1-8 Birdies!

Birdie on a temple…

We walked into a tourist information shop looking to book a ride to the airport for the next day. There aren’t really any public tourist information booths in Ubud, so every place is trying to sell you tours, drivers and tickets. While we were there, I asked about trips to see the herons come home to roost. I had barely asked and the guy was calling his driver to come pick us up and take us there immediately. We decided to roll with it.

One local myth says that the people of Petulu were poor and had to walk very far to find work or to go to their gardens. They felt that they had angered the gods and that was why they were being punished with a hard life. They decided to hold a major feast and ceremony at their temple for three days. They hoped that it would please the gods and they would make it possible for the people to lead easier lives. On the final day of the ceremony, the herons came and roosted in the trees. In the morning, they left but at night they returned. They made their nests in the trees around the village and raised the chicks there. The people knew that the gods had seen their ceremony and agreed to make their lives easier because now they have many people who use the street, both for tourism and as a through-way which means they can make their living closer to home.

And you thought the pigeon poop was a problem.

A second legend says the birds are the spirits of the people killed in a battle that occurred the day they arrived. I didn’t get as much information on that legend. It seemed like the people in the village believed the first while the people outside the village believed the second.

Coming home to roost.

The birds were everywhere. There were no less than twenty nests in every tree on the street. While we were there, it was nesting season, so there were bunches of baby birds peaking over the edges of the nests or wrestling with their parents. For a baby animal, bird babies are not that cute. They are so ugly they are cute, but they are not in their own right, cute. I guess birds in general are not usually cute. They are usual majestic or graceful, but the hatchlings were neither of those yet.

Look close at the nest to find the baby.

At sunset, the birds who have been out hunting all day, come back. During the not-nesting seasons, they come back by the hundreds in great flocks. While we watched, there were several groups that came back about two hundred at a time. That was neat, but not the awe-inspiring mass we’d heard about. In fairness, I got to see birdies, so I think it balances out in the end.

12-28 Sacred Monkey Forest!

Monkey on a wall! They did that a lot.

After a 2 hour taxi ride, we arrived in Ubud. The taxi took 2 hours due to traffic, it had nothing to do with the distance we traversed. I had happily forgotten traffic existed.

We wanted to go out and explore a bit in Ubud and we had most of the afternoon to do it in. We put our stuff in our room and asked directions to the Sacred Monkey Forest since everyone said it was near by.
As far as I can tell, the story with the Sacred Monkey Forest is that a very long time ago, a group of Hindus built a temple in a forest. The monkeys inhabiting the forest were either made sacred by the presence of the temple or the temple was put there because they were sacred monkeys. I’m not sure, but either way those monkeys have a great life.
Seriously, hundreds of statues.

The entry is a wide walkway with stone walls and terraces leading up into the forest. The entire sanctuary covers several acres in the heart of Ubud, but the part accessible to tourists is probably about a square mile. The paths were mostly paved with tightly fit stones and framed in knee-high walls. There were statues, cornices and other fancy stonework every ten feet and much of the wall itself was carved. Places like the inner temple had higher walls. The stone work throughout the complex was covered in green moss, that almost glowed when the sun hit it right. It was a pretty stunning effect on the guardian statues.

The highlight of the place is the monkeys. Technically, they are long-tailed macaques, but whatever. They were totally not afraid of humans, like they brought their still-nursing babies out among the humans kind of not afraid. They would scramble past us, jump across the path in front of us, walk right up and say hello, rummage people’s pockets for food, and sit and stare at you from the middle of the path.
This monkey wanted to check me for food.  (I had none)

I think my favorite monkey moment was trying to take a photo of a monkey, only to have another one walk up and start exploring my pants. I handed the camera to Jason and let it explore my hands and pockets until it got bored. SO CUTE!

Jason and I walked behind the inner temple, to an area that was a bit quieter. There was nothing spectacular to look at, so it wasn’t full of tourists, which made it spectacular in and of itself. (The inner temple was off limits to people who were not dressed appropriately and they did not provide appropriate clothing. Basically, it was off-limits to tourists.) We were standing in a small walkway between the temple wall and the forest watching the monkeys on the wall when a monkey fight broke out. A bunch of monkeys went jumping to and from the wall while monkey noises were coming from the forest. Jason and I froze and watched behind each other to make sure we were not going to get in the way of any teeth or claws. The monkeys leapt around for a bit and then settled back down. The whole time we were back there, the monkeys totally ignored us, even when I was within a foot of one. (It snuck up on me!)
I bribed it with a banana, but it kept showing its butt to the camera.

While observing other tourists (a different breed of monkey) Jason and I both had some strong reactions to their actions. One group of tourists had a handful of bananas. They were tossing the bananas back and forth over the monkey and teasing it. When it got pissed and swarmed someone for them, they were surprised and tried to tell it “no.” Then they were surprised when the monkey didn’t listen and grabbed the banana. This offended me rather a lot for several reasons. First off, this is not your space. This is a place, and these are monkeys, that are sacred to someone. By opening up the space to people who do not share their faith, they are being generous. We, as outsiders, need to be respectful of their faith. It isn’t important whether or not I share that faith, I still need to show respect to the people for whom this is a sacred place. Secondly, the monkeys are wild animals. They are going to follow their own rules and do their own thing, they aren’t going to listen to being told “no.” I feel like that was almost part of the sacred space. The monkeys do their thing outside of human control. Which brings me to the last realization. People like that expect that they can control everything. They think they should be able to ration out the bananas to the monkeys they like. We don’t get to control everything, sometimes the monkey takes the bananas.

The creek that fed the holy pool.

Speaking of monkeys and bananas. The women at the front gate were selling bananas to tourists with which to feed the monkeys. We each took a few bananas and held them up. The monkey ran up our clothes and stood on our shoulders to grab its banana and a few then sat their to eat their bananas. It was pretty cool.
We spent probably 3 hours exploring the sanctuary. Aside from the gorgeous main temple, there were hundreds of other statues and shrines scattered around everywhere. A larger shrine to a holy spring was down a bridge (carved like snakes/dragons). At the bottom, there was a small temple, and a pool. From behind the temple, we followed a narrow path along a creek to the shrine for the holy spring.



Basically, the Sacred Monkey Forest has all the things I love: old cultures, beautiful art and nature. I was a very happy camper.



The wall of the inner temple was a work of art in its own right.


In great reverence and respect, the monkey peed on the statue.


Monkey, pillar, monkey, pillar…
Jason also bribed this one with a banana.
Regal monkey is a roof ornament.







The littlest monkey was SO CUTE!
The shrine at the end of the creek.