Villahermosa is not the beautiful city its name suggests. After driving through its bustling but uninteresting downtown, we decided to try out an ‘auto-hotel.’ We noticed these attractive, gated ‘auto-hotels’ outside many cities on our drive through Mexico. We drove into Hotel Villa Magna on the edge of town. We were pleased by the price, the spacious room, and the fact that we had our own garage with an electronic garage door. We found it strange that we were not given a key to our room, which was located above our personal garage. The room and car were only locked when we closed the garage door behind us. We also found the room a bit unusual with a full length mirror behind the bed framed by flashing green LEDs, and lighting that was so dim we couldn’t even read our books. I think we were memorable guests, since we ended up eating in the employee cafeteria (by accident). Since there was a menu in the room for the restaurant, we went down to the front desk to ask where the restaurant was located. I don’t know if we were having an off day in terms of our Spanish comprehension, if the employees had extremely strong accents, or if they were messing with us, but we simply could not understand how to get to the restaurant. Finally, one of the maids beckoned for us to follow her up a strange staircase through some back halls to the ‘restaurant’. This turned out to be the kitchen with a couple of tables for employees during their breaks (we think). I don’t know if the cooks or we were more confused, but we were fed so we were happy.
Several weeks later we were discussing this experience with Kelsey and Tom, travelers who are also driving to South America. We came to understand that these ‘auto-hotels’ are the Mexican equivalent of a Japanese ‘love hotel.’ These hotels exist solely to give people a discreet place to stay with the emphasis on privacy. Just like Japan, many Mexican people live with extended families in smaller houses, making a romantic night with your new wife difficult if share a room with your cousins. I think that explains why I kept on hearing ocho horas (eight hours) when the maid was quoting us prices during one of our confusing conversations. We stayed for 12 or 14 hours though – I don’t think they thought it was worth trying to explain their hotel concept to the clueless foreigners.