It’s a slow night in paradise and the prospects aren’t looking good. So poor in fact that the waiter gives up, sits down at my table and starts to talk.
He is young, fit and has the smile and swagger of a loveable rogue.
I ask about his job. He is 28 years old and has been a waiter for seven years. When I learn he earns just $80 a month I give him my number one sympathetic look.
The rogue dismissively waves it away. He tells me that he is doing fine, courtesy of his “other work.”
I give him a questioning look and he leans in a little towards me, drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper and tells me, “I am a crocodile.”
He pronounces it trocodile but when he uses his arms to mimic the closing jaws of a croc I get his meaning, although I am still non the wiser.
Seeing my perplexed look he smiles, drops his voice still further and proudly says to me, “You call it gigolo.”
Harry, the name he uses for the ladies, begins his story.
He was born and raised here on Gili Air, one of three small islands off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. As a young guy he realized many female tourists were looking for a holiday romance and were happy to splash the cash on local guys who made them feel good.
Harry saw a chance to improve his lot and undertook two years of what he calls self training. “I had to learn to speak good English, develop my body and work out how to treat the ladies in a special way.” Since then his income has rocketed.
“They pay for everything. Food, drink, parties and we have a very good time. When their holiday is finished they never leave without giving me something.”
“Never?” I ask. “Never,” he insists and his chest thrusts out with male pride. One thousand Euros is his best gift and he assures me that “gift” is the correct word. He never demands money. Doesn’t need too. That’s for the amateurs.
“I give them lots of fun. I say very special things to them and it makes them feel great. They are always grateful.”
He has his rules. No girls in their early 20s, “they have no money.” Late 20s sometimes but women in their 30s and 40s are the best.
I ask how he meets them. He calls it “fishing”. He does a slow fisherman’s cast into the restaurant and his eyes work the room. This is his territory and he oozes confidence. He will spend hours flirting. If any ladies take his bait he tells them to meet him at midnight, when his restaurant work is done, and he will take them to see turtles.
Does that line really work? I am a little doubtful. Harry repeats his strongest clamping jaws action shouts SNAP and let’s out his roguish laugh.
But he’s not alone. He tells me there are 25 crocodiles on the island. Competition is strong and he points out two other crocs in his restaurant with a couple of 30-something American women.
I decide, in the interests of research you understand, to delve into murky waters. I ask Harry if he sleeps with many of the women? He snorts at my innocence and says all of them.
I can’t resist and ask him for numbers. Heading toward 30 this year, he tells me. I am stunned and highly skeptical. But later I see the evidence before my very eyes. The American women are leaving but their crocs stay by the bar. “Will you please come and dance with me later? Please,” implores one of the girls. “For you I will try to move the moon”, is the reply. In that brief exchange is all the proof I need.
It’s far from clear whether the women Harry meets are part of a growing trend of female sex tourism, or just travellers merely open to a holiday romance and happy at the end to show their gratitude. I ask The Crocodile about their intent and he rocks his shoulders in a “bit of both” kind of answer.
Just over the water in Bali a 2010 documentary film called Cowboys In Paradise followed the so-called “Kuta cowboys”, young guys who make a living through female sex tourism. The authorities were angered and embarrassed by the movie and arrested 28 of the beach boys, although all were later released. In Bali it is a sizeable and growing business.
Back in the restaurant Harry The Crocodile is in full flow. He takes me through his repertoire. Flowers and massages are high on his list. Then comes the gigolo’s pearls of wisdom. “Take it slow. Start at number ten and work your way very slowly to number one. No rushing. That’s why young men are no good. Too quick.”
Wham, bang, thank you ma’am, I ask him? He doesn’t know the phrase but he likes it and repeats it mantra style. I point out that he is saying “man” instead of ma’am and that does make rather a difference. He is shocked when he realizes the implication of his misused language.
I eventually thank Harry for the most unexpected night of my journey so far. I also apologise for keeping him talking for an hour and hope he hasn’t missed a catch. “No good tonight. I don’t feel strong. You have to be strong for the ladies.” In the interest of taste and decency I don’t ask him to elaborate.
Travel throws up many amazing characters. This encounter is high up on the memorable list. It will be a long time before I forget how I got up close and very personal with the awesome power of Harry the Crocodile.