- Tropical Escapes:Canadian Travellers, Latin America, and Sex
"What have I been proudest of my life? That I have been, I believe, one of what the French term 'les libérateurs de l'amour.'"—Scott Symons
In his play Rose, Tomson Highway has a character state that one of the "basics" of contemporary Canadian life is "winter holidays in Mexico" (103) and, presumably, other tropical countries. Most Canadians who travel south do so in search of sun, sand, and that prized but elusive winter tan, and do not necessarily have much contact with the local people and their cultures. However, this is not the case for a significant number of travellers whose journeys are motivated by the pursuit of more carnal desires. Focusing on a series of texts, from short fiction to film, memoirs, plays, and poems, this essay examines the representation of the sexual adventures of Canadians in Latin America, a subject that is largely ignored in Canadian letters. More precisely, it shows how the erotics of sexual emancipation is seldom untinged by the politics of race, gender, and particularly class; yet, it can still lead to cultural encounters in which the traveller is transformed by his/her interactions with members of what are initially deemed foreign cultures, not the least by gaining an appreciation of the value of those cultures.
Foreign travel necessarily reflects a certain openness to the world, since it entails journeying beyond one's national borders. At the same time, it is an activity marked by such social and economic disparities that equitable exchanges seem unlikely. This is very much the case for Canadian tropical tourism. As one character in Linda Griffiths and Patrick Brymer's play O.D. on Paradise remarks during a Jamaican trip, "I can't help feeling weird. We spend all this money to do nothing and they're out there hustling for a few dollars just to stay alive" (42). The ubiquity of Canadian tropical [End Page 300] tourism may actually challenge some of the dominant myths about Canadian identity. To begin with, it is difficult to accept the surprisingly popular idea of Canada as a victim the moment one contrasts the privileges of Canadian tourists who travel south with those of southerners who come to Canada to labour as temporary workers, some of whom purportedly arrive and depart from "the cargo terminal" at Canadian airports (Urquhart 29; cf. 243). No less significant, considering the prominence of Canadians among sex tourists in the Americas (Curtis 7; Cribb et al.) and elsewhere, tropical tourism may also problematize that most cherished of Canadian myths, the peaceable kingdom. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the reasons Canada is able to maintain its image as an amiable society is precisely that it exports a good portion of its "sinful" activities offshore.
Tropical tourism certainly appears to give Canadians licence to engage in behaviour with which most of them probably would avoid being associated at home. For instance, in her short story "The Resplendent Quetzal," Margaret Atwood notes that her protagonist, Sarah, "liked it" when Mexican "men smiled at her or even when they made those juicy sucking noises with their mouths as they walked behind her on the street; so long as they didn't touch" (155). Carmen Aguirre, in contrast, is definitely interested in physical contact. In her autobiographical one-character play Blue Box, the Chilean-born Aguirre has her protagonist, also named Carmen, lament the fact that she has "chosen to live in a [Nordic] country where cobwebs grow on your cunt" (6) and "getting laid is tantamount to reaching the summit of Mount Everest" (7). She attempts to bring an end to her involuntary sexual asceticism by escaping mentally to sultrier climes through songs such as "Amor a la mexicana," which she translates as "Love, the Mexican Way," but perhaps would be better rendered as "Love, Mexican Style," as sung by the Mexican singer Thalía:
Love, the Mexican way.Horse, boot, and sombrero.Tequila, tobacco, and rum.Love, the Mexican way.Hot, to the rhythm of the sun.Go slow and then kill me. Macho, from the heart. Love, the Mexican way.(7-8)