What I love about traveling the most – what anyone loves about it, really – are the memories you keep, memories of things you could never have experienced at home, things like making friends from around the world, experiencing other cultures first-hand, seeing buildings and monuments and works of art that are hundreds or even thousands of years old, things like having a Mexican stand-off with a hungry, cocky monkey who just isn’t scared of an umbrella, a putter and a tipsy weekend hacker who hasn’t thought far enough ahead to consider how silly it would be to have the cause of death on his death certificate listed as “took on a rabid macaque with a shitty Ping”.
Ria Bintan is a gorgeous golf course, a very challenging but picturesque layout carved into the Indonesian jungle on the island of Bintan. It is spectacular. The first time I played there, it was being swept and surveilled by Indonesian soldiers and security guards because the president of Indonesia was to play there the following day. That’s how good it is: uber-rich guys like the president of Indonesia, who can play anywhere they like, play there. I was playing there for the second time with two friends. The weather was pretty bad but it’s a great course and we were having a blast.
We were walking onto the 7th green to putt when our caddy, who was behind us, suddenly squealed. We turned to see a cheeky macaque on our buggy, reaching for the caddy’s bag. If you’ve ever traveled through south east Asia, you’ve probably seen one of these monkeys. They’re cocky, they’re smart and they’re not shy. Our caddy was worried about her bag. She said it contained her lunch and a few belongings. Being a chivalrous sort of guy who doesn’t mind opening a car door for my girlfriend or taking on a potentially rabid simian to save a nice lady’s toasted cheese sandwich, I figured I’d just scare the monkey off. I gripped my open umbrella in my left hand, held my putter in my right and I walked towards the monkey thinking ‘right, this will be easy’. I came towards it and gave it a strong Australian “Oi!” It turned, looked at me, coolly raised its eyebrows and flashed a look that said ‘right, this will be easy’. It got off the buggy and started pacing towards me slowly, first sizing me up as it walked then sizing up my two amused friends with a sideways glance. Realizing that it had our measure, its walked instantly turned into a sprint and it charged at me. I’m talking a full-blown burst of speed, fangs bared with the intent to injure written all over its little face.
I was hopelessly outclassed: the monkey was faster, could bite harder and wasn’t too scared to take on an opponent that far outweighed it. I clenched my butt cheeks as it charged at me. This was to prevent me from soiling my own daks from the sheer terror that grips you when you have the sudden realization that you may end up being mauled by an animal that, despite being small enough to serve whole with a side of mashed potato, is big enough to bite off the old giggle-berries. The fact that I wasn’t prepared to do the same to the macaque gave it the upper hand. As it ran at me, I used the umbrella as a shield and I started swinging my putter around. The monkey pulled up short of me but I think it realized that I was its city-dwelling, hominid bitch-cousin so it came at me again. Again, I shielded myself with the umbrella and, this time, started poking my putter towards it, much like a fencer attacking with a sabre. This pushed it back a little so I went forward a little. But only a little. It hissed at me and, after a moment, decided to retreat. “I won!” I thought to myself. “I showed that monkey who’s…. hold on… why is it going back to the buggy?” I hadn’t scared it off at all. I guess it figured that, being the (supposedly) highly-developed primate that I am, I had probably learned my lesson. Wrong, little monkey. Wrong.
I took a couple of steps towards it and gave it another “Oi!” The monkey thought exactly the same thing that you, dear reader, are thinking right now: did this guy not learn his lesson the first time? The monkey jumped off the buggy and charged at me even harder than before, coming much closer this time, far too close for comfort. It truly scared the living crap out of me so I had to clench a lot harder this time. Again, I put the umbrella between us and started swinging my putter. He pulled up short again, seemingly scared of the umbrella, but not too scared to charge at me again. We danced like this for another minute, the monkey hissing and running at me while I shielded myself with the umbrella and swung my putter around wildly. I tried everything: I used my club like a sword, I slammed it into the ground (the way I was putting that day, the putter deserved it), I waved my umbrella around, I yelled, I even tried to remember everything I’d learned from Nat Geo documentaries like puffing myself up to make myself look big, baring my teeth and making a lot of noise. I must have looked like an idiot, particularly because nothing seemed to scare it in the least.
Then one of my mates called out to me and told me that some poor tourist had lost two fingers to one of these monkeys only a few days before and that I should probably just leave it. That’s when I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity where reason hit me like a bucket of ice-cold water in the face:
It’s not even my bloody sandwich!
To hell with chivalry. What little bravery I felt disappeared faster than a fart in a fan factory.
I stepped away and let it go for the bag. And once I saw the monkey rip the bag apart with its teeth with amazing ease – staring at me the whole time, mind you, in a menacing “this could’ve been your ‘bag’, mate” kind of way – I realized that this monkey could’ve walked away with a piece of me in its mouth without too much trouble, possibly a piece that I might have really needed.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and I should’ve let the monkey just take the bag in the first place but what’s done is done and I now have an amusing story to tell my mates over a few beers. Still, I wouldn’t recommend ever taking one of these little fur balls on, especially since rabies is endemic in parts of Indonesia.
And, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, an hour later we saw a huge cobra – it couldn’t have been less than twelve feet long – slithering across the cart path and disappearing into the dense jungle. Our caddy shrieked like a banshee. My butt cheeks clenched again. My glutes got a fantastic workout that day.
The joys of travel…