Monday, March 10, 2014

That one time we got searched by armed police in Brazil

From double pink eye in Korea, to getting lost in Rome, to being on stage with Pavarotti and subsequently watching as the stage caught on fire, I've had my fair share of adventures.  Many of them are waiting to be written down and published on my blog.  But tonight I had some free time, so I thought I'd write about the time we got searched by armed police in Brazil.  I'll try to tell it as dramatically as possible, so that you can live vicariously through me.  ;)

So the other day, Peter and I decided to visit the historic town of Petropolis.  We knew there was a bus that went from Barra to Petropolis, so we asked our friends, looked online, and found out all the bus information.  We didn't think to research things to do ahead of time.  We had heard from friends that there were museums, historic houses, a palace of the former king (or something like that), and a carriage ride through the town.  We knew that we would just figure it out when we got there. 

It's about a mile and a half from our apartment to the bus stop.  Our bus was supposed to leave at 9:40 am (according to the website), so we left our house at 9 am so that we would have plenty of time to get there on foot.  The bus station in Barra is not a terminal like the one in Centro (the one in Centro is like an airport terminal, but that's a separate blog post, coming soon).  There aren't signs or announcers over loud speakers, so we needed to give ourselves time to ask around for the correct bus and buy our tickets.  We expected the tickets to be R$20 + tax each, because that's what the website said.  The man told us, in Portuguese, "45.46?" And I handed him a R$50.  However, we got a lot of change back, and when we looked at our tickets, they were only R$16 each.  Lucky day, we saved some money!  So we hopped on the bus, found some seats close to the front, and got comfy.  The bus was supposed to leave at 9:40, but of course, it didn't.  Around 9:50, a man and woman came up to us and told us we were in their seats.  We were confused.  We got there first, how could we be in their seats?  Every other bus trip we'd taken, we got to pick our own seats, first come first served.  They showed us their tickets, and indeed, it was assigned seating.  So when the ticket booth guy said "45, 46" he was really telling us our seat numbers.  Duly noted for our return trip.  And great, we were stuck with the back of the bus.  Literally the last aisle.  That would be just dandy for our mutual motion-sickness-prone selves.

At around 10 o'clock, the bus started to head out.  Maybe because we were in the back of the bus, or maybe the roads were just horrible, but it was extremely bumpy.  I was sitting by the window, trying to nap, but my seat was very bouncy, and every time we hit a bump, I'd go flying forward.  I finally asked Peter if we could trade seats, and, like a good husband, he said yes.  :)  

It is about an hour and a half from the Barra bus station to the Petropolis terminal (Rodoviaria).  It's a beautiful bus ride through the mountains, with gorgeous views.  We weren't able to get any good pictures, because our bus window was dirty, but it did look similar to this: 

View from our bus ride from Sao Paulo to Rio, back in January
Ok, now to the good part of the story... We got up the grade, almost to Petropolis, when our bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the road.  We looked out the window, and there were several police vehicles, as well as several policemen stopping various cars or waving cars by.  Being morning, it didn't make sense that there would be a sobriety check point (Brazil recently instituted a 0.0000000% blood alcohol law for drinking and driving).  Everyone on our bus was looking around, very confused, when into our bus walked two policemen, fully outfitted and armed with guns.  They did not utter a single sound, but proceeded to check every square inch of the bus.  I looked out the window, and there was a police man with a very large gun strapped across his chest, checking other vehicles on the road.  The two policemen on our bus walked up and down the aisle, looking intently at each person, and eventually asking various people to open their bags/backpacks.  The bus was dead silent.  No one had any idea what was going on.  Everyone was looking around, confusedly, at each other.  I was confused and slightly nervous, but it seemed as though they were looking for someone or something in particular, and not just trying to be bullies, so I didn't worry too much.

One policeman came to the back of the bus, where we were sitting, and opened every compartment, including the bathroom.  I felt sorry for the guy who had stepped into the bathroom right before we got stopped... When the policeman found the bathroom door to be locked, I noticed he reached down and put his hand on his gun, just in case he needed to grab it quickly.  The man in the bathroom opened the door to go back to his seat and was greeted by a policeman.  "Oba!" he exclaimed, before hurrying back to his seat.  Meanwhile, the other policeman had escorted a woman off the bus and into the police car waiting outside.  Both policemen then proceeded to thoroughly check all around the seat where she had been sitting, still not saying a word to anyone.  When they finally decided that our bus was checked to their satisfaction, they explained what was going on.

They told us, in Portuguese (and I confirmed with Peter afterward, but I was really surprised at how much I understood), that they were looking for drugs and drug smugglers.  Apparently, people from the favelas have been sneaking drugs into Petropolis.  The day before, they caught eight people and 30,000 capsules of cocaine!  After they finished explaining, they thanked us and told us to have a good trip.  Everyone on the bus started clapping and a couple of people said, "Parabens!" (which is best translated as "Congratulations," though it's not a great translation, because they use that word for everything - "It's your birthday, Parabens!  You just had a baby, Parabens!  You just caught 8 criminals, Parabens!").  They didn't mention anything about the woman that they took off our bus, but everyone was peering out the windows, trying to get a glimpse of her as we drove by.  We couldn't see anything out of our window, because we were on the wrong side.  

About ten minutes later, we pulled into the Rodoviaria and got off the bus.  We asked a man in the information booth about getting to downtown Petropolis, and he told us to get on another bus marked #100 toward Centro.  We got on that bus, rode about 20 minutes until we figured we had arrived in "downtown" Petropolis.  It had been about an hour and a half since we left Barra, so even with the random drug check, we made good time!  We wandered around and eventually found a tourism office, asked the guy for a map, and were informed that everything in the town was closed, due to Ash Wednesday!  

All of that hassle, for nothing.  

(Well, not completely nothing.  The cathedral was open, and we got some good photos of it, to be posted later this week!)

Soooo, that's my story of the one time we got searched by armed police in Brazil.  What did you think?  An adventure you could have handled?  Or would you have peed your pants and demanded to be taken back to your house right away (as my sister informed me she would have done)?

Next up this week: Bus terminals in Brazil, how we killed an hour in the Petropolis bus terminal, pictures of the Petropolis Cathedral, and maybe another random travel story.

Thanks for reading!



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