Neophytes on the road to Yucatan

Today we have a guest blogger. Greer Lavery  and his wife Janetta spend their winters in Yucatan. He has written a story about the drive from Ontario to Yucatan. I wonder how many readers of Writing From Merida have made this trip? And I have to ask if your experience included all the Laverys did?

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In 2005, after four years of flying to Yucatán, and having seen many Canadian license plates in Progreso, Chicxulub and Mérida, we decided to drive from Ontario to Progreso hoping to see a good deal of rural Mexico along the way.

We arrived in McAllen, Texas late in the afternoon, planning to get an early start the next morning to cross into Reynosa, pick up our tourist visas and vehicle permit and begin our tour of Mexico. The first day’s destination was Tampico, about 400 km along an all-paved road with a few small towns and villages along the route. With cautious, sight-seeing driving we estimated we should be in Tampico by early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to find accommodation for the night; we had been strongly advised not to drive in Mexico after dark.

Upon arriving at the Immigration office shortly after 7am, we found that a caravan of eleven motor homes, each with multiple occupants, had arrived at the office before us, so we did not get on the road until late morning. We drove through areas of vegetable crops, orange groves, banana plantations, coconut groves and beautiful scenery. The long stretches of straight road shown on the map turned out to have MANY pueblos all along the route, each with a dozen or so topes, slowing travel to a crawl. The reduced speed did allow us to have a leisurely observance of life in the villages and towns so we did not mind the slow pace. We went along miles of road with no road signs, no signs of habitation and when we did come upon a road sign, the highway number did not match the number on the map. Villages were unnamed. The road was paved virtually all the way but it was also full of potholes, some large, some medium, and huge ruts in places where the asphalt had softened and heaved in the heat.The road was heavily populated with huge doble-semi-remolques. These trucks would creep through the villages and speed up on the straight stretches making passing risky on the treacherous roads. A pleasing revelation however, was that when passing was possible, the truckers would pull halfway onto the shoulder and give a signal to indicate that it was safe to pass. An enlightened and significant improvement over the attitude of truckers at home!!

It was dusk when we finally arrived at the outskirts of Tampico and began looking anxiously for a decent place to stay. A large MOTEL sign brought a sigh of relief and we drove into an inner row of units through a staggered pair of walls which blocked the view of the units from the street. A receptionist came out to greet us and directed us to drive into the garage of one of the units. The garage door was closed behind us and we entered the unit through a door inside the garage. This was the only door to the unit and there were no windows visible in the main room. The room was neat, clean, nicely furnished and looked very welcoming to two weary travelers. I asked about meals (they could be ordered from the front desk and would be brought to the room) and I enquired as well about the nightly room rate. At this point things began to go awry as I could not make sense of what the receptionist was saying. While not fluent in Spanish I could usually understand a simple accommodation conversation and make myself understood as well. The problem seemed to be on the length of stay. The motel girl kept looking at me quizzically each time I mentioned an overnite stay. She didn’t seem to have the same reservations once she looked at my gorgeous wife Janetta though. (At the time I thought it was my Spanish).

After a few minutes of getting nowhere we paused while Janetta went to look at the posted room rates on the door and I took a closer look around the room. She realized that the room was for rent by the hour and I noticed that the walls of the room were covered in mirrors. We both realized at the same moment the type of establishment we had blundered into and that was that. Janetta couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Personally, I was somewhat intrigued but to no avail. Out we went, back to the car and off into the dark Mexican night. We ended up at the Fiesta Inn, 1,450 pesos per nite and to add insult to injury, our bank card was stolen from our room while we were out to dinner.

Describing our experience once we got to Progreso generated quite a few chuckles. My good friend Joe from North Bay took great delight in introducing me to new people at our bridge table: “This is Greer. He’s an authority on Mexican hot sheet-motels.” Usually this just brought me a wary, uncertain glance but one sweet little old lady came back immediately with a reply I still remember: “Oh? Is he an owner or a user?”

We have since seen these motels in just about every city we’ve visited in Mexico – they seem to be a common and accepted part of Mexican culture.  Some fellow travelers have said that they have stayed in one on their drive to / from home. And why not? They’re clean, very secure, inexpensive, have meal delivery and, for those that are so inclined, all those mirrors!

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15 Comments

Filed under Guest Bloggers

15 responses to “Neophytes on the road to Yucatan

  1. Heather

    Enjoyed your story, Greer, very much. Having poor Spanish skills at one of these establishments can lead to misunderstandings, however, In our case, we called the office to remove our dirty dishes (we thought) and so left them at the window. To our surprise, they delivered an extra serving of french fries!

  2. Nancy Walters

    I was very happy with my stay in one on the outskirts of Saltillo. I had a van packed with personal possessions and it was the safest place I stayed. The food was good and the only thing that was not totally pleasing was the TV selections, just not that interesting for a single woman traveling alone…

  3. mazbook

    For singles or couples wanting only to rest their heads for a night while traveling, moteles de paso absolutely can’t be beat! Priced reasonably, secure (for your vehicle also), very, very clean, plenty of hot water and fluffy towels for bathing AND reasonably price room service for beverages or simple meals.

    Far, far superior to ALL of the so-called moteles/hoteles familiares (Mexican budget family style motels or hotels), which fail miserably in ALL the categories I listed where the moteles de paso excel.

    I, and many others to whom I have recommended them to over the years (ever since I discovered them back in the 1960s), have never had a bad experience when using moteles de paso. As a matter of fact, winter visitors to Mazatlán actually trade names and locations for them on the most conservative of all the Mazatlán forums!

    Moteles de paso fill a very specific Mexican cultural need, which is much to complex to cover in this post, but what they are NOT is anything even remotely resembling a NOB “hot-sheet” motel or hotel. Neither are they bordellos, so you certainly don’t get “ladies-of-the-night” soliciting you (as has happened to me in certain unnamed U.S. budget motels).

    • Thanks Richard for adding more information about this “muy mexicana” accommodation option

      • mazbook

        Joanna, Sorry, but mazbook is ME, David Bodwell. I signed on with my WordPress signon by accident, instead of my Facebook one which correctly identifies me as ME rather than my more common online username of mazbook.

        It’s kind of funny, though, as in the 1960s when I first discovered moteles de paso in México, Richard, who is a LOT better historian of México than I will ever be, was still a small child (maybe even still in diapers LOL) who would have been an unlikely traveler in México.

        I would like to add one small note of warning, though. Occasionally (actually pretty uncommon) you will see a “Motel” sign right next door to a “nightclub”. Those should be avoided, as those “nightclubs” are usually table dance places and the foot traffic between the “nightclub” and the “motel” can be pretty heavy in the wee hours. Besides, the music can be darn loud too!

      • OK David, I stand corrected. Thanks for the comments; this is useful information for vehicle travelers in Mexico

  4. Jan Morgan

    We, like many others, always looked for the secure motels to stay in… we just told them we were traveling, and staying the night , and usually got the room for about 500 pesos for the whole night. Very secure when carrying lots of stuff in your vehicle!! We had one room with a very interesting shower…it had an extra spray coming from the middle of the floor of the shower!

  5. My only complaint with a “hotel del paso” was that I was not permitted to walk my dogs around the inner courtyard, for fear I’d compromise someone else’s secrecy.

    But that only enhanced the security. I actually favored these hotels, particularly since I had two dogs with me. There were very few hotels in Mexico which would accomodate dogs, when I made my drives down here 15 years ago. I remember a “regular” hotel permitting me to keep the doggies in the car, but that was about it en route.

    The sexual security also translated into security for my car “stuffed with stuff”.

    Thanks for that, Greer, and Joanna. I’d forgotten the chuckle I’d received by an on-looking man, watching the single gringa about to have yet another interesting experience as I approached the Motel.

    • I have heard lots of stories about people who have stayed in these places… I never drive anywhere very far so have not needed a hotel for just one night… But you’re right Alinde, it would be yet another interesting experience!

  6. Gringomac

    I wonder if they would have got a better deal there than at the Fiesta….?

    • Well, when calculating what makes for a “better deal,”I think one needs to take into account ALL the added features… those mirrors sound like they might be pretty interesting, don’t they?

  7. Deanna Lagroix

    Great story, Greer!! Such family folklore worthy of the telling for years and give welcoming ideas to the new travellers driving from Ontario to Progreso!!

    • Hi Deanna… good to hear from you this morning. I hope to receive another story from you before too long… Greer’s piece is funny, isn’t it? And so good that he can laugh at his faux pas.

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