Hotel El Camino in Mexico City
By beginning this post with the above photo, I’m failing to save the best for last. However, I couldn’t find a picture of the worst, so this will have to do.
In an earlier post I explained how our group of friends, who were expecting to arrive in Mexico City for the International Lions Club Convention, wound up being dumped in a ‘no tell’ motel in Toluca – about forty miles from Mexico City.
In order to attend the activities of the convention and take tours of Mexico City, we either had to ride the local buses – along with the locals and their livestock – or rent a car. I opted for the rental car so we could more easily transport our friend who was confined to a wheelchair.
On the second day of the convention, we learned that there were rooms available at the Hotel Maria Isabela – the main hotel hosting the convention. I took my Spanish/English dictionary and went to the registration desk to see if the rumors were true. Sure enough, there was one three-room suite available. We had about eleven people in our group representing the Beechview Club from Pittsburgh, so I took it. Of course, I was told that we could have no more than eight people occupying the rooms.
I believe my wife, at twenty-six, may have been the youngest member of our party. Other members of our group were in their fifties and sixties; it was unlikely that we would trash the place. So, we returned to Toluca for our luggage and moved all eleven of us into the three rooms.
One other thing I was told at the time I registered was that we could only have the rooms for two nights. We needed three more nights in Mexico prior to returning to Pittsburgh, but figured we’d cross that bridge when we got there.
On the day we were supposed to check out, I went to the desk and asked if we could stay one more night. I was hoping the hotel would have many roooms available since the convention had ended the previous night. The clerk checked whatever a clerk checks for such matters and said, “No problemo!” I said, “Muchas Gracias!” and returned to the suite to spread the good news. In a short time, we were all off to do some more sightseeing.
When we returned to the hotel around six in the evening, the telephone indicated we had a message. When I called the front desk to learn what it was about, the hombre – I refuse to call him a gentleman – told us we had to vacate immediately. Rather than argue over the phone, I went down to confront him face to face.
I explained how we’d been told there was no problem for us to stay an additional night and was informed that the other desk clerk didn’t know what he was talking about. The hombre than told me he would have to charge us an extra half-night since we failed to check out at the proper time. That’s when I told him to go ahead and charge us an extra full night.
“Why should I do that?” he innocently asked. “Because we’re not leaving!” I informed him.
We argued back and forth for several minutes until the glass window that stood between us got fogged up. My guess is he was just trying to get me to slip him a bribe. I was too stubborn to do that. Finally, he said, “You don’t pay extra – you just leave!”
Seeing how I’d just won round one, I began round two by saying, “Before we leave, you must find us another hotel.” By this time, the hombre knew he was staring at the ugliest American he’d ever want to see. He turned and started making phone calls. For all I knew, he was calling the police.
In a short time, he came back to the window and told me he’d made reservations for us at the Hotel El Camino Real. I immediately had a warm feeling. The title of my high school Spanish book was “El Camino Real” – the Royal Road.
Finishing off the encounter with a flourish, I told the desk clerk to call us three taxis.
If you’re going to be pushy, you might as well go all the way!
Within an hour, we were on our way. When we arrived at the Hotel El Camino Real, the entrance and lobby were much more inviting – newer, cleaner, and more luxurious. I was glad some members of our group were much better off financially than I.
After filling out the registration form, the clerk asked me to supply the name of my company. I told him we were here strictly for pleasure, but he wanted the name of the compnay anyway. I wrote down “IBM” and asked if it qualified me for a discount.
“Absolutely!” was the response. The clerk knocked off a third of the room charges and erased the charges for the roll-away beds.
We spent a wonderful night at that hotel and wished we had discovered it sooner. I’m fairly sure the Hotel Maria-Isabela is history – it may be operating under a new name, but I can’t tell anyone anything more about it. The Hotel El Camino Real is still there and although I haven’t been back in more than thirty years, I’d bet it’s still a good place to stay.
If my bride and I ever decide to take another trip south of the border, I’d begin by making reservations at the Hotel El Camino Real. They certainly made the end of my first trip memorable!