Saturday, May 16, 2009

Monkey Bandits

While living in the out back of Australia I decided to get on a plane and fly to the island of Bali Indonesia for a two week vacation to see the artisans and all of their creations. I took three empty suitcases that fit into each other, three changes of under wear and two pairs of jeans so I could bring home some carvings and artifacts that caught my eye. I had two weeks away from the Simpson desert where I was working at the “Top Secret” Joint Defense Space Research Facility in the middle of Alice Springs known as (J.D.S.R.F ) which stands for none of your business.

I left Darwin Australia after I had sat with several tourists in the waiting area for three or four hours. They quickly got to know each other and exchanged stories about Bali and reminded each other of some of the local cultural restrictions such as drinking in public, nude bathing on the beaches and drug taboos. These were typical collage aged kids and old time hippies.

The flight to Bali was only about a half an hour to which I found myself landing in a tropical environment where the heat and humidity took your breathe away the second you stepped out of the plane. The airport swarmed with custom officers and military personnel in jeeps and trucks with automatic weapons that made them look more like assassin squads on the take. As I got through the rubber stamp line for visa verifications and customs searches, I walked out to the lobby where nonchalant cab drivers waved for me to get in their off the wall brand taxi’s. As we drove through the streets I soon realized that I had just entered into a tropical world of creative artist such as stone carvers, wood carvers, jewelry makers, silver smiths, batik drawings and musicians of percussion and stringed instruments of every type with shops and sidewalk vendors on every corner selling their goods.

The island is just about 500 miles North West of Australia and is known paradise of an exotic culture artisans, Religious rituals, music and unique smells of food everywhere you went. By American standards they seemed impoverished but actually they were content with their way of life even though the average man earned 50 cents a day for his labor. With tourism it allowed individuals to earn more money so you found yourself bartering for absolutely everything you bought.

My first couple of days I did the normal tourist routine with my new 35 mm Pentex camera. I wondered several blocks away from my hotel to snap a few pictures and to get a feel for the next unplanned event that drew me closer to more of the adventure that attracted me there in the first place.
Soon I heard about a bus which took the islanders from village to village to which I decided to get onboard and ride along. As I quietly sat there on this crude 1950’s bus all painted in bright reds and yellows, I was the only English person in the mix. The bus scene reminded me of a mother opossum where everyone climb’s on including several chicken farmers who strapped their loaded crates of chickens on top of the roof. The bus was loaded with Men, women and children young an old and the body odors were as obvious as the uncomfortable ride over every bump in the road.

When you are the foreigner everyone stares at you and pokes at each other to take a look at the strange looking fellow wearing blue jeans and not a wrap around skirt like the rest of the local men. They smile at you with their black teeth as if to say “we’re ok with you” and then the questions begin. They try out their English to ask, “Where you go”? So I decide to converse with small talk until one of them says to, ”go to next village, very nice, you like very much”.

When we arrived at our destination the bus driver had already turned off his ignition key to save on some gas and we quietly rolled to a point in the road where he abruptly slammed on the breaks without warning. Everything slid forward and the dust from the road engulfed the entire bus as we stopped. Everyone climbed off to the dirt road below where friends and families greeted each other with hugs and kisses. They made hand motions to me that this was the place. They expected me to get off as well because after all it was where they recommended that I depart. If I didn’t take their advice it would have be an insult. As I got up they all smiled and wished me well as I waved and smiled back. Then a man came up to me and said, “come with me I show you factory where my brother and uncle make things out of wood”. So I followed them as three or four little kids yelled at each other and ran along beside us. I was the novelty of the day and they wanted to get in on the action.

Soon I was looking at over hundred or so carvings all lined up, all of the same subject which was Ramah and her kissing sister. I studied them carefully and through a keen eye process of elimination I picked one that I liked. They showed their approval of my good choice. Everyone was happy, and I paid them as I dickered over the price. They knew I wasn’t the typical tourist who gives in at the first stop and spends it all.
Then someone yelled and it was time to get back on the bus or be left behind. As we drove off to the next stop I couldn’t help but believe that it was arranged for me to stop and buy something which would benefit those who were on the first bus load.

The next stop was an obvious a place to get off because of the hustle and bustle of tourist, shops and items for sale. I took my luggage and started to walk down a dirt road that had 8’ to 10’ mud walls that were constructed as barriers more like high rise fences which protected the village homes. Along the same road there were prayer shrines at various places with sticks of incense burning which added to the smells.

As I began to walk a mangy stray dog appeared with a viscous growl and alerted everyone that a stranger was in the area. Then someone stepped out from the walled structure and asked if I’d needed a room for the night. So I obliged with a smile, hand shake and whatever and followed them to my room. It consisted of a grass hut, dirt floor, spider webs all over the ceilings, bamboo slat bed and no water or bath. And oh yes, I had to share the room with several other tourist men folk all in their twenties at the cost of fifty cents per night. Early the next day I was awoken by some guy next to me in a bed making obscene breathing noises. I had to see this, so I quietly rolled over only to see this totally naked collage aged guy sitting yoga style with his legs crossed and hands on both knees with his head straight forward with both eyes closed. Then he went through the breathing routine again and I decided it was time to move on and see the island and get some food. The fast food restaurant industry was not an issue in this remote little village nor were there cereal and milk and honey ready in a fridge to be consumed. I had to find out where the grub was being served and get there to feed the appetite. As I made my way to the market place there were road side vendors which sold drinks and rice cakes, fruit and soups, all of which looked and tasted great. It’s amazing what you will eat when you become hungry.

After a week without a bath I started to smell equally rancid as the people I rode in with on the bus. My clothes smelled and my teeth felt like nasty goop so I asked the village folks where I could find a place to bathe. They told me of this water fall that wasn’t too far away and that if I went down the road and over the dikes through the rice fields I would find it. Soon I could hear running water but to my surprise the water fall consisted of two skinny bamboo poles with water running out of them. They were sticking out of a rock in a jungle of Bamboo trees that were at least 50’ tall.

Since no one was around I stripped down to my underwear and stood under the water for a cool rinse. The water turned out to be warm and I’m not too sure how clean it was since it appeared that it was run off from the rice fields. When I was done I got dressed and found a stump of a cut off bamboo tree where I sat down for a moment of peace and quietness while the hot sun felt so good. Then I heard a rustle in the brush that was in front of me. Visibility in this jungle was maybe twenty feet. There in front of me appeared a gathering of gray monkeys (Balinese macaques, to be more specific. They're very tolerant of people, but are famous for stealing food and sunglasses from tourists, so you have to be careful around them), all sitting there watching me.
As I turned around there were more and so I put out my hand like I had food. One of them came closer for a look see. It wasn’t too long before I had a monkey sitting on top of my head picking through my hair, one on each knee and one on each shoulder. Then there were others trying to climb on board. As I sat there in total Indiana amazement I had to examine their hands and feet to see how far fetched was Darwin’s theory of evolution. They all had finger prints, finger joints just like mine. They had eyes, ears, noses and necks, and then one stretched and yawned soo big that its teeth became visible out side of its mouth. I figured it was time to get some pictures of this and off I went. They seemed to be disappointed that I didn’t have anything for them to eat.

As I went back to the village I met a Viet-Nam army deserter turned hippy with long hair and beads who had a bad infection in his leg. If he left it alone he could have lost it to gangrene. He agreed to go back with me to the “Sacred Monkey Tree Forest” for a photo shoot. When we got there in the clearing there was a huge gray tree that came out of the ground and had a trunk base that had to have been 6 foot or more in diameter with huge branches which made a canopy effect over a vast area of the ground. It wasn’t too long before the monkeys showed up on the scene and hopped on board for another look see. This time they were more aggressive and took over as if they knew the routine.

Then after a few photos of me and the monkey’s one of them reached down into the hippies shoulder pouch purse and pulled out a dark blue thin folded pack and jumped to the ground and started to run with the loot. The Hippy screamed and said “oh my God he just took $1,500 in travelers checks, then the big mistake; I yelled, “let’s chase him”! At this point we both began to run in pursuit of the “Monkey bandit”. Before we could take two steps the entire gang of gray monkeys with teeth showing came at us like a mighty rush of a freight train from all directions with me tied to the tracks. I knew that if I didn’t fight back these nasty little fellows would over power us and have us for lunch. Immediately my Marine Corps killer instinct kicked in and it turned into the equivalent of a bar room brawl. As fast as I could I began slugging everything that came at me with my fist. Soon I began to draw blood, and break some ribs and jaws. These little guys meant serious business and they bit me every chance they could from head to toe. I kicked so hard that I felt like I broke my big toe. They bit harder each time they lunged at me in a constant wave. While I was defending myself the hippy was screaming “ouch!!! And stop it!!” as they sunk their teeth into his arms, butt cheeks and legs.

Then in slow motion I changed my war strategy and decided to stop fighting and freeze in my tracks. Likewise they stopped and backed off and hissed at us like snakes while one more bite me. A typical zealot who had to make his final point!

There in the top of the 50’ bamboo tree was the monkey frantically gnawing on the travelers check packet. We were surrounded by an army of monkeys waiting on us to make our next move. I slowly took a step at which they made it known that the fight wasn’t over, so I stood still. Then way off in the distance I saw an Indonesian peasant walking across the dikes with a basket of something that looked like food on top of his head. I motioned for him, and to my surprise he came to the rescue. I asked him for some rice cakes and I started to feed the monkeys at which we all became instant friends once again. Then down slid the monkey with the packet still in his mouth and he boldly walked up to me for a rice cake. Slowing I lowered the cake to his mouth and with the other hand I retrieved the blue packet with $1,500.00 from his apprehensive mouth.
The hippy was overjoyed and we laughed all the way back to the village where no one had a clue at what had just happened. This event almost seemed like a made-up story but the soreness of the bites reminded me the next day that it really did happen!

In Indonesia the monkeys as well as other creatures such as snakes and chickens are worshiped by the Hindus as one of their gods. Sacrifices are offered to them every day. Monuments throughout the cities have been made in stone and wood in memory of these false beliefs. It is such a tragedy that so many would be blinded to the truth of Jesus Christ and yet generation after generation the lies are passed on without question through rituals without reality as they look for a ray of appeasement to the confusion. That night two 15’ life like puppets arrived at the gates of our village to ward off the evil spirits as they chanted and banged on gongs and pieces of wood. I tried to talk to some of the people that I met about Jesus but it appeared to fall on deaf ears. Pray for new opportunities to reach the lost. Who knows, perhaps one person may have had an awakening to the power of the true and living God through Jesus Christ instead of being robbed by a gang of monkey’s being driven by the powers of satanic influences.

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