Monyet in the Middle

I spent the better part of the morning in the unlikeliest of places: the port of Benoa on the southeast coast of the island, where the lower altitude and proximity to the sea causes the sun to beat more harshly than in the slightly more forested parts of Ubud. My friend Rai and I were led to the main passenger terminal and the water’s edge beyond, where only a couple of mid-size ships were berthed.

We were on a reconnaissance mission of sorts, like not-so-amateur investigators peppering everyone with questions, Rai assuring me that he alone would not have received such a warm welcome. Which reminded me that as tamu (short term visitors or resident expats) on Bali, we are at times treated like royalty – with a level of obsequiousness that makes me uncomfortable – while other times we are most definitely not.

By the evening, I was headed with friends to a resort just north of Ubud’s center and royal palace called Kumara Sakti. We had been invited to join the evening activity organized for the participants of a yoga retreat, a musical and chanting odyssey called kirtan. Suffice it to say that, although I’ve been hearing about kirtan ever since I first arrived in Bali, until last night I’d never been drawn to it. For some reason, unbeknownst to my rational mind, I eagerly accepted Linda’s invitation to go last night.

And I was not disappointed. Perhaps because of the charismatic nature of the man with the turban on his head who led the evening, singing and playing music, Punnu Wasu. Or the lush interweaving and echoing of voices and instruments – drums, guitar, sitar and didgeridoo (thanks to Dr. Didge). Maybe it was the floral mandala that had been created in the center of the circle, candles burning all around. It might have been the sounds of nature that surrounded us, or the regular giggles and babbling of the baby girl who otherwise sat quietly or clapped to her heart’s content. Moving our bodies to music that seemed to be floating into the space from the trees beyond. Most likely, all of the above.

Returning home from kirtan and reflecting on the fullness of my day, I was still puzzled about what happened in the middle

I’ve had numerous visitors at my place; acquaintances and friends, deliverymen bearing nourishing food, massage therapists and the women who clean the rooms. But given that I’m perched on the second floor, with a staircase that leads nowhere except to my terrace and rooms, it’s rare that someone arrives unplanned or unannounced. Other than the occasional cat that sneaks up and, if I’m not looking, might wander through my rooms and nestle herself on a window ledge for awhile.

But what I really could not have expected, nor would I have ever thought it remotely possible, was that I would look up from my laptop while lying on my bed one bright day, and as if it was the most normal thing in the world, come face to face with a monkey that had just reached the top of the stairs. Yes, a monkey. The big and hairy kind that typically resides a kilometer or so away, in the Monkey Forest. Not here in Tebesaya, and last I looked, not in this family compound.

It was so odd and surreal that I froze for what seemed an eternity.

What do you do when a full-grown macaque monkey shows up at your door? Who you gonna call, Monkey-Busters?! Do you say hello, welcome it onto your terrace, invite it in for a drink and offer it a bunch of bananas? (Lottie, any ideas?!) Do you leap off your bed and close the door and window? Sadly, in retrospect, I did the latter.

I say sadly because I missed an opportunity to bond with a furry creature (I’ve been up close and personal with them previously and I am an irrepressible dog lover). Who knows, I might have become a monkey-whisperer?

My monkey visitor must have sensed that his intrusion was perhaps, well, untimely, because he leapt up onto the ledge of the roof outside my window, glanced back at me once with a quizzical look (Have you seen my baby? Are you sure you can’t spare a banana?), then turned around and plodded along the top of the roof until he reached the end, slid down the far edge, leapt onto another roof and disappeared – probably into the jungle beyond (or into someone else’s room below).

I opened the door, stepped out onto my terrace, and saw nenek (Ibu’s elderly mother) weaving offerings on the bale below. When I waved, she looked up in amazement and called out to me: Monyet! Monyet! Ya, I answered, saya lihat! (I saw it)

I only mention my interaction with nenek  so as to assuage your concerns that I may have been suffering from heatstroke or hallucinations. Also because the absence of photos attests to my momentary lapse of judgment – or shock.

Wow. A monkey. Merci pour la visite, monyet.

Welcome to Bali, where rarely a single day passes without something – or someone – dropping into your life to completely boggle your mind.


  1. Next time that monkey pops by, jump on an ojek with him and come down and visit Hermann and I. It will be fun. A party with a monkey, a hermit crab and 2 bule. The new rat that’s appeared here in the kitchen and the snake that likes to hang out in the outside shower are welcome to join us too!

    1. HA!! I think I”ll take you up on that 🙂 Though the way you write bule – I know what you mean – it reads like we’re some kind of Balinese-modified version of the ‘mule’…

  2. SO fun! I think. Do monkeys carry rabies like raccoons here in Nord Amerique? Wild animals are getting closer to humans/their homes and not afraid of them…but it is a problem in nature and not so cute after all!
    xo oj

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