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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bali's Sacred Monkey Forest

One major attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. It's this jungle that is sprinkled with ancient Hindu temples and crawling with monkeys. The real draw of the forest is the fact that the monkeys are free to jump from the trees and ground onto visitors. Sounds cool, right?

Sure, until one bites your husband and then you spend the next three hours in the ER learning all about the series of rabies vaccinations he will need. You see, one minute Sean was just standing there watching two monkeys wrestle and before he knew it another monkey had snuck up behind him, climbed his leg, and bit him in the knuckle. We think the monkey thought Sean was keeping a banana in the pocket of his pants, if you get my drift, and while the monkey did not draw blood, it did leave a mark.

This is when things got confusing. Before we backpacked through SE Asia in 2010-2011, we saw a specialists and received many vaccinations including typhus, tetanus, and anti-malarial pills. She warned us about the risks of rabies. We decided not to get the injections at the time because we had no plans to be in contact with the rabid dogs of Asia. But the thing I am learning is that sometimes you can't plan for things. We knew to stay away from the monkeys. We were not like the other travelers who were bending over to let the monkeys crawl all over us. However, the monkey sure did not stay away from Sean. Within seconds, a pretty serious thing happened and we had to figure out what to do.

We returned to our hotel, which was a 5-minute walk away from the forest, and were told by what I am sure was a well-meaning local that there were no rabies in Bali. Still not able to let it go, I Googled "rabies in Bali" and discovered that he was full of it. Bali has a major rabies problem in its stray dog population. Then, I found at least 10 stories from other travelers who had the same thing happen to them who all got the rabies vaccination. That was enough for me. I love my husband and did not want him to froth at the mouth. We caught a ride to the Ubud ER and the doctor confirmed what I read online: while there have been no confirmed cases of monkeys from the monkey forest carrying or transmitting rabies to a person, it is not possible to guarantee they are rabies-free due to their proximity and interactions with stray dogs and therefore a visitor should always seek rabies treatment after being bitten in the forest.

So, that's exactly what we opted to do. Sean received his first shot and will get two more in Bali and one more when we return to Taiwan. They are simple, relatively cheap shots in the arm that mean living free of worry as the rabies incubation period is anywhere between two months to two years. This is the first time in years of travel that we have had anything like this happen, and the moral of the story is clear: it's always better to be safe than sorry and it's imperative to find a clinic and seek medical advice rather than listen to misinformation from well-meaning locals.

That said, we have been having a great time in Bali and are not letting this bump in the road affect our attitude toward this beautiful island, which truly is paradise.

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