Posted by: lianadevine | 25 February 2008

The No-Tell Motel

According to our Mexican campground bible, aptly written by a couple by the name of Church, Merida has only one campground, the Rainbow RV park.  Their latest edition of “Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping” speculates that it too will be swallowed up by land developers; a grandiose modern shopping mall has opened up literally next door.  So we were intrigued and hopeful to see “Trailer Park” emblazoned on the huge orange wall of a building alongside the highway at the eastern approach to Merida.  Maybe its nightly rate would be a little more reasonable than the 250 pesos the Rainbow charged.  Or maybe this is just Sour Grapes after our 80 pesos-a-night beachcamp.

Calvin and I drove through Merida on dimly-remembered routes to find our way from the bus depot, where we’d just left Harry and Maryann, to the Periférico ringing the eastern edge where it is intersected by the highway toward Cancun.  Not far from the outskirts of Merida, actually in one of its suburbs, we saw our big orange building and followed the arrow painted alongside the words “trailer park” to the rear door.  We explained to the man at the door what we were after, and he said the entrance was around the corner at the front of the building.

The entrada was curiously obscured by bushes and brickwork.  Like entering a maze, we wove the Thing between parallel walls, angled to prevent a car parked at the security gate from being seen from the street.  While Calvin was stopped at the gate, I walked over to the office to ask about the rates and availability at this trailer park.  But already I could see it was like no other.

Several employees in the office passed me over to a fellow who could answer my questions about the trailer park.   I explained that we had a 35 foot bus, a casa rodante that we live in, and wanted to park in their trailer park.  He led me out of the office, past the rows of cabanas where Calvin had been directed, through a courtyard that was grassed and had a nice-looking pool as well as a kids’ play area.  Behind all this were more, larger cabanas, then a big concrete parking lot, and my hopes faded as I realized that we were now behind that door where the “trailer park” arrow pointed.  Calvin had followed us in the Thing, and parked in the lot and came over to hear what the man had to say.

In Spanish, he told us that they would charge us 300 pesos to leave our bus on their lot for a night, but that we couldn’t stay in it since we were really paying for the use of a cabana and the facilities.  I clarified that we didn’t need a hookup for power or water, he said none was available anyway.  Then, this man of about 30, began explaining subtly that the trailers  that parked in this area belonged to men…who brought….their…ummm…. He was quite embarassed at this point, so I finished the explanation for him: their girlfriends, for just a few hours.

Now out in the open, I said we knew about these “no-tell motels”, but wasn’t it like false advertising that the sign boasted a “trailer park”?  I suggested that many travellers like us would make this same assumption and come asking, and couldn’t they rent us the space for less than the room rate or at least change the signage?  We got into a conversation about the nature of this business in this area of the ‘burbs of Merida, about the owner’s nearby nightclubs, about the hourly room rates and the amenities of the higher-priced rooms.  At some point we switched to English and Javier told us he was studying for his TOEFL exam.  He asked us about Canada and said he would like to go there someday.   He ended up giving us his contact information in case we needed anything while we were in Merida, another of those “mi casa es su casa” relationships we have been fortunate enough to happen upon on in our travels.  We said our goodbyes and were let out the back “trailer park” door.

While Javier holds a respectable job as a computer geek in a respectable Mexican hotel, the service provided is regarded as less than respectable by foreigners unfamiliar with Mexican culture. In fact, our Sanborn’s guide from our first Mexican trip ten years ago warns travellers in Mexico that “this is not for you”.   But we have seen these “no-tell motels” all across Mexico, on the outskirts of almost every city of any size.   Though we have not personally had opportunity to seek lodging in one, we’ve heard that they do provide the road-weary traveller with a clean bed and a shower for those who want to get a few hours’ rest.  Just don’t think too much about who and what came before.

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