Thursday, December 15, 2016

Monkey Business

Written by Karen.

We were on the fence about going to visit the monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in downtown Ubud.  We had heard from other travelers that the monkeys could be a bit impulsive and jump on your head, or tear apart your back pack or unzip zippers in search of food or something shiny.  In both of these cases, you could get scratched or bitten, and immediately our fertile imaginations conceived of all sorts of bad diseases that we could get from a monkey scratch or bite.  

But I was in search of monkeys.  I had only seen monkeys in the zoo, and while the monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary weren’t exactly wild, for me it was a good stepping stone between seeing monkeys in the zoo and troops of monkeys living wild in the forest.  I was game to give it a go.  

After reading the reviews again carefully, we decided that most of the issues that people had with the monkeys were caused by the people.  Fair enough.  We would be careful and not look the monkeys directly in the eyes - a certain posture of aggression we read - and we would not bring any water bottles.  It seemed that the monkeys had a certain predilection towards plastic water bottles and knew exactly how to unscrew the bottle caps after they battled you for them.  

Activity preparation complete, we headed just down the road towards the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and in my case, with my eyes peeled upwards to see monkeys in the trees.  We turned the corner close to the Sanctuary and immediately saw monkeys.  Everywhere.  In the street, hanging out in the trees and near the shops and restaurants.  The vendors across the street had metal bars installed to try and keep the monkeys out of their stores, cafes and restaurants.  

We found out that monkeys would come into unsecured shops and restaurants and just help themselves to whatever they wanted.  As we watched, the shopkeepers and the monkeys performed what was I’m sure an ongoing dance:  the monkeys swooped in-and-out and all around, while the shopkeepers kept a wary eye on their activities - ready to react if things got out of hand.  

We paid our entrance fee and headed inside.  The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary population is about 678 monkeys, ranging from babies, to juveniles, to adults - both male and female - and these monkeys fall into 6 different groups (or troops) living in different sections of the sanctuary.  

The sanctuary is considered to be a sacred place as the monkeys can be worshipped in the Balinese tradition, and there are several temples and a working cemetery inside the grounds.  Under Balinese Hindu tradition, people who die can either conduct the funeral cremation rites themselves and pay the entire cost, or be buried for a period up to 5 years and then have everyone participate in a group cremation ceremony together.  We learned that it can be quite expensive to conduct the cremation funeral rites individually and many wait for the 5-year rotating group cremation ceremony after an exhumation.  

After reading about the monkeys’ habitat and the do’s and don’ts, we began to walk around.  There are vendors inside the sanctuary who will sell you bunches of miniature-sized bananas to feed the monkeys as you visit.  We passed on that option and continued our meandering.  We just wanted to watch; to observe - not directly interact - with the monkeys.  

I was captivated.  It’s a distinctly human thing, I suppose, to give human characteristics to animals.  It’s surprisingly easy with monkeys.  The monkey babies acted like human babies; the juveniles acted like teenagers; the adults acted like parents with the youngsters, and occasionally like a cranky oldster whenever the youngsters acted up.  There was an occasional chest-thumping and I was fascinated to watch them work things out when they had conflicts.  But there was also a strong connection demonstrated between the monkeys.  If they were humans, I'd even say that they cared for each other.  It was tangible. 

We could hear human shrieks every once-in-awhile echoing through the trees and then experienced silence again.  We eventually saw a couple of these exciting interactions between humans and monkeys that resulted in some sort of human outburst, and true-to-our-hypothesis, it was either because someone had enticed a monkey on top of their head for a selfie, or someone was carrying a plastic water bottle and the monkey wanted it badly.  

We watched these activities to their inevitable conclusion of the human coming up on the losing side of things. We didn’t see anyone lose their selfie sticks or smart phones, although both were up for grabs a couple of times.  Every person who arm wrestled a monkey - even the baby monkeys - for their water bottle lost.  The monkeys were pretty shrewd, complex and strategic in their dealings with humans, and if I was a betting person, I would have thrown in my lot with the team of 678.  

We also got a chance to see baby and juvenile monkeys swim in the park pond.  I didn’t know that monkeys enjoyed water.  It was impossible not to give human characteristics to these monkey youngsters playing in the water, swimming underwater, jumping into the pond with a splash, and swinging from the trees - just having simple fun on a bright, hot, summer day.  I kinda’ wished I could join in the fun.

Later we saw a bit of a rumble.  We ventured into one of the park quadrants and immediately we felt a palpable difference.  In the other living areas, it was pretty calm, but this living area had a definite vibe.  The adult and juvenile males were starting to act agitated.  Something was happening.  And like we react whenever we feel a chill in the air and get a negative vibe, we turn and leave the area.  Whatever was happening - or was going to happen - we didn’t want to be around when it happened.  

And sure enough, terrible, high-pitched squealing soon punctured the air.  I could feel the hair on the back of my neck rise and chills race down my spine.  We both stopped in our tracks: Was a monkey being murdered?  The sounds kept on bouncing off the trees; it was hard to actually determine where the sounds were coming from.  We picked up the pace back towards the entrance.  Female monkeys were picking up the baby monkeys and running in our direction and away from whatever was happening.  We were all reacting to our surroundings and monkey and human were all getting out of dodge.  

We never found out what happened, or what was happening that caused such distress and high-pitched squeals.  It’s weird how both a human and a monkey picked up the same vibe and turned as one and got out of the area.  

The sanctuary is a unique place, focusing on preservation of its sacred temples and maintaining a rather large number of Balinese long-tailed monkeys in a large, natural setting.  The monkeys had free roam capabilities throughout the 27-acre park, and I found that mostly the monkeys ignored us and just did their thing.  We spent several hours walking through the park-like setting, sitting and watching the monkeys live their lives.  

When we finally left the sanctuary, we noticed again just how many of the monkeys also were outside of the old sanctuary stone walls.  They were free to jump over the walls, or walk down the pathway and venture outside of their normal routine.  Somehow, I really liked that idea.  No one likes to be in a box.  Or stuck within four walls.  

Bunches of bananas were available to purchase by vendors inside the park.  This monkey is systematically going through the entire bunch by himself.  
The aerial root system of this Ficus Benyamina make perfect "ropes" for the monkeys to swing on.  
These roots came down about 30 - 40 feet and swayed in the breeze.  These trees - Ficus Benyamina - can grow to about 100 feet tall.   
Hanging out in the shade
This female adult and the little baby stole my heart.  The care and concern that the older monkey demonstrated over her tiny charge completely impacted me.  And, of course, the tiny one was just too cute.  I didn't move for awhile, barely breathing, so I wouldn't disturb them. 
Another young juvenile in the vicinity.
Don't worry....I've got your back.   
This monkey is following the instructions posted on the side of the wall.  She has just turned on the water and will in a second from now, carefully clean her fingers/toes.  
We saw several monkeys able to turn off/on water sprinklers, water faucets and water fountains.  This one caught my attention because it seemed that he was enjoying himself, and knew that he was the center of attention.
The cemetery outside of the cremation temple.  These grave sites are temporary.  Every 5-years, these graves will be dug up and a large, group cremation ceremony will occur. 
The cremation temple 
Just chillin' 
Me watching the monkeys swing on the aerial root systems of the huge ficus trees. 
Okay.  How does it go.....'see no evil, speak no evil', so I guess I'll be 'hear no evil?'
Hey....do you have any more of those bananas?
The main temple
Open-door policy


Aunt JV said...

I really enjoyed this. Thanks.

Jennifer Chase said...

What an amazing experience. So glad that you both opted to go. Wonderful photographs.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Aunt J: Thanks for your comment! :) Love ya'! Karen

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hey Jennifer! The monkeys were amazing....it was great to see them just doing their thing. Thanks for the comment. We appreciate you following our adventures. Take care, Karen

Janice L. said...

Gregor and I really liked Ubud - very relaxing. I enjoyed your keen observations of the monkeys.

Gus Burkard said...

Hi Adam and Karen,
thanks for taking us into the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary with you. What an experience! So glad you followed your instincts and high tailed it out of there when the shrieking started. What kind of monkeys live in and around the sanctuary? And thanks for posting a pix of yourself - so nice to 'hear' you and get to see you!
Were there monkey keepers or sanctuary staff on hand to ask questions? And did most/many folks in Bali speak English or Hindi or something else?
Thanks and much love,
Gus n Cam

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hey Janice!

Maybe we can meet up when you get back from SA? Take care - and continued safe travels! :)

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Gus!

Thanks so much! :) The monkeys are called Long-Tailed Balinese monkeys and - according to the signage at the park - live in the following separate groups that have defined home ranges: Central Group, Temple Group, Cemetery Group, Michelin Group, East Group and the New Forest Group. The park is fairly large so it seems like each group has enough room to roam and do their own thing. There were a lot of staff available for questions and to help keep the tourists safe from themselves. I think mostly that the tourists forget that these are still wild animals. We found that most Balinese spoke a little English as there is a tremendously large tourist/expat industry in Ubud. Otherwise, the locals speak Balinese.

Take care Gus. Talk to you soon.