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Maria Delgado will never forget the day a client stood before her naked, clothes scrunched in trembling hands. As a 53-year-old cleaner working in the murky world of telos, she already had a steady glimpse into the bizarre. But for Maria, this affair sticks in the mind.

A black-and-white image of the parking lot flashed on the security monitor, showing a woman standing, gun in hand. Harboring an apparent intent to kill, she paced the length of the monitor in anticipation of the emergence of her husband’s mistress.

Maria swapped clothes with “the other woman,” who promptly left the building and remained unexposed. Our parking lot villain — or victim — waited patiently but came no closer to the truth.

Telos don’t have to protect the lives of their customers, but it helps.

What is a telo? Well, they are officially known as albergues transitorios (“temporary shelters”), which makes sense. The word is sort of like “hotel” backwards, which is key, because telos are known for their back entrances, in both senses of the term. These are pay-per-hour hotels with the sole purpose of accommodating whimpers and yelps of pleasure.

Telos date back to the 1930s, after the Argentine government closed down brothels. They’ve had official hotel status since the ’60s. You won’t find receptions and dining areas in these motels with a premium on secrecy. The telos I’ve seen – research only, of course – contain a dark parking lot where each space is walled and denotes a private chamber. They range from low-end drudgery frequented by ladies of the night to plush suites for business types.

Through the keyhole awaits the wonders of a futuristic 1980s wet dream complete with hot tubs, kinky artwork and rows of knobs and switches that control music and lights. Room service is ordered from a catalogue of toys in all shapes and sizes to ensure no orifice goes unplugged. I haven’t even mentioned the themes: forget your worries in Renaissance France, Ancient Greece or a clinic for venereal diseases. Well, that last part comes later.

Admittedly, the concept of a type of motel where people go to have sex is not a game changer. Brazil and Japan are also at the forefront of quickie intercourse spaces. A quick flash of ultraviolet light in any deluxe hotel would also probably reveal all sorts of filthy fluids. Sex is everywhere, reader, be warned!

But what is interesting is how telos are a conventional part of Catholic Argentina. Abroad, a nightclub request to share a sordid sex chamber might call for a slap. But here, the same request could lead to a slap… and another… and another. That isn’t to say that Argentine boys and girls are any more frivolous than the Viagra-swilling frenzied fiends you’ll find on a night out in London, Paris or on Game of Thrones. Indeed, it appears there are mitigating circumstances for Argentina’s telo habit.

At this point, I should say that many Argentines find the telo scene ghastly and are not inclined to shack up with a new fella or dame under the flashing lights and windy whooshing of a fan resembling the Moulin Rouge. However, putting a roof over their head may just determine whether or not they are up for it.

Telos are popular because it is rare for young people – in the throws of sexual discovery – to move out of their family homes before reaching their late 20s. And one can only bear so many awkward nights of groping at the back of movie theaters and fumbling atop car gears.

Telos offer a safe and– depending on Maria’s mood – clean sexual haven away from the glaring gaze of Mom and Dad and posters of Messi and Pope Francis.

The nighttime popularity of the telo is explained by young lovers in search of an evening bonk, but downtown sex hotels have also become rather busy during office lunch hours – a strange time for true love to prosper. Unless…

I recently received some flack on live TV for suggesting some Argentines have a penchant for adultery. I wouldn’t dare insinuate a thing like that again, lest I be struck down by the wrath of a thousand furious trolls.

So, I found a telo boss to do it for me. Juan Tapia is the owner of Otello, a sex motel that takes its name from a Shakespeare play about secret marriages, betrayal and adultery.

“We are busiest Friday and Saturday night and some couples stay until the morning. But there is a lot of movement during the week at around 3 PM. These are people leaving their office, looking to get away with an affair without their partners knowing,” he said.

Me trying on a costume in the school themed room with Juan Tapia
Me trying on a costume in the school themed room with Juan Tapia

As you can imagine, Tapia has some outrageous tales, such as the time a couple chatted to each other on the phone with their respective alibis, only to realize they were in the gardens of the same telo with their paramours.

He tells me another one with an ironic smile: “One guy had a stroke. He was in a state and couldn’t even talk – but he still managed to utter, ‘Don’t tell my wife,’ before they put him in the ambulance. He recovered and was back here regularly.”

Then, there is the time a cleaner discovered the body of an elderly gentleman in a pool of blood on the floor. It turned out he had decided to spice up his heart condition medication with a few Viagra. He banged his head on a table, while collapsing from the ensuing heart attack.

The Internet is rife with the mysterious goings-on of the telo world. Just this March in Palermo, the lifeless body of a man in his 40s was found face down on the bed, after a transsexual sex worker with whom he’d arrived fled the scene.

Our favorite telo cleaner Maria will soon retire after more than 30 years in this most mysterious and secretive business. With her, she will take all of these stories and more. But she’ll always remember the day she gave a cheat and his lover a second chance at life.