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Day 7 in Bali


Some people report problems with the monkey forest at Alas Kedaton. Perhaps I was simply fortunate, but I did not have problems there with monkeys or people. In eight visits to Bali, I had not been to any of the monkey forests and I determined on my last full day to experience one. I had been well and truly warned off Sangeh, where monkeys were said to be aggressive and I did not want to go home with a bite or two. 

The word on the street was that Kedaton was the place to go, so I hired a driver for 60,000rp and set off in the morning with a fresh roll of film to photograph the place and its inhabitants. Alas Kedaton is, a short distance north of the village of Kukuh, hardly an hour's drive from Kuta. Kedaton is a sacred forest, within which there is a smallish, uninspiring temple which is home to a troop of Balinese monkeys. We were told that there were about 700 of them (several distinct families) living in the forest around the temple. They are grey and brown Macaques, relatives of the Rhesus monkey. They live in the trees and forest floor, surviving on a rich variety of fruit and berries. Just as in the Hindu traditions of India, where Hanuman monkeys occupy an important place in religious tradition, so the Macaques are important in Balinese myth and ritual. Balinese dance is full of their images and monkeys are often central figures in sacred narrative. Here at Kedaton, the monkeys share the temple with the locals who now, in turn, share their knowledge of them with tourists.

The entry charges at Kedaton are modest. 1,500rp to park your vehicle and 3,300rp per person to enter the temple and its surrounds. The latter is paid to the village council which maintains the site and manages the local merchants. And merchants abound, as they do at most Balinese tourist centres. There are rows and rows of shops, all identical to the kinds of shops you can find in the more developed centres like Kuta. Perhaps this is why the place has a reputation for aggressive shopkeepers because tourists are probably disinclined to buy the baubles and trinkets on offer here and the turnover may be slight. Someone should do a good marketing job on some of these places and persuade the shopkeepers to stock a different range of goodies. 

Whether or not they stock the right merchandise, the shopkeepers have come up with an interesting way to spread the limited tourist rupiah. Each day, a certain number of shopkeepers take their turn in a roster to act as tourist guide. The deal is that a shopkeeper will take a tourist party in tow, show them around the establishment and then take them back to their shop with an expectation that they buy solely from them. The next day a different set of shopkeepers take their places on the roster. This SHOULD result in an equitable distribution of tourist income. The problem is that noone has asked the tourists whether they like this idea and this can lead to conflict when a tourist, post tour, refuses to buy or, worse still, ignores the guide's shop for another establishment. 

I was shown around by a very pleasant young woman who carefully taught me how to approach the monkeys and warned me about inappropriate actions and gestures. Never pat or handle the monkeys, she advised, and just relax, let the monkeys come to you and even climb on you if they want to. So long as you don't move suddenly and don't react with aggression or fear, everything should be fine. And it was. We strolled around the periphery slowly, she holding a bag of corn that I had bought at a stall, handing me one or two pieces to attract the animals. I had the sense that she was constantly watching the monkeys, reading their demeanour for possible signs of misconduct. A couple of times she counselled me to avoid a particular beast or to step around a group (particularly mother and child) who might resent my approach. 

Half way around the temple we stopped to look inside where a pemangku and helpers were preparing oblations. A wily monkey sat at a judicious distance from the event, watching and waiting. Each time the priest's back was slightly turned, the monkey dashed in to steal a morsel from an offering, then retreated to its former position and, almost mockingly, consumed its prize with a defiant glare at the congregation. This was all tolerated with good humour, the priest only making perfunctory gestures of disapproval as the monkey launched each raid. 

At the end of the tour, which lasted about half an hour, my guide took me back to her shop. I really did not want to buy anything on offer. I already had sufficient numbers of shorts, tee-shirts, wooden boxes and mobiles to last me and my family a lifetime. She was disappointed, but not pushy about it, the more so after I simply gave her 20,000rp for her services as a guide. 

We were back in Kuta by lunchtime. The driver thoughtfully took me on a scenic drive through some ricefields, but by then I think I was all done with scenery. I was beginning to think of going home. 

Strolled over to the Amben Cafe, across the road from the hotel, and had a sandwich. I have never seen anyone eating here and suspect that I was their first customer in a month. The waitress was sitting at a table near the kerb, shelling peanuts and gossiping with the hairdresser next door. Business at the hairdressers was probably just as slow, because I didn't see anyone in there the whole week. After serving me the waitress went back to her bowl of nuts and talk of this and that. From the giggles I figured it was mostly talk of paramours and assignations.

The afternoon was filled with mopping up activities. A trip to a nearby silver shop was included where, holding my breath, I enquired about the prices of objects similar to those I had bought at Celuk. The prices were close enough to convince me that I had not been seduced by the skilful salespeople of Celuk. I was glad, though, that I hadn't paid the Celuk asking prices. 

That evening I went to dinner with Sarah, the music teacher, her boyfriend Michel and her father Samuel. On the recommendation of the Batukau guide, we had booked at Ketupat, a restaurant on Jalan Legian. (Ketupat is the name of an Indonesian dish, eaten after the fasting month of Ramadan.) We had been told that you could get Rijstafel here, and Samuel was very keen to experience Rijstafel (from the Dutch, literally, "rice-table") before returning to England. We had, in fact, what our waiter termed "mini-Rijstafel", a collection of different dishes with rice, not as sumptuous, apparently, as the real Rijstafel. Three individual serves were sufficient for all of us. This was enhanced by a nice red and finished with excellent coffee. Our conversation wandered over the two trips we had done together and Michel's two day explorations on a motor bike. At the end of the evening we vowed to maintain contact. I am not sure that we will, but the promise seemed to be necessary to acknowledge our days of pleasant companionship. 

Samuel and I rode back to our respective hotels in a taxi while Sarah and Michel stayed on in Legian to hit the nightspots. Her "dad duty" appeared to be at an end. I wonder if I will see them in Australia.

There was a note waiting for me under the door of my bedroom. The tourist company wished to remind me that they would collect me at 10am the next day for the trip to the airport. This was really it. The week had gone, and it only remained now to pack and make my last journal notes. 

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