Managing a Difficult Balinese Macaques Relationship

Ubud has a monkey (specifically Balinese Macaques) forest.

We had gotten different opinions on whether it was worth a visit. Eric, in Sydney, was of the view that there were no point: “dirty, nasty, vile creatures”; Bev from Adelaide thought it wasn’t worth the visit: “aggressive, grabby, they’ll go through your pockets and steal anything in them and bare their fangs and snarl at you if you try to get it back”; Jody in Toronto thought it could not be missed. Greg decided he could stay at the hotel and catch some rays and swim a few lengths of the pool while I went. After all, it was not even a 5-minute walk from our door, and admission was about $1.25. Jody’s advice included buying bananas at the gate to feed the monkeys.

For another $1.25, I buy a bag of bananas, and as a free-gift-with-purchase, I get a bag of dried sweet potato chunks. Barely inside the gate is a troupe of monkeys whose sole purpose in life is to prevent you from getting any further into the park while you still have food. But don’t make the mistake I made! Monkey Forest Lesson No. 1: don’t give them sweet potato first: if they see that you are giving them what is clearly inferior food, they will do the fang and snarl thing, and move aggressively towards you.

Quickly the bananas disappear, and a lot of fighting goes on between those who got a banana and those who didn’t, and even between those who already got a banana (but were bigger) and those who also got a banana (but were smaller). Once the bananas are gone, the monkeys are quite happy to take the sweet potato.

I walk along, and without food any longer, the monkeys are totally oblivious to me. They play with each other and in the course of playing run right up to the humans, without quite touching. I am busy taking photos, and because it is very shady under the trees, I am using the flash. This is when I learn Monkey Forest Lesson No. 2: don’t take a photo of a monkey looking right at the camera with a flash. I happen to do exactly this, and this particular monkey, who was about 4 metres away at the time, starts screaming and running at me, fangs bared. I am not about to let my pride get in the way of a swift retreat, and while I am getting out of harm’s way, I notice that his demeanor is causing everyone else in the general vicinity to run in the other direction as well.

Greg looks at me quizzically when I get back to the hotel after being gone a total of 25 minutes. But it was 25 well-spent minutes (not to mention the $2.50), having learned a couple of life-enhancing lessons.

We are returning to Seminyak today, and Gadeh, our driver, arrives at the hotel about 1 hour ahead of schedule. We decide to make the trip an excursion, to take in one of Bali’s major temples, Tanah Lot. After parking the minivan, Gadeh points the way for us. We recognize that we are now going to experience one of the primary joys of Bali – the walk through the shopping street. Greg is almost ready to call it quits before we start – he is getting quite fed up with the “Hello – where you from?” routine that seems to be the inevitable prologue to “you come inside!” or “you need transport?” But I insist, and it is worth the walk. The temple is spectacularly beautiful, and like all perfect beauty, unattainable (at least at high tide).



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  • Lindy Jordan

    Thanks for sharing your story! I am headed there at the end of August and look forward to experiencing the monkey forest

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