Hotels and the “AutoHotel”

Well, I’ve been goofing off long enough, and it’s time to get back to the blog.  I unfortunately didn’t keep up with our adventures while on the road, but I still have plenty of great stories to share.

One of the questions we were asked early on in the trip is “how are you planning for lodging?”  To tell the truth, we didn’t.  We more or less picked our “get to” destination each morning, and then let the chips fall where they may.  We also tried to pick an end point each day that ensured we didn’t have to drive after dark…in the States we made it from Ft. Lauderdale to Pensacola (about 650 miles) in one day.  In Central America, depending upon the country and roads, we typically shot for 200 – 350 miles a day.   In Mexico, there are autopistas where you can average 75 mph, and in Guatemala & Honduras, sometimes 25 mph is a good clip.  It all depends.

Our lodgings ran the gamut from really cheap (but clean) for $12 (including parking), to high end and fabulous (where they washed the car in the morning) for about $70.  Everywhere we stayed we either had on-site secure parking, or secure (paid) parking within a few blocks.   The thing you need to know about hotels in Central America is that they are not like hotels here.  They are not big stand-alone buildings (although they do have some American-style places like that).  They are usually in a city (and the road signs and hotel signs are practically non-existant)…mixed in with residential and commercial areas. 

We tried very hard to drive only until 3:30 or so each day so as not to over drive the daylight.  We (mostly me….for insisting we go just “a little bit farther”) missed the stop-early-enough-to-find-a-nice-place-to-stay mark a couple of times.  Fortunately, there were no disastrous consequences, but alot of annoyance.  The other thing we found was that the locals are not adept at giving concise directions, which also caused a couple of after-dark lashing about moments.  It’s kind of a hunt and peck to find the one and only hotel in town, and the darkness (and in one instance fog) doesn’t help one iota.  In the larger towns we usually had a choice of accomodations, but often times the one we’d prefer was full.   If I had one thing to do over, it would be to build in a 45 minute buffer to the “must stop now” time each day, and never break that rule. 

It is quite usual in Central America to ask to see the accomodations before deciding to stay for the night, so we’d often check a couple of different places before deciding where to hang it up for the night.  I don’t recall ever seeing dirty accomodations, but sometimes we’d pass, mainly due to stairs, no air conditioning, a “marital bed” (full size), or inadequate parking.  The other unusual thing about hotels is that they often have family rooms, a big bed, multiple twins, and hammocks for the kidlets. 

And now, to the point of this story.  In Central America, they have this quaint custom called the “autohotel”….which I suppose we nortamericanos would call a hot sheet joint.  When you’re on the road, there is plenty of colorful advertising for the upcoming autohotels….usually neon colors and lots of hearts involved.   We met some kids on our way down who had stayed in an autohotel on their way back to the States, with two babies in tow.  The husband wasn’t quite aware of what the concept was all about, but thought it was pretty cool he didn’t have to pay for a whole night!!

On our first trip to Costa Rica, it was explained to us that the autohotel is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment….for married couples to get away from their big families for a few hours of privacy, or, more covertly, for dating couples (all of the old catholic mores apply, although the younger generation has thrown the “proper appearances” thing to the wind, apparently).  

Well, on our travels, we checked out a couple of these autohotels when we were running out of lodging options, but managed to find superior accomodations until our next to last night out of the U.S.  After a long drive from the interior, we made it through Tampico (me again saying “just a bit further”, knowing that the big, American style hotels on the main drag were going to be expensive) to the north side of town, where I figured there would be plenty of small, family style places that would have been just fine for an overnight stop.  Wrong I was! 

The poor Iguana Man was on his last nerve after driving all day, so we stopped at an autohotel.  The set-up is thus (for almost all of them we passed on our trip):  a walled compound (sometimes with a manned gate)….you drive in, and there are two story “rooms”…the bottom is a garage door, so you pull into an open unit, the man gets out and closes the garage door.   This allows for anonymity.  You go upstairs to the room (and take your bags if you are staying overnight, LOL).  There’s a little pass-through in the door, and after a bit, a person knocks on your door, asks how long you’d like the room, and you pay. 

The autohotel room we had was very nice, rather sexy in its furnishings, and, unfortunately it also came with X-rated television, when all I really wanted was mindless dumb nothing programming.  It also had a little mini-bar.  Oh yes, and it was short on plugs and without internet for the computers…but hey, I don’t think our stay was what they had in mind!  However, it was perfectly adequate for an overnight stop when all you want is a comfortable bed and a good supply of hot water.

The hotels on our trip were really rather a fun part of the adventure.  For the most part, the desk staff personnel all spoke English, and were intrigued at the crazy gringos driving through their countries.  To a person, they were all overwhelmingly happy to accomodate us (unlike some of the surly desk clerks here in the U.S.).  I could tell you about individual hotels, and the people we met, and perhaps I shall do that yet.  We met some incredibly lovely people that way on our travels, from the desk clerk who made sure the cook came in early for our breakfast, to the floor polisher who happily recited the local historical and tourist sites until we had to politely break free.   I really miss that part of being on the road.

~ Blonde Gator

Note to readers:  I should have known better than to use the word “sexy”…you should see some of the idiot comments I’m getting here.  But lucky for you, I have full moderation on, and they will never see the comment section.  Also, my pal Gio showed me how to filter for certain words, so those ugly e-mails never even hit my moderate queue. 

Anyway, I thought it was a funny story and an interesting Latin American cultural detail, so I’m leaving my post exactly as is.

8 Responses to “Hotels and the “AutoHotel””

  1. avatar eastlandgrl says:

    interesting, thanks

  2. Hello, your website is really great, I have a one question for you 🙂 Did u use WordPress or another script, can u help me ?

  3. Love your blog! We (almost ) stayed in such a hotel, during a hurricane travelling south through Mexico, which charged for their rooms in 4-hour increments. Companionship provided, if one wished! Extra.


    Road Less Travelled,

  4. Thanks I really needed this.

  5. avatar Dionna Eron says:

    Good infomation here, thanks.

  6. avatar Queen Mum says:

    I have to give you two credit for being so adventurous when it came to choosing accomodations. I presume there were no “unusual” critters sharing your room.

  7. avatar Blonde Gator says:

    Wow, Paul…who knew? About the companionship, I mean.

    We were told about the AutoHotels on our very first trip to Costa Rica. So we knew. It was a strange experience.

    How is Junquillal? We really miss being there, and in the rest of Central America too. It was a trip of a life time, and I’m so glad we met you two. Take care, and hi to the staff at the Iguana for me, if you’d be so kind.

  8. avatar Blonde Gator says:

    Hola, Your Highness,

    No…no creatures or critters in any of the accomodations on the road trip. We did, however, have critters in the Casa Grande in Costa Rica. Unsane visited, and was assaulted by a frog, and there was a praying mantis in the kitchen one morning, apparently having a caffiene jones as she was patiently sitting on the french press.