Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Monkey Thief of Uluwatu

Last week, the entire ICRS office went to Bali for a couple of days. Several of my Indonesian colleagues had never been there before so the purpose of our trip was to spend time together and see some of Bali's famous sites like Pura Luhur Uluwatu, a Hindu temple perched on a step cliff. Since we were traveling as a group, I didn't even bother to bring my Lonely Planet guide book. If I had, I would have read this warning about Uluwatu: "This temple is home to scores of grey monkeys. Greedy little buggers, when they're not energetically fornicating, they snatch sunglasses, handbags, hats and anything else within reach. Of course, if you want to start a riot, throw them your banana." Boy, do I wish I had read that warning beforehand! Or paid attention to any of the other warnings that followed...

When we arrived at Uluwatu, the guide at the front gate warned all of us to take off our hats, jewelery and glasses because the monkeys would take them. Now, I had been to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud and had no problems with the monkeys there. So, I figured I could handle these monkeys, too. After all, if I didn't bother them, they would have no reason to bother me, right? And besides, if I took off my glasses I would barely be able to see anything. And what's the point of visiting one of the most famous sites in Bali if I can't see it? With those thoughts in mind, I confidently set off on the path to the temple.

I walked right past this sign:

And this one:

The message was repeated in Indonesian, French, Italian, German and a couple of other languages.

I walked right up to the edge of the cliff and oohh'ed and ahhh'ed at the beautiful view:

I heard some people start to shriek and when I turned around I quickly spotted the cause of all the commotion. A monkey was nonchalantly sitting on a wall munching away on someone's glasses. How funny, I thought, and took a picture:

Even after hearing the guide's warning, seeing the signs, and seeing a monkey furiously nibbling away at someone else's glasses, I still did not remove my own glasses. I figured I wasn't standing next to the wall or under a tree or anywhere where a monkey could suddenly jump on me. And surely I would sense it if a monkey started crawling up my leg or something.

So, there I was minding my own business taking in the scenery when all of the sudden my vision became terribly blurry. What the...?! NOOOOOOO!!! A monkey had come out of nowhere and snatched off my glasses before I even realized he was there. Squinting, I tried to make out where the monkey had run off to but there was more than one monkey and I couldn't tell them apart. Oh noooooo! My glasses!!! My brand new glasses that I had just bought in Washington, DC in April! And now I had no idea where they were. I could feel the tears welling up as I realized how utterly helpless I was. A monkey had just run off with my new $400 glasses and I couldn't do anything about it. I felt like I had been mugged.

Fortunately, my predicament didn't go unnoticed. Mas Ramang, one of my colleagues, attempted to go after the monkey. But that monkey wasn't going to give up the glasses for nothing. He quickly scampered off. Someone else gave chase and came back with my glasses a few (very long) moments later. THANK GOD!! Then he asked for a tip for the food he used to bribe the monkey. I was too flustered to do anything but one of our tour guides paid him 10,000 Rp., about $1 - thank you, thank you, thank you. So worth it!

I gingerly put the glasses back on my face but quickly realized something was wrong. Taking them off again, I noticed that the lenses were smeared with monkey saliva. Ewww.... A closer inspection also revealed that the monkey had chewed up the ends of the branches, taken a big chunk out of the frame over my left eye, and dented both lenses in various places. Sigh. At least I could see again and the glasses sat properly on my face.

But I wasn't going to take any more chances. I had finally learned my lesson. I put those glasses in my bag, vowing not to put them on again until we were safely back in the car.

I continued walking around Uluwatu with my coworkers but it wasn't much fun because 1) I couldn't see very well and 2) I was terrified of the monkeys. I felt like I was in a real live horror movie where unseen beasts could attack at any given moment. I couldn't wait to get out of there!

Smiling blindly through the terror

Back in the parking lot, Charlotte found these abandoned glasses glistening on the ground - a sad reminder of another tourist who did not follow the rules:

At our next stop of the day, I saw this t-shirt for sale that pretty much sums up how I feel about the aggressive monkeys of Uluwatu:

I realize it was totally my own fault that the monkey snatched my glasses. I was given ample warnings and blithely ignored them. Still, I wonder if Lenscrafters will replace them free of charge...

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