Macaque monkeys look like tiny people with lots of facial hair. We first encountered them at the Uluwatu temple in Bali. The temple is at the south-western tip of the island, on a cliff above the sea. It was abandoned long ago and is now home to a troop of these monkeys who run along its walls and clamber about in the wild fig trees. The troop keeps to the temple in order to be near the tourists.
When we arrived at the temple, the matriarch monkey and her counsel of elders were sitting on top of the wall beside the gate. They regarded us with interest. When I opened my bag and took out my camera, they became very animated.
“No poto monkey,” a Balinese woman warned me and waved her finger.
Some Balinese cannot make the F-sound and replace it with a P. She pointed at Mia’s glasses and my camera.
“Monkey steal evoryting and camera and glasses,” the woman said.
As we spoke, the old monkey weaved her head from side to side as she followed the movements of my hands.
“You come office,” the woman said. “Pay.”
Before one enters the temple, one must pay an entrance fee and rent a sarong if you’re not wearing one. The temple is holy and a knee-length sarong is required.
“Tirty tousand,” the woman said to Mia, who was wearing a sarong. Then to me, “Pipty tousand. Sarong.”
We gave her a hundred thousand Rupiah for the two of us.
“Pruit?” she asked.
The woman laughed and said something in Balinese to another woman who also laughed.
“Pruit,” she said again and held up a bag of fruit. “Por monkeys.”
“No thanks,” I said.
When another couple arrived, we stood aside while Mia helped me with my sarong. The man was an angry German. He wore socks and Birkenstock sandals despite the heat. He spoke in German to his pretty girlfriend, who was French.
“German german!” Hans insisted.
They were clearly having an argument about something that Hans cared more about than Marie. Marie puffed her cheeks and shrugged.
“No,” she said calmly. “French-uh-french.”
Perhaps they were Swiss. Hans stood with his hands on his hips and stared at Marie. The Balinese women regarded them both with the innocent friendliness for which the island is known.
“You pay,” one woman suggested.
Hans was not done with Marie yet.
“German,” he tried again, “überhaupt nicht german german.”
Marie motioned that he should pay.
“Vot must I pay?” he snapped.
“Pipty tousand,” the woman said. “One person.”
Both Hans and Marie needed sarongs.
“Hundred tousand,” the woman said. “You buy pruit.”
The Balinese woman giggled.
“Pruit,” she said again and held up a bag of fruit. “Give monkey. No steal.”
By now an old Australian couple had been waiting too and the man spoke up.
“Just pay them, mate,” he suggested.
Hans held up a hand to silence him.
“Vy must I vear a sarong?” he demanded to know. “I don’t vont fruit.”
Hans clearly didn’t want to be at the temple. Perhaps that’s what he and Marie were arguing about.
“French-avec-french-uh-french,” Marie explained.
“Look mate,” the old man said, “shit or get off the pot.”
Marie smiled at this and rolled her eyes at the old man.
“French,” she said to Hans, “uh-french.”
“Nein!” he barked.
Hans was more upset than it was German to be.
“Zis iz daytime robbery!” he cried. “I vill not vear a sarong!”
We left Hans and Marie behind and walked through the temple grounds. Like most traditional buildings in Bali, the temple itself was not as interesting as its surroundings. We soon tired of the actual buildings and walked along the low fence that lined the cliffs. Beyond the fence were gnarled vines and a sheer drop to the sea far below. Macaques clambered around in the vines and followed us around. We didn’t have any fruit but they watched our hands and widened their eyes whenever we looked at them.
“Stand back,” I said to Mia. “This one wants to come past.”
We were leaning against the fence and a monkey had come walking along the top of it. Mia leant back and the monkey came forward hesitantly. As he was about to pass us he flicked Mia’s sunglasses off her face and jumped into the vines.
“Hey!” I shouted.
The monkey clambered farther into the twists of vines and ignored me. If an ostrich or a llama had taken Mia’s glasses I would’ve stayed calm, but the monkey was like a person—he had stolen them.
“Hey!” I shouted again. “You!”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Mia said calmly. “Let it go.”
“Give me those glasses,” I ordered the monkey.
I spoke in a firm voice but the monkey looked away as though he hadn’t heard me.
“Now!” I shouted.
He fumbled with Mia’s glasses and tried to put them on his head.
“Have you lost your mind?” Mia asked as I climbed through the fence.
The monkey clambered a little farther out across the water.
“Are you going chase a monkey?” Mia asked. “On the edge of a cliff?”
Now that I was on the other side of the fence, I wasn’t so brave any more. But I was still livid.
“Look at the little shit!” I cried. “He’s ignoring me like a naughty child.”
“Get back here,” Mia said.
“Hey!” I shouted again.
“You’re like a child,” Mia hissed. “Get back here.”
I climbed back through the fence.
“You’re no better than that idiot with the Birkenstocks,” Mia said. “Besides, look.”
She pointed at the ground beneath the vines. When I took off my sunglasses I could see what she meant. Glasses and baseball caps and camera parts lay on the cliff’s edge, just out of reach.
“They steal things all day,” she said, beginning to sound a lot like Marie. “It’s their job.”
As we walked back I began to feel stupid. I didn’t want to be like Hans.
“Do you think someone saw me?” I asked.
“I saw you,” Mia said. “So did the monkeys.”
The Australian couple sat on a bench by the gate and watched the matriarch and her counsel of elders move about along the top of the wall. The monkeys, in turn, watched the path from the office. Down this path came Marie, followed by Hans. Hans had lost the argument and now wore a sarong. He goose stepped awkwardly and swung a bag of fruit in his hand. The matriarch stared at him and leaned forward, poised to jump.
“German!” Hans called after Marie as she passed us. “Ger—”
But he didn’t get beyond that. The matriarch dropped onto him with a howl. She grabbed him by the collar and pushed into his chest with her feet, bouncing and tugging, riding him like a little jockey. Hans staggered backward and let out a howl of his own. He threw up his arms like someone falling down a hole and then he keeled over. The matriarch ripped the bag of fruit from his hand and ran away.
“Mein german german,” Hans groaned where he lay in the dust.
“Jerman jerman?” Marie giggled as she bent over him. “French, uh french.”
The old man slapped his thighs and rose from the bench.
“That was daylight robbery,” he declared.