Tuesday, 3 March 2015

I came to Kuta to find a Beach Cowboy

 

I would advise you finish reading this post otherwise you are at risk of making the wrong judgements. Not that I care because I truly came to Kuta to find a Cowboy or as many of them as I could, as bad as this may sound to you if you are  in any way familiar with the Cowboy term related to Kuta.
Long before I bought my fly ticket to Indonesia, I came across while doing my research, with a documentary that went viral, made in 2009 by Amit Birmani from Singapore, called “Cowboys in Paradise”.
This documentary, only to be found in Youtube, became a big hit and mostly for the wrong reasons and, from I have found out these days in Kuta, that’s went all changed for them.
Even a well established newspaper such “Los Angeles Times” wrote an article about it and the web itself is full of a wide variety of articles with the most diverse opinions, mostly from 2010.
 
The documentary clearly affects Bali directly. Bali, known as the Island of Gods, is full of holy temples and sacred places.


As many other destinations on the planet, Bali survives largely thank you to the masses of tourists that visit  it yearly in search of several different things; so far in my month here I have witnessed such different type of visitors that it would be hard to classify them simply. It seems though, that Bali offers just anything or everything that you may came here to look for and more.

 Bali, to put it simply, has a lot of expectations to live up to but manages wonderfully to do so, it is a magical piece of land on earth and there is so much to experience.

But when “Cowboys in Paradise” went public through social media, it brought the wrong kind of attention to Bali, specifically to popular Kuta and its beach, given its perfect location close to the Denpasar Airport which serves as a main hub to fly to other regions of the country.

 While there is nothing extraordinary about gigolos as it is a term commonly known and used often to define a group of men that conquer women in exchange of a monetary transaction, there is to me something really fascinating about these Cowboys and the fact that the location is Bali and not any other place, maybe my fascination comes from the fact that I look at this men and they appeal to me as hugely exotic, happy and carefree, but while I can understand completely that a Westerner woman can feel attraction toward them, I have seen for a month now that equally the attraction is from them towards us, too.

 About this and many other questions, I have widely spoken with some Kuta Beach Boys (that not Cowboys) and found some interesting and surprising conclusions.
 I came here to find Cowboys, instead I found very sensitive smart men that offered me friendship, their lives history and why not; a great overview of life in Kuta Beach.
Are they Cowboys? I will never know but I know there is something in Kuta that makes solo female westerner travellers happy to be here and wanting to return.

It is these men fault.

 I know because I am one of these women.

 I read so much about Kuta before deciding to finally come here to end my trip in Indonesia; one, for its perfect location close to the airport and two and most important, largely attracted with the idea of meeting/interviewing a real Cowboy.

 I would say that ninety per cent of the Kuta reviews on the web are right. Arriving in Kuta is like a big slap on your face, specially if like me, you have left the paradisiacal Gili islands behind to find a small city hard to define and even more, as I get to know Kuta better.
 
 It gets harder because there are two very different Kuta’s; the one built specifically for and around the tourism and its beach and the real local Kuta, full of charming and wonderful friendly local people.
 
Both of them are strongly linked but it may not seem like this, especially if you don’t make an effort to build a friendship with a local. There is so much more to them other than running a business they are trying to make a living from.
 
I was really unsure what to do when I arrived in Kuta, but after finding accommodation and talking to the guys at my Guest House whom couldn’t help me in any way, I decided that the best thing for me was to head straight to the beach, at the end of the day, that’s where the action took place once.

Kuta Beach is an attraction on its own.
The first time, it feels hugely overwhelming. Right at the back of the beach, there are hundreds of vendors (food, massage, drinks…you name it). As you walk closer to the sea, you see it, you see them; surf tables, red plastic chairs where you are invited to enjoy a drink facing the seaside and them…tanned, long hair, naked torsos, smiley, carefree and happy to see you.

 They are the Kuta Beach Boys.

 There is an order of offerings; first of all is the surf lesson, then is the drink and if nothing works, it is then the conversation, company, music and singing.

My excitement of being finally there made my first approach towards these men abrupt; I was maybe too straight forward asking them about the Kuta Beach Cowboys. I was then pointed out to different guys but none of them really talked much. I felt there was something wrong, like this was a topic off limits and, while none of them refused to talk and the smiles kept coming, I was really unsure if there was anything left at all from those golden years.
 
 I was invited to sit down and wait for one guy that was surfing which, I was happy to do so, as sunset time was quickly approaching. 

 This guy (Mr G) came out of the sea carrying his surf table like a male siren, all smiles, self-confidence, long hair and exoticism, just what I saw on the Internet. For all I knew, I had a cowboy right there and then. We introduced ourselves and sat down at the beach. I asked him all sort of questions and then I asked him THE question. He smiled and smiled, I smiled, too.
  Awkward.
 Apparently not; He said that he only teaches surf to the tourists and when I insisted and asked him if only, only he replied yes, only. OK, point taken. But I insisted again, surely there was something else he could tell me...?
 

 While he struggled with his English a bit, he managed to say that the Indonesian Government placed security at the beach, meaning that from then on, no Cowboys were allowed, these character had become illegal. Truth to be said, I did see some security around but did not related at all to that.
I realised that I didn’t do my homework right, there was obviously something that happened after the release of the documentary, otherwise, why the security?
We sat down in silence for a while, we spoke about him. He said that came from Sumatra and was happy working at the beach but currently they didn’t have much work (it is now here rainy and therefore low season and there aren’t many tourists around.

He truly seemed happy and so did the rest of them. Didn’t matter that they were often ignored by the tourists, I was shocked to see that they were genuinely smiling and having fun, it seemed that first and most important, they were enjoying their own company, then everything else.
 I was starting to warm up to this men that they were not pushy, not uncomfortable. I left them to it and moved on.
I must say that for the length of time that I spent with this Team (Beach Boys work for someone else but there are teams. For every bunch of chairs, there is a team of 3 or so) they were extremely accommodating. They all serve drinks, they can all teach you Surf and they can all sing and entertain you very well by being extremely charming.
 
At that point I felt slighted defeated, I was starting to think that there was nothing for me to do there, in a small scale, even regretting being in noisy Kuta instead of spiritual Uluwatu.
 I then decided to keep walking and find a nice spot at the beach to watch the sunset and so I did and I sat down facing the sea and waiting for the sun to work its magic.

 There and then everything changed for me and I would not look at Kuta with the same eyes again.
After a short while of being there, this really young guy approached me. 

An Indonesian Beach Boy
  I looked at him and I saw a friendly wide smile, his tanned dark skin, attractive, respectful approach and curious eyes.

 We started talking; no I don’t’ surf, I’m ok here, can I sit down with you? Yes, sure. I instantly liked him. He was sweet, looked innocent, was full of curiosity and questions and was not pushy. It felt like I was sitting with a good friend sharing a beautiful sunset.
 We asked many questions about each other and naturally, I wanted to know about him and what it was like to live and work at the beach, no Cowboy questions allowed, this was different. I sensed it.

Almost a week has gone by and he and his friend and brother have become my best friends in Kuta and it is thank you to them that I have learnt to love this place. They have brought something so genuine and beautiful to my time here that I will come back.
This Kuta Beach Boys have become my family in here, they have taken care of me and entertained me with music, song and laughs.
In Kuta and thank you to these incredible boys I have felt at my happiest.

Maybe I will never know what they really are or if the truth is all out there but I find myself thinking that it doesn’t matter any more. In these guys company I have been happier than putting together my happiest moments of the last two years in London
 
 
 The first thing I can confirm is that they are happy. I mean, not bitter-sweet happy as we are at home but really genuine happy in a carefree way that I have never seen. By saying that they are ultra-happy living a simple life at the beach and struggling to make a living out of it, I don’t mean they have perfect lives. After many conversations with them, I know their lives are or have been everything but easy and this makes them even more special, truly a lesson for many of us to learn from.
Many Beach Boys come from Sumatra (they are a bunch of very happy people) and prior arriving to Bali in search of a better life and more freedom, they all left behind humbles lives and poor families.

I learnt from sweet D the struggles that his family went through to send him and his brothers to school, how he had to take public transportation that would ran every few hours or at unexpected hours to get to a school far away, when his friends had motorbikes to get them there, how he would sometimes walk in the rain for hours because he had no one to take him to and from school, how his father could not provide them with basic things, how he had to leave his village at a young age and travel to an unknown city alone in search of a job or how he was bullied in Java when he couldn’t speak Bahasa properly until he self-taught himself and how life in Bali wasn’t always great.

 Here I was talking to sweet D and learning from this twenty-two year old Indonesian boy thing and realities that no one could teach me back home about life.

 The living him and others are making at the beach is not good, life can be a struggle in that sense but D doesn’t care, he said that he prefers to be happier than rich, which he knows he can’t always be at the beach however at this moment in time he’s made a choice to be happy.

 He talked about being able to see sunsets every day that paint the sky orange, to talk and interact with people from all over the world, to swim and surf, to smile, to play guitar and sing, to make the customers smile and feel happy. He chooses all that for now and I can really understand why.

 These days spent at the beach with sweet D and the others have been wonderful, these guys have managed to make me smile big, to get me singing and to be reminded not to take life too seriously.

 They have taken me to their room where three people live and share a bed, the have bought me drinks, allowed me into their private lives and made me feel part of them. We sang Sumatra songs until the late hours of the morning without a care in the world.

These men have an incredible capacity to bring joy to your soul.
 
As I sat down at their terrace enjoying their music, humour and singing, I couldn’t even remember how my life looked like a month ago in London. This is how happy I have been feeling in their company.
Just when I was starting to forget about Cowboys, I ended up having a conversation with one of these guys that owned one of the businesses at the beach and I thought I may ask. Strangely enough, he kindly of guessed I wanted to talk about it and so we did.
 
Sure the video went viral not only in the westerner world but also Indonesia. The Government didn’t like it and took very seriously the fact that Bali’s fame was under serious attack with these Cowboys gaining world fame for the wrong reasons and acted upon it. The police went to Kuta beach to search for them.
They arrested and imprisoned twenty-eight.
 When I asked this man, Boss A, why a Cowboy would publicly tell the world what he did, he said that the documentary director paid each of them good money to do so, which it explains that even the wife of one of them, talks openly in the video. I’m not quick to judge and it would be great if you weren’t either because I am in Bali for some weeks now and yes, it is paradise for us but there is also a lot of poverty which it does not make of Bali much of a paradise anymore, does it?
 Who are we to judge them because someone wants to make a living giving to women something that they came here to look for?
I don’t. There is a market because there are clients. Prostitution is as old as the world.
But who are these men? The Kuta Beach Cowboys then had prestige, children wanted to become them. How is this normal in a world of subtle prostitution?
 No one envies prostitutes but many envied Cowboys. They created their own micro world in Kuta Beach, a place where they could be admired, be themselves, be carefree, happy men making women happy; men that would hide behind surf tables, or plastic chairs, or old guitars and smiles.
 They say they are gone from the beach. Where are they now? Not sure, Boss A told me. Can I find them? Would they talk to me? No, they wouldn’t, they made that mistake once and paid for it. Shall I forget? Yes, you should. Will I find them in a nightclub? No answer. 
 I decided to forget and instead go back to silly carefree conversations with sweet D and the others. They don't stop laughing and fooling around. I love them for that.
 As I still have some hours left in Bali, I look behind to the last few days and I realised that my week in Kuta has been a journey and a lesson. I have come across the most wonderful Indonesian men that have treated with so much more respect than any westerner man has.
Yes, they have been jokes about holiday in Bali and what it entitles, yes, they have also sang me at the beach the Jiggy Jig song created by Australians and we’ve had a laugh but here I am, feeling sad to leave this great bunch of lads, so full of vitality and maturity, natural fighters but genuine and appreciative of life's little moments of happiness.


 When you go to the web and read travellers recommendations to avoid Kuta, don’t listen. If I would have, I would have missed some of my happiest memories of my month in beautiful Indonesia.









5 comments:

  1. useful and interesting, sometimes discarding the reviews of the masses leads to wonderful discoveries :) x

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  2. What a wonderful story, Im happy to hear of a positive outcome for you. I feel the same about Bali in that I still love the island, but only for the balinese.

    I also met a Sumatran man. Unfortunately for me, I was taken for a ride and I lost my heart and self confidence throughout those 6 months. I knew deep down he wasnt a cowboy, but another breed of scum. The beach boys dont work the beach during business hours, they work on the tinder app to find unsuspecting trust worthy women.

    The stories I was told
    I need to sell my bike for my brother so he can have the money to buy a bike in sumatra so he can get to his new job, I will just walk from my boarding house to work

    Someone burnt my surfboards, now I cant work on the beach

    I smashed my watch during a bar fight ( when I seen him it was a scratch)

    My laptop doesnt work, Ive lost all my family photos

    My room was broken into and searched, I didnt have my KITA's so i got a fine can you help me pay babe

    Im sick I need some money

    Can you buy me some cheap boards shorts from Kmart, we have bad quality hear

    I borrow surf boards to take client but only earn 100,000 a day

    Im not on tinder baby ( I log in from over seas and find his profile)

    There is more but these are the warning signs

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  3. Jun peris naptiu

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  4. I met a guy similar to this anonymous reply. I spent my 4 years of savings on my happy ending who was yes you guessed it a Sumatran gigolo. My nightmare for 3 years before my lease ran out and I only had enough money to fly home to London.

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  5. Disgusting woman

    ReplyDelete