Tour group arrested? Yeah, I know that was a sort of deliberate teaser. Here we go--hope you have your popcorn.
We were trekking and camping in West Africa. About 15 American clients. We had two guides. One from the American tour company, who had spent a lot of time in the African country, knew how things worked and had many connections there. The other was from a local agency that had been contracted with for our camp crew, supplies and what not. Both guides were outstanding and our crew was terrific.
We'd been out in the bush for a while. We stopped in a small town to refuel the bus and take a break. We were wandering around the main drag (such as it was) when a local police offer suddenly emerged from the police station and started yelling. A public-spirited citizen had informed him that one of our group was photographing the police station, which was illegal. (It wasn't until it was all over that we knew what had really happened, but I'll put it in order.) The accused had only taken a picture of a sign near the station, however, the informant thought this was a good opportunity to ingratiate himself with the local cops.
We retreated to our bus with the tour company guide, while the local guide spent the next hour arguing with the police, who were demanding the miscreant's camera. They were speaking one of the the national languages, which the company guide did not know. The supposed photographer was really worried about losing not only the camera, but an entire roll of exposed film. The two guides decided on a ploy. One person on the tour had just loaded a camera with a new roll of film and had taken no pictures. The miscreant emerged with that camera and dramatically ripped out the roll of film. "You want my film? Here it is." The police officer was furious that he would not be able to develop the film and prove our crimes. We were informed that we were now officially detained by the police. Moreover, we were to take the cop and his informant to the big city, an hour away, to meet the district police commandant. Well, that city was out destination anyway, so off we went, tourists, camp crew, guides, cop and informant. We made one stop on the way, in the middle of nowhere, when some of us couldn't take it any more. Ladies to this side of the bus and men to that side. Fortunately, it was after dark.
When we got to Big City, we set off in search of the commandant. We had been taking our cues from the guides and had been very quiet through the whole thing. At the second stop, while the cop was in some office making inquiries, the company guide told us "OK, I've been quiet because I need to be able to work in this country. But now it's time or you to get angry." He gave us some suggestions for what to say, but we also got creative.
When the cop got back on the bus, we erupted. We demanded immediate access to the American ambassador, claiming that the law required it. We insisted that everything being said be translated into English, even "bus driver, turn left here." One inventive guy pointed at another tourist and said "This lady is sick, She needs a doctor now." The tourist caught on, clutched her stomach and began moaning. We were noisy and obnoxious in general.
The district commandant, it seems, had gone home for the night. We wound up at his house. There was a whole lot of discussion in a local dialect that neither of our guides knew, but that the bus driver understood. Finally, we agreed to sign a piece of paper saying that we would not sell photographs of local police to America newspapers and were sent on our way.
The bus driver filled us in. Once the informant had made his spurious claim, the local cop saw an opportunity. He decided that this would be a great way to impress the commandant with his diligence, that he would not let rich tourists get away with violating photography laws. He made an impression on the commandant, all right, interrupting the man's dinner with a bus load of irate tourists loudly demanding to see the American ambassador. The commandant asked the local police guy & his informant to stay behind for a "chat" after we left. Had we been truly in he wrong, we would have been told to buy them a bus ticket back to their village. As it was, the two guys would probably be spending the rest of the night by the side of the road trying to hitchhike home.
The local police officer's career was probably not helped by the fact that the local guide worked for a tour company that was owned by an extremely well-connected and influential person who was fully capable of having his own "chat" with the national police chief.
The evil photographer go to keep the camera and all the pictures and, at the end of the trip, the tip envelopes for the guides were overflowing.