16th January 2011
Bali is a place that just seems to hypnotise and captivate people. Those whose hearts have been stolen by this lush asian island talk about it in wistful, sotto voce tones as though it is not a tangible earthly island but a mystical atmosphere with whom one is romantically involved. ‘Bali just makes things happen…if you put it out there’ we were told by one shudderingly wanna-be earth child. Sit in a cafe in Ubud for any length of time and you will hear plenty of similar phrases or discussions. At first I couldn’t quite understand it. Sure, the dormant volcanoes emerging out of the mist take your breath away and the rippling rice terraces sculpted into the mountains are astonishing, but is it any more special than any other south east asian country? And certainly anywhere with the horrific monstrosities that are Kuta and Seminyak cannot be so other worldly?
In a Ubud, we realised why westerners the world over have been so seduced by this island. It has everything. The natural vistas are dramatic, beautiful and in delicate balance. Evidence of the ravaging power of water and fire scar the land. White sand and black sand beaches meet seas that teem with rainbow corals and abundant wildlife. Temples prematurely aged jut out of the ocean, the mountains, the villages, the road side. Tourist towns burst with shopping opportunities, culinary delights and cheap beer, all those things that our pathetic diminishing western culture desires. And yet, you are never far from ramshackle rice or fishing villages where the white person can fulfil their colonial needs by looking upon women in traditional dress breast-feeding, men working the paddy fields, wisened women laying out prayer offerings, chickens running across the road and pigs grunting in their mud baths sharing sleeping shade with weary workmen. As a member of the gluttonous developed world, here you can have your cake and eat it: to be in another ‘exotic’ world, yet near to the familiar creature comforts of your homeland.
This large area is dubbed Bali’s art hub and it does not disappoint. Every road is lined with workshops producing anything from silver jewellery to wooden furniture to stone carvings. Every village has a traditional ‘craft’ handed down through the generations and perfectly honed. The central town serves as base from which to explore the entire area and it is here that an eclectic mix of tourists gather. We spent our evenings devouring one divine nasi goreng after another and the days were taken up with temple hunting, window-shopping and exploring.
Our first port of call was the ‘Monkey Forest Temple’ complex which was the namesake of the main Ubud road and which we hilarious re-dubbed ‘monkey tennis’ (nothing quite like bringing a bit of Alan Partridge to Bali). This temple was, unsurprisingly, in a forest, home to some 300+ Macaque monkeys (Balinese rats). I have to admit that I don’t find monkeys particularly endearing. They have creepy little faces that are either quite sad or say ‘I’m gonna throw poop at you’ or ‘I’m gonna bit your face off’. And don’t get me started on their freaky elderly human hands…it’s just unnerving!
So there we were surrounded by more monkeys than tourists (assuming the monkeys were the small furry critters rather than the large, badly dressed pink critters). Flashing through my mind are the warning signs saying ‘please do not feed the monkeys they are unpredictable’ and scenes from that ‘Congo’ movie. An ugly Australian teenager with holiday corn-rows scampers past screaming having just played banana tug-of-war with a monkey and lost to a whole pack of them. I congratulate myself for thinking ahead by not carrying a snack of some sort in my handbag as we see another lady bat one of these thieving flea-bags off her as it extricates a hidden food source from her person. As I was having a good superior chuckle at these ‘ill-prepared’ tourists I hear a thump and am faintly aware that my bag is heavier than normal. I look down. I tiny monkey is clinging like a terrified rock-climber to my small bright yellow tubular handbag. Ah. Small. Yellow. Tubular. The penny drops as the climber opens it’s tiny mouth and attempts to plunge it’s horrifyingly huge canines into the material. At the same time an even smaller impish monkey grabs the edge of my skirt and lifts it over his head, not to shield himself from the sunshine, but so the miniature pervert can get a view of my goods. Well, I say! How utterly dastardly of these rambunctious horrors! Like a true Victorian British lady, I grab my skirt out of the pervy pixie’s mitts, exclaiming, ‘well, excuuuse me!’ and then to the gnawing climber, ‘what do you think you’re doing? You idiot. Are you blind? that’s not a banana!’. Elegantly I swing my bag like an olympic discus thrower and the force of the movement causes the greedy little blighter to, with some alarm, relinquish his grip and catapult through the air never to be seen again.
I dust off my bag, re-align my skirt and henceforth for the duration of our time in the Monkey Forest give every cretinous primate a stern, forbidding scour.
Bali Lesson 4: When visiting a monkey temple, home to 300+ monkeys, avoid carrying a bright yellow handbag shaped like a banana