed it to be printed. Apparently our options were either to pay the fine for the infraction right there and move on, or they could impound Savannah until the next day when we could pay for it at a bank.
Flashback to several days prior. My father heard we would be going near Guadalajara and Mexico City and hooked us up with a couple of his work friends who live there. I messaged both of them for general advice and one of them, Enrique, told us that around Mexico City there were corrupt police who would try to make up bogus reasons for tickets and try to scare us into paying for them immediately, but we should hold fast to asking for a paper ticket to pay later.
Un-flashback. Kelly and I had a whispered conversation to agree that this situation sounded awfully familiar. I decided to call Enrique to get some advice, and we had some more difficult back and forth ( alanguage barrier and pushy cops will do that) to say that I will call my friend in Mexico City. The man on my side of Savannah tried to distract me from the call, I think, because he asked where my friend was and I said Mexico City (he actually lives in Guadalajara but I thought saying Mexico City would make it seem more legit), but I'm not sure quite where, and he started rattling off names of cities and pointing in their direction while I sat bemusedly waiting to make my call. Eventually I just said "uno momento" and hit dial.
Enrique was fantastic. He corroborated that it was a bullshit reason, as apparently that's a real thing, but only for driving on city roads, not highways. He also said they didn't have grounds to impound Savannah, but they could and likely would try to keep us for hours to sweat us out into paying them to get them off our backs. Apparently if we waited long enough we might be able to get away with paying less if they get tired of grilling us. He offered to take care of the permit online as it only takes a couple minutes, I just had to get him Savannah's info and he could send us the PDF. I thanked him and said I'd send him the info right away.
Earlier we asked about doing the permit online since they had told us we could do it there quickly, but they repeated that it needed to be in print.
After the phone call I had to say something to the cops after my nearly 8 minute call in which they just hung around Savannah, and I did my best to bluff that he couldn't come get us and we only had $500 pesos. At that the woman on Kelly's side said it wasn't about money, it was about the law, so that wouldn't cut it.
Thankfully, after the phone call confirming they were playing games, we were emboldened to not give in to anything they might try.
After a few more confusing exchanges, Kelly and I tried to say that our friend said we didn't need the permit to drive on highways, only on city roads, so we should be fine there. She responded that our friend isn't an authority, and she said we need it so we have to pay for the infraction.
This whole time we're intermittently passing my phone to the police so they can type in Google Translate so we can figure out what they're saying. At one point I had a Google Keep note to keep track of what they were saying and what we needed, and I passed it to the man on my side and asked him to write down the permit we needed to get. He kept it for a minute or two then passed it back with no notes added and my only note deleted.... Very helpful.
The man on my side also tried to say that if we payed now it would give us an easier time later (I had him repeat it to make sure I got it), to which I just said "I understand" and kept fiddling with Google Translate on my phone to figure out what to say next.
The woman on Kelly's side asked multiple times where we were coming from, where we were going, how long we'd been in Mexico, and how long we planned to stay, likely as a stalling technique.
We were trying very hard to get some hard facts not from the police (never trust a cop), but they always refused to provide us with a paper ticket, which we asked for about 4 times. We asked if they could show us the webpage on the government website explaining the permit we needed, but were told we couldn't do that here.... EXCEPT we'd been using the internet this whole time for google translate.
Another car was pulled over in front of us after about 30 minutes of what felt like verbal sparring with an intense language barrier and two other metro police went to that car as well.
Eventually the man on my side held out his hand for a handshake and said something that I couldn't follow at all. I didn't take his hand and said I don't undertand. The woman on Kelly's side came around to his side, they talked quietly a short distance from Savannah, then the man came back and waved us on, we confirmed with a "podemos *hand wave forward*", he nodded, and we took the fuck off.
(in hindsight, I hope the mysterious handshake was a "well played, you got us" handshake)
After we got the windows rolled up (you can never be too careful), we emphatically agreed: FUCK those cops.
The moral of the story is that cops in the Mexico City area see foreigners as rich, easy marks who are easy to bully. Don't give in, hold your ground, and only go along if you can verify it's legit!
We butt heads with corrupt police attempting to extort us, but we come out on top after 40 minutes of verbal sparring.
If there's something I wrote too little about, make a comment or reach out to ask to hear more, I'd love to answer any questions!
We basically wrote the same thing, just in our own words.