The nightlife climax of the Club Med singles vacation is a plastic garbage can overflowing with soapy water. Tonight is the weekly "foam party," and the female portion of the dance floor is psyched.
Young women in matching plastic wristbands shake their respective things to Tom Jones's Sex Bomb as their male counterparts look on, dazed from the sun. Many of the guests are visibly buzzed, having taken all-day advantage of the pool bar's unending supply of glucose-based rum and tequila cocktails.
All afternoon, the resort staff have been busy erecting barricades to build a pen in front of a small platform, into which the foam (a mixture of laundry detergent and water) is now being pumped. When it reaches waist level, John Lindsey, one of the scuba instructors, yells, "Baby, let's get foamed!" and a crowd of women guests wobbles into the rising pool of bubbles.
Overhead on the platform, Lindsey sprays the dancing crowd with a fire hose. Women squeal and laugh as the suds rise to their throats. The men are soon to follow. The crowd begins to undulate as one. Strangers begin to kiss, and under the bubbles their hands move over each other, stroking and exploring. T-shirts, shorts and bikini tops are tossed over the fence. Under the black Caribbean night sky, it is suddenly as if the foam is a blanket obscuring a great, outdoor orgy.
The women in the crowd alternate their serpent-like writhing with flabbergasted fits of giggles. They seem amazed to find themselves miles away from work and family responsibilities, with nothing on the agenda apart from attracting the wanton attention of the men. The women act surprised, but they can't be that surprised. It is a Club Med singles vacation after all. Sex -- or at least the chance of it -- is seen as part of the package deal.
Outside the barricades, a young woman in a tube top asks her friend (also in a tube top) if she is going into the foam. "I'm not sure," the friend says without taking her eyes off the party. "I don't want to ruin my clothes but, on the other hand, I wouldn't mind getting groped."
Confronted with the term "sex tourist," most people automatically visualize a bald, corpulent, middle-aged American guzzling Mai Tai cocktails in a Bangkok strip club. It goes without saying that this imagined sex tourist is a man, and probably not a very nice one at that. But at many resorts and holiday destinations around the world, sex tourism is an equal-opportunity pastime these days. European and North American cities are burgeoning with single (heck, married), professional women with money, and libidinous urges, to burn. For the female sex tourist, as with the male, desire is the same. What differs is the method and approach.
Over a rum cocktail in the open-air pool bar, Lindsey, the scuba instructor, gives me the lowdown.
"A lot of the women who come here, they're good girls the rest of the time, then they come down here and the moment their feet hit the sand, bam! They go buck-ass wild. Then they go back to their business-suit lives in the city, and no one's any the wiser. There's a certain protection in it for them. We have a saying: 'Whatever happens on the island stays on the island'."
Lindsey, 33, a tanned beach ruffian from Texas with painted blue toenails and a honey drawl, admits that part of the job duties of Club Med Guest Organizers (or G.O.s, as the staffers are known) is to entertain guests, and if that takes an intimate form, then so be it. "I've had a few flings with female guests," he says, "and it's very open. It's not frowned upon at all. Part of our job is to mingle with the clientele, which is unusual for a resort. The point is, we're here to entertain."
Beach boys and their holiday flings. It's a familiar story all over the Caribbean isles. In the Jamaican resort hot spot of Negril, plane-loads of single female tourists, many from Canada, pour in every winter looking for sexual adventure, often in exchange for financial compensation. In Negril, muscled young rastas stroll the beach during the high season in search of their next foreign meal ticket.
"These men earn $100 (U.S.) each time they have sex with the women," Richard, manager of the Nirvana beach apartments in Negril, told the Guardian newspaper. "For oral sex, which is taboo for Jamaican men, they can earn more like $150."
Like some resorts in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, Negril is renowned as a place where white, middle-aged Western women come in search of what is nicknamed "the big bamboo." According to the Guardian story, U.K. researchers Jacqueline Sanchez and Jila O'Connell Davidson found that the usual analysis of sex tourism "does not allow for the possibility of women as buyers of sexual services, because prostitute-users are, by definition, male, and this assumption is shared by many researchers and theorists."
The researchers interviewed 240 women on holiday in Negril and did two similar reports on the Dominican Republic. In the course of their holiday, almost a third of the interviewees had engaged in sexual relationships with local men. Though 60 per cent admitted to "economic elements to their liaisons, they did not perceive the sexual encounters as prostitute-client transactions, nor did they view their sexual partners as prostitutes."
While the Club Med Turkoise is hardly a hotbed of prostitution, many women do come here looking for a bit of discreet and temporary love. Sex between locals and tourists is virtually unheard of during the low season on this sleepy little island. Instead, most of the intimate exchanges go on between the female guests and the G.O.s.
While everything transpires between consenting adults, Lindsey admits that occasionally women guests exploit the availability of the male staff members. Take the wild pair of American sisters who visited the Turks and Caicos resort last winter. According to Lindsey, they "more or less systematically raped every one of the G.O.s, and then turned around and rated them."
"Turns out they had a little competition going on between them. They've got a Web site where they posted pictures of the G.O.s and rated them. One of our guys got labelled as having a small manhood, which wasn't too nice for him." (Later, I repeatedly asked John for the address for the Web site. He said he could no longer find it on-line, but swore up and down that he had surfed it with his own eyes .)
The attraction for single female guests is no mystery. The Club Med Singles G.O.s look like they walked directly off the set of a Fox-TV reality show. Ranging in age from approximately late teens to early 30s, they are trim, tanned and glowing with the kind of laconic good cheer that can only come from spending most of your days half-naked and barefoot in a white-sand paradise.
Lindsey says that, while the male G.O.s have a reputation for womanizing, the flirtation is a two-way street. "The G.O.s get a bad name, but it's not fair. The [male guests]are always complaining that we take all the women. Can we help it if they come after us? Some women are very flirtatious and some men are just dogs -- they're gonna love 'em and leave 'em -- and here, the women are like that too."
But while many single women may arrive in Club Med hoping for a fling, they neither expect it nor seek it out, and they're not necessarily disappointed if it doesn't happen.
Take old university pals Kate, 26, and Lisa, 27. Both from Toronto, the pretty twosome decided on Club Med for all the practical reasons: It was an easy and relatively inexpensive holiday on last-minute notice. They expected "a cheesy frosh week atmosphere," and to some extent they found it. When I share a drink with them on the pool patio at midnight on the night before their departure, they tell me they hadn't been to bed before 3 a.m. once during the whole week. They wouldn't get into specifics, but the two attractive young women clearly felt well attended to during their trip.
"I know first-hand it's pretty damn easy to meet someone here," Kate says. "It's the whole holiday thing -- four or five days of romance and then you go home and don't think about it any more. It's surreal, it lets you loosen up and do things you wouldn't normally do."
For single women, the key is to be open but discerning. While many might hold back or wait things out at home, at Club Med they are free to pursue and be pursued, with near-immediate gratification.
"In a sense, you have to throw caution to the wind -- you can't play hard to get," Kate says. "You've got to take it or leave it, now or never. If you pass up romance, in an instant it can be gone, and at the end of the week you might go home wondering what you missed."
True to form, Kate and Lisa steered clear of most of their fellow male guests and fraternized mainly with the G.O.s for the duration of their stay. "It helps that they hire hot people," Kate says with a twinkle. Lisa laughs and elbows her friend knowingly. "It really does," Kate adds.
Single's Club Med, of course, is not the only holiday resort destination for women on the prowl. In fact, some would argue that it's downright tame compared with Hedonism II in Negril, a resort that caters specifically to men and women with sex on the brain. As their Web site boasts, at Hedonism II guests are encouraged to let loose and hook up. "While you're here, you'll find yourself doing things you never thought you would . . . or could. Things you wouldn't tell your mother about . . . Take off your bathing suit. Or someone else's. Basically, if it feels good, do it."
For female tourists itching for a fling, the draw of the all-inclusive resort package is clear. Cheesy as they might be, spots such as Club Med and Hedonism II offer a discreet and relatively controlled environment for single women. For the women I spoke to, a lack of sexual pressure is also important. In short, the female sex tourist wants to take her pleasure at her own discretion. "The party scene is there if you want to do that, and if you don't that's fine too," says Annie Sachs, 40, from New York City, who's a corporate relations specialist on Wall Street. While Sachs says she came to Club Med Turkoise in order to "rejuvenate and relax," she says that if something extra happens, that's fine.
"I had a fling with a G.O. a couple of years ago at the Club Med on Columbus Isle. He was a diving instructor from Italy and spoke very little English. It was nice to have some extra attention during my holiday, but I didn't take it seriously. Even at the time, I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere, but let me tell you, this guy was gorgeous -- not an ounce of fat on his body. I'm sure it was a different woman every week. You could just tell. We still e-mail."
In the U.K., lone female travellers bent on a bit of romance flock to Spain, Greece and Africa in search of local flings. One of these travellers, Cheryl Mason, 36, caused an uproar in the tabloids a couple of years ago when she met, bedded and subsequently married a 27-year-old Masai warrior named Daniel Lekimenju. The story of their immigration fight to allow Lekimenju to stay in Britain sparked off a wave of "shocked and appalled" stories in the tabloid press.
But such tales reveal a deeper truth. While the goal may be just a bit of fun in package-deal paradise, for many women, emotions get in the way. "I've worked in the Caribbean, so I know how it is," says Lyne Chayer, 34, a travel agent from Montreal who is staying at the Club Med Turkoise. "These women come down, they hook up with a G.O. and they go home, cry, and then they come back and he's with someone else."
At the resort, a group of single guests is gathered on a yacht drinking more rum punch. This weekly sunset sail along the coast was known as the Booze Cruise until a drunken banker from New York did a swan dive off the bow as the boat was pulling up to the dock and cracked his spine. Now it's run by an independent charter company.
One of the scuba instructors points out Eva, a pretty strawberry-blond Wall Street banker in her early 30s who, last night, hooked up with a dark-haired young French Canadian from Montreal.
"Looks like Eva's found her love of the week," he says, with a touch of envy.
I sidle over to Eva and ask why she came to a singles resort.
"Oh, you know, to go somewhere hot like everybody else," she says, coolly.
But was there something more that she was looking for?
"I'm not sure if I should tell you about that," she says, smiling a wicked smile.
"What do you honestly think?"
Hot spots for singles
Club Med: For information about Club Med's resorts for singles and adults, visit http://www.come2clubmed.com/adults_singles.htm.
Hedonism Resorts: For information about resorts at Negril and Runaway Bay, visit http://www.superclubs.com
Pink Palace: Agios Gordios beach, Sinarades, Corfu, Greece; phone: 30 (266) 10 53103 or 30 (266) 10 53104or 53935Fax: (0030) 26610 53025. Located on the most cosmopolitan of the northern Ionian Greek Islands, the Pink Palace is a legendary debauchery haven for gal travellers on the prowl, complete with regular fraternity-style toga parties.
Ibiza: A paradise for club-hoppers, the Balearic archipelago off the northeast coast of Spain offers a plethora of substance-addled nightlifeand tail-chasing singles opportunities. Stay by the sea at the Platja d'en Bossa (phone: 34 (971) 30 25 50) or rub shoulders with celebrities at the swanky San Antoni (phone: 34 (971) 34 22 22).
Singles Tours: http://www.aim-higher.com
Singles Travel International: http://www.singlestravelintl.com.
Travel Babe: http://www.travelbabe.com.