My best friend and I had looked forward to sampling the Balinese delights of Ubud for weeks, and almost hadn’t even made the journey. A day earlier, we had quite the dubious experience in Vietnam where the combination of late-night street food and a boat trip the next morning led to some rather interesting digestive - movements. Let’s just say the Mekong Delta won’t be welcoming me back anytime soon.
And now - with our private tour guide/driver/rip-off artist extraordinaire, we had been led to a series of quite attractive yet clearly tourist trapped locations across the island of Ubud.
There was a large, rusted sign at the gate, instructing us to keep to the paths outside the temple itself, remove all accessories and wear the obligatory sarong or sash which are required when entering any temples in Bali. With some mild alarm, I enquired with our driver whether the shedding of all accessories (which included spectacles, watches and earrings) was really necessary. I was assured this was not required, however a small fee to enter the grounds was unavoidable. Fine, we thought – we’ll probably just follow the other tour guide in front of us, who are leading another similarly duped couple on the tourist beaten path around the temple.
A few minutes in, I was pleasantly surprised - not only was the site teetering on the edge of a beautiful coastline, but there were troops of monkeys everywhere, casually sunbathing on the hot rocks of the temple, seemingly living in peace alongside monks and tourists.
Many photographs were taken – I was particularly delighted to spot a gathering of monkeys perched on a concrete ledge, gorging on a bunch of bananas. At this point, I leaned in tentatively for a better shot - how foolish that move proved to be.
In one ridiculous moment, I felt something hit me smack in the face which was then immediately lifted, leaving me in a dazed, blurry state, most likely with chirpy birds and stars circling my head. And when I say blurry, I meant it – my glasses had been stolen by an ambushing monkey, who had leapt onto my face, poached my specs in one fell swoop and bolted off into the sunset.
My friend stood in shellshock - my driver, true to form, remained useless. I peered unsteadily into the distance, which to me looked like a watercolour of melded shapes, as a nearby monk had spotted the impromptu attack and gave chase to the offending monkey. I staggered closer, as the monk (who appeared to have done this many, many time before) unfurled a piece of banana from his robe and hurled it towards the monkey. The thief had found safe ground at the top of a pillar, with my specs raised ominously in a sort of “one step closer, and I’ll blind you for life” sort of stance. My sight was in his hairy little hands.
Some context to the desperate nature of the situation. I am, blind as a bat. I had not brought an extra set of glasses – my trusty specs were as indigenous to my face as the hairs on my head. I had no contingency measures to account for monkey attacks. I was thankful for the holy men, who as well as being well versed in Javanese Islam, proved to be quite handy in the arts of primate negotiation.
It transpired the hurling of banana pieces was not an attempt to blind the monkey in retribution. (Although at that time, attempts to punish the monkey would have certainly gotten no objections from me) Instead, it was part of a well rehearsed version of when bad kids exchange stolen car stereos for cash. Several banana chunks later, the monkey relented and my specs were lobbed back in my direction – dirty, scratched and monkey tainted, but nonetheless in my possession.
Hastily, but meekly, my friend paid off the monk for what ought to have bought twenty bananas. We were grateful to be alive! Counting pennies was not on the agenda.
I'll never know whether this all part of a very cleverly hatched Balinese plot to extort us, or just plain bad luck and foolishness. Either way, I was relieved to get out alive and with everything in focus.
In retrospect, I was glad to have gained two things – my precious sight restored, and an amusing memory of a monkey launching himself at my face.