While many of Bali's temples are popular monkey hangouts, Ulu Watu on the island's Bukit Peninsula is particularly notorious.
As my boyfriend and I pay our 3,000 rupiah, the elderly guide motions to our sunglasses, watches and jewelry. The monkeys like fashion accessories, and the shinier the better. We hide our items in our pockets and trek towards the temple.
Perched atop jagged cliffs, Ulu Watu stands stoic yet delicate, as if the gods themselves had gently placed it on the bluff's edge. The stone walls are swathed with the black-and-white checkered poleng cloth that the Balinese hang as a symbol of balance and peace. We meander around the temple grounds, picking our way over offerings of flowers and fruit.
We find a path that leads away from the crowded temple and winds along the rugged coast, giving way to a clearing that juts out over the endless panorama of the Indian Ocean. Eager for the perfect photo, we begin to work our way along the narrow trail, carefully stepping over rocks and broken branches.
We are less than 100 metres down the path when they attack.
At first, there's only one. A skinny brown thing with a hunched-over gait, he jumps out from behind a bush and lands in front of me. Staring me in the eye, the monkey gently tugs on my long peasant skirt. I tug back. He hisses and the gentle tug turns to a yank. I clutch my skirt in both hands, trying to pry it from his grip. A vicious tug-of-war ensues and his buddies arrive for backup. Monkeys begin leaping out of nowhere, their cackling laughter ringing in my ears. Soon I am surrounded by an army of furry thieves, all coldly eyeing me up and down.
There's nowhere to go. To my left, the cliff plunges 70 metres down to razor-edged rocks and crashing waves. To my right, a tangle of bush and jungle prevents my escape. I fake left, jump right, and the monkeys follow. Smart buggers, they know my game. I am trapped and they know it.
They move in. One grubby paw, then another, their spindly fingers digging into my skirt: the next prize in their wardrobe of stolen goods.
I look around for help, but my boyfriend is halfway back to the temple (he will later claim he was looking for a stick to defend me with).
Alone on this cliff, my options don't look good. Certain I will be the only tourist to ever die by monkey attack, I contemplate whether I should strip down and streak my way back to the temple. I worry what the locals would think of a half-naked tourist running through their religious site.
Panicked and not ready to be forever known as a sacrilegious streaker, I do the only sensible thing.
"Stop it!" I scream.
In unison, the monkeys drop my skirt. Their wicked laughter goes silent. Pairs of beady eyes look up at me, confused. I step back as they watch me, none of them moving. I turn and run for the safety of the temple, occasionally glancing over my shoulder. But they continue to sit motionless, their eyes sad and downcast, looking less like ferocious monsters and more like abandoned children.
Back in the temple courtyard, as I attempt to catch my breath, I notice a little girl standing toe-to-toe with a monkey. He's got one paw on her sash, tugging; she has her hands on her hips, laughing.
My boyfriend nudges me. "See, they were only trying to play," he says.
"Why'd you have to be so mean?"
Special to The Globe and Mail