Tag Archives: police

Another Crash

I drove the S&M Motel through the narrow, often challenging streets of Europe for 9 months without a single traffic incident, so perhaps I was overdue.  In Alamogordo, New Mexico,  after spending the morning at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, it was my time.

Here is the statement I gave to the insurance company. Items [in square brackets] are comments that I added later.

I was driving our motorhome in the right hand lane.  I approached the intersection with my right turn signal on, and came to a complete stop at the stop sign.  There were three traffic lanes in my direction of travel, two lanes that went straight through and to the left of them, one left hand turn lane.  I was in the rightmost of these three lanes.  To the right of my vehicle was only a paved shoulder.   There were no other traffic lanes to my right.

A view down the street showing a car approaching in the rightmost lane and the paved shoulder beside the curb

A car approaching the intersection in the right lane beside the paved shoulder

When safe to do so, I proceeded to turn right and heard a noise to the rear of my vehicle.  I looked back in my right side mirror and saw a red car behind me.

A car turning right at an intersection

A car turning right where I did

I parked my motorhome as soon as it was safe to do so and the red car [a Volkswagen Jetta] stopped behind me.  There was damage to the right side of my motorhome towards the rear.  The single occupant of the red car [a young male] and I exchanged driving license and insurance information.  He said to me, “I thought you were going straight”.

A red Volkswagen Jetta with  with body damage to the front left corner and the legs of the other driver

The other guy and his damaged car

Two police officers soon arrived, after which I did not speak to the other driver.  The police officer asked me what had happened and I explained.  He told me that there had been two other witnesses to the accident, the occupants of an ambulance that had been traveling in the same direction as I had been, and that was behind both my vehicle and the red car at the time of the accident.

The front left corner of the red car with damage and a police car in the background

Damage to the red car with the police in attendance

He told me they said that the red car was being driven aggressively [actually he told me that the red car had cut them off], and that the red car had tried to drive [squeeze] through on the paved shoulder to the right of my vehicle, between my motorhome and the curb.   This is consistent with what the driver of the red car said to me. He thought that I was going straight (despite the fact my right turn signal was on), and tried to drive up the paved shoulder to pass me on the right and make his own right turn.  The police officer told me that the witnesses confirmed that my right turn signal was on.  The police officer told me that the other driver was at fault and that he had given the other driver a citation. [The police officer also told me that the other driver had signed the citation, which means that unless he fought it in court, he would be found guilty]

Yes, I know that the last part of my statement contained a lot of hearsay, but I thought it couldn’t hurt.  The accident report will be available soon (the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety puts them up for sale on a web site – can you believe that?).  I’m hoping that it is clear and accurate.  This is important because my ICBC insurance adjuster told me that the other driver is claiming that I hit him!

As for our motorhome, there is damage down the right side from about the mid-point back.

A view along the right side of our motorhome showing damage with a fender on the ground

Damage down the right, rear side of our motorhome

Our right rear fender was torn off, the fiberglass is scraped, and the outside compartment doors, hinges, and latches are damaged.  Hopefully there are no structural issues.

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Because our motorhome is still driveable and because RV collision repairs are notorious for taking a long time, we’ve decided to wait and have the damage repaired when we get home.  In the meantime, we hope that the police report jogs the other driver’s memory about what really happened.

I let my guard down for just a second…

I was looking forward to seeing Athens again.  I was here for 1 day only when I was 17 years old, a stop on a whirlwind educational trip to the Mediterranean that I took with my school in Grade 11.  Diane and I got up early and drove from Delphi, the home of the famous Oracle, and arrived at Camping Athens in about 3 hours.  We had a quick lunch and caught a bus followed by the metro (subway) to the Acropolis.

We decided to beat the heat of the afternoon by first visiting the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum, a beautiful new facility at the base of the Acropolis.  It was built with easy money prior to the Greek debt crisis to house the treasures of the Acropolis, the temple complex on the hill above.  The Acropolis is the site of the famous Parthenon, a 2500 year old temple to the goddess Athena the Virgin and the finest temple of the ancient world.  This museum provides a good history of the Acropolis from ancient through classical to modern times, displays many pieces of statuary, and has a full-scale installation of the frieze of the Parthenon.

We headed up to the Acropolis around 5 PM, hoping that the majority of tourists would have vacated.  We hiked up through the Propylaea Gate, past the Temple of Athena Nike, then around the Parthenon and the Erectheion.  I took lots of photos, some of which were undoubtedly outstanding, but we eyed an approaching storm and headed down the hill.  The sky became grey and the wind picked up.  The marble steps and rocks were slippery enough on our way up and were likely to be even more so when the rain started coming down.

I climbed Areopagus (Mars Hill), a bare marble outcrop across near the base of the Acropolis upon which the Apostle Paul was supposed to have delivered his famous speech (Acts 17:16-34) to Athenians about the Christian god.  Diane needed to go to the bathroom, so she headed off to the ticket booth to find the loo.  The storm looked like it might bypass us.  I sat there with some brave tourists watching the storm sweep down on the city of Athens below us.  Diane soon returned so I stepped away from my choice bit of rock, leaving my backpack there to secure my spot.  I helped Diane up the final bit of stone and we returned to my chosen seat.  Streaks from the clouds showed us where the rain was falling.  Lightening arched down on the distant hills.  It was a spectacular show.  Luckily I brought refreshments.  Salted peanuts and a large can of beer to share.  I was really enjoying myself.  Diane didn’t like the look of the approaching storm and wanted to go down.

A grey rock outcrop viewed from above, surrounded by trees with houses in the distance

Mars Hill viewed from the Acropolis (source: Wikipedia)

I reached for my camera to take another amazing picture of the storm, but it wasn’t there.  I remembered setting it on the rock beside me, but it was gone.  A quick feel of my backpack confirmed that it wasn’t there either.  I said to Diane, “My camera is gone.  Stay here with the stuff” and I jumped up to see what I could see.  I had only set it down beside me one minute beforehand.

I didn’t see anyone obvious carrying it, so I headed for the steps.  There were two young guys there, one of whom was carrying a camera protectively, but it had a different strap than mine.  I ran down the steps and found 2 Greek cops at the bottom, sitting in a marked Smart Car.  I was eyeing the crowd retreating from the rock, but I didn’t see my camera.  I told the policemen that someone just stole my camera.  To their credit, one of them jumped into action, and I followed him up onto the rock.  By this time the rain had started falling, and Diane was packing to leave.

Because I hadn’t seen who took the camera, there wasn’t much we could do.  We scanned the crowd, but no one looked suspicious, until the cop spoke to 3 young men carrying plastic bags.  They started to scatter, and the cop started to chase them, so I started to chase them too.  The cop quickly called it off though, and said that they weren’t camera thieves, but illegal umbrella salesmen, operating without a license.

And so, my camera, 2 spare batteries, 2 memory cards, and the case were gone in an instant.

I am an experienced traveller (48 countries and counting…)  I know better.  In all my travels, the most valuable thing I’ve had stolen was a travel alarm clock somewhere in Indonesia.  I’ve met many others, including close friends, who’ve lost valuables while traveling though.  In certain places you only need to let your guard down for a second.

On the bright side (I’m an optimist), the camera had served me well.  It was 40 months old and had been traveling for over 15 months of its life, visiting 4 continents.  I got my money’s worth.  And fortunately, I made a copy of my photos only 2 days before, so I didn’t lose many. Apparently the person who took it wanted it more than I did.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to share my Delphi or Acropolis pictures with you, but let me assure you, they were awesome.

Update – I’m going to buy a new camera, spare battery, memory card, and case to replace the ones I’d lost.  Let’s hope that I can record as many wonderful memories with these as I did with the last ones.  In the meantime, we’re using our back-up point-and-shoot camera and iPhone for photos.

Author’s Note — Today’s blog cost hundreds of dollars.  I never knew that blogging would be so expensive!

Vignette Regret

Today, you get a $60 blog posting.  Others may give you a $20 posting, or perhaps even a $30 posting, but I give you a full $60 posting.  I’m willing to suffer for my art.  How can I be sure what it’s worth? Read on.

We were camped at the foot of the Tatra mountains in Northern Slovakia.  The sun was shining and the mountains were beautiful, literally begging to be climbed, but we had other plans this day.

Our camper van parked in a grassy field with tall, snowcapped mountains behind

S&M Motel at the foot of the High Tatras

I went for a run on the hilly trails while Diane planned our route south.  We were heading first to Spišský Hrad, the ruins of a 12th Century castle that along with the surrounding region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ruins of a castle on a hill with grassy fields in the foreground

Spis Castle

It was less than 1 hour of driving through the beautiful Slovakian countryside to our destination.  This route is ornamented with rolling hills and picturesque villages right out of a Brothers Grimm folk tale.  The previous day our route had been blocked temporarily by a wedding party in traditional clothing getting into horse carts.

Horse with red collar pulling a wagon with driver sitting in front of a church

Wedding Wagon in the Slovakian Countryside

I was slowing as we headed down a hill toward an upcoming construction zone.  The speed limit dropped quickly from 90 km/h to 40 km/h.  Diane said that there were police up ahead so I braked a little harder.  I was pretty sure that I was under the limit (or pretty close to it), but as we approached them, one of the officers waved me over using a short stick with a reflector on the end of it.  I pulled over and tried to look innocent.

The officer had to walk around the car as our steering wheel is on the wrong side (or as Martin would probably say, the correct side but in the wrong country).  He seemed pleasant enough but he was speaking to us in Slovakian, so it was hard to be sure.  I smiled and said, “English”.  Fortunately he spoke very basic traffic cop English.  “Driving license, car registration, and documents”, he said.  We took the later to mean my passport.  We searched for a couple of minutes to find all three, and debated whether I should also offer him my International Driver’s License or not.  After all, I paid $15 for it at BCAA and haven’t needed it yet, so why not get my money’s worth?

He stared at my driver’s license for a bit with a puzzled look on his face and then walked to the front of the S&M Motel to check the license plate.  He walked back to my window and said, “You need a vignette. This one is finished.” and then pointed to the small coloured sticker on my windshield.  I’d placed it there last October when we arrived in Slovenia on our way south from the Czech Republic.

Vignettes (pronounced ‘vin-yets’) are a method of taxing vehicles that is used in some European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegero, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland).  All vehicles using the road are required to pay a tax, regardless of the country of origin of the vehicle.  A small sticker is then affixed to the windshield to indicate that the tax has been paid.  Vehicles like ours that travel through a lot of these countries can end up with a windshield looking like it was decorated by a kindergarten class!  Vignettes are typically available for as little as 4 to 10 days or up to a year, and usually cost $10 to $20 dollars for the minimum duration.  When entering a country there are usually signs indicating that a vignette is required, which are then reinforced by the many additional signs of the various vendors offering to sell them.  Unfortunately there were no such signs, at least none that we saw, when we entered Slovakia on small mountain roads the previous day and so we had forgotten to purchase a vignette.

Close up of a purple and white 2012 Slovakian vignette sticker on the windor of our motorhome

Slovakian Vignette

While we were waiting I noticed that what I had initially thought was a radar gun on a tripod was in fact a spotting scope.  They were using it to look at a distance for cars without current vignettes.  This gave me some hope that I wasn’t going to receive a speeding ticket also.

The police officer returned and said in pretty good but halting English, “The max-i-mum fine is 140 Euros.  The min-i-mum fine is 40 Euros.”  I said, “I’ve got 40 Euros” in an attempted presumptive closing.  In Slovakia, as in many European countries, police issue ‘on-the-spot’ fines, which means that you have to pay in cash immediately.  I’ve always wondered how having police offers handle cash didn’t promote corruption, and I was about to find out.

Diane dug out €40 from the back and I handed it over the officer.  It felt very strange to be handing money to a cop through my car window, like something that happens in Africa (right Norma and Wayne?) but not in Europe.  A few minutes later, he returned with 4 chits worth €10 each as receipts for my payment.  He then told me to drive to Levoča, the next village, where I could buy a vignette at the Shell station.  I nodded and said that I would.  He returned my papers and waved us on.

I was grateful that I didn’t receive a speeding ticket (not that I think I was nor would admit to speeding), and thankful that the fine wasn’t larger.  Checking online later we read that driving without a vignette in Slovakia can result in a cash fine from €100 to €500 ($150 to $750).  Who carries that kind of cash?  And why is the amount of the fine not specific?  On what basis do police officers decide which people to charge 20 times as much as we paid?

Anyhow, we were not unhappy with the result.  It could have been a lot worse.  Diane was afraid we were going to Soviet prison.  We bought a vignette in the next town as instructed and were on our way to the castle.

Our €40 fine equates to roughly $60, our cost for the story you’ve just read (labour not included).  Hence, today’s $60 blog posting.

G-20 Summit in Cannes

We arrived in Cannes 2 days before the 2011 G-20 Cannes Summit was scheduled to begin.

The G-20 is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies (currently 19 countries plus the European Union) which has been in existence since 1999. The G-20 was proposed by then Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin (who later became Prime Minister) for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. Collectively, the G-20 economies comprise more than 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), 85 percent of its gross national product (GNP), 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world population (Source: Wikipedia). The G-20 typically meet several times a year.

The heads of government (or heads of state) of the G-20 countries also meet periodically (currently once a year) at ‘Summits’. The G-20 Summit was created as a response to the ongoing financial crises since 2007 and to include key emerging countries in global economic discussion and governance. The slogan for the 2011 G-20 Summit is “New World New Ideas” but it should be “Troubled World, so we finally need to start working together”.

2011 G-20 Summit Logo with phrase "New World New Ideas"

New World, New Ideas

Canada is a member of the G20, and ours is just visible among the tiny flags on the event advertising. Canada hosted the 4th G-20 Summit in Toronto last year (June, 2010). As our current head of government, Stephan Harper represented Canada at this Summit.

2011 G-20 Summit Advertising with tiny flags

Protests have occurred at every G-20 Summit since the initial one in 2008 and so security was extremely tight in the days preceding the event. I’ve never seen such a police presence, even at other major world events like the Olympics. The main A8 highway from Nice to Cannes was carefully controlled. Every freeway entrance, exit, and rest stop for 33 kilometers was guarded by police. Every single overpass had police standing on it. That’s a huge number of police officers just to patrol a highway leading to an event that hasn’t even started yet! This road would be used for the motorcades of arriving dignitaries from the Nice Cote D’Azur airport, and they wanted to ensure no blockages nor security threats.

G-20 Police Vehicles

Italian police and their vehicles everywhere

The roads in Cannes were similarly blanketed with oppressive security. Each entrance and exit to every single roundabout was guarded by 2 police officers on foot with nearby motorcycles at the ready. The waterfront, where the main meetings would take place, was completely blockaded, and the skies above patrolled by three helicopters. Even the tourist office was behind the security perimeter and so had to be closed.

Police officer controlling the G-20 Crowd

Police officer manning the baracades

Unfortunately for us, the main site for the G-20 Summit was the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, the same building used as the venue of the Cannes Film Festival. This meant that the Walk of Fame, with the handprints of many movie stars, and the much photographed staircase that arriving stars surmount, were both off limits to us. How dare the rescue of the world’s economy get in the way of my sightseeing!

Palais des Festivales showing famous red-carpet staircase

Palais des Festivales with famous red-carpet staircase

Many people oppose the G-20 (including anarchists, anti-capitalists, and nationalists) and choose to protest at their gatherings. There were no protesters visible while we were there, but the event hadn’t started yet. Europeans are well known for their willingness and ability to protest, and so the French government was justifiably cautious. From press reports, it appears that the heavy police presence achieved its desired results. Twelve thousand extra police were deployed around the G-20 site to make sure that protesters, camped out in Nice since Monday, would not be able to disrupt things in Cannes. Many protesters headed for Nice were blocked at the nearby border with Italy or the farther border with Spain, despite Europe’s Schengen free travel zone. We were also stopped by police at this non-border with Italy. They initially indicated that they would like to search the S&M Motel, but then rather suddenly changed their minds and let us pass.

Like the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting a few days earlier, the 2011 G-20 Summit did not produce any significant, tangible results. The event was overshadowed by the continuing Greek debt crisis and a proposed additional bailout package that was so politically unpalatable as to force the current Greek government to step aside in favour of a coalition government. The Greek Prime Minister likened it to forced coup by the European community. An even greater risk is that Italy, with its much larger and more important economy, will have similar financial problems. Italy agreed (likely reluctantly) to submit to monitoring by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its current austerity measures. The Summit’s 19 page Final Declaration is full of vague commitments and other indications of support for this or that. Perhaps this is the lowest common denominator reachable by consensus, and the most that can be expected (or perhaps reported). Likely the most important benefits of these summits are reaffirmed relationships and a continued willingness to collaborate.

Despite the heavy security and restricted areas, we enjoyed our day in Cannes. We walked along the harbour, picnicked by the beach, and climbed to Notre Dame d’Esperance, the cathedral on the top of the hill in Cannes’ old town, Le Suquet. Despite more police that I’ve ever seen in one place, we had a sense of unease. Perhaps too much security makes one feel less safe?

The Meter Man

One of the challenges with traveling in India is getting the taxi drivers to use their meters. Like in most major cities of the world, meters are installed in all taxis to fairly calculate the fare, including factors like distance, wait time, time of day, etc. The rates are set by the city and all taxi drivers are required by law to use the meters, in part to avoid unscrupulous drivers from taking advantage of tourists. In some Indian cities our guidebook says that it is virtually impossible to get the taxi driver to use the meter, and so in most places we’ve just negotiated a fare, which is almost certainly higher than the meter would have calculated. However, in Calcutta, our guidebook makes no mention of this issue so we expected that meter use would be de rigueur here. In fact, we’d been told by a local man that the drivers always use their meters, and we had observed this first hand. When local people get into a cab the drivers turn their meters on immediately to start the clock running as quickly as possible. Not so for us.

Like elsewhere in India the drivers flatly refuse to turn on their meters for us. In broken English, they provide every excuse in the book as to why they can’t use the meter – it’s broken, it’s night time, it’s a holiday, etc., none of which are valid. They have other more drastic excuses also, but we had no idea just how far they would go until last night, when we decided to push it.

We were heading out to a place to which we only had a name, but no idea of the distance or what a reasonable fare would be, so we wanted to use the meter. We hopped into the cab first, before telling him where we wanted to go, and then insisted that he use the meter.

We named the place and the driver asked for 100 Rupees (Rp). We asked him to use the meter. He refused. Then he started to provide the usual excuses. We insisted on using the meter. He started to drive ahead, but only because we were blocking traffic. When it became apparent that we weren’t going to pay his exorbitant fare, he pulled over and asked us to get out. We refused. We raised the prospect of having the traffic police from the corner come over to remind him of the rules, but he called our bluff and said go ahead. But we weren’t getting out of the car.

He then pulled into gas station and claimed that he was taking the car to the garage. I said that if his car was broken, that we would leave when he found us another cab — one that would use the meter. While Diane waited in the cab, he stood with Patrick by the side of the road, flagged a few other cabs, and half-heartedly tried to convince them to do what he would not, but of course they wouldn’t go for it. When Patrick returned to the cab, the driver moved it ahead to get fuel, and began to complain to the station attendants about us. He was getting really frustrated. He then started to shake the car back and forth from the outside. Was he hoping to dislodge us by vibration? We thought this was pretty funny but tried not to laugh.

Now at this point, most tourists would have backed down. Diane would usually have called an end to the experiment at this point, but we’d had a drink with dinner and were emboldened to take it further. Eventually the driver got back into the car, but this time with another guy from the gas station. It wasn’t clear if he was just giving the guy a lift or if he was trying to intimidate us. In India disputes are often settled on the street by shouting matches with the public deciding. Perhaps he wanted to have an even number for what was building up to be such an event.

The driver started moving towards the destination (we hoped), but continued to insist on the 100 Rp fare. We told him to turn the meter on, or we would pay a fare of 50 Rp only. He did turn the meter on, but covered it up with a cloth to obscure it, but the fabric was so thin and the red LED letters so bright that we could still read it. We traveled in silence.

It turned out that the trip was less than a kilometer. We could easily have walked. It took under five minutes to get there plus the twenty minutes of debate before we departed. When we arrived at the busy square, the police were controlling the traffic, and stopping was restricted. As soon as we arrived, the driver cleared the meter so the fare was no longer showing. We got out of the cab and paid the correct amount (in Calcutta, that’s double what is on the meter plus 2 Rupees), which was 10 Rp, or about 25 cents. The driver insisted on being paid what he’d originally asked for, which was ten times the correct fare. We refused. Tensions mounted. Soon a police officer came over and told the cab driver to move on. He complained that he hadn’t been paid. We explained that we were paying per the meter and that he was trying to get much more.

The police officer went to get his supervisor from down the block. The cabbie ran over to a random group of men on the street and tried to solicit them to support him. He was trying to win over the gathering crowd, which is usually the right approach to winning a dispute in India.

At this point the cars were backing up and honking. The senior cop arrived. Patrick summed up the situation in a sentence, and the animated cabbie did the same. The clincher was when the cabbie mentioned the name of the place we’d come from (Park Street), which the senior man knew wasn’t far away. At that point, he told us to give the 10 Rupees to the cabbie, and then told him to move on. We walked away with smiles on our faces. Undoubtedly the fact that cabbies are known to extort tourists also worked in our favour.

We were shocked at the lengths to which a Calcutta cab driver will go to extort tourists. It is almost certain that no other visitors would do what we did to pay the correct fare. We thought it important, at least once, to see if this was possible but we never expected it would take what it did. We’d like to think we were striking a blow on behalf of tourists everywhere, but I doubt the cabbie will act any differently with his next tourist. After this experience, on our two subsequent cab rides in Calcutta we also paid the correct amount, but with slightly fewer shenanigans.