When we decided to climb Mt. Emei was when my aversion to stairs really solidified, but already I digress. After walking up and down thousands of steps for about 15 kilometers, we reached the Qingyin Pavilion, a few kilometers after which is the Ecological Monkey Zone. There were hordes of tourist groups that day, so I was hoping to see a monkey or two. As we approached the entrance to the zone, vendors were selling bags of monkey food to those who wished to feed the monkeys. We decided not to engage in the feeding of wild animals and walked on.
A sign posted near the entrance stated all the dos and don’ts involved in dealing with the monkeys, and there was a nicely written statement about how the locals and macaques have lived harmoniously together for years. Several meters past the sign, I spotted my first lone Macaque monkey walking across a hanging bridge. A few seconds later, a groundskeeper hit the monkey with a large stick of bamboo. “That man just HIT a monkey!” I exploded in astonishment and anger, as the monkey cowered and ran up into a tree.
We were crossing the bridge as I continued on about this act of animal cruelty, when a mother macaque with baby attached jumped down and grabbed Jeff’s water bottle out of his backpack holder in one swift move. She then promptly bit open the bottle and enjoyed the beverage, sharing some with her baby, and dripping some down on us from her spot on the branch above. I looked around and saw macaques of all sizes all over the place-on the bridge, the railings, sitting on rocks, in the foliage. I also noticed that the groundskeepers who seemed to be everywhere, all had long sticks and slingshots. It was at this point I began to think that these macaques were too crafty for their own good.
At the same moment, I spotted a very large male macaque walking calmly through the crowd of people. For some reason, he ignored all the people and their tangle of legs, bags, cameras, and monkey food and weaved his way straight towards me. As he came closer with no signs of slowing, I thought it best to show no fear.
This was a wild animal after all-maybe a show of dominance would prove to him that I was not afraid and he would go away. Really dumb. I should have learned my lesson from the incident with the baboon on the car in Kenya, but apparently I have a thick skull. So, I yelled something, swung out my leg and kicked at him. Note that I did not actually kick him, just at him. Either way, he did not like this one bit, which I realized as soon as he bared his teeth and growled.
The rest happened so fast, it’s all a blur. The next thing I knew he had leapt from the ground and was flying through the air. He jumped on me, the force of which knocked me over. Luckily, there was a large boulder to the side which I was able to grab on to as I screamed my lungs out. Jeff tells me that he was yelling by this point too and that he was preparing himself to fight the monkey, but at the same moment as all the tourists turned to see the commotion, the nearest groundskeeper appeared with her stick and chased the male off. Whew. I had escaped with barely a few scratches.
After that, it is safe to say that I did not enjoy the rest of the hike through the Ecological Monkey Zone. I tried to remain near any groundskeeper at all times, with their sticks and slingshots. And despite my indignation several minutes earlier, any time a macaque came too close (which was often), I found myself whispering to myself, “Get it! Hit it…hit it!!!!” which sadly they often did. Some of the ladies appeared to take a perverse pleasure in chasing the monkeys with their sticks, and playing games of monkey slingshot. Even though I was still a bit shaky from the incident, it made me really sad to see that several of the monkeys were a bit bloodied. I would like to think it was all nature, part of living in the wild, maybe a rivalry between packs, but I also think I know better.