Booked on the autostrada
Although I haven't always been a good boy on my trip, so far I've managed to avoid any trouble with the law. I've been a victim of crime before, and I've gone to the police before; but today it was the police that came to me. After I accidentally found myself on the A29 autostrada (freeway) this morning — headed west from Mazara to Campobello — I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself getting pulled over by Sicily's Polizia Stradale ("Highway Police"). As I (pretty much) knew, it's illegal to cycle on an autostrada — and once you get on them, it's impossible to turn around, and impossible to get off until the next exit.
The worst thing was, it really wasn't my fault — it was a total accident! I took the regular (non-autostrada) highway south this morning, from (my field near) Marsala to Mozia; and then before I knew it, when I was going through the outskirts of Mozia, the SS115 highway pretty much turned into the A29. There was a small turnoff for those who wanted to actually continue on the SS115; but it wasn't well-marked, and I didn't take it. Oh well, I thought when I realised my mistake, I can't turn around easily, so I'll just keep going until the first exit.
I was on the A29 for about 15 minutes, before I got stopped by a crew of construction workers, who were fixing up some power lines on the side of the freeway. "Stop — go back, you're not allowed on the autostrada", they screamed at me.
"I know", I replied. "But I can't turn around" (I couldn't — there was a walled barrier in the middle of the road, and traffic doing 120km/h right next to me). "I'll take the next exit."
"We're calling the police", the workers kept shouting. "You shouldn't be on this road."
And the f$%?ing bastards actually did call the cops. 10 minutes later, a highway patrol pulled up in front of me, and the officers got out and indicated that they would escort me to the next exit. As it turned out, the next exit (i.e. the first one) still wasn't for another 10 km's or so. So for all that distance, I was riding along with a cop car crawling along in front of me (in the emergency lane), their siren off but their lights rotating red-and-blue, "escorting" me off their precious autostrada.
When we finally reached the exit, the cops got out again, and things got serious. Thankfully, one of them spoke half-decent English, so we were at least able to understand each other well enough to avoid a big stuff-up. Basically, they insisted that I'd broken the law, and that I had to pay a fine. I tried to argue: but they said that I could either pay them €36 cash, on the spot, and walk away; or that they could take me to the station, where I'd probably have to end up paying a fine anyway.
So what could I do? I didn't want to get into any more trouble; so I paid them the €36 (they gave me a receipt and everything — seemed legit enough), and that was that. From what I gathered (by listening to their bad English), I think they were trying to tell me that since they'd been called out specifically to find me, the payment was really more of a "response fee" than a "fine" — the cop's words were: "it would be impossible for you to not pay this fine". They were understanding, and nice enough — they realised that I was just a poor tourist who'd missed a turnoff, and that I hadn't caused any harm by my half-hour or so on the autostrada — but they did insist on me handing over the cash. But hey: cops like their cash everywhere; and in Sicily, probably more than in most places :P.
After that, the cops said good-bye to me, and they drove off and let me take the exit to Campobello. They assured me that I hadn't done anything criminal, and that this incident wouldn't go on my record, or affect my travels in Europe at all. Once I got to Campobello, I found a bar for the morning coffee break, and sat down to what I felt was a very urgently-needed hot choc and pastry. I also found several friendly locals at the bar, a few of whom had witnessed the drama on the autostrada, and who were very sympathetic to my story.
I'm not so pi$$ed that I missed the turnoff — it was an honest mistake, and these things happen. I'm not so pi$$ed that the cops fined me — they were only doing their job, and they really didn't give me much of a hard time. The only people I am pi$$ed at, is those daym construction workers! What was it about my innocent mistake that they found so grievously sinful, it warranted calling the cops out on me? Couldn't they have just said "make sure you take the next exit" and left me in peace? Why did they have to be such utter pr$cks, and get me in trouble with the law (and with my wallet)? I guess some people are just like that. Anyway, just as acts of random spite are unavoidable at times, so too are acts of random kindness welcome — and you get those in funny places, too.