Ever read those travel guides where they tell you not to take pictures outside of official government places? Or at least to ask first?
There’s a reason.
As I wrote previously, it’s my intent to go visit San Pedro Prison tomorrow. So, today, I figured I’d scope it out.
I checked the map and walked up the hill which looked the same as the rest of La Paz. All of a sudden, I see what is obviously a prison, which looks very different from the streams of internet places and fried chicken shops.
A police officer was standing on the street across from the prison-looking prison.
Roni: Is that San Pedro?
Police officer: Yes.
Roni: So it’s not a legend? There are criminals inside?
Police officer: Yes. No, it is not a legend.
Roni: From drugs?
Police: Many different violations.
Roni: Ok, thanks.
Off I walked, recording a nice little video on one side, finally getting to the front. It’s really not that big. Basically one big block by one block.
And now the excitement begins…
(Change to present tense.)
There’s a van! Ooooh! A prison van! In front of the prison! And they’re carting out prisoners! All handcuffed and such!
Now, I am quite certain (if I wasn’t before) that this is the real deal. A real prison filled with real prisoners.
I stand across the road and take pictures and videos, feeling quite happy and secure. During one of my videos, some handcuffed fellow look over at me. “See you tomorrow!” I cheerfully say on video.
The prisoners safely inside, I stop recording and begin to walk away. A police officer begins walking across the street, in my direction. He has his hand out, palm down, and begins dragging his fingers across the air toward himself.
I freeze. They guy tells me that I was taking pictures. He was right. He grabs my camera. At this point, I’m worried that he’ll just keep my camera, which makes me quite sad and annoyed and worried.
He wants me to walk with him to the prison. At this point, I’m more freaked out, thinking that perhaps this was a greater offense than I thought.
We walk into the main gate. He points into the gate into the prison itself. I’m thinking maybe he’s just messing with me, since he jovially tells another police officer how I was taking pictures. That being said, I am worried that even if this is a gag, he might just throw me in the actual prison for a bit. And that might not be a great thing, even if it’s just a joke.
He gives the other police officer my camera.
The 2nd police officer fuddles with my camera in a simian sort of way. I tell him that I can help him.
I delete the video. Behind the video is a picture. He wants me to delete that, too. I do. Then there’s another picture. Bye-bye picture. Then there’s a picture that’s a bit further away. I ask if he wants that gone, but he says no.
At this point, I get my camera back and walk out, not much worse for the wear.
Across from San Pedro is a little plaza/park. I am laughing uproariously at how this is exactly the sort of situation that I get myself in. I figure that now I *have* to go inside, so I figure I’ll shop around for tour prices. I ask a guy at a kiosk where one finds a tour agency to go into San Pedro. He has no idea what I’m talking about.
When I get back to the hostel, I ask the desk guy how I go into the prison. He says to just ask the police outside. This freaks me out.