Beware Balinese Bandit Monkeys!
My wife and I spent this past week vacationing in Bali. Despite it being the rainy season, we had good weather and lots of fun — with only one minor mishap to report:
On Friday, we went to the Uluwatu temple, perched high on a steep cliff overlooking the ocean. In addition to its striking location, the temple is famous for harboring a troup of misbehaving monkeys. Visitors are warned not to wear their sunglasses, which the monkeys have a habit of snatching. But since I can barely see without my prescription glasses, leaving them behind really wasn’t an option. I would just have to rely on “situational awareness” to spot potential threats and keep them at a safe distance.
Now, I should say up-front that I’ve encountered plenty of monkeys in my day, from mischievous temple monkeys in India to the outright brigands who hiss and grab at travellers on Mt. Emei-shan in western China. I even conducted investment due diligence at a monkey breeding facility outside Chengdu — a story for another day. So I was hardly impressed by the critters we came across at Uluwatu. Most of them seemed pretty lethargic, content to sit and nibble on the pieces of fruit the local Balinese tourists tossed their way.
As we entered the temple proper, though, there were a couple of younger monkeys hanging out in the trees, leaping occasionally onto a nearby stone shrine to grab the food offerings left by worshippers. I turned for a moment and then — for a flicker of a second — felt a soft thump on my shoulder, before everything became a blur. One of those damn monkeys had jumped from the tree onto my shoulder, snatched my glasses right off my face (so fast I barely even felt it), and leapt halfway across the courtyard.
Even with my blurred vision, I somehow kept track of the bandit as he scurried around, easily evading pursuit. A couple of fellow tourists half-heartedly tried to catch him, with expressions that said “I’m sure glad it’s you, not me” (my wife — who could still see — tells me that one man, also wearing glasses, put his hands to his face and went into a defensive crouch, after witnessing what sort of fate could befall him).
My main fear was that the monkey in question would simply take off, the more vigorously we tried to chase him, blending in among the trees and the other monkeys until there was no longer any hope of identifying him. Fortunately, however, he ended up perched in a tree just safely out of reach, and stayed there fiddling with his new plaything. As I watched him gnaw on the frames and smudge the lenses, I jokingly — for lack of any better idea — called up to him and asked how much money he wanted for my glasses back. Some children, though, had a more practical solution. They started tossing pieces of fruit up at him until, grabbing at the precious food, he dropped my no-longer-interesting glasses. Other than a few fingerprints and a bit of monkey saliva my glasses were, remarkably, no worse for wear, and our vacation was saved.
On the way back to our hotel, after we recounted our story, our driver told us that President Obama is planning to take the First Family on vacation to Bali in the near future, and that their trip will include a visit to Uluwatu. The route from their hotel to the temple had already been scouted for security. I wonder, though, whether the Secret Service is fully prepared to handle the security risk posed by these naughty monkeys. Mr. President, beware these Balinese bandits! I never even saw them coming.