About the Monkeys…

Like slogging through a muddy rice paddy, we enter our seventh week of lockdown in Bali.

There are places to go. Grocery stores are open, Some restaurants ignore the take-out-only mandate and allow customers to sit and eat. It’s business as usual at petrol stations, banks, clinics, and pharmacies. What boggles me though, is the overwhelming number of buildings being built or remodeled. Is it optimism? Do they know something I don’t know? Or is it simply wishful thinking as numbers of new Covid cases in Bali nudged 2000 this past week. Builders’ supply stores are doing a booming business. That’s good news because I’m in the market for a new roof.

Ubud is home to The Sacred Monkey Forest. In the past, tourists paid handsomely to walk the mouldering jungle paths. They bought bananas at the gate which, one-and-a-half steps later, were snatched from their clutches to the absolute shrieking delight of besotted onlookers.

Those visitors have been gone for over eighteen months and none have come to replace them. The monkeys are bored without their daily entertainment. What’s worse, they’re hungry. Funds that used to feed them evaporated with the death of tourism.

They roam through town, performing acrobatics on electrical cables that festoon the streets. They savage neighborhoods, thieving food from fruit stands and pilfering bags full of groceries as customers depart the store. They stage war games on rooftops sending fragile clay tiles crashing to the ground.

My roof is in their path.

This never used to happen. The smart, mischievous macaques were happy in their forest sanctuary. At first they paid an occasional morning visit. As Coved droned on, that progressed to every morning. Then a late afternoon stop-by was added to the routine. Now they’re a constant presence, appearing throughout the day. If I lunch on the terrace I’m certain to attract a furry guest, or ten, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to snatch the plate from under my nose and eat the contents in front of me. Any move to salvage it is met with barred teeth and gut-chilling snarls.

It requires constant vigilance. If the house is left open and unattended, havoc is wreaked.

I’ve actually learned to tolerate most of it. But the roof is a constant source of concern. If a tile slips even a little, I’ll know it when the next storm passes through. If several are broken and I’m unaware of the damage, I’ll be scooping buckets of rainwater off the floor as mattresses get soaked and I practice words I didn’t know I knew.

Ketut spends more time on the roof than he does on dry land these days, replacing tiles.

That’s why we set out on the motorbike this morning. I’d found a shop online that sells metal roofing that looks like clay but it’s nailed in place. No slipping. No shattering into a million pieces on the ground. Ketut tells me metal isn’t completely monkey-proof. If one of those hungry beasts decides to break open a coconut up there, all bets are off. Even metal can’t withstand the jackhammer pounding of a determined monkey with a fresh nut. What are the odds that will happen? Quarterly? Once a year? Never? I’ll take my chances.

Today was gorgeous. Twenty-five minutes past lime-green rice fields, across bridges spanning bottomless gorges, through eye-blink villages, brought us to Sinar Sukses, a miniscule shop. The young man laughed when I told him Google said he had metal roof tiles. “Why would Google say that?” he shrugged. “This is a plumbing shop.” He suggested we try the building supply just a few blocks back the way we came and around the corner. Two women there listened to our request then pointed. Sheets of corrugated tin in various colors leaned against the far wall. No, they didn’t have metal tiles. Only the sheets. We asked if they knew where we could find what we were looking for. We left with an address a few miles away.

This store was large. It looked promising. We removed our helmets, washed our hands, entered and stated our business. A sad-eyed girl behind the counter shook her head.

It was on the way home that Ketut remembered a cousin recently roofed his home with metal tiles. He said he’d ask him where he bought them. A few minutes ago, the answer came. It was a building supply next to the market in Gianyar – the town we’d left a few short hours before.

I love it. I really do.

No, not the crashing roof tiles. That sound fills me with sickening dread and blood-lust – monkey blood.

I love the adventure. The thrill of The Hunt. The camaraderie as Ketut and I zip along roads that used to be clogged to a standstill with traffic this time of year. The laughter at our inside jokes that nobody else in their right mind would find even remotely funny.

The thing is, we’ll locate the tiles. Over much hemming and hawing – maybe this, perhaps that – a price will be negotiated. The job will get done. But right now, for my sanity’s sake, the longer a project takes the better. The more convoluted the search, the less time I spend missing my faraway loved ones. I seek out distractions with the same manic fervor I used to employ to avoid them.

It’s Bali. It’s lockdown. It’s life.

Monkey Business in Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest Sanctuary is home to around 200 macaque monkeys and three Hindu temples that were built in the middle of the 14th Century. The monkeys roam freely which can be both fascinating and frightening. I am generally fascinated and have stood, mesmerized at the zoo, watching these distant relatives do things people do. But today a precocious teenage monkey decided I probably had something he wanted in my purse. I know better than to carry food into Monkey Forest so I had nothing. But he jumped on to my shoulder and in a split second, he had himself draped around me, grappling with the zipper on my bag and then my camera case. I had just witnessed two monkeys fighting and I saw the vicious teeth those little creatures have so I didn’t want to upset him in any way. As he readjusted his grip around my neck I slowly lowered myself as close to the ground as I could get hoping he’d hop off. No such luck. The next thing I knew he swung around my arm, a Tarzan-like move, and was on my head. I know their penchant for grooming and I didn’t want to go there! I saw a cement pillar near by with a flat top. I moved close and tilted my head. Junior finally got the message and left in a bit of a huff. I gave the monkeys a wide berth for the remainder of my visit today, and I wasn’t approached again.

They’re just so cute when they’re little!

Then they become teenagers…

And then, ah well, it happens to all of us.

The lush green jungle is a feast for the eyes. If you notice about half way down on the right side of this photo, two mossy green alligators perch on the edge of a cliff.

The sidewalks are spotlessly clean and are kept that way by women with pink dustbins and bamboo brooms. I watched a tourist intentionally drop a plastic bag on the ground. Another person in the group said, “There are recycle containers for that.” His reply, “Oh, the monkeys will take care of it.” Within moments a green uniformed Forest Attendant picked up the bag and took it to the recycle bin.

Monkey Forest Sanctuary is also a cemetery used by the village of Padangtegal for their cremations and burial grounds.

Directly across from the headstones is the cremation area. There had recently been a cremation and smoke was still rising.

The temples are awe-inspiring with their statuary and intricately carved edifices.

I wonder what the ceremonies looked like that were held here in the 14th Century. Probably not much different from what they are today.

No trip into Monkey Forest would be complete for me without seeing the incredible dragon bridge. Shrouded in the dripping tendrils of the banyan trees that surround it, the bridge spans the rushing creek in the chasm below.

Magnificent! And so was the day. My trail home took me past Atman and I had to stop. Just look at these bananas, fried in butter with two sauces on the side, one is coconut cream and the other is carmelized raw cane sugar. Go ahead and drool. It was beyond delicious!

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