September 24, 2005 GMT
Arrested in Toliara

I’ve just spent five hours under arrest at the Toliara Police Station, Madagascar.

What was my crime?

Not stopping when the Minister of Tourism’s cortege overtook me, a tourist, on his way to a very important lunch.

I was on my way to the spiny forest at Ifaty, which is full of strange succulent plants. I had just turned onto RN 9 and noticed a policeman at every junction. This was unusual. I passed the first few but then noticed a car coming up behind me with it’s headlights on so I moved to the right and slowed down.

A bloke leaned out of the first vehicle, shouted something and gave me the finger. I was shocked when every one I’d met in Mad had been so polite. I moved further to the left and but still kept going (mistake number one). About eight or nine vehicles passed by and they all turned off a few hundred metres ahead of me.

When I got to the same turning I asked the policeman which was the road to Ifaty as it looked different ahead (mistake number two).

‘Show me your passport’.

‘It’s in my hotel’.

‘Show me the bike papers’.

‘They are in the hotel too’.

I didn’t see what the problem was. Every police check point I’d ever been through had always waved me through.

‘You must follow me to the police station’.

He commandeered a taxi so off we went.

There I learnt I had committed a grave offence by not stopping for the minister’s cortege. I still found it hard to believe. How am I supposed to know all the laws in every country I visit?

After a suitable interval I asked if I could pay a fine rather than wait all day.

’50,000 Ariary (about $30)’.

I opened my wallet and withdrew the 10,000 notes. While my wallet was still open the sergeant helped himself to another 10,000 note. I could hardly refuse (first correct choice).

The average annual wage in Mad is about a dollar a day. Luckily, none of my stuff was searched as I’d just been to the bank and had a huge wodge of them.
I decided not to ask for a receipt but now that I had paid my ‘fine’ we went off to my hotel to get the bike’s papers to fill in my statement.

As we drove in Alain, the proprietor, arrived as well. I explained what had happened and Le Sergeant gave him Le Chef de Police’s number.

During the ensuing conversation there were many Gallic shrugs and ‘Oui’, Comme tu vieux’. The net result was that I had to stay at the police station until five in the afternoon.

Back at HQ, Le Sergeant typed away on an ancient manual typewriter. He works seven hours a day, seven days a week and gets four weeks holiday a year. The only problem is that he doesn’t get paid enough to be able to go anywhere so he stays at home.

He presented me with ‘my’ statement, in French, for me to sign. Although I could understand the gist of it there were certain words I couldn’t understand. He lent me his cell phone so I could call Alain again.

After reading it ten minutes later Alain had said it was fine so I signed. Le Sergeant suggested calling Le Chef again. Again no joy, but he walked into the office seconds later.

He was rather small.

A Napleonic figure, nearly five feet tall. He reminded me of the Inspector in the Clouseau films but I kept this to myself (second bonne idée). If he’d had a funny, pointy hat I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

‘In every country, France, America, England every vehicle always must stop when the Minister goes past’.

‘Complete bollocks, titch’ I thought (bonne idée numero trois)

‘Tu as raison’ soothed Alain, ‘C’est vrai’.

I looked contrite desperately hoping Nappy wouldn’t keep me in overnight so I’d miss my flight tomorrow morning.

He let off a little more vapeur then, all of a sudden, we were all shaking hands.

Next time I’ll stop.

Visit for more details on this and previous trips.

Posted by Jeremy Bullard at September 24, 2005 02:54 PM GMT
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