Monday, January 4, 2016

Bali Bliss


My second day in Bali was about as perfect as any day should be permitted to be, combining many of the things I love. Sleeping in late, check. A delicious vegetarian homemade breakfast waiting for me when I did wake up. Check. Right next to the fresh cut fruit, a binder listing all my tour options for that day. Are you kidding me?! If heaven existed, forget the fat floating babies and harp noise, this is what it would look like. And did I mention, monkeys? I probably shouldn't have to since I already stated a couple of posts ago that this Malaysia/ Bali series was going to be seriously monkey-fied but this day, this ideal day, was one of the most monkey of them all.

I signed up for an afternoon tour which visited a couple of temples, a monkey forest and culminated with sunset at Tanah Lot in the southwestern part of the island. The pickup time was 2pm so I had some free time and although I would be revisiting it during the tour, I decided to go the monkey forest.  The Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest was only a ten minute walk away and I figured this was a place best enjoyed leisurely.
Breakfast, binder full of tours and knitting.  This is living.

This infamous Bill Cosby monkey
There are at least three entrances to the park and near each one, there are some brave souls manning banana carts. They are there to sell the bananas to tourists who want to get more up close and personal with the Balinese macaques that inhabit the park but there are also over 600 of these monkeys who are wanting to cut out the middleman. The saleswomen may be armed with sticks and slingshots meant to intimidate the monkeys but they are grossly outnumbered. While I did not personally witness a successful banana heist, I did see plenty of thwarted attempts.


Right by the entrance was the Papi Chulo monkey.  This dude was just kicking back while two others worked in tandem to groom him from head to toe. He too was having a wonderful day.




From the looks of the monkey on the right, it's looking like Papi Chulo opted for the happy ending package.



The monkeys have become so used to people that as long as you follow the rules (ie: no food, no large bags, no touching), they are pretty chill but the second they suspect that you are trying to hide something or they see something they want, it is go time. I saw a couple of water bottles get snatched so skillfully that the victims never even knew they had been pickpocketed.



There are monitor lizards living inside the park, which I saw, yet I only came away with photos of this particular duo.

There are five distinct monkey families spread throughout the 27 acre forest, each one with its own territory.  They don't really care for each other.  At all.  Like they really hate each other. When a member of one family wanders into the territory of the other, all hell breaks loose with shrieking and running and general mayhem prevailing.


Those eyes...


A sign of how comfortable these monkeys are with people, this one has a baby but is totally ok with the paparazzi brigade. 



Draw me like one of your French girls.
I had walked around the park twice but still was not ready to leave so I sat down next to one of the park's caretakers, taking turns feeding his little buddy kernels of corn.  All the monkeys are fed daily on a diet that consists mainly of sweet potatoes and corn but I think both these guy were just enjoying the monkey/ human interaction.



When I was picked up for the tour, I figured that I would be going right back to the Ubud Monkey Forest.  I was wrong.  Instead, we went to the Alas Kedaton Temple, a much smaller park on the way to Tanah Lot.  Immediately upon entering the park, we were accosted by a "guide" who was trying to sell us photos. He led us around the grounds and had us each sit while he lured the largest of all the monkeys onto our laps and then scared him off with a cigarette lighter.  There is no reason that monkey should know what a lighter is if it had not been used on him before so this left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed so much more severe than the threat of a stick or slingshot. That action combined with the somewhat shabby state of the park gave the whole place a feeling of menace and abandonment for me.




A lot of that probably came from the fact that I was coming fresh from the other park, which was better funded and clearly better run but these monkeys just gave off a much sadder vibe.  They were just kind of laying there listlessly in a way that reminded me of how you sometimes see people that are down and out hanging around outside of convenience stores.  These were hood monkeys.



Something here was definitely off.  I later discussed this difference with someone back at the Ubud forest and they proposed an interesting theory.  In Ubud, they strictly control the diet of their monkeys while in this smaller park, they turn more of a blind eye.  Many people come- and remember these monkeys are considered sacred- they offer them peanuts.  It is a cheap food source and the monkeys enjoy it but the problem is that peanuts are high in cholesterol.  It was the believe of the caretaker in Ubud that it was this poor diet and high cholesterol that made the monkeys more aggressive.






After about a half hour at the monkey forest, everyone was ready to move on to our next stop, a rice field.  If the people working the rice field found it strange to have a van full of tourist dropped off to wander in a field, they certainly did not show it.




Next up, a royal temple aka the Taman Ayun Temple, which boasted a beautiful set of structures set amidst a perfectly manicured park.










And finally, Tanah Lot, which literally translates to land in the sea.  It is a temple set upon a rock formation in the middle of the ocean and is said to be the most photographed temple in Bali.  It's easy to see why but with crowds comes commerce and sunset at Tanah Lot takes on a carnival atmosphere, with food vendors, trinket hawkers and a gauntlet of souvenir stands that you must pass through in order to reach the spit of land that affords you the best view.





Once you get to that spot, step lively. With the tide rising quickly, it is best to get your photos and head back to high land.  I saw quite a few people take their time and then have to wade their way back up.


Due to the clouds, we did not get a dramatic sunset but it was still a highlight in a day full of them. After a stop at my new fave veg restaurant, I returned to the Depa House that evening sated, happy and smelling slightly of monkey.


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