The monkey had stolen my damn waffle.
I looked at the chef and he looked at the monkey. His long white hat was slumped and damp from a long morning of waffle-making.
“I am… so sorry.” He slowly slid his brown eyes to meet my own.
“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. But it wasn’t. I know monkeys are supposed to be the highlight of any Sri Lankan holiday, but I was quickly learning monkeys are actually the jerks of the animal kingdom. I still held my plate dumbly in front of me, the smell of waffles all around us.
My family and I were staying at the Kandalama Hotel. The hotel was carved into cliffs above an endless jungle, right at the heart of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Sri Lanka’s most influential architect Geoffrey Bawa was the genius behind this creation. Some people go so far as to say the building was his masterpiece – but his masterpiece is overridden with waffle-stealing monkeys.
“Just two more minutes, okay?” The chef ladled the thick batter onto a hot plate. Sweet steam rose from the edges. I threw the monkey my best stink eye as she rubbed pieces of heavenly dough across her hairy chest.
Five minutes later, I plonked down at our table. We were on a tight schedule to see the Buddhist cave temples that morning.
My mum gave my knee a squeeze and froze. “Sweetie.” She leaned into my ear. “You can’t wear hot pants to see Buddha.”
I rolled my eyes. Guess that meant it was time to change.
When I rounded the corner to my room, there were two men in deep red uniforms standing at the door. They both fell silent and stared at me, giant grins frozen on their faces.
“Uh, hello?” I tugged at the hems of my shorts, self-aware. “There a problem?”
They exchanged a look. “Alarm,” the stouter of the two mumbled. He pointed to my door. “Alarm inside.”
My heart dropped. Keys, keys, keys – I fumbled through every pocket. A flurry of mobiles and jewellery filled my mind. I shoved the key into the lock and flung the door open. My clothes were all over the floor, suitcase sitting wide open, books and magazines thrown across the room – yep, everything was normal.
My mum appeared behind me. “What’s going on?” She looked at the two men watching me prowl my room.
“Monkey alarm,” the other man finally piped up. My mum and I stared at him. He pointed to the balcony door, pushed open the tiniest sliver. I stared at the warning sign dotted with little red monkeys: “LOCK YOUR DOORS”. Oops.
We searched the room and found only sugar and coffee packets missing from the hotel basket. Sigh of relief.
Later, we finally reached the courtyard of the Buddhist cave temples. Having been out of breath since 30 seconds into the hike, we were told we could take a rest and eat our lunches here. We settled onto a step and ate fruit stolen from the buffet that morning.
People swathed in robes and western clothing would kneel at the foot of a Buddha statue and pray. They placed offerings from their lunches – apples, breads, and sweets – as respect to the God. And just as soon as an offering had been made, it disappeared. An act of Buddha? Nope. Monkeys: Buddha’s biggest rival for sacred offerings. They scooped up armfuls of food, and picked the statue’s pile clean until only a sorry crust of bread remained. I always thought monkeys only ate bananas – I kept my apple to myself.
We checked out of the hotel that evening and piled into the car for the drive back to the airport. I sat back and sighed. Then the thought smacked me across the face: Oh, crap, I hadn’t taken my pill this morning.
I grabbed my purse and rifled through the pocket where I kept my birth control. It was empty. Where could they be? I dumped my bag into my lap. Candy bar wrappers, receipts, lip gloss. No pills. I slumped back into my seat. Those Goddamn monkeys. I looked back at the hotel once more, the dots of little monkeys all around. We dipped down the last of the mountains, and it disappeared from view.
All in all, Bawa, an artistic genius; Kandalama Hotel, breathtaking from every angle; Sri Lanka, simply amazing. It’s beautiful, full of personality and wildlife. Just keep a close eye on your waffles and contraception.
You can read more from Chelsea Asher on her blog.
Feature image via.