Stepping on the brakes, I slowed my car down to a crawl before rolling over the special speed bump set up by the Mexican police. I had arrived at the permanent road block located on the highway from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, a road block that I had passed through several dozen times before.
I knew the procedure well. After the speed bump, drivers should keep on driving unless one of the heavily armed police officers tells you to stop.
Luckily, the police here rarely stop foreigners, especially one driving a tiny, fifteen year old car (yes, me). But of course, on this occasion, when I glanced towards the police officer standing off to the side, we unfortunately made eye contact, which prompted him to stick out his hand and motion for me to pull over to a patch of dirt that acted as an inspection area.
And so, upon seeing this, I did the natural thing. I smiled widely, nodded my head and just kept on driving. Off I went, down the highway, continuing my journey to Playa del Carmen. I was tired. I was hungry. And I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be pulled over at a road block. So I didn’t stop.
After ignoring the officer, I glanced in my rear view mirror once I was about 100 feet down the road and sure enough, instead of hopping on his motorcycle to chase me down or pulling out his automatic weapon and firing warning shots at my car, he was just standing there, observing the next group of cars that were passing through the road block.
I’m perfectly aware that giving people the ability to bend, or even completely ignore, rules and laws, does not help create the most ideal or orderly of societies. Problems, severe problems, plague any country where such a lack of consequences exists and where law and order are fuzzy at best.
But putting that fact aside for a moment, as a foreigner hailing from a country where rules and laws are not meant, or allowed, to be bent or broken, and where most facets of our lives are fully dictated by such rules and laws, I must admit that I get a thrill from being able to drive straight through a road block. It’s the same thrill I feel when sneaking into the tribal region of Pakistan in order to visit the wild gun-producing town of Darra Adem Khel or slipping a $20 bill to an Air India gate agent in exchange for a first class seat before boarding my flight or even when simply riding on the roof of a bus through Laos.
And I don’t think I’m alone. Travelers in general seem to get high on the freedom to behave in a way that our home countries would never allow. I’m not talking about committing crimes. Instead, I’m talking about the reason why so many blog posts about Thailand, especially from those visiting for the first time, include stories of driving a motorbike or scooter ‘just like the locals do’. Of course, there are rules when driving in Thailand, but the somewhat relaxed notion of driving lanes and the meaning of red lights is more than enough to give us a thrill unlike any other. It’s also why travelers play with tigers and white rhinos, love to exchange money on the black market, bargain for everything and attend parties more wild than any rule or law would ever permit at home.
A COUNTRY WITHOUT MANY RULES
This freedom from rules and consequences is one of the reasons I love India so much. Over there, rules are often non-existent, and the ones that do exist, can be bent, ignored, re-arranged or completely changed. You can jump on a train without a ticket and without fear of being kicked off and arrested. If you’re caught, you just sort the situation out right then and there. You can drive a motorcycle without a license, push and shove your way to the front of a queue without angering anyone (such behavior is expected), convince a bus driver to let you drive the bus, hitch a ride in an army truck full of armed soldiers on their way to Kashmir or even purchase an elephant if you really wanted one and had the cash on hand.
Sab kuch milega, as the Indians say. ‘Everything is possible’.
Of course, despite the presence of bendable rules and laws in many countries, I don’t exactly travel around with a Kaleshnikov rifle hanging off of my backpack, urinate my name onto every building I pass and bribe my way through every country. Not at all.
I simply enjoy wandering around knowing full well that what may be completely impossible to make happen back home, could now be achieved in an instant. It’s that freedom to ‘create the rules as you go’ that brings the saliva to the edge of my mouth and leaves me feeling giddy about the endless possibilities that each day holds.
Do you feel this same giddiness while in places with loose rules and laws? For those who have yet to travel, can you imagine being in a place that allows you to do the things I’ve mentioned above?
Photo Credit: Tiger Temple