UBUD, Indonesia — Getting the monkey off your back isn’t just an idle saying in Bali.
On the southern end of Ubud, the central Bali village that’s home to artists and artisans, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a place you can make a simian friend or — if you’re not careful — a half dozen.
Approaching the protected area, visitors are greeted by giant stone pillars adorned with carvings of primates.
The actual, foot-and-a-half-tall monkeys, some of them svelte and some of them husky, begin to appear in the trees, on rooftops and among pedestrians on the sidewalk.
They are all on the prowl for one thing: Food.
Banana vendors strategically situated at each entrance give visitors the chance to do what most zoos explicitly prohibit — namely, to feed the animals.
I bought a bunch of overpriced fruit, tucked them under my left arm and set happily off into the Monkey Forest to try my hand at making some new cross-species acquaintances.
Sitting in the middle of the path leading into the park, a well-fed, gray adult male sat and waited for me. Picking a banana from the bunch, I offered it to him.
He took it, peeled it in one deft motion and bit into it. Seconds later, Mr. Monkey dropped it and ran off with a shriek.
Behind me, one of the attendants, dressed in a green patterned sarong and traditional cloth headwrap, ran past with a slingshot aimed at my new pal and fired off a pellet of some kind.
“Too close to the road,” he said. “Dangerous.”
Slightly stunned, I walked further into the Monkey Forest and was soon handing out bananas to the furry guys, big and small, like Santa Claus on his big day, minus the red suit (and the belly, I hoped).
Most were well-behaved, simply taking their treat and retreating to enjoy their spoils.
But one youngster had a different idea.
Eyeing the cache of bananas I was holding, this monkey climbed straight up my side and on to my shoulders. From his new perch, he tried to pry the fruit from my grasp.
Laughing, I didn’t mind having other tourists getting a kick out of my predicament and snapping pictures. (I even tried turning the Nikon back on myself to capture the action.) Yet I also thought it best to remain calm, not antagonize my new appendage and figure out a way to dislodge him. The last thing I needed was a case of rabies in Indonesia.
Walking over to a stone wall, I picked a banana and held it at arm’s length. The ruse worked, and the monkey enjoyed his snack from a new vantage point.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary also contains an impressive temple area, a stone bridge spanning a 40-foot-deep ravine and sculptures of monkeys (and even a komodo dragon), all under a thick canopy of tropical foliage — which alone would’ve been worth a look.
But it was the friendship I made and was able to salvage which really made it special. Not to mention having done it without a trip to the hospital or any broken gear.
That’s how you get a monkey off your back.