Monday, March 3, 2008

Brasil's Hotels, Motels, and Drive-Ins

the perspective of a gringo couple

I've been contemplating this entry for some time now. It is something that we've found quite intriguing, and something that would be important to know about before you venture down to Brasil on your own. I'm not crazy about the explanation given by a couple authors of Brasil tourist guides (and that's assuming they even mentioned it at all), so I thought I'd share our perspective and experience. For a couple weeks I've pondered on how to handle it in a polite manner. Finally, I just decided to put it out there.

And special props go out to my sweetie who went on a picture taking adventure (and yes, it was an adventure!) with me yesterday evening so I could have some visual aids here today!

So, first up, we have hotels. These are pretty standard. Think Holiday Inn, Courtyard by Marriot, Crown Plaza...although you don't find as many USA-familiar brands here, there are an abundance of hotels. We lived in an all-suite hotel for 2 months when we first arrived in Belo Horizonte. It is pretty standard for all hotels here to offer breakfast. Nothing real exciting to discuss about hotels.

But, it is very important to know before traveling in Brasil that a motel is distinctly different than a hotel. If you need a place to rest the night after a long day of traveling, and you pull into a motel with your 4 and 6 year old kids in the backseat, you are going to be answering A LOT of questions during the course of your stay! (Assuming you even venture into the room after being asked at the gate if you want the room for 2, 4, or 12 hours. Oh, I think you can see where we are going with this.)

When we came down to Belo Horizonte in July for our exploratory trip, a friend of ours down here ever so gently explained the differences between a hotel and motel to us. Carefully choosing her words, she said, "See, a motel is for couples only. You usually pay by the hour and the rooms tend to have a 'theme'. There are some very nice motels here though; they aren't dirty or anything."

Now, fast forward to two weekends ago when we were driving down to Rio Friday night. Our intention was to stop late that night at a Pousada (like a bed and breakfast) in a city just before entering Rio, so we didn't have to find our way to Ipanema in the dark (for safety reasons.) We didn't come across any pousadas on the main road though, and next thing we know, we are coming into Rio at almost midnight. Like all major cities in Brasil (from our experience anyway) there are an abundance of motels right on the edge of town. So, we get our chance to experience a little more Brasilian culture...we pull into the first motel that looks nice and not too scary.

We pull in the driveway and follow the tall privacy wall around until we reach the attendant's booth. Sitting under the glow on neon lights, we choose the luxury level of room that we want (we didn't really need an in-room jacuzzi or access to the sauna, we just needed a place to sleep until morning!), and reserve it for 12 hours (our options were 2, 4, or 12 hours). We were given a room number, directed towards it, and told to wait in our car and someone would tell us when the room was prepared for us.

We drive along until we find our room number and pull into the designated parking spot. It is a garage stall with a concrete wall on either side, the stairs leading into our room were directly in front of us, and someone walked by to pull a garage door down behind us. All Eric could really say was, "Hmmm...this is interesting...and more private than I imagined." I shared the sentiment and added my comment of, "Why does it feel like we are doing something wrong when all we are trying to do is get some sleep and wait for daylight?"

After waiting in the car for a few minutes, a lady's voice calls from up the stairs and tells us that our room is ready. We hear the door shut, and then up the stairs we go. We enter our room and find a, well, 'interesting' room. It smelled and looked clean. The sheets were in a sealed plastic bag laying on the bed (I guess so you know that they are clean) and the towels were presented in the same fashion. There were dimmer switches for all the lights along with radio controls at the edge of the bed. There were lots of mirrors and a couple interesting pieces of furniture. All the furniture, the mattress, and even the pillows were vinyl and the floors and walls (where there weren't mirrors) were stone. Despite the apparent cleanliness of the room, I felt a bit of "ick!" and decided I would feel a little better if we didn't walk barefoot and if we slept in our clothes.

So after showers wearing flip-flops and putting sheets on the bed, we retired for the evening. And discovered that oh, um, the ceiling is just one big mirror too. Interesting. Neither one of us slept too well. The beds weren't exactly designed for a comfortable night's rest, the pillows were the worst I've ever slept on, I was afraid to roll over and have some part of my body accidentally touch an un-sheeted surface, and every time I woke up I was startled by the person hovering over me...oh, wait, that was just my reflection in the mirror. Eight a.m. couldn't come fast enough though and we were outta there. The whole experience had me a little overcome with the heebie-jeebies.

But, here's the thing that even sort of surprises me: I think it was a pretty good way to go and our next trip to Rio we will probably do it all over again, albeit with a couple of modifications. See, it was the thought more than the actual experience that had me creeped out on my first motel stay. Next time, I am taking my own sheets, my own pillows, and make sure that I have my flip flops. And then, I am pretty certain I could manage it for one night. Besides the peace of mind that comes with not having to drive through Rio late at night, we also get a cheap night's stay for the first night. Our night at the motel cost US$32. Compare that to our hotel in Ipanema where we paid US$120. Considering that we just needed a place to sleep until morning, and considering that the hotel let us have early check-in at 9:30 the next morning, and considering that it was a safe place...why not spend a night at the motel??? Of course, I am still not recommending taking the kids or anything, but for a couple who just needs a cheap place to stay for the night, why not? But trust me on this one, you'll sleep a lot better with your own sheets and pillows!

And now for a couple examples of motels in BH. These ones are part of a whole long row of motels right on the edge of town. Notice the common theme: neon!

No one ever explained the drive-ins to us. But it didn't take us long to figure out that it's not where you go to watch a movie. I find most of the drive-ins that we drive past to be rather scary-looking places. They are extraordinarily cheap (from the signs I see advertising prices). And I guess you don't have to worry about whether or not the sheets are clean...but, um, I'm going to have to go with "no thanks" on this one!
This one is especially intriguing to us, since the sign advertises boxes especially for motorcycles. Okay, I know a large percentage of the population drives motorcycles, but um...
(And actually, I honestly don't even care for an explanation from anyone on this one either. :) )

Another interesting point is that every time we pass a drive-in, whether it be late at night, during a weekday morning, or a Sunday afternoon (as above) there are always curtains drawn. They seem to stay plenty busy (no pun intended...really). And another thought to ponder would be how tiny most of the cars are here. Hmmm...

Also important to note: the employees of drive-ins apparently don't like it when you pull over on the side of the road, jump out of your car, and start taking pictures towards the inside of their drive-in...even if it is just for educational purposes. A not-so-happy-looking lady came running out from the attendant's booth towards me immediately after snapping this shot above. I ran back towards the car, jumped in, slammed the door, and ordered my driver (that would be my hubby) to "go, go, go, hurry!!!" We may have squealed tires making our getaway. Hey, what can I say, nothing comes between me and good journalism. ;)

We are told that there are two nights during the year when there will be a line of cars waiting to get in to motels and drive-ins: Brasil's Valentine's Day and Secretaries Day. (I like to think they are kidding us about that second one...but maybe I only kid myself??)

And on a more G-rated note, while photographing the motels on the edge of town, we parked for a few moments and got to watch the most colorful sunset! I couldn't get a picture that did it justice, but I tried.


wondering ego said...

H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S! :)
"Why does it feel like we doing are something wrong when all we are trying to do is get some sleep and wait for daylight?"

Leonardo said...

Okay... that was interesting and I'm sure very informative to a lot of your readers! :)

A few comments:

- For starters, you guys have been to a cheap, cheapo motel. A nice motel is generally more expensive than a similar rated hotel.

- In a good motel you do not see, hear or interface in any way with a single soul! After you get past the gates, you never ever wait for your suite to be readied.

- The garage is always open and you're supposed to park your in the proper place so that the wheels activate the closing and opening of the garage doors (this tidbit might prove useful to your next adventure!!)

- All interesting suites have their own sauna, jacuzzi and a set of 2 (sometimes... cough, cough, 4) showers. The really nice ones have their own swimming pool (if you're willing to take your chances, that is!)

- Then there's the electronics: plasma tv, mini-disco with several different light effects and the all necessary pole...

- The food service is generally good, sometimes even sophisticated, though in my days I always tried to avoid it.

- And come on... the bed, pillow and everything else is very comfy. And they don't come in plastic bags... everything (including stuff in the bathroom) carries a seal instead.

- So... if your bed leaned towards the sturdy side, you've definitely been to a cheap motel!

- If you had mirrors **all over the place**, you've been to a cheap motel.

- And last, but not least, if they gave you cheap candy or mint drops on your way out at the gate, then that's the ultimate proof of the piece of dump of just spent your night at.

Better luck next time!! ;)

PS.: Hope you guys didn't get too mad at me because of my comment in your "A Little Too Friendly" post.

Laural said...

Love it! Gilberto showed me a few motels the last time we were in Santos, but I don't think I really understood until I read your post! I wonder if they are so popular because most Brazilians live with their parents until they're married, and thus need somewhere private to go.

Amanda said...

Okay this has to be most hilarious post yet! I had flash backs of some seedy motels we've stayed in along US highways but I'll admit we never had to stay somewhere with mirrors on the ceiling or vinyl on the furniture. Oh the sheer thought of WHY there is vinyl sends chills down my spine. The drive-ins are the most bizzare. I think ya'll should try one of those next time, I'm dying to know!

Amanda said...

Okay I should have read all the post that I've missed in the last few days before I commented first but anyway......I feel so incredibly sorry for you about the cream of mush/chicken soups. The very thought of having to cook without those Southern staples kills me. If I don't have atleast 4cans of each in my pantry I may as well forget cooking anything good! My heart actually hurts for you! And the m&m's and syrup deal is just pittiful. How about I get you up a care package of soup, m&m's, syrup and any other thing you can think of and ship it to you? Seriously.

Karl said...

My understanding as to why the motel employees don't like you taking photos is that many a spouse has hired a private investigator to ... well, investigate.

Which also explains the long curving entrances with high walls, and the garages with curtains or doors.

Great post!

Rachel said...

Oh, my god. The thought of you two, this sweet Southern/Midwestern couple, pulling into a just makes me laugh. And the thought of your faces when you walked into the's better than a sitcom.

Can I give you a hint? Flights from BH to Rio on Gol or TAM are probably really affordable, and that will save you time, money, and a night at a skeevo motel.

also, security-wise you shouldn't drive into Rio, or even the outskirts at night. just fyi :)

Ray Adkins said...


You are a great writer!
I am having a blast reading your posts...
Just in case you haven't figure out yet, the "Drive Inn's" are just a "garage" rental, they serve sandwiches and stuff, image a sonic with a private garage that you can spend "total private" time with your date.
They are cheaper, a lot cheaper, but you are not renting a room or anything, you are just renting a "private parking spot" while you eat your "Sonic" like food and drinks...

Take care

Ray Akdins

Shiya Priya said...
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