Monkey Wars

Sometimes a craving for cheese grabs me. I slip on sandals, fling a grocery bag over my shoulder, and I’m off. This means a trip to Bali Buddha Bakery for dark, sourdough bread. Cheese without this bread is only half the orgy. But today I should have gotten the cheese first.

Bali Buddha Bakery Sourdough Bread

Bali Buddha Bakery Sourdough Bread

Bali doesn’t produce cheese. Only the large supermarkets that cater to Western diets have a limited (and I do mean limited) supply. The eternal optimist, I approach the cooler, drooling. My eyes flick over the selections. It doesn’t take long, there are only three: parmesan, feta, and mascarpone. That’s it. My taste buds ache for manchego. Couldn’t there be a manchego? Or even a pecorino? Those aren’t so terribly exotic, are they?

I move the three cheeses around in the case, hopeful that I might uncover even a lowly cheddar at this point. No luck. Okay, I gather my thoughts. I already have the bread, what else would be delicious? I resign myself to an avocado and a tomato. My taste buds are telling me that these are poor substitutes. I reassure them that it will be fine, but they’re not convinced.

The path home takes me past Monkey Forest. There are always ten or twenty monkeys hanging out in the trees, on the street, or climbing on the buildings in this area. That’s normal. But today, just as I’m opposite the mid-point of the forest, a virtual river of furry bodies comes pouring over the wall. They dash pell-mell across the street in front of me. There are hundreds of them. I freeze in my tracks, then, as casually as possible while hyperventilating, I retrace my steps until there’s distance between us. I turn and watch them evaporate into the landscape.

Yes, they’re cute. But I’ve seen their teeth. And I’ve seen a bloody hole in the haunch of one after another one was finished with him. They can be vicious.

Macaque Monkey King credit

Macaque Monkey King
photo credit

Later that day, I learn that there was an uprising. One alpha male, the monkey king, took offense at the leader of another troop and ousted him and his faithfuls. My timing was impeccable. I got to see the defeated being banished from their home.

The next morning I awaken to what sounds like Armageddon overhead. It’s a barrel of monkeys on my roof. (It’s true. A group of monkeys can be referred to as a troop or a barrel.) The marauding outcasts are hungry. Apparently they’ve come to me for breakfast. I text Gede, next door, “Monkeys!” and hit send. In a flash he appears with his slingshot and the critters scamper for cover. He never has to use it, he just shakes it menacingly in their direction making shwaa! shwaa! sounds, and off they go.

That afternoon, Ketut comes by. I tell him I want a slingshot. He disappears into the garden and returns bouncing a largish rock up and down in one hand. “No problem,” he says. “You do this, monkey gone.” As if to test his theory, at that very moment a monkey appears on the wall a few feet away. Ketut bounces the rock. The monkey flees.

I love my peaceful community. And it is peaceful. But maybe I love it most because, woven into the tranquility, is the possibility of a monkey invasion or other random surprises. And, better yet, there’s always someone ‘at the ready’ who knows exactly what to do.

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!

Meeting Julie

Another special day! About 2:00 I leave my key at the office, their signal that I’m ready for clean sheets, towels, and a light touch-up of the room, and head out. My mission: keep a 3:30 appointment with author, Julie Silvester. The directions she gave me take me along Monkey Forest Road lined with shops selling beautiful batiks, fine silver jewelry, wood carvings, musical instruments and art. I make note of several that require a return trip for serious shopping!

Around a long curve, up a hill, right at the 24 hour grocery to the reception desk, then another right along a narrow, walled walkway and I’m there. Julie sees me coming and welcomes me to her second floor bungalow. Sitting in the treetop balcony sipping Balinese coffee we chatter away. Then she suggests we walk over and see “the house” before the rain starts. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Julie has lived in Bali for two years and now she’s building her own home. I have read about its progress on her blog but I’m extremely eager to see it in person.

We walk to the building site, literally one house away. I make Julie stop on the path so I can snap a photo of her with the house in the background.

There are women sitting on bamboo scaffolding sanding the beams that support the roof over the balcony.

But the major work today is being done in the bathroom. She now has running water! Soon there will be a pond with fish, a rock wall with orchids growing from it, and a fountain.

As she leads me through the rooms, pointing out different features and reminding me to watch my step, her excitement is tangible. But when she shows me the giant sculpture crowning the intricately carved main door delight simply radiates from her face. Everything has been done by hand. The sculpture was just finished yesterday by a man, on bamboo scaffolding, carving the details into the plaster.


The tour is completed and as we leave she points out the detail at the end of each one of the roof tiles. They are frangipani blossoms, the crowning touch! I marvel at this labor intensive project. Everything has been done by hand. Imagine what that kind of work would cost in the U.S.

The tour completed we return to our coffee on the balcony. The sky has been a saturated gray all day and it looks as though it is getting ready to really pour. I have a bit of a walk home but before I leave I want to buy the book Julie co-authored with Steve Castley, A Taste of Bali. Julie has one signed and ready in no time. I tuck my autographed copy into my backpack and wave goodbye.

As I am nearing home I see the warm lights of Atman Cafe across the street. It looks so inviting and I feel a little hungry. About the time I step inside the heavens open and rain pours down in solid sheets. Curled up on a platform amid a profusion of pillows I engage in conversation with the woman next to me. She’s from Oregon and has been traveling for 3 months. I eat my tropical fruit with a sweet chili dressing (I can’t even tell you how delicious that is!) and sink into the deep sensation of contentment that envelopes me. About the time I finish eating the rain has slowed to a skin-moistening mist. I walk the three minutes home, retrieve my key from the office, and unlock the door to a fresh, clean room. Somebody pinch me!

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