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Vagabond Tales: Kayaking With Thieving, Soda Drinking, Bloodthirsty Monkeys
Most people who think monkeys are cute have more than likely never met a real monkey.
Although they might be cute on television, as anyone who has actually met a monkey will tell you, their cuteness is simply a disguise for their evil.
Yes, I'll say it again: monkeys are evil.
They have stolen my lunch while hiking in Costa Rica, and broken into my backpack in the streets of Kathmandu. They have danced on my roof all night in Bolivia, and an orangutan managed to steal this man's shirt off his back. In Peru, one even crawled into my sleeping bag, even though I was already sleeping in it.
Nevertheless, even once you realize they're mischievous little thieves, it's hard to not be drawn to them. There's just something about their pudgy face and long, dexterous tail that makes them too hard to pass by.
Which is why I found myself – despite all past encounters with the cheeky little devils – kayaking the waters of a Thai island with the specific intent of sharing a beach with monkeys.
For a fistful of baht that amounts to about $5, you can rent a kayak from a makeshift activities stand and paddle your way towards the primate-filled cove.
It was at one such stand where we received the first warning.
"You bring kayak back in two hours," advised our smiling, black-haired rental agent, his skin tanned to the point that it meshed with his black shorts.
"And watch out for monkey. They steal your food."
Thirty minutes, one bottle of water and two dozen photos later, the white sand of Monkey Beach crunched beneath the kayak as I slid the vessel onto shore. We hadn't even opted to bring food, since past encounters taught me it was nothing but trouble, and instead nursed our waters in the mid-winter heat.
On shore, spindly green vines dripped down from the jungle and turquoise water lapped at the coast. No monkeys could be seen scuttling about the shoreline, but the telltale hum of a long-tail boat told me things would soon change.
As if on cue, the moment the long-tail boat rounded the corner and pulled its bow up onto the sand, the trees came alive with the rustle of mischief. Despite their inhabiting an undeveloped beach, these monkeys encounter over a hundred visitors a day, and they've come to learn these visitors mean food.
With my kayak tucked into a protected corner of beach, and not a loose item or scrap of food laying anywhere about it, I was more than happy to sit back and watch the thieving carnage unfold.
Humans, they say, have the most developed brain of any animal and it's one thing which separates us from monkeys. That argument could be a tough sell, however, to anyone watching the scene on "Monkey Beach." Spilling off of tour boats, visitors will try to photograph the monkeys, they will chase the monkeys and perhaps even try to pet them.
A lobster-skinned British man thought it might be fun to feed one a banana. Not only was the plantain aggressively swiped from his hand, but as he sat stunned at the speed with which the food had been swiped, another monkey had made off with his camera.
One monkey stole an orange soda and drank it in front of the crying child who was suddenly without an orange soda.
Nevertheless, most people were still wrapped beneath the spell that everything monkeys do is cute.
As in, "Look Honey, the monkey decided to play with our camera and is now chewing on the memory card that has every photo from our trip on it. Isn't that adorable!"
Things turned a bit more dire, however, when one of the four-legged hoodlums stealthily snuck up on a woman still seated in her kayak. With the bow of her boat facing out towards the water, she casually appeared to be enraptured by the tropical panorama.
Even though common wisdom says you should "never turn your back on the ocean," there should be an addendum to include "unless the beach behind you is covered in monkeys."
As this poor woman kept to herself and enjoyed her moment of peace, this stealth monkey gradually snuck up behind her and playfully pounced on her back. The ensuing scream, which shot across the jungle, was so piercing and high-pitched it was probably heard by dogs in Malaysia. Unfazed, the monkey then climbed atop the woman's head, opting to play with her curly black hair.
The screams continued, and while the monkey eventually bounded back into the jungle, by the time it was finished colonizing her cranium he had left bloody red scratches on the woman's back and neck. Rabies can be a serious business when it comes to monkeys in Asia, and luckily, it appeared, the woman would be going home with scratches instead of bites.
A horseshoe of onlookers gathered around the woman, and a dry-witted Aussie was the first to chime in.
"Bloodthirsty little buggers aren't they?"
A trickle of nervous laughter went about the crowd, and while the woman would be fine after her oceanfront mauling, it was a reminder that wildlife needs to be respected, even if it's in a cheeky place with a name like "Monkey Beach."
Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the "Vagabond Tales" over here.