I’ve heard that there are Push Buttons all over Latin America, and I have seen many in Panama. A push button is a hotel that you can rent by the hour. From the outside they look like something fancy and romantic, and it’s clear that they are meant for couples. Many Panamanians live with extended family so there are a lot of people in one house. Adult children often live with parents. Privacy must be hard to come by so I can see why a get-a-way place would be nice.
So in the interest of blog research, of course, we decided to investigate. There are a couple places on the west side of town, one with signs advertising $10 options.
Privacy is a priority. There are walls in front so when someone drives inside, they cannot be seen from the road. Once they are in a garage, they are totally out of sight. I believe the one we visited was typical of how things work. When we got behind the wall, we saw a line of garage doors. Some of the doors were open and through them we could see signs with the basic prices of the room ($10, $12, or $25. We chose a $12 room).
When you are in the garage, there is a button on the wall that you push to close the garage door behind you (this is where the name Push Button comes from). There is a slot in the door and you are supposed to put your money in there. The staff is alerted by the garage door button so they come pick up your money and then unlock the inner door. Then, you can enter without ever being seen by them.
I was surprised by the room – large, pleasant, very clean, and comfortable. I expected something a lot more basic. What would you get in the US for $12? They provided clean towels wrapped in plastic (along with a bar of soap, a couple hard candies, and a condom!). There was air conditioning, almost worth a visit itself on a hot afternoon. There were menus on the wall for food and drinks – a very good selection at reasonable prices, everything from light snacks to full meals. If you order something it is put in the box at the back door, and you then slide your side open and pick up your order. We didn’t get anything to eat so I can’t comment on the quality of the food. But, you definitely could stay for as long as you wish with all your basic needs provided for.
When you want to leave you call on the phone and tell them you are ready, and go get in your car. They check the room to be sure you haven’t run off with anything, and then open the garage door so you can drive off. So, from arrival to departure you can spend the entire time there without ever seeing another person or being seen by anyone.
We were seen though because I didn’t understand the slot in the door thing when we arrived, and the staff gal had to open the door and ask for the money. But, she was really nice and polite. I’m sure she had a story to tell her coworkers about a couple old, confused gringos! I’m glad we went though. I have seen these places for ages and was very curious. This one was a lot nicer than I ever expected, and didn’t feel the least bit sleazy or funky. Maybe we’ll have to go check out some of the others. I’ve heard stories about themes for decor, hot tubs, and who knows what other fun stuff.
I asked my friends about the push buttons, and was told they are also called push buttons or just push in Spanish. They were surprised and she giggled when I told them of our plans, and both said they have never been to such a place. They live with a son, a daughter and son in law, two grandsons, her mother during the week, and his mother on some weekends. If it were me I’d go just for the peace and quiet! But, I also didn’t get the impression that they thought these places were bad, just something they themselves didn’t use.
Our friend Ryan did a video of his visit to a couple places, and the first one he talks about is the same one we visited. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WarEbQLephw He just went behind the walls though, not into any of the rooms, and he is a bit more judgmental of the concept but it’s still interesting. Of course human nature is what it is, and some people will have more interest than others in not being seen together. But, from what I have read, the most common danger is people leaving their car on in the garage and becoming overcome by the carbon monoxide. Like anything in life, a good dose of common sense is in order.