David Whitley and his travelling compadre get a dose of culture and wildlife in Bali...


There are some people who aren’t designed for travelling, and Nick is almost certainly one of them. He’s the sort that inevitably gets a nosebleed the moment he leaves the confines of his home town, and became a legend for shouting: “SANDWICH! CHICKEN!” in a noble bid to cross the language barrier with those funny foreigners in a Dublin café.


But, cut out for it or not, he is determined to see a wild monkey. And that’s how we’ve ended up in Ubud. It becomes immediately clear why Australians have such affection for Bali, as the locals adhere strictly to the no-messing-about naming culture popularised by the Great Barrier Reef and the Big Banana. It’s a road, and it leads to a forest full of monkeys, so let’s call it Monkey Forest Road. Perfect.


Nick is, to put it mildly, rather excited about the Monkey Forest. It may be full of gorgeous Hindu temples and tranquil woodland, but he’s here “to catch me a monkey”. It’s a big moment for him, and quite frankly, the trip would never have happened in the first place if the prospect of primate encounters wasn’t dangled in front of him like a juicy carrot. Sigh. It doesn’t take long. Two minutes in and Nick, who I should probably point out is a university educated 28-year-old rather than a child with an unfortunately low IQ, is leaping with excitement. “Brilliant… a monkey!” he yelps as he hares off into the foliage to corner his prey.


Wisely, it scuttles up a tree, but the next one just outside the temple isn’t so lucky. Despite signs warning that the monkeys are wild, and shouldn’t be touched, Nick isn’t having any of it. “It’s only small. What could it do?” he reasons. “Besides, they’re used to humans, and are probably really friend… AARGH!” He recoils backwards, and looks warily at the snarling, teeth-flashing monster on the ground.


“It bit me! The little bastard bit me!”


The whining sound of shattered illusion accompanies the rest of the walk through the forest, and now that the monkeys are out of the way, it’s time for a bit of sophistication. Ubud is the self-styled cultural capital of Bali (although compared to Kuta, Star City Casino probably could be classed as a high arts hotspot), and this means lots of Balinese dancing.


It is one of those artforms that everybody pretends to like, just because they don’t want to look like a Philistine by saying otherwise. Well, let’s be honest about it shall we? They may be telling fabulous stories through symbolism, but the whole thing is effectively two schoolgirls in elaborate costumes making lots of little jerky movements. And then there’s the music. I’m sorry, but Balinese Gamelan music is possibly the worst genre in the world; the sound of lots of saucepans falling out of a kitchen cupboard. Nick, it’s fair to say, is even less impressed. “What a day. First I get attacked by a monkey, and now I have to suffer this. Lord, what have I done in a previous life?”