Macaques bling it on

Photo of Amanda Keenan

Sunglasses and jewellery are accessories to crime committed by a disturbingly intelligent primate species, writes AMANDA KEENAN

It was a very handsome, charismatic Instagram influencer wearing Gucci loafers who first told me the story. That’s why I was inclined not to believe it.

There are monkeys, he warned of our impending journey to Uluwatu temple. Hordes of them. Diseased bandits who are long of claw and short on manners. Mangy, beady-eyed little ninjas who feast on the offerings of fruit and flowers and, perhaps, your soul.

Because then they rob you, and blackmail you.

As someone who was once assailed by a marauding monkey at Ta Phrom temple Angkor Wat, I was horrified.

That day, I was punished for being one of the few in my group to wear long pants at the sacred site: a Cambodian monkey was able to scale my pants and crawl on to my head, picking through my hair and clawing at my eyes. While there, he tried to steal my headband and undo my necklace. “Don’t move or try to shoo him,” the guide warned, “or he’ll attack.”

Above me, the branches of an enormous tree were adorned with the monkey’s treasures: a red beanie, a bandanna. Jewellery glinted in the sun.

But the idea that these Indonesian macaques didn’t want your accessories for trophies but for trade, well, that seemed both especially impressive and particularly terrifying.

These are the kind of wily, hyper-intelligent primates that give you the feeling they’re just waiting, semi-patiently, to assume their rightful place in the hierarchy — one pair of Le Specs at a time.

As we dodged dogs on the journey from the Apurva Kempinski hotel in Nusa Dua to Pura Luhur Uluwatu, I wondered: could the influencer be telling the truth? I had left my sunglasses in the hotel just in case. And my phone. Oh, and I wore a dress to preclude climbing, with no hat, headband or jewellery.

Uluwatu Temple is a magnificent building that clings precariously to the edge of a cliff. Age has wearied it but not diminished its beauty. People worship in silence as tourists try in vain to properly capture its majesty.

But I’m distracted because there are monkeys...

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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