Home > 2011 Posts > Bali’s Most Wanted

Bali’s Most Wanted

They warn you at the gate, but it’s still a shock – beautiful, exotic and humbling, but a shock nonetheless.

On the far-away island of Bali, not too many miles from the town of Denpasar, is the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal. It’s an amazing place and well worth a visit – if you put your mind in the right place. Our minds weren’t in that place.

From the moment you enter, it’s clear that, here at least, humans don’t rule the animal kingdom. For more than 700 years, thousands of long-tailed macaque monkeys have thrived as holy animals. And, based on my exposure, I’d guess that they’ve spent every minute of those centuries perfecting rackets worthy of Al Capone or Joseph Kennedy in their prime.

A Ringleader No Doubt

Signs outside the huge, walled temple complex warn you about ‘aggressive’ creatures. You are advised to hold firmly onto your belongings. But the six companions in our party proved unequal to the challenge. We were naively expecting ‘zoo’ instead of ‘gangsterville’.

Several of us had bought a bag of peanuts for “the cute monkeys,” thinking, This will be amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it. And, how bad could it be anyway? I don’t know how bad it could be, but here is what happened to us.

My wife, carrying her bag of peanuts, was wearing a purple top and khaki shorts. We had walked past the gate reminding each other to “watch out for the monkeys.” But, being a serious animal lover, my wife surged ahead, eager to feed every one. As she got about fifteen feet in front of us, we all heard a single, loud screech from a large monkey behind us to the left. We turned part way around to gawk. Then we heard a sharp hand clap from another monkey sitting on a wall directly to our left. So we turned that way and began to gawk some more. An instant later, another monkey darted in from the right, silently, at full speed.

The Smaller Ones Seem So Harmless. And Cute.

I turned back toward my wife just in time to see that monkey leap up, planting his right foot on her left thigh just above the knee. Before she could even make a startled noise, the monkey had ripped the bag of peanuts out of her hand, and, still accelerating, pushed off hard, skittering away with his loot. Two small rivulets of blood began to flow where he’d dug in his filthy claws.

Two dozen macaques on the nearby walls erupted into triumphant, gloating screams and taunting howls. I rushed up to my wife, who hadn’t moved at all. She was just staring at the blood and thinking, like me, Oh great. Ebola.

But then our luck turned for a bit. One of our companions pulled out his vodka-filled hip flask (don’t ask; he’s the only guy I know for whom having a hip flask of booze in sweltering tropical heat is no surprise at all). We soaked some tissues from a small packet with the vodka and cleaned the puncture wounds again and again.

The bleeding soon stopped and my wife, trooper that she is, said, “If it’s infected it won’t start bothering me until we get back to town anyway, so let’s finish this. And besides, I don’t have more for them to steal.” She thought.

Waiting for the 'Twilight' Audition

On we went, further into this lovely, germ-filled and wholly exotic place. After awhile, we got more used to the monkeys sitting every few feet along the scores of brick and stone walls. Then we began to really look at the beautiful temples, pavilions and towering, equatorial forest.

And the bats. Giant ones, with six-foot wing spans, thousands of them, maybe tens of thousands, hanging upside down high in the trees all around us. Often, one or two would glide between perches and then go back to sleep. They were just fruit bats, but wherever you looked, some huge bats were flying – leaving a light drizzle of processed fruit to fall randomly but steadily under them.

About an hour later, we were heading back toward the entrance when a different band of hoodlum primates decided that our watchfulness had relaxed enough for them to try a new plan.

We were in a long passage about five feet wide between maybe twenty medium-sized macaques sitting on the five-foot walls. About half-way along, the animals became ominously silent and gave us hard, steady glares, baring their teeth. A formerly animated conversation among the six of us quickly trailed off. We moved along a bit faster and nervously stared back. Then, with a sharp screech, two monkeys leaped from behind, landing on the two members of our party who were wearing gold chain necklaces. One was my wife.

Trying to Put You Off Your Guard with Monkey Family Cuteness

I was right behind her and saw the creature land. Without thinking, I swung my camera on its strap, clobbering the beast just as he got a good grip on my wife’s hair and reached for her throat. He was inhumanly alert and quick, so my roundhouse swing landed only a glancing blow. Fortunately, this time there was no further injury and my wife’s necklace stayed where it belonged. Our companion came off less well. Though uninjured, it seems that he had donated his own gold chain to the temple collection plate. But, luckily for me, no Sacred Animal Police put me under arrest for clouting a Holy Thief.

On the drive back to town, we all decided that some R&R was in order. So, that evening, we spent a little more time than usual enjoying our hotel bar. And, we spent the next day by the pool. Thankfully, Dr. Smirnoff had done his magic and there was no sign of monkey claw infection.

That evening, my brave and steady wife allowed as how more exploring was in order. The next morning, we headed up into the mountains, toward the Kintimani and Lake Batur.

But that’s another story.

Categories: 2011 Posts Tags: , ,
  1. May 18, 2011 at 2:29 am

    Hi Dave.
    My husband Ron and I have been to Bali twice and found it to be a most interesting country. A culture shock at times, but yet fantastic. We also went to the Monkey Forest, but did not, fortunately, have the trouble your wife had. I had my film camera with me and filmed quite a bit. The bats were interesting too, but I didn’t have a tripod so the shots are a little wobbly! Our latest visit to Bali was in 2005 – staying in a lovely hotel, but we got around and this time I filmed temples (my standard had improved you see), festivals and lots more.
    I read your blog with interest and will carry on reading more about Bali. I have a Sri Lankan film on my YouTube site.
    Regards Elin

    • May 18, 2011 at 10:16 am

      I will check out your Bali and Sri Lanka videos! With all the turmoil in Indonesia, did you see any evidence of it during your last visit?

      We are such archaeo-nerds that, though we found Bali to be fascinating in an other-world-ish sort of way, everything was too new for our tastes. Glad we were there once for a good while, but we have so much more on our Mediterranean / Western Civ. site list than we will ever be able to explore in depth, that ruthless prioritization was the only answer.

  2. May 18, 2011 at 10:47 am

    The Indonesia trip I have just published (part one anyway) was in 1996, which was ‘a safe time’ to travel. Not so sure about it any more.In 2005 our Bali-stay was peaceful and lovely. I don’t think they have the ‘sailing through Indonesia’ tours any more. There are too many problems, unfortunately. I don’t have a video about Bali on You Tube, just Sri Lanka so far.
    I am trying hard to figure out how to make new categories, as I want to separate Travel from WWII. It just won’t work for me. Please advice!!! They say using wordpress is easy but maybe I am dim???

    • May 19, 2011 at 8:24 am

      No problem! To add a new Category, go to Dashboard, click on the ‘Category’ label in the listing of numbers of Posts, Comments, Categories, etc. Then, on the new page there is an Add New Category prompt. Hope this helps!

  3. May 20, 2011 at 1:57 am

    It does thanks. All is well here, and the weather is OK too.

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