Palma de Mallorca, Spain – We were sitting on tapestries in the sand, occasionally dipping our toes into the Balearic Sea on the edge of one of many of Mallorca’s famed beaches. I remember it like it was yesterday. My friend Jamie, who I was studying abroad in Barcelona with at the time, had already seen the world at the ripe young age of 21. (One of the perks of having travel agents for parents.) With our bellies full of black squid ink paella, which still remains one of the best meals I’ve had to this day, Jamie told us a story about a place that seemed so surreal to me. It was like a far-fetched fairy tale. This place was so far away that airplanes couldn’t reach it without a stopover for more fuel. Well, unless you’re from Australia.
She was talking about the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud. It’s in a small town on the famous island of Bali, one of many volcanic land masses that make up the archipelago of Indonesia (no guys, it’s not its own country. So plz stop listing it as one when you mention where you’ve traveled to)
Visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest
Bali, Indonesia – I’m not gonna lie, but I planned an entire trip to Indonesia just so I could visit this place. The Monkey Forest is a place where hundreds of monkeys roam free to climb, play and hang from the trees – more than 700 to be exact. It’s an ecological center with a deep spiritual connection for the locals, and an economic connection, too, as it’s a very popular tourist attraction in Ubud (along with yoga retreats and dirt cheap massages). People, like me, come from all over the world just to see this place. And, boy, did it live up to my extremely high expectations.
The thick, tropic jungle was a lush green and the air was sticky. Trees bore vines that were longer than a 3 story walk-up back in Brooklyn. Some vines grew up the sides of stone sculptures, where occasionally a baby monkey would peer it’s head out from underneath the dense greenery. Most of them, though, were far from shy. They were used to the throngs of people that wove in and out of the wooden pathways built above natural waterfalls and caressing the treetops. These monkeys were so used to us, in fact, that lots of them hoovered by the park’s entrances hoping for a snack.
At the entrance, you’re told not to bring in any sunglasses or bags that don’t zip shut. The monkeys are very stealthy, mischievous little creatures and they’ve been known to steal a pair or two of Ray Bans. Surprisingly, for once in my life, I actually listened to the rules and went into Monkey Forest with nothing but the camera around my neck (#tourist) and a few Indonesian Rupiahs in my pocket so that I could buy a bushel of bananas.
What happened seconds after is nearly indescribable. 4 or 5 monkeys rushed to me instantly. I threw 2 on instinct, so a few monkeys quickly followed after. I managed to feed one little polite one who grabbed the banana and unpeeled it much like you or I would. Another climbed right up my leg, and yet a third leaped onto my back from his perch on a tree. All of this happened in approximately 5 seconds. The jumper was too slow; I ran out of bananas once he claimed his stake on my shoulders.
But he sure was ready for a selfie.
The little guy ripped my earring off, straight through, and picked it up as if to taste it. He quickly dropped it in displeasure. Not a tasty snack. Good thing it wasn’t a real diamond…
There were monkeys everywhere!
I’m glad I ventured to the magical monkey forest in Ubud, but what I never would’ve imagined was just how many monkeys roamed all over the whole island of Bali. We did a sunrise hike up Mount Batur, an active volcano in the northern part of Bali (10/10 would recommend). And upon our descent, you bet we ran into another pack of monkeys.
Bananas are a dime a dozen in Bali; we had plenty to share and once again, we were bombarded. They seemed to get an unadulterated pleasure out of teasing the tourists. Not just on Mount Batur, but everywhere we went. At Uluwatu Temple, clusters of them sat where people idled to take photos, apply sunscreen and cool off in the shade. Nearly every monkey at the temple had a stolen water bottle in tow, holding it like a human, whilst fumbling to take the cap off.
They loved to tease the humans…
Probably my favorite interaction with the monkeys in Indonesia was at our hotel in Ubud. The concierge had giant sticks that they used to coax the monkeys out of the lobby probably 15 times a day. They climbed on the rafters, stole fruit meant for the guests, and fumbled with the coffee table magazines. We were staying a few hundred feet away from the Monkey Forest. The smarter monkeys of the neighborhood realized there was less competition for snacks a little way down the road from their sanctuary.
…So we teased them back
On one rainy afternoon, a few monkeys sought refuge on our balcony. I had a few Pocky sticks leftover that I didn’t quite like, so I opted to share them with my new furry friends. I got such a kick out of their mannerisms, so oddly displaced from their usual spot in the trees, that it gave me the idea to lure one into our hotel room (I know, I know. I’m 10-years-old). The little monkey stood on our balcony looking very confused. In seconds, he caught glimpse of a few more Pocky sticks on my bed and quickly went for them before darting back outside. Somehow I snagged a picture while my roommate Katie and I were doubled over in fits of laughter. We thought that would be the last we’d see of our primate friend…
But it wasn’t.
We were leaving the next morning, so we set our alarms for 8 o’clock. I even decided to do the adult thing and pack my bags the night before. Well, only because we went out drinking. I started drifting awake a little before our alarms went off as I heard Katie shuffling around our room. Well, I thought it was Katie until I rolled over and saw her sleeping soundly in her bed. The movement was coming from my suitcase.
Be careful what you wish for.
We left the balcony door open all night. Unbeknownst to me, it was an invitation for the little creature to come back into our room. I didn’t have any more snacks for him. He must’ve thought my box of contacts looked edible enough, so he grabbed those and ran back out to the balcony. I got my vision back for the week in exchange for a water bottle. Somewhat pleased, he chugged it and disappeared.
That actually was the last I saw of our 3rd roommate; but in the comedic irony that is my life, as we made our way down to breakfast we saw this sign outside on the lawn.
I’d love to hear any stories you have about monkeys in the comments. Or if you’ve also been to Monkey Forest. Quick anecdote- my mom (to this day) calls me monkey because apparently, I used to climb out of my crib as a toddler.🙈
A few more pics of my furry friends…enjoy!