I’d told my husband that I’d booked us a private session with a Pilates instructor. As we approached the nondescript beige building, Rob started asking questions: “Are you sure this is the address?” We were on a working vacation in Buenos Aires, and my bungling of Spanish had become a joke between us. “It’s where she keeps her equipment,” I said. Then Rob noticed a sign: albergue transitorio, or “temporary lodging.” “Zoe,” he said worriedly, “I think this place is for prostitutes.”
I pushed past him to reception, where I planned on ordering a “suite con hidro,” as my two expat friends had coached me. But the clerk, sitting behind bulletproof glass, was helping another couple. As we waited, Rob began to grin: “Are we getting a room?” he whispered. I giggled, still insisting that we were there for Pilates. The woman ahead of us began to laugh as well. We were all about to have sex! How embarrassing! How exciting! Her huge implanted breasts bounced, and it occurred to me that she actually did look like a hooker. Her companion was talking on his phone: something, something “puta” – in plain English, “whore.” I stopped laughing.
I’d been assured that all sorts of people frequent telos (“love hotels” is the closest English translation) – young couples who live with their parents, married people having affairs, and couples with children who want peace and privacy, like my husband and me. According to an organization that represents telos, there are 180 of them in Buenos Aires alone, ranging from the modest El Paraiso I’d chosen, where a basic room – bed and small bath – costs about 40 pesos ($10) for three hours, to the deluxe General Paz, where rooms can fetch $115. General Paz features private elevators that lead directly from an underground parking lot into an elegantly appointed suite
– perfect for trysts between, say, South Carolina governors and their Argentine soul mates.
There are telos with themed rooms for fetishists – featuring blackboards and miniature desks or faux-jeweled Oriental boudoirs. At Caravelle, in the trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood, you can get in touch with your superpowers in the bat cave. Other telos cater to gay couples, provide extra beds for orgies, or come with special chairs that look like a cross between something you’d find at the dentist’s and the gynecologist’s offices. Our 55-peso room was pretty vanilla, with a large Jacuzzi (hidro) on the first level and a bed and wall-mounted TV up a small flight of stairs. The windows were darkened, blocking out the bright sun of a South American afternoon.
When we got inside, I sniffed the air and scanned the tiled floor. Everything looked and smelled reasonably clean, but I couldn’t shake the memory of the guy preening to his friend on the phone. Rob sat on the bed and gingerly bounced up and down. The prospect of afternoon sex in a cheap hotel room seemed to make him alternately nervous and excited. He reached to take my hand. “Want a massage?”
I pulled away and crossed my arms. “Did you catch that guy calling the girl a ‘puta’?” “Not puta,” Rob replied. “Punto. ‘Al Punto del amor.’ I think he was telling his friend that he had to go because he was ‘on the point of love.'”
“On the point of love,” I repeated. I liked the sound of that. I sat down next to Rob and nodded toward the TV. “So do you think they have a porn channel?”