And sex. (Look away now, those of a delicate disposition.)
Bali is little different from any other youth-oriented tourism hotspot around the globe – think: Ibiza, Phuket, Santorini – where matters of a carnal nature are visibly high on the entertainment agenda. That there are young men here tapping into this facet of the island’s tourism should not be a surprise to anyone of sound mind.
What does surprise us, however, is the raging reaction to a documentary exploring this relatively mild activity when just streets away from Kuta Beach, where Cowboys in Paradise was filmed, a hardcore sex industry is open for all to see each night of the week.
On the well-trodden footpaths of Jl Legian it is mainly women, offering their services to foreign men. Towards this place no official ire is cast.
Meanwhile, we are told, the so-called beach boys who befriend female tourists are involved in not so much an industry but a heightened form of friendship, albeit frequently for self-gain. But often no money changes hands, and the visiting woman may only pay for meals and drinks for local Lotharios.
Critics of the low-budget production shot on handycam argued this week that peddling sex on the beach is damaging to Bali’s prime tourist attractions: its nature and spirituality. Propelled by a breathless media, Bali Police are investigating the filmmaker with a view to bringing charges based on the lack of a filming permit, potential action that will likely amount to naught because the man does not live in this country. Might police at the same time journey into the dark heart of the Legian club scene?
While we do not condone casual sex encounters and the risks of disease and pregnancy they carry, for many tourists, having a fling – all the more potent on an exotic tropical island such as Bali – is an indisputable element of holidaymaking.
Anyone wishing to deny that – or worse, police it, as we witnessed this week, when some 28 young men were rounded up on Kuta Beach, suspected – apparently because of bare torsos and good physique – of being hustlers does not understand Kuta and its international draw.
Culture, nature and spirituality have long since been shoved out of that heated district amid a climax of quick tourist dollars. But those essential elements of our island survive and are thriving in the many other areas, where the only cowboys to be found are those tending to their herds.