Pico Y Placa

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With a population of over 2.6 million, built atop a mountain and with only a few ways to enter and exit the city – Quito traffic can be a bit of a nightmare.

Especially during rush hour.

To combat the influx and outflux of vehicles, the city abides by Pico y Placa which means Peak and Plate. This driving restriction policy is based on the last number of each car’s license plate and limits one day per week that the car cannot be driven within city limits.

It only affects weekdays between the hours of 7am-9:30am and then again from 4pm-7:30pm.

But it still can be a pain in the ass.

Our day just so happens to be Friday. Unlucky number 9. Which is the least desirable of days falling on the one where fun is most likely to be had.

So, yesterday…

We were driving up to a friend’s house, just blocks from her house and only minutes after 4pm. When a traffic cop waved us over. Furiously shaking his arms at us, motioning for us to move the car to the side.

My stomach dropped.

Being a gringo and not completely fluent prepared us for persecution to the fullest extent of the law.

Which apparently was far more severe than either of us expected.

In the United States, a non-violent infraction like this would probably cost you a ticket that you could pay online. But here, your car can be impounded for as many days as it takes you to work through a system that we have not found to be particularly efficient to date.

My husband and the cop went back and forth for several minutes. The cop breaking from the conversation to take photos of our license plate and matricula. He indicated that we should follow him to the station in Rio Coca, where presumably our car would be kept until further notice.

With our son sleeping in the back, my husband tried every trick in the book to convince him otherwise.

I don’t understand. Can we just leave?

Until that point, I had stayed silent. But with our options dwindling, I decided to speak up. And surprisingly.

He said, yes.

Still confused, but the only one of the three of us. My husband and the cop had reached an understanding that apparently was conveyed without words.

And then it was over.

I had heard about this before. Something I would never dare try, but had inadvertently triggered through my interjection. The innocent fool. A role I was more than happy to play.

The next few streets felt like forever. And going forward we will be a lot more careful. Feeling lucky to have learned this lesson the easy way this time. Not that we always are so fortunate.

When I got to our friend’s house. She told me that Pico y Placa is something that is feared amongst her social circle. Something that we had written off as a slap-on-the-wrist because of a point-of-reference from our own country of origin that didn’t apply.

Which just goes to show we don’t know shit.

A common theme in our journey here that is as delightfully refreshing and full of learning, as it can be wrought with the kind of poop-in-your-pants challenges that leave you on the side of a road hours away from civilization and phone service.

But that story is for another day.

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