Wrong Tires in Ecuador? A Merry Christmas Tale with Police 🇪🇨

It was two days before Christmas. Paul and I were driving along a calm road somewhere between Guayaquil and Quito, in the coastal region of Ecuador. We read in one of the Whatsapp groups that there was going to be an Overlander Christmas Party. A Christmas dinner organized by a German campground owner at his campground in the mountains of Ecuador. That sounded nice!



We are not the typical overlanders. Even though we do travel by car, we usually don’t camp but mostly just find a hotel or Airbnb on the road. Times can get lonely when you’re traveling as a couple. This was our third Christmas alone since we left our homes and we were looking forward to a festive Christmas Eve with other travelers that share a similar lifestyle.



Our car is a 25-year-old Toyota Landcruiser “Prado”. Despite its age it’s in good shape and we see it as our trusted companion that had already taken us around 60,000 km through South America at the time.



As usual Paul had put on a business podcast and I was busy phone-scrolling when a peculiar sight unfolded on the road. Cars ahead engaged in an impromptu headlight symphony. “What’s happening?” Paul grumbled, annoyance mirroring the flashing lights. “Are our lights off?” I asked, fully aware they weren’t. When I directed my gaze forward again, I saw lots of tiny figures standing on the road in the distance with multiple cars standing on each side of the street. “Not again…” Paul moaned.  

Christmas Police Encounter in Ecuador: A Festive Twist

It was a large-scale police action of multiple officers waving down every single car that passed. They looked different than the last ones we encountered. Where random guys dressed in fake police uniform with huge rifles stop you and ask for money, hoping you feel intimidated or at least sympathetic for them and give them some extra funds. No, these were real. 


Did I mention it was two days before Christmas? We had been in Latin America long enough to know that encountering police before major holidays is rarely a smooth experience. We barely get out of a situation after at least being asked once for a donation, which we mostly successfully managed to avoid so far. Nevertheless, I could already picture their wives and kids eagerly awaiting the joy of this year’s expensive gifts, with little Stephano excitedly anticipating his new smartphone from Dad.


Ecuadorian Roadside Surprise

The officer on the driver’s side shot us a quizzical look. Our car, with its blond, long-haired, bearded driver, wasn’t the usual Ecuadorian highway spectacle. “De donde estan?” he asked. The ever-looming question – where are you from? With our Paraguayan license plate and our less-than-fluent Spanish, we often pondered the best way to answer this ubiquitous query. But there it goes, “Austria,” I blurted out.


The officer looked at me and then directed his gaze towards the backseat area of our car. Our back row and trunk cannot be seen from outside due to our tinted windows. While he was having a critical look inside our car, I noticed what he was holding in his hand. A ruler. 


If he had turned it around, we probably would have seen a name sticker with a kid’s handwriting, ‘Stephano,’ on it. But he did not turn it around; instead he positioned it on our All-terrain tires and started measuring our tire tread. Paul and I were exchanging suspicious looks. The officer looked back up towards us and told us that we cannot continue driving. 


The man with the gun and the ruler explained to us that in Ecuador tires need to have a certain tread. What tread that was he couldn’t remember right now but we could google it if we wanted to find out. In the meantime we would have to pay a fine of 900 US dollars and go buy new tires. This was ridiculous! We have our car checked in every country and it is in far better conditions than most local cars. Was it because we’re fake Paraguayos? 



Tire Trouble in Ecuador: Paul’s Defense Saga Unfolds

Paul, in his valiant defense of our tires, embarked on a spirited conversation in broken Spanish. Meanwhile, I, in the passenger seat, contemplated the likelihood of finding a tire shop in the Ecuadorian wilderness just days before Christmas.


As the debate unfolded, I noticed other cars with tires smoother than a bowling ball breezing through the checkpoint. Clearly, someone had grand visions of Christmas gifts for Stephano this year.


However, this Ecuadorian policeman wasn’t aware of Paul’s track record. Paul is selective about speaking Spanish, unless absolutely necessary. He is skilled enough to convince Apple to replace his out-of-warranty iPhone, and notably, the individual who set a legal precedent in Austria by successfully resisting the state’s demand for education fund repayment. Consequently, it’s clear why he refused to comply with the corrupt officer’s demands.


The officer, growing weary of “Pero señor…,” ordered Paul out of the car. Stepping out at a police stop is like entering a scene from a crime thriller, with the potential for more suspense than a Hitchcock film. 


Paul decided to get out of the car as ordered, as did I from the passenger side. I followed them to the tail end where they inspected all our tires. Again the officer urged us to pay the 900 dollars now, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to continue our drive. Who has 900 dollars with them? What did this guy think? And I don’t know how this happened so fast but suddenly the officer took out his handcuffs and threatened to arrest Paul if he didn’t pay immediately. This was a new one! Paul in handcuffs? As humorous as it could have looked, I was getting panicky. As I nervously observed, I recalled advice from a fellow traveler: always document the drama.


From Bad to Worse: My Journalistic Role in the Ecuadorian Arrest

So I took out my phone and started filming the guy fidgeting with his handcuffs and yelling “Paga o te arresto!” Pay or I’ll arrest you. As I filmed away, I couldn’t help but think this could be the climax of an Ecuadorian blockbuster. Suddenly he looked across the street where another police man was signaling him something. While I kept my camera on Paul, I saw how the officer suddenly noticed my filming. His colleague must have tipped him off, indicating that my documentation might be interfering with his dubious police operation.


He released his grip on Paul, instructing me to retreat back into the car and pointing assertively toward the passenger side. I complied, taking refuge in the passenger seat. Peering nervously through the rearview mirror, I observed the ongoing exchange between the two men. 


Attempting to review the footage I had clandestinely captured, I fumbled with my phone’s gallery. Abruptly, Paul hurried to the passenger side, urging, “You need to delete what you just filmed.” Baffled, I questioned, “What? Why?” “Just do it,” he insisted, slamming the door shut before striding back to the officer. In less than 10 seconds, he returned, emphasizing, “He wants you to delete it from the deleted folder too.” I sighed but complied. 


Continuing my surveillance through the side mirror, the atmosphere appeared more relaxed. After another five minutes or so, Paul reentered the driver’s seat, declaring, “Let’s go.” Bewildered, I questioned, “What happened? We don’t need to stay?” Paul explained that the officer had grown visibly agitated by my intervention, branding me a “crazy woman.” In a diplomatic maneuver, Paul acknowledged my occasional eccentricity, earning the unsolicited advice to “control his woman.” Ironically, this unforeseen camaraderie between them stemmed from my supposedly mad actions. How delightful.



Overlander Team Triumph: Conquering Ecuador‘s Challenges Together

Once again, Paul’s determination to avoid an unfair fine, and my knack for helping him out of tight spots, got us through another challenge on our journey through Ecuador, and South America. We make a great team, even if it took us a while to get there.


If you want to know more about life as a perpetual traveler in Ecuador, and the rest of Latin America, feel free to contact me!


PS: This blog is a sneak peek into my upcoming book about my three years of non-stop travel through Latin America. Know a publisher interested in such stories? Reach out here!


📩 Email: Alexandra@AlexandraAllover.com


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P.S.: Watch my interview with Hans, the German campground owner, who organized the Overlander Christmas Party!


☎️ Contact Hans on WhatsApp:  +593 93 937 1170

👨🏻‍💻 WORKAWAY Finca Sommerwind: https://www.workaway.info/es/host/842913485335

⛺️ Café Sommerwind Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cafesommerwind

⛺️ Finca Sommerwind Homepage: https://finca-sommerwind.info


Or…watch Hans‘s tour through Finca Sommerwind (in German with English subtitles):

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