#37) How to Get out of Going to Jail in Bolivia

Posted on Posted in Badassery, Best of Season 1, Blog, Season 1, Travel

Time: 2 Hours

Cost: 40 Bolivianos

Difficulty: Easy as crappin your pants in a foreign country

Badassery: Pretty Darn badass if you ask me


So… I got Arrested…

Yep, this classic middle class white kid consistently getting into shenanigans and consistently getting away with them as finally had long arm of the law come crashing down on him (in a developing country known for its extra sketchy jails non the less).

Well at least for a few hours anyways.

I mean its Bolivia, and in Bolivia, paper runs the world. No, not paper as in money, actual paper. Apparently that stuff is gold in Bolivia. If you have watched the video, you will get that comment, if not here’s a 5 minute read explaining what happened, why it happened and what you can do if you get in a similar situation.

What, Why, and the other What

I would like to blame the following story on a lack of signage, a poorly slopped road and a gate that was much to easy to climb to be considered “trespassing”. I would like to do that, but in order to respect the intelligence of all the fine people reading this post, I will admit that it was at least 10% poor judgement on my part. At least….maybe more…Ill let you decide.

Its in your hands now. Use it wisely amigos.

So What does a Dropped Cell Phone, the Police, Bolivan Television, and a Pack of Paper have in Common?

It started as a night spent scoping out some potential places to do Urban Exploration in in the city of La Paz, Bolivia. My friend Garrett and I were walking around, and eventually approached a building that looked pretty freakin sweet to explore. It was a large skyscraper currently under construction with no lights on, and in a relatively unpopulated area (at night anyways). Planning for the next day, I went to take a picture of it with my phone so we could remember what it looked like and how to get back to it the next day.

During the process, the phone slipped out of my hands and fell landing on the poorly slopped sidewalk bouncing underneath the gate of said building. Being in the mood of Urban Exploration,  I decided to hop the gate (which once again, was much too easy to climb over if they reaaallly wanted to keep people out) and grab the phone.

And as soon as I landed on the ground, the flashlights, yelling and one of the most stressful nights of my life began.

Being a man who considers himself quite sneaky, I decided it would be a good idea to try and hide from these loud voices behind the closest pillar I could find. You know… wait it out until everything all blew over, and was back to normal for this naive naive white dude in Bolivia. Naturally, this was not the case, and within minutes of hiding life threw a well aimed fastball at my groin and I was on the ground, in the fetal position receiving a good number of blows to the back of my head from the two heroic individuals guarding the building. Which was shortly topped off by the word “Police”.


And in 20 minutes, after trying to explain what happened to the two men who had kicked my ass, the police arrived….along with 2 government officials and a TV camera crew. Turns out I had climbed into the wrong building. An under construction Financial Government Building to be exact.

This shit was the real deal

After a desperate (and unsuccessful) attempt to explain to the recently arrived official what had happened (none of which spoke English), both Garrett and I had the pleasure of riding in the back of a Bolivian Police Truck with absolutely no idea where we were going or what we were about to get into.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 9.41.40 AM
This exact truck as a matter of fact.

10 minutes later, we arrived at a Bolivian Police station, and were escorted out of the back of the truck towards the station, the TV crews following close behind. And still, having no idea what the heck was going on…I mean, other than the fact that there was a good chance we were going to be sharing a jail cell with 10 to 15 other Bolivian inmates that night…

She was a sticky situation

Following one of the most stressful hours of my life, filled with arguing policemen, questions from the camera crews and hushed planning between Garrett and I, the individual who seemed to be the head of operations there turned to me and asked me to come over. Being some one who values my life, I obliged.

He spoke to me in Spanish very quickly initially, realized I didn’t understand…stopped, looked at me, made a handcuff motion with his hands pointed at me and said “Ocho horas”.

The only thing worse than going to jail for 8 hours, is a 5 foot 7, 140 pound gringo going to jail for 8 hours surrounded by a dozen Bolivian inmates in one of the craziest jails in South America. If I was going in there, I wasn’t coming out the same person.

A shot from inside San Pedro Prison, La Paz

We needed a solution, and we needed it fast. The main problem was that there was no way to directly communicate with the individuals charging me, making it very difficult for either side to fully understand each other. And just like that, Garrett had the amazing idea to call our hostel and ask the receptionist who works there to translate for us. That beautiful, beautiful man.

In 10 minutes he was there, and talking with the police officers in a very calm, confident and collected tone.

It was like he was our Hostel Receptionist Lawyer

And almost as quickly as he had got there, he turned to us and said.

“There are no charges, you are good to go, you just have to buy the police a pack of paper”


Lol, what?

Yup, all we had to do to avoid going to jail for 8 hours was buy the Police a pack of printer paper for 40 Bs ($6.50 American) and we were good to go.  I still have no idea what that guy said to the police to make them do that, or if they were even intending to send us to jail in the first place. All I know is he is an angel, and I will forever be in his debt. Muchas Gracias Alvaro.

And through this whole experience, we ended up making it onto the Bolivian news. A video of that to come soon 🙂

So far, one of the most unreal, nerve racking, craziest stories of my life. Hopefully I don’t top it anytime soon…


A Quick Summary for the Lazy

(Or the busy…or people who don’t like to read or watch videos)


  1. Dropped my cell phone in a building
  2. Climbed a gate to grab it
  3. Got arrested
  4. Bribed the Police with a pack of paper in order to have no charges and to not have to go to jail
  5. Got on Bolivian TV
  6. Changed my Underwear

What did I learn?

The obvious answer to this question would be that I learned how to get away with breaking the law in Bolivia. Which…I guess in a way I did. But more than anything else, I learned the value of not taking stupid, law breaking risks in foreign countries. Especially developing countries that a known for their sketchy prisons and incredibly corrupt system of law.

Not only would I have had to spend 8 hours in a terribly run prison, in which God knows what could have happened, I may have had my traveling privileges taken away in South America, and came out of that place a physically and mentally scarred person.

So I guess the moral of the story is…don’t do stupid shit that could get you arrested in foreign countries. But, if this story doesn’t hold you back from doing that… make sure you have some money on you to bribe the police in case you get caught.

“Never underestimate the effectiveness of a straight cash bribe”

-Claud Cockburn

Or in this case, a bribe of stock printer paper…

Thanks for reading and well talk next week 🙂

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