We'd been warned, that much we couldn't deny, don't cross the border without the correct exit and entrance stamps. We were backpacking round South America, this leg of the journey from La Paz, the highest city in the world, over the border and into Peru, where hopefully we'd hit Lima in about a week. This leg of the journey was fourteen hours. Somehow we managed to sleep despite the colourful bus stopping at just about every village, where brightly dressed children and women came out with water and corn.
We were typical Brits abroad, couldn't speak the lingo, just relied on sign language and other people to get by.
We got off the bus to stretch our legs, not surprisingly the children homed in on us,
"Meester, meester buy water." I went to my 'loose change' wallet to grab a few pesos for the water, this was my first mistake, as the child snatched it off me I ran after him which proved to be my second mistake. The kid went round the back of some shacks, I followed him and bumped into a card school of what looked like four policemen.
I've no idea whether they understood me or not but it seemed having your wallet nicked was a crime round here. Next thing I was up against the wall, then the punches came, first my kidneys then stomach, the punches turned to kicks before I was dragged into the police station.
I was unaware my girlfriend had followed me as by now I was barely conscious. I briefly remember seeing her appear at the door, I saw the look of panic on her face and I saw her sneak up behind one of the coppers, grab his gun from his belt and shove it in his face.
I must have drifted out of consciousness, when I came round we were in a siege. Somehow she'd managed to cuff the coppers together but someone had alerted the authorities and outside we were surrounded. I could hear helicopters above us and someone with a loud hailer outside shouting God know what to us in Spanish.
If we'd bothered to learn at least a little Spanish, we'd have understood the coppers outside were not addressing us but the four 'coppers.' We only found out later we were the victims of a scam which moved from village to village along the bus route. A kid steals your wallet, you chase him and run into four 'coppers' who charge you for crossing the border and fine you if their in a good mood. If their in a bad mood they beat the shit out of you and steal all your possessions.
It took six hours for someone from the British Consulate to speak to us through the loud hailer. Some people on the bus had alerted the local authorities. We still look back on it now 20 years later and realise how lucky we were. We could have been fined for crossing the border.