The Telo Way of Life: Exploring the Sex Culture in Argentina

This story appears in the Fall 2013 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

I SAW THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE AS A MISSION: GET IN, HAVE SEX, GET OUT; JUST ANOTHER THING TO ADD TO MY LIST.

When my husband and I decided to take a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina I immediately began planning things to do. Standard websites suggested the typical activities: Explore Recoleta Cemetery, stroll through Jardín Botánico, dance the tango. I was dutifully taking notes as I noticed a naughty suggestion — “Frolic in a Love Hotel” — hmmm, this was definitely worth looking into. I added it to my list with a question mark beside it.

As I began researching, I quickly learned that “Love Hotels,” or telos, are pay-by-the-hour sex accommodations. For me, this type of establishment conjures thoughts of red, blinking neon signs and women in tight dresses walking the nearby streets with dirty needles strewn about. Not a place I’d be too keen on visiting.

In Argentina, however, I discovered that telos are something quite different. The average patrons include young couples looking for a place to be alone. In this youth culture, living with parents until marriage is a common practice. Going straight from a parents’ house to a spouse’s house means there isn’t a great place to be intimate until wedding vows are exchanged. Thus the commonality of the telo, a safe and affordable place for people to go for some much-needed alone time before saying “I do.”

Just like anywhere else, there are adulterers looking for a private place to rendezvous, strangers in search of hook-ups and married travel writers whose curiosity got the best of them.

I pitched the idea of taking a night in to my husband and wasn’t surprised by how readily he agreed to frolic with me. All of a sudden our run-of-the-mill vacation became a little more forbidden, and before long, that unexpected suggestion was the thing I most looked forward to.

Yes, the idea of standing in the Plaza de Mayo and gazing at the very balcony where first lady Evita Perón famously addressed the citizens of the country gave me goosebumps, but there was something about visiting a telo that just got my blood rushing.

We decided on a place called Rampa Car in the swanky Palermo neighborhood. The website boasted a variety of themed rooms where you could play out your fantasies in a spaceship, Roman temple or Egyptian pyramid. You don’t make reservations, you just show up.

We hailed a cab and gave our driver the address. I blushed, assuming he knew exactly where we were headed. He dropped us off at the end of the street and we walked a block to the entrance.

I had read that the building would be inconspicuous, and it was. Only a simple, sleek sign that read “Rampa Car” confirmed that we were at the right place.

Rampa Car

As we approached, I thought maybe it was closed. No one was outside and there was no obvious entry. It looked like we were standing in front of an abandoned garage. All of a sudden, a black tinted window opened slightly and a room key slipped through the tiny crack. We took the key and a gate opened. With a tense jitter of nerves, we walked through and took the elevator to the number that was printed on the card.

The halls were dimly lit and completely empty. We didn’t exchange words with anyone so there was no opportunity to request the type of room we wanted. “Oh well,” I thought, “we’ll be surprised.” When we entered, my first thought was, “This room is not made for sleeping.” Everything screamed sex. My adorably money-conscious husband immediately set his phone for one hour, so I promptly got to exploring.

A round bed dominated the center of the room and one wall was completely covered in mirrors. On the bed were two packages; each containing a condom, a toothbrush and toothpaste. On the wall there was a panel of buttons that controlled the lighting and music.

A fireplace mantel held several menus — one contained food and beverages while the other offered a variety of adult toys, lotions and potions. Colorful vibrators and flavored lubricants could be delivered to the room for a fee. I giggled at the thought of placing an order, “Yes, I’d like the chicken caesar salad and neon pink dildo, please.”

After a little extra sleuthing, I discovered a box outside of our room with a buzzer nearby. Apparently, once an order is placed, someone delivers it to the box and signals its arrival. You give them a minute to leave, and you can retrieve your goodies without ever having to encounter another soul.

On the television, porn was mingled in with the regularly scheduled programming. All the options were girl-on-girl action, which wasn’t surprising. Even in this setting, sexual fantasy is catered to the male. God forbid they throw women a bone — pun intended.

Once we made our way to the bed we quickly realized that it spun and sat below a ceiling of tiled mirrors. To sleep in this room would be a shame.

Despite my love for adventure and the unknown, I didn’t expect the nervous feeling I had. It took me by surprise to say the least. How silly to be nervous when you’re with your husband of seven years?

As I took another look around, I quickly realized why this was. I felt exposed. Gone was the opportunity to set the mood to meet my comfort level. There was no stepping out in my robe, dimming the lights and slipping under the covers; insuring minimal opportunity to gaze at my imperfect figure.

There was literally nowhere to hide. “What kind of hotel room doesn’t have a blanket on the bed?” I thought in dismay.

The answer came soon enough; the kind that is designed for people to fully enjoy one another with no self-imposed barriers of propriety. As my nerves subsided, my confidence grew. How could it not when everywhere you look there’s your reflection staring back at you, challenging you?

I learned a few lessons that day: mirrored ceilings aren’t all that bad, spinning beds can cause nausea when not used correctly and you can do a lot in one hour. The biggest lesson, however, was that the bedroom isn’t the place to cater to your insecurities, but rather the opposite. If you’re with the right person, it’s the place to set them aside.

When we left, we simply passed our card back to the stranger behind the glass. He calculated our total, and once we paid we were buzzed out back into the world.

For one hour we paid $30. Leaving was the most embarrassing part for me. I felt as if everyone I encountered was giving me an I-know-what-you-just-did look.

As I walked down the empty street to hail a cab, I thought about how cool it is that people here recognize this particular need and have found a way to offer a clean, safe way to meet it. Simple supply and demand. No shame. Telos are discreet, but there’s a difference between that and turning something into a taboo because it makes one feel uncomfortable.

I'M GLAD I STEPPED OUT OF THE BOX TO DISCOVER THIS NAUGHTY SIDE OF BUENOS AIRES, AND MYSELF. IN DOING SO, I LEARNED THAT NAUGHTY DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN WRONG. SOMETIMES IT SIMPLY MEANS NAUGHTY, AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.