As we drive from the centre of Cali in Colombia and out into the suburban mountains of Dapa, we always pass a series of motels… But when I say motels I don’t mean the classic American ones with an old swimming pool, balconies and pastel pink exterior… I mean Love Motels.
When I first noticed these “Sextels,” let’s call them, I was instantly intrigued. They aren’t brothels or anything as I first assumed, they are for couples. I was told when I asked why, that it’s a Colombian thing. Ok, I thought, why is it a Colombian thing? I instantly wanted to know more. So I started to do my research. I asked a few more locals about them, as I began to notice them everywhere, and was told again that it’s a “cultural thing”.
The Love Motel, or Sextel, buildings are very distinctive, they are super tacky, big and extravagant, they REALLY stand out. Again, this surprised me, why would you want everyone to know what your Sextel was (which is, it turns out, a place for couples to have sex after they have been on a night out), aren’t people embarrassed?
I had a lot of questions. So, first of all, I wanted to know why these Sextels existed. I have never seen them anywhere else I have travelled, and if they do exist elsewhere they certainly aren’t as overt as these.
So I looked into it. Colombia is, first of all, an extremely religious country – 92% of Colombians are Christian. So, most of them do not believe in sex before marriage, or at least most of their families don’t, so these Sextels are a place for the young and the unmarried to copulate?
Maybe. But what I also found is that many Colombians still live with their parents until they marry. Again, I have seen this first hand. So they use the motels as a place to escape from their parents? Maybe they just hold hands and chat in the rooms? I don’t think so…
What makes these Love Motels a little sordid, for me anyway and I’m an atheist, is that you can actually hire the rooms for just an hour if you want, you don’t have to pay for a whole night – even though the whole night only costs around 50,000 pesos a night, which is about £15. And most of the rooms come with the following standard features: condoms, lubricants, porn, a love chair and room service (whatever that’s code for). Maybe I was wrong about the holding hands thing?
Despite the very obvious un-Christian escapade and very obvious accessories of the Sextel, these blatant Love Motels seem to be acceptable places to have pop up almost anywhere in the city. But why, in such a religious country, do these motels exist and even thrive? (I have seen a number being built around the central parts of the Cali).
One theory is that because they appear to be so luxurious and glamorous people, despite the moral implications, accept them as part of their culture. I have seen motels themed like castles, Greek fantasy lands, and cartoon worlds, you seriously can’t miss them.
Another consideration is sexuality in South America, and while I am only touching on this briefly now, it is most definitely integral to the Love Motels. There is a sex culture in Colombia in almost all media forms, the popular music Reggaton has a dance move that basically replicates having sex, and the culture around women and plastic surgery, being as cheap as it is, is frightening.
Moreover, a lot of the current articles I found about the Love Motels seemed a little bias, almost like promotional material… I am sure plenty of Colombians do not appreciate the motels taking over the landscape of the beautiful valley of Cali, but there doesn’t seem to be anything stop them.
Personally, I find the Love Motels/Sextels creepy. The giant billboards for them are pretty much soft porn, and their brash look degrades Cali’s landscape entirely. I would love to know even more about Love Motels, who uses them and how often, but I think maybe people aren’t ready yet to analyse this cultural institution?