Our villa manager was taking us to Ubud that day, to show us the places her guests usually like to be taken. We bought silver jewellery at the market, wandered around the temples, that sort of thing. We were having a cold beer and iced coffee (not together, gross) at Cafe Lotus, overlooking the Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati and the large lotus pond, when we asked our villa manager where our next stop on today’s trip would be. She told us the Monkey Forest before heading up to see the Mt Batur volcano, and while neither of us are keen monkey-lovers, it seemed the thing people did when they went to Ubud. We’d had dinner with some Australian friends a few days earlier and they said it was lovely – the monkeys even sat on your shoulder and ate bananas.
To the monkey forest we went.
Now, had I ever googled that monkey forest before I went to Bali, I would never have stepped foot in it. But we knew no better, and when in Rome…
We paid our money and saw monkeys within seconds. Some loud American dude was like “holy fuck you guys, there’s totally monkeys here!” in his booming voice. The monkeys really were everywhere though, mostly little ones. Kind of cute, if you’re into that sort of thing. One girl stood there, stock still with a half-smile, half grimace as they crawled all over her, screeching on her shoulders and tearing into bananas.
We carried on, past the big trees, more monkeys, some weird looking-lizards, a HUGE sign that said how to deal with the monkeys (I went back and read it after I’d taken a few steps past – don’t look them in the eye, don’t snatch shit off them, don’t yell at them, that sort of thing) and carried on past the tourist trinket huts and down some stairs, where we saw a cheeky monkey run over and turn the tap on to get himself a drink. People were taking photos, monkeys were picking each other over for bugs, doing what monkeys do.
We heard a commotion behind us (different from the usual commotion when the monkeys unexpectedly drop out of the trees and onto people’s shoulders at the speed of light) – someone had taken a water bottle into the park and the monkey was jumping all over his head, fighting him for it. A guard called out to put the bottle away and the man apologised, stashing it in his bag. I clung closer to Lunchbox, expecting one to jump out of the tree AT ANY GIVEN SECOND.
We walked a few more metres, wondering how long this pathway was when a monkey came screaming out of the bushes and across our path, followed closely by another screaming monkey. They ran back and forth across our path fighting over something, and we didn’t know what to do. I thought we should probably turn around, but as they ran off into the bushes, Lunchbox took a few tentative steps forward along the path.
BIG GODDAMN MISTAKE.
The monkeys, furious as ever came flying back out of the bushes and screamed at him, grabbing at his shorts. He made a noise at them (I’m sure his reaction was wanting to kick them) and they kept screaming and grabbing at him. He walked up a short set of stairs and I didn’t know what to do so I followed. He made it to the top of the stairs, hounded by these two vicious monkeys and suddenly found myself in the middle of the stairs, surrounded by eight more, all screaming and growling or looking at me like they were going to rip my eyes out.
I didn’t know whether to keep going or to go back, so I took a few uncertain steps back down and then one more back up. The monkeys kept screaming and growling and I didn’t know what to do. Two of them leapt forward and grabbed my dress, clawing and biting at it while their posse growled at me. I called out to my husband like “uh, what should I do?” and he was like “yell at them!” (hey, it worked for him) and I was like “um, the sign says you can’t do that!” but it was too late because I’d already tried to snatch back my dress before realising you couldn’t do that either. I made some awful noise that would probably scare nothing but a small blind kitten, but they monkeys paid no attention. In fact, by then, two of them had stealthily crept up and slowly put their furry little arms around each of my ankles. So here I am, pinned to the stairs by two ankle-hangers, two dress-rippers and four growling hangers-on, for ages, completely mystified as to how to deal with this, and also slightly beginning to panic, when one of the little fuckers bit me.
I yelped, and he? she? who knows relaxed his bite just a bit before sinking his/her teeth in again. So here I am, surrounded by growling monkeys, two of them still hanging off my dress, two of them hanging off my ankles and one of of them also hanging off my calf by this teeth. Lunchbox was still pinned back by the two at the top of the stairs, and I was vaguely aware of a big group of people a few metres back, watching the spectacle unfold. I was clueless, I had no idea how to overpower eight monkeys and carry on, Lunchbox didn’t know what to do, and nobody was around to give us any advice. Finally after five minutes and a hell of a lot of confused thoughts, a guard appeared and yelled at them in his native language. He had a slingshot (“how often does this happen?” I thought) and the monkeys scampered off. I walked to the top of the stairs before I even remembered I had been bitten and I sort of looked at it in disbelief. I even said “oh it bit me!” like I didn’t even know.
The guard looked at it and looked at me and pointed me out to another guard, who looked thoroughly unimpressed, like “again?” and said “no rabies” to me with a sigh.
Some Betadine and a Band-Aid later, we were released into the pits of hell to make our way back to the entrance somehow.
On the way through, cautiously and mostly terrified now (thanks, adrenaline), I watched a man reach down and pull a monkey off his screaming baby.
I won’t be back.