Driving 3,000 kilometres from British Columbia to Colima, Mexico, was an unalloyed pleasure. Except for one thing: We were travelling with Maggie - our seven-year-old dog.
She is old now, placid, sedate, the doggy equivalent of late middle age. Kind of like us, although, as my husband is fond of saying (a little too often for my liking), she never criticizes his driving and she never whines for a pee break. And for the most part she sleeps in her bed in the back of our station wagon.
But at night we do need to bring her inside. So we are well acquainted with the U.S. chain motels throughout Washington State, Oregon, and California in all of their splendidly cheap, convenient and dog-friendly guises. Their lurid signs beckoned from the I-5 and at the end of a long day we gratefully snuggled into the charmless but antiseptic arms of a Motel 6, Motel 8 or Travelodge.
All of which served us through six gruelling days and nights - until we cross the border into Mexico. Then the problems start.
There are two breeds of dog in Mexico: the purse dog, also known as a "dwp" (dirty white poodle) and the "roof dog," a snarling, teeth-baring creature designed to intimidate all who come within a block of the roof in question.
Maggie fits into neither category. Being a German shepherd, she has the look of a wolf but the disposition of a purse dog. This makes finding a room a challenge in a country of carefully tended, vigilantly guarded mom-and-pop-run motels that don't like dogs as guests.
However, this was the year of our big breakthrough. We discovered that "hot-sheets motels" - sometimes called "love motels" - are numerous throughout Mexico. The typical Mexican house is small and lacking in privacy, and the neighbours are as nosey as neighbours anywhere, so the pay-by-the-hour motel is a popular institution.
You enter through a curved, high-walled entrance and drive up to a reception building of smoked one-way glass. There, an electronic arm extends to receive your 200 pesos (about $20) and extends again to give you a key. Then you and your car disappear into the maze of a 1970s-style motel. (Think Mexico meets Edward Scissorhands.)
Each room comes equipped with a parking space alongside the door, complete with a heavy green-plastic curtain on rings to conceal your car as you unload luggage - or perhaps a dog.
Inside, there's a comfortable king-size bed and a menu with everything from burritos and enchiladas to Viagra and a cream called Analease. The delivery of these purchases made through a revolving turnstile similar to the one on which Hannibal Lector received his meals in Silence of the Lambs. You place your pesos on the shelf, spin, and presto, your piping-hot burrito or Viagra appears as if by magic on the return spin.
Whatever you order, though, you will see not a soul from the moment you pull into the entrance until you pull out in the morning, cheerful and relaxed after a blissful sleep and a good romp.
Dog lovers rejoice.