Several years ago, my wife and I went to Mexico to deliver some books and teach a course in a school I had a hand in initiating several years earlier. It was a kind of counter-cultural school and part of a movement among European priests to strengthen leadership within the Catholic Church in Latin America.
This establishment (CEDOC) was founded by Ivan Illich, a brilliant Jesuit priest whose interests were related to reforming society’s institutions. Of his many books, he is best known for his “Deschooling Society.”
My wife and I had been in Mexico for a few weeks and invited my sister and her husband down to experience the country south of the border.
We drove our van into southern Mexico, visiting one of the major archaeological sites. It was a magnificent site with several buildings and possibly the most famous burial site with sarcophagus among the hundreds of Maya sites in Mesoamerica.
I was driving a 1977 Ford Econoline which brought us from Wilmington, Ohio. I met my sister and her husband at the airport in Mexico City and went to Cuernavaca just south of Mexico City, then on to Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.
Acapulco is not just a tourist center — it is an old Spanish city that was used as a trading location for Mexico with Asia and especially the Philippines.
One evening as the sun was setting in this unfamiliar area we pulled into a motel that we found was quite reasonably priced — $5 a night, or so we thought — so we were quite pleased with ourselves!
There were several persons at the entrance informally greeting us and, after paying, we were led to independent units and then curiously followed by one of the workers who showed us the parking spot next to each unit.
Following the worker, we parked and he immediately pulled a large canvas connected to a wire stretching from our unit to the next unit – hiding our van from view. We rapidly found that each unit was constructed the same way and there were probably a dozen such units situated around a circular driveway.
Going inside we found even stranger arrangements, but first we ventured outside to enjoy the gardens and possibly strike up a conversation with other visitors.
All we found outside was a worker with whom I managed to extract some information about the purpose of this establishment as another car drove into the motel, followed by a worker who repeated the canvas-pulling process behind the car, hiding it from view. Then, another car entered, following the same ritual — and to our surprise on each occasion each car stayed only for a short time before having the canvas removed and exiting.
Well, we were slowly putting two and two together and, with some help from the worker, made some sense of our situation. Then we went inside our motel and we were more enlightened — we had rented a motel unit used not for an overnight stays, but for a temporary rendezvous for a man and his novia.
More enlightenment came as we viewed the inside of the room which was quite bare, with beds mounted on cement slabs and several mirrors placed about a foot or two off the floor and mirrors on the ceiling. Finally, in an outside wall, was an opening with the kind of swivel construct for receiving drinks without the waiter being able to see inside the room.
Well, even with all the traffic, we slept well and were quite pleased with ourselves for finding such a reasonable night’s sleep and being introduced to a dimension of culture south of the border. (Since then I have been told that it is not peculiar to Mexico but also common north of that border, even in Ohio!)
As we left the next morning, we could imagine what the proprietors were thinking and certainly laughing about, even though we could have interrupted their customer flow. I’m sure they were thinking that “Four not-too-smart Gringos can’t tell the difference between a motel for short-term entertainment and a legitimate hotel. Well, what might you expect?”
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.