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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Indonesia Part Nine: Monkey Business

In Part Eight, I continued to recover from the illness I'd contracted while in Bali.  Todd and I went on a lovely rice paddy walk and were invited by locals to see a Balinese Cremation.


The three bulls with the towers in the background
We had been invited to the Balinese Cremation Ceremony by about 10 different people, and I was interested in seeing what it was all about.  So, we headed away from the rice paddies back into town to see what all the fuss was about.  As we approached the palace, people were suddenly flooding into the street.  Coming up the hill, there were suddenly tons and tons of people trying to sell us things.  One woman singled us out and headed over to us with a pile of sarongs.  In order to enter the palace during a ceremony, you must be wearing a sarong.  I had brought one with me from home but had neglected to bring it along for the hike, so it was back at the hotel.
I looked at Todd and asked him if he wanted to go into the palace.  We hadn't really made a decision on whether or not we were going to go to the cremation.  We stalled for a second.  The woman selling the sarongs was not at all patient.  Before we could decide, she was putting a sarong around my waist and tying it, and asking us to pay her for it.  Another man came up and tied a sash around me, since apparently you must have a sash, too.

Todd started negotiating a price.  He picked one out and she put his on him.  That's when she changed the price.  She and Todd argued for a little bit, and then we just decided to pay her.  Fine.  That's when the man with the sashes came up and demanded that we pay him.  Apparently, he wasn't related to her.  She yelled something at him in Indonesian, and shooed him away, but handed him some of the money we'd given her, so I guess that was sort of like a sub-contractor sale.  I would later come across about a zillion people selling sarongs at all sorts of prices and would grumble for days about getting ripped off by this woman.  In fact, I'm still grumbling.  Grumble.
Inside the palace

I'm still trying to understand the Balinese tradition of cremation.  It's really, truly amazing.  Basically, there are cremations all the time, but this cremation was special because it was for three members of the Ubud Royal Family -- at least we think so.  These were definitely higher up people, but those we asked weren't clear on whether or not they were definitely members of the royal family.

When a Balinese person dies, they are first buried in a funeral ceremony at a Pura Dalem temple complex.  Or, as is what may have happened with these men, the body is embalmed and laid in the palace.  I'm not really sure which for the 3 men at this cremation.  It can be a long time between funeral and cremation - for commoners it can be years because cremation is very expensive.  Often many families will get together and pool their money to have a cremation for many people at once, which saves on the cost.  There are also commoners who are cremated at the same time as the royal family (although in a different place) to take advantage of the full rites and ceremony that the royals are using.  There may be a hundred or more people that are cremated at the same time on a day that a royal person is being cremated.

Todd and me with our sarongs in the palace

Meanwhile, before the cremation happens, the soul is still part of the earth. So, food is offered at the burial site or at the body each day.  This is a sad time, for as long as the body is not cremated, the soul cannot reach heaven.
Riding the bull

At the palace, there were three giant black bulls.  The bull is the sarcophagus, and there is an opening in the back for the body.  We had seen the bulls at the palace the whole time we were in Ubud, but I hadn't connected that they were related to the cremation that everyone was talking about.  Also at the palace when we arrived were three giant towers.  These were made of wood and bamboo and would be used to transport the bodies to the cremation site.  They were decorated with bright colors, gold, and more, which keeps evil spirits away.  But - we didn't know any of this.  We just stood and looked at the amazing towers and bulls and became extremely interested in what was about to happen.

We went inside the palace (thanks to our sarongs) and found a seat near a gamelan.  In fact, gamelans were playing all around the palace, which delighted me since I'd wanted to hear one play.  There were tons of tourists inside, plus lots of local Balinese.  Women walked through the crowd selling food, water and beer.  It totally felt like a fair or carnival or something fun, not a cremation.  We waited for about 45 minutes and then the ceremonies started.

One boy rode on top of each of the bulls.  Then, men (maybe 50 of them on each bull) hoisted them up and carried them out of the palace and down the street.  Some ceremonies went on in between - instrument playing, yelling, screaming.  It was chaos.  Then, maybe 70-100 men carried the first of the towers up to the palace.  Women and men brought offerings to the towers - fruit, food, and more.  One man carried two dead chickens.  Finally, the body was brought out.  It was turned and rotated to confuse the spirits and to keep the soul of the dead person from returning home.  The body was placed into the tower, and the tower was lifted and carried off.  It, too, was twirled and circled so that the spirits would stay away.
Bringing out the offerings

Once all three bodies had been placed in the towers and the three towers were gone, the palace cleared out.  The whole thing was surreal  and amazing.  We left the palace and watched the towers head down the street, swinging and turning as they went.  The streets were packed with people.  Many of them were following the procession, which would go to a temple for more ceremonies.  Later, the bodies would be moved from the towers to the bulls.  The bulls would be lit on fire and the families would be responsible for stoking the fire, making sure that no part of the body would go unburned.  Twelve days later, the ashes would be spread to sea in another ceremony.

We decided not to attend the actual cremation because we were starving, so we headed down the Monkey Forest Road to have lunch at Cafe Wayan.  I had so been looking forward to eating there, and it was lovely.  I was able to finally wash some mud off of me from the fall I'd taken earlier, and lunch was nice, although we were still eating pasta and pizza and American food because our stomachs were still sensitive.  While at lunch, we decided that we were going to purchase some bananas from the women outside the monkey forest.  Todd wanted to get some more photos, so this would be an excellent opportunity for that.

I took some video of the cremation. So much, in fact, that I ran my battery down and couldn't take video later at the Monkey Forest. The video still sucks, but I've learned how to edit videos a little better, so I've cut this one up to show the important things in quick succession (when there were actually several minutes between the bulls being carried out and the tower being carried in, for example. We had a good spot for viewing the offerings being brought out, but not so good for watching the activities with the bulls and the towers. Anyway, here it is:


Next was shopping.  We had been putting it off because we didn't want to feel pressured by pushy sales people, but we were running out of time.  I got a brand new wedding band that was made in traditional Balinese style. I'd been wanting an additional wedding band to wear on trips like this one, so that I don't have to worry about losing the diamonds in the band that I have.  This will be the band that I will wear on vacation from now on.  We also picked up some sculptures and a necklace for me, but we were too exhausted to buy t-shirts, something that I regret now.  We really didn't buy very many souvenirs at all.

It was starting to rain, so we decided to head back to the hotel.  I was wanting a massage, and we wanted to do a little monkey foresting on our way back.

Once we reached the monkey forest, I paid a woman for some bananas.  Still upset over the sarong incident, we haggled over the price.  Then, I took the bananas and waited while Todd paid the entry fee.

There was a monkey hanging from the front of my shirt within seconds of me taking the bananas.  The monkeys had a banana alarm or something, as I was then surrounded by several monkeys, all of whom were either looking at me expectantly or devising a plan to overtake me in order to get my bananas.  I yelled to Todd, urging him to hurry up and get the tickets because I was being swarmed by primates!!!


As it turned out, lots of people had been visiting the cremation instead of going to the monkey forest.  So, the monkeys hadn't gotten as much to eat as they usually did.  Plus, it was getting to be within an hour or two of feeding time.  As a result, the monkeys were ultra-aggressive.  When they hadn't touched us or bothered us on the other trips we'd taken through the forest, today, bananas or not, they were out to get us.  I started handing out bananas, and for the most part, the monkeys calmly took the bananas and left us alone.

Then, we approached a group of mommy monkeys nursing small, TINY baby monkeys.  I mean, practically newborns, and there were maybe 5 of them.  The alpha male sat nearby, and when Todd started photographing the babies, the alpha flipped out.  He came up to Todd, teeth bared, looking like King Kong.  Todd yelled for me to give him a banana (which I had hidden away).  I threw the banana at the alpha, but the alpha ignored it and kept coming at Todd, growling and showing his teeth.  Todd made a kick motion and told me to run.  I insisted on not running.  "I am creating a diversion!!" I said, jumping around and trying to look menacing.  Todd would get after me about this over and over again in the following weeks.   He couldn't run because I wasn't running, and he felt like he couldn't leave me behind with the alpha.

We escaped the alpha male by backing up slowly, and he went back to guarding his brood.  In the meantime, I decided to ditch the rest of the bananas, and I made quick work of handing the rest out to monkeys that were around.  We were away from the babies and the alpha male, and I'd gotten rid of all of the bananas, so we figured we were good to go.  Still, we were done with monkeys and headed out of the monkey forest for the last time of the trip.

As we were leaving, we were in the exit area and there were a couple of monkeys playing.  Todd started getting just a few more photos, and I sat down.  I was utterly exhausted and I was so ready for the massage that I was planning to get as soon as we got back to the hotel.  I drank some of my water out of the water bottle I'd been carrying and waited for Todd.

and then...


There was a tug at my water bottle.  I looked down to see a small young monkey gently pulling on my bottle.  I tugged back.  No, monkey, you will not have my water bottle.  He tugged harder.  I tugged back, and pulled it out of his hands.  I was ready to go.  Seriously.  The monkey was not to be deterred.  He grabbed the end of my water bottle, used his back foot as leverage, and PULLED.  I didn't get go, but he figured out that my hand was what was likely standing between him and water bottle salvation, so he chomped right down on my hand, which I used to fling him off to my right.

Thoughts filled my head:

Oh, crap.  The monkey just bit me.  I was told not to get bitten by any monkeys.  WE WERE LEAVING!  UGH!  Hmm... don't tell Todd.  Don't tell anyone.  Let's see here... it's pretty superficial.  Yeah, it's bleeding a little, but I've gotten worse paper cuts.  It was seriously just a little nip.  Just leave it alone, I'm sure it's fine.


Todd was taking photos at the time and happened to get the money shot, thinking it was a "cute" interaction:
Me and monkey, mid-bite.

WAIT, let's see that closer up!

Gimme that water bottle!
Meanwhile, the monkey still sat there, devising a plan to perhaps bite off my ear or something in order to get the bottle.  I handed him the bottle.  You won, monkey.  He proceeded to chew open the bottle with his teeth, and then spill it all over the ground.  Lovely.
I have opposable thumbs, but I'm not smart enough
to use them to open the cap.


I did tell Todd that I was bitten, and a nice French couple stopped and gave me some alcohol, but the bite had already stopped bleeding.  It was the tiniest injury, and it was right on the knuckle of the pinky finger of my right hand.  We headed back to the hotel, and then mentioned to the man at the front desk that I'd been bitten, and he gave me a band aid, which I didn't use.  A German man who had been walking around in perhaps a psychedelic haze for several days (I don't know, we'd seen him around and he either seemed high, strange or both) suggested that I get rabies shots.

I'd heard horror stories of rabies shots - that they were painful and in your stomach, etc.  And I DID NOT want them.  We went back to the hotel room, and then started Googling rabies.  Listen, if you've been recently bitten by an animal and you Google rabies, you will assume that you will die a horrible death at any given moment.  It's a terrible disease.  Finally, I decided to at least see a doctor, even though it meant that I would not be getting a massage.  I showered and washed the filthy grime off of me, and then the wonderful hotel folks hooked me up with a car ride to a medical clinic.
I will get this water out of this bottle!
Nom Nom Nom

I am going to leave out some of the details of the medical clinic visit because I have a big long post coming where I go into the absolutely amazing aftermath of this monkey bite back in the states, and the clinic visit factors in there.  Suffice it to say that I am still dealing with this monkey bite now.  I did get two shots, which were not in the stomach, they were just like getting flu shots, if you've ever gotten those, except that they hurt less.  In all, we owed 1,050,000 rupiah, which we didn't have.  We had to pay in cash, so we had to give the poor nurse an IOU.  The  hotel's shuttle took us to a place to change money, and then we returned back and gave them what we owed them.  It was about $120 US, and I didn't know how high the actual monkey bite cost would end up going.

Post-bite, I gave up the thought of getting a massage, and we decided to enjoy some time at the pool.  Then, we changed our clothes and headed out to Lamak for dinner.  Both of us were feeling close to 100% (magical powers of monkey?) and our dinner was AMAZING.  I dressed up for this one, since this was officially our Valentine's Day dinner, even though it was only February 10.  Finally, at last, I was getting a taste for delicious food in Ubud.  This was the best dinner I had on the entire trip.  Awesome.

We headed back to the hotel, and went to sleep.  It was our last night in Bali, our last night in Indonesia, and the next day we would begin the long journey home.
Post bite.
Stay tuned for Part Ten, where Todd and I leave Indonesia for a short but enjoyable time in Hong Kong.

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