Note: This is NOT a hostel review, it’s merely a story about an auto hotel that some of you will probably find hilarious and some of you will probably find disgusting (those of you who need to relax).
So it’s 6:45pm and we’ve just pulled into the bus terminal in Sonsonate (nicknamed “Cincinnati”). It’s been a long, hard day of tons of different buses from Panajachel, Guatemala and the border crossing. Finally, we’re only an hour away from our destination San Salvador, and the free hotel that awaits us there. We can make it!
Except…no. Very unexpectedly, we are told that the last bus to San Salvador left 15 minutes ago. What? Usually buses run frequently until at least 10pm, especially for such a short trip. But everyone confirms that there are no more buses ’til morning. After checking the price for a taxi all the way to the capital, we give up and decide to just stay in Sonsonate for the night. We ask the taxi driver if he knows of a “hostal muy economico” and he says yes, he can take us to one that only costs $10 per night.
Off we go, strangely, away from town. Soon we pull up to the Auto Hotel Canada, a large complex that looks like a casino from the outside. Once inside the front gate though, the taxi driver pulls right into one of many adjacent open garages. “What is this? Where is reception?” I was thinking, my sketch radar on high alert and my eyes checking to make sure the garage door was not going down. Sensing that we were confused, the taxi driver told us to open the door inside the garage and pay through some “Spanish Spanish” that I didn’t get. “Oh, AUTO HOTEL,” I thought, “It must mean you pay through an automatic machine or something!” Not quite, it turned out, but we figured out what was going on eventually.
You open up the box and it connects to a staff member across the wall. You communicate and pass things between each other without ever seeing each other! We put our $10 in the box, someone took it, and then gave us towels, change, and two free orange juices in return. Finally we grasped what was going on…this is totally just a sex hotel!!!!!!!!! Complete anonymity: you pull into a garage, put the door down, enter your room, pay and conduct all your business withoutever being seen. What a genius yet quite terrifying concept…perfect place to have an affair, meet a hooker, or kill someone, you know? Realizing where we were, we were definitely super creeped out at first. We’d seen “Auto Hotels” everywhere, but never stayed in one or realized what they were. But there was nothing we could do about the situation, and it was cheap and seemed clean enough, so we just had to laugh about the hilariousness of this place.
Other features of the “Auto Hotel”:
The price was $10 but for only 12 hours exactly. We got there at 7pm and were told (through the box) that we had until 7am. Okay, I guess we’ll get up early! Guess they gotta wash the sheets and get ready for the day shift!
Huge mirror on the wall
TV with only one “special interest” channel
Lock on the toilet paper
Apparently auto hotels are an institution around Central America, and we can see why. The culture is very socially conservative, very Catholic, and most young people live at home until they marry. Also, prostitution is legal. Places like this are the only place to go for some people seeking to engage in certain activities. I’m not passing judgement one way or the other; I just thought staying in an auto hotel was a very interesting (and funny) cultural experience.