"But friendly monkeys in Tabanan," Mr. Ade replied. "In Sangeh, the monkeys are stupid."
"They go in your hair," he said. "They jump on your shoulders. They scratch you. They take your glasses, take your money, take your camera. They want many fruits to give them back. If they take expensive camera, they want many more fruits. Friendly monkeys in Tabanan."
Take me to Sangeh, I said. I want to see the stupid monkeys.
The Ramayana is one of the great Hindu epics. It holds that Hanuman, the monkey god and a flying white monkey himself, was toting a mountain across the sky when he dropped a chunk, studded with trees and teeming with monkeys, on the spot that is now Bukit Sari.
Bukit Sari is still teeming with monkeys. Teeming with thieving, murderous, corrupted monkeys. Monkeys who would mug me for my Minolta and hold it for a ransom of bananas. Monkeys who would gouge a fistful of flesh from my shoulder just to watch me bleed. More intriguing was the fact that in the deepest part of the forest stood Pura Bukit Sari, an ornate temple to all things monkey: a baroque, Hearstian, palatial San Simian.
Mr. Ade parked the van when we pulled within sight of the forest, a thicket of straight and leafy nutmeg trees. We could already hear the whine of what sounded like cannonballs ripping through the treetops as we read the sign posted at the side of the road: ATTENTION: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR BELONGINGS (ACCESSORIES) DURING VISIT TO THIS HOLLY MONKEY FOREST. TO AVOID UNDESIRABLE CASES CAUSED BY SOME AGGRESSIVE MONKEYS.
The sign was a model of understatement, if not of spelling and punctuation. The sign maker didn't mention that the human earlobe is an "accessory." For of all the "cases" Mr. Ade has had occasion to witness in the Monkey Forest, perhaps the most "undesirable" have occurred when "some aggressive monkeys" have snatched the pierced earrings—and accompanying pieces of lobes—from the heads of unsuspecting visitors.
On the threshold of the fenced-in forest, a toothless old woman bade me to take the stick she offered, and I did. She also urged me to remove my Coke-bottle-thick glasses, lest the monkeys rob me of my very vision. Impossible, I told her. As I pinned the glasses to the bridge of my nose with my index finger, Mr. Ade broke his nervous silence.
"Mr. Stiv," he said quietly. "Please do not taunt the monkeys."