It is going to reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit today in France. That’s 40 degrees Celcius for all you non-Americans out there. It’s hotter than Hades no matter what scale you use.
Between the oppressive heat and the omnipresent bugs, I am reminded of the month that I spent in a bungalow just outside the Monkey Forest in Ubud and the overarching lesson that I learned there: The jungle ALWAYS wins.
Now, I don’t mean to paint my time in Ubud as a hardship by any means. It was one of the most peaceful months of my life. Nor do I want to minimize the other life lessons that I learned in the month that I spent in Bali exploring spirituality, meditation, an entire day of silence, and all manner of natural healing techniques.
This is an island, after all, that sits in the middle of Indonesia, the world’s most populist Muslim nation – nearly 90 percent of Indonesia practices Islam – and yet, in Bali, Hinduism dictates every aspect of daily life.
And I do mean every aspect. There are rituals to honor rituals in Bali; spirits who inhabit every nook and cranny, even the local convenience store, and the spirits and gods must be honored multiple times per day.
While Balinese Hinduism is intense, ritualistic and ubiquitous on the island, it is also loving, inclusive and full of laughter.
All of this coincides in peaceful cooperation with monkeys. Lots of them. Not to mention bugs, geckos, snakes, frogs, and torrential downpours.
I stayed in the Ubud Bungalow right on Monkey Forest Road, thinking: “Yay! Monkeys will be nearby!” I didn’t realize that, if given the chance, monkeys will eat your face off and steal your cell phone, or that “nearby” meant that monkeys would be literally everywhere.
I mean, just because there is a designated Monkey Forest doesn’t mean that these mischevious creatures stay within the boundaries of the trees.
In fact, they leave the forest each morning in pursuit of food, scarfing up any edible spiritual offerings left on the sidewalk, foraging above and below the abundant Ubud cafes, and snatching at any dangling bags carried in the unsuspecting hands of tourists.
They really do come after any dangling bags in pursuit of food. Once a monkey chased me down while I walked with a red, cloth bag dangling. I squared up in a baseball stance, my red bag as the bat, and he backed away.
I also saw a monkey snatch a coffee cup right out of someone’s hands and another reach right into my friend Nick’s backpack and snatch his water bottle from the side pocket.
They lure you in, you see, with their sweet faces. And then…boom! Your stuff is long gone. Here’s a video that my friend Sarah captured of just such a scene featuring that “sweet” baby monkey pictured above:
At dawn, the monkeys pour out of the forest at one specific crossroads on Monkey Forest Road. And at dusk, they pour back in. I witnessed this spectacle once at sunset and watched with awe as dozens of monkeys ran en masse across the road.
During the day, there is always a man with a slingshot posted outside of the Monkey Forest entrance who protects passersby. Shop owners along Monkey Forest Road also carry slingshots to protect their wares. Some sell them to tourists who have learned the hard way that they need to be wary of our monkey friends.
I woke up each morning at the Bungalows with monkey footprints on my patio and wafting incense discreetly covering a faint smell of monkey urine. In the afternoons, I wrote from a co-working space called Hubud and was once joined by this monkey who jumped right up on the table to see what I was writing about.
I was a little less amused when the monkeys actually managed to cut the Internet off at Hubud for an afternoon by chewing on the cables. But, hey, in the end, it’s their world and we’re just living in it.
Bugs, frogs and snakes, oh my!
Even before I eventually moved from my bungalow with my frequent monkey visitors to a quieter bungalow off of the monkey highway, I was covered in bug bites. No amount of bug spray would defeat the winged critters of the Ubud jungle.
My new bungalow had less monkey traffic, but this just meant more visitors of other kinds. Since the windows didn’t fully close, I got used to sleeping with bugs fluttering past my face. I was somewhat protected by the geckos whose distinctive call woke me up many mornings and I was lulled to sleep by the frogs who croaked into the wee hours (I even accidentally kicked a frog while walking home to my bungalow one late night!)
One night, my neighbors woke up to a loud bang and found two large snakes mating on their porch. They shrugged it off because, well, what can you do?
The good news is that – at least during the rainy season – there is a daily downpour when all creatures take a break to watch the rainfall. Afterward, the jungle takes over once again.
Tips for enjoying life in the Monkey Forest:
- It’s a beautiful place once one acknowledges that the jungle always wins. That’s my biggest tip: Don’t be frustrated. Just accept the bug bites, the monkey poo, and the daily downpour.
- Do not carry food near the Monkey Forest.
- Do not carry dangling bags near the Monkey Forest.
- Do not feed or try to pet the monkeys.
- Always mind your belongings, especially mobile phones and sunglasses, which seem to be favorites of the monkeys.
- Carry bug spray everywhere. Everywhere.
- Don’t bother with an umbrella. Just expect to duck into a cafe, bar or restaurant when the rain begins. And watch it fall.
- Do get a drink outside of the Monkey Forest and watch the monkeys chase unsuspecting tourists all over the monkey crossing. My favorite stop was Habitat Cafe.
- Spring for a room with AC and closed windows. It’s worth it. You’re in the jungle.
- I’ll say it again: The jungle ALWAYS wins. Accept it. And have fun with it.