Rules of engagement


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For any woman who fantasizes about meeting her soulmate on holiday, you might want to first talk to Wanda St. Hilaire.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2009 (4751 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For any woman who fantasizes about meeting her soulmate on holiday, you might want to first talk to Wanda St. Hilaire.

She’s something of an expert on the subject — only because she’s been burned on more than one occasion. Her weak spot? Latin men — especially smooth-talking Cuban men who can dance.

The Calgary author’s CV traverses the minefield of love-gone-wrong in foreign countries. It’s all there in her first travel memoir, The Cuban Chronicles: A True Tale of Rascals, Rogues and Romance. She calls it a cautionary tale for women around the world.

The Cuban Chronicles is a departure for St. Hilaire, 48, whose previous published works have been mainly gift books and poetry. A self-confessed romantic, she prefers solo trips because she doesn’t want to follow anyone else’s agenda. That allows her to enjoy what she loves most — absorbing a new culture through cooking or language classes and getting to know the locals. Sometimes intimately.

But her romantic impulses have got her into some tense situations.

I’ve always wanted to write a travel memoir, says St. Hilaire, who has travelled alone almost exclusively. She has visited Mexico 25 times and lived there for two winters, among her other travels.

Two back-to-back trips to Cuba in late 2006 and early 2007, which led to an entanglement with a Cuban man, stirred her to write this very personal and meaty — sometimes messy — tale.

I wanted to tell the whole truth. It took me a while to get up the courage.

St. Hilaire is frank about her passionate side and her vulnerabilities, especially when Latin men are concerned.

Cubans don’t think of age. In Cuba, women date young men and vice versa. It makes it very appealing for a single woman, she says.

The Cuban Chronicles is an uncensored, caper-filled journey, and at times a lusty read, as St. Hilaire navigates her ill-fated relationship with Paulo (not his real name), a smart and charming Cuban journalist who is bent on marrying her. Though she repeatedly tells him she’s only interested in just a fling, he has other ideas, like wanting her to meet his mother and sister, among other demands, long-term and financial.

Before this most recent trip, on which the book is based, St. Hilaire had imposed a 20-year travel ban to Cuba on herself, after having gone to the island during its nascent days of tourism. The reason for the prohibition, she boils down to four words: I love Latin men. She warily lifted her Cuban prohibition after a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, got cancelled because of political problems there. And so, St. Hillaire waded back into the Cuban lair.

This, despite the fact she’d seen first-hand a number of her friends who’d fallen for Cuban men, brought them to Canada and married them, only to see all the relationships — except one — fail.

You get caught up in the climate, the music, the sensuality.

Woven throughout the story of the relationship, St. Hillaire tries gracefully to extricate herself from, are her frank and sometimes raw everyday insights into the lives of Cubans and the hardships and poverty they endure.

St. Hilaire’s story has some tense moments that include having to be rescued by the owners of an inn from her would-be lover’s tenacious pursuit. There’s also plenty of humour, but mostly self-discovery.

It wasn’t until she was writing the memoir in Oaxaca, where she was falling for a sexy artist, that she had what she calls her a-ha moment. She realized she was falling not only in love, but also into a pattern.

She switched gears from writing about a previous imbroglio in France to writing about her Cuban caper, observing she had devoted her life to romantic adventure when what she really craved is enduring love.

— Canwest News Service

From a woman who’s been there, here are rules — in her own words –for conducting a foreign fling.

* Most women are wired to want more. A foreign fling is a lot of fun.

* Enjoy the moment (carpe diem), but be emotionally prepared to let it go.

* Educate yourself. Know the lay of land and find out about culture mores and rules. For example, in many countries guests are not allowed in hotel rooms. Be sure to respect the local customs and etiquette.

* Finding yourself showered with the attentions of an exotic foreign man can be very heady. Be aware there may be a hidden agenda or motive (like an escape from dire circumstances). Also, know what your own underlying agenda is.

* Trust your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable or any red flags come up, pay attention. Use tact to extricate yourself from the situation.

* Take precautions and ask questions to avoid issues later on, be it of the heart or your health. Read between the lines.

* Let someone at home know where you are. Leave an itinerary with contact information or, if you don’t have one, stay in touch with your whereabouts.

* If you set the precedent of paying a man’s way, you may set yourself up for a gigolo situation. Be sure you’re not settling for crumbs for the sake of a companion.

* If you want to carry on a long-distance relationship once you return home, ask yourself first: What are you prepared to do, change (i.e. lifestyle, location), spend, give up. If you are an adventurous soul and open to a new life, go for it.

* If there is a language barrier, be sure to buy a dictionary to minimize misunderstandings. It’s great fun to learn a new language and it will enrich your vacation experience.

* Be sure to take heed when you hear or read cautionary tales of where you are going — like The Cuban Chronicles.


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