Tijuana is full of motels like this one, but you might want to think twice about checking in.
Motels south of the border serve a quite different purpose than motels in the U.S., which are still an option for budget-conscious families and travelers. Motels in Mexico – and throughout Latin America – are for people to hook up in. This explains why they are built with large walls, and sometimes have paying areas set up as booths with reflective glass. The upper-end ones offer garages and private entries while the lower-scale ones use curtains to cover up your car. Once you realize what they are, you start to see them all over the place. The more extravagant ones take on themes: There’s one in the outskirts of the city inspired by the Taj Majal.
How do I know this? As a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, I once had to go to a crime scene near one of these “love motels” and tried – unsuccessfully – to get some information from the voices behind a tinted glass booth. Another time, also while on assignment for the Union-Tribune, I stayed at a motel in Veracruz out of absolute desperation. A photographer and I had arrived there during some national holiday and the city’s hotels were filled to capacity. A hotel worker suggested a motel. My room was decorated in surreal shades of blue. A plastic black couch faced a television and mini-bar. Inside a glass nook, fake flowers and arranged stones created a kitschy fantasy ambiance. The pillows were flat, the bed was hard, and napkin dispensers clung to the walls.
The motels are used by prostitutes and their clients. They are sometimes used by married people who are having affairs. But they are also used by people who just need a little space away from prying eyes. In Latin America, privacy can be sorely lacking when you are living with your parents, in-laws, kids, and other assorted family members. Some of these motels are designed to be quick – really quick – get-aways. That night in Veracruz, it became quite clear to me that this one wasn’t made for sleeping in as the sound of nearby garage doors opening and closing kept me up all night.