Monday, March 28, 2005

The Attack Monkeys of Nikko

I recently re-connected (via e-mail) with an old friend from high school, and he relayed to me the following story from some of his earlier days in Japan. I dare you to prove that this is not one of the funniest things you’ve ever read.

Although I have never been chased by a water buffalo, I did have an interesting experience up in Nikko a few years back. Nikko is a beautiful place up in the mountains in central Japan that is renowned for its nature, temples, and the three monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. I think this might actually be the birthplace of these symbolic primates. They are carved into the woodwork over the entrance to the horse barn, as monkeys are somehow thought to protect horses from evil in some way.

Unfortunately, the monkeys of Nikko are looked at in an entirely different way these days. As the area has become a huge spot for tourists, the monkeys have slowly become partially dependent on humans for food. Mostly because people think that it is so cute to toss them some bread or a cookie. It has grown to the point where monkeys occasionally steal people’s bags to rifle through them for food. Sometimes these bags still strapped to your back.

As I alluded to a few lines back, I went to Nikko a few years ago. I was looking forward to seeing some of these attack monkeys, and brought my camera so as to snap some juicy monkey-on-tourist action. Two days of walking around in the rain looking through a viewfinder and I observed exactly zero monkey attacks. I was getting depressed. So, my fiance and I (no, not my current wife, that would just make things too easy to follow) gave up on the monkey hunt and went on our last hike through the mountains. Now, by "mountains", I mean around the local town which happens to be in the middle of the mountains.

On this mountain walk, we wandered about looking for hidden treasures amongst all the neon-color-laden gift shops. We wandered up what seemed to be an old dirt road figuring to find something interesting along the way, whether it be an old temple or just a well-mossed stone statue hidden in the shade. After a bit of a walk, we did happen upon an old temple in a small clearing. I would not say that this temple was abandoned, but it was certainly not used too often by the looks of it. It was a small structure with a well sized deck-like area extending from the front. It was the perfect place to sit, have a drink of water, and soak in the old scents of the hidden clearing.

Perhaps we napped on that deck. The peace of that forest was just too strong to fight off. There was hardly a sound at all beyond the breezes pushing through the pine and bamboo. I challenge you not to nap in such circumstances. This temple truly seemed to be the perfect rest spot, with one exception: there was no toilet to be seen.

Small matter. So while my lovely assistant napped on the deck, I trudged off behind the temple to find a urinal shaped tree. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, listening to the peace of the forest over the patter-patter of urine on bark (nice image, eh?) It was in this patter-pattering of peace that I heard the first hint of activity in the area: the small brushes of leaves, fallen leaves underfoot, branches snapping back like whips as they become unweighted. Something was out there. The noises, although slightly odd, did not quite disturb me enough to distract me from the job at hand. It was just as I was all tucked away and properly zipped that I spotted the first monkey.

He was approaching me on the ground at a brisk pace. There was no doubt that he was coming straight for me. Now, I had heard that one should not look directly into the eyes of a monkey, as they take it as a challenge, but a monkey is roughly the size of your average five year old, so why should I care if he took it as a challenge? Even on a bad day I can whip most five year olds. This is solely based on theory, no in-depth studies have been used to formulate the claim that I can whip most five year olds. After all, I would rather risk offending a monkey by facing him down than offer him my unguarded tush as a pin cushion for his rabid canines.

To paraphrase a great wisdom: "I happened upon two stupid paths in the woods, I took the path less stupid and that made all the difference."

Apparently it is true, one should not challenge a monkey to a stare-down. It was as I slowly backed away, and by "slowly" I mean as quickly as possible without falling on my ass, that I noticed that he was not the only monkey in the area. I started hearing noises from all directions. The first feelings of real fear started to nibble at my I-can-whip-a-five-year-old confidence. Even on a good day I think that a large group of angry five year olds with overgrown canines and bad attitudes could probably do me a fair bit of harm.

As I backed into the clearing I gave a quick shout to wake up sleeping beauty to hastily inform her that we were under attack by a group of angry monkeys. A quick reply of disbelief was fast followed by the prayer of all prayers; "Holy Shit!"

So while I stood there trying to wake sleeping beauty from her foggy existence, I realized that the monkeys had grown in number to the double digits, and had fully flanked me. A beautiful battle plan, really. Drive the enemy back, flank and trap him. I wish I had an overhead video of the maneuver. It was well executed.

My actions, on the other had, were not. After waking the princess, we huddled together on the deck to make our stand--until a monkey decided to come join us, at which point we scattered like cockroaches in the light. I was quick enough to grab our back packs, and she was quick enough to run like hell without grabbing a thing. We found ourselves in the middle of the clearing while the boss monkey sat on the deck looking over our remaining possessions. The princess had left behind a water bottle--no big deal, and our camera bag, VERY big deal. So, what to do?

I took the only reasonable course of action available to me: I scolded her. After all, I, and if that "I" wasn't already capitalized I would have capitalized it to accord it its proper level of stress, had grabbed BOTH of our backpacks. All she had to do was grab the camera bag. Jeez.

After blame was properly shifted, I realized that I had to get that bag. Sending her after it, although perhaps the safest course for me, was somehow out of the question. I started by counting monkeys, because knowing exactly how badly outnumbered I was seemed like a good way to boost my confidence. I gave up at seventeen. Really, it can't take more than seventeen full grown monkeys to eat two humans, so that was enough counting for me. I could not face them all, so I had to face the boss. The big monkey, who really was no bigger than a five year old, we was now riddling over my water bottle. I was perfectly willing to give him the bottle. The only thing that I wanted was the $600 camera that was two feet to his right. THAT, I wanted.

So I picked up a stick by my feet, it was about a foot long and pretty weak looking, but it was not like I had the luxury of choice, and started walking towards the boss. I got exactly one step before he stopped his riddling and started staring me down. Okay, so on to plan "B".

I ripped open my bag to look for anything edible. I needed snacks, something to toss to get him away from the camera bag, but I had nothing. I had eaten it all at the bottom of the trail. The princess, who suffered from a low blood sugar issue, which tended to compound her general grumpy disposition, did have a small pack of saltines that I afforded her to carry everywhere (her emergency "happy snacks.") So, would a small pack of saltines, which holds exactly three crackers, be enough to distract seventeen plus monkeys from their lust for a feast of juicy human flesh? Probably not, but three crackers is a pretty good snack for a five year old.
I partially opened the pack of crackers to let out the lovely bland scent and waved it about a bit. For a moment, I puzzled over whether I should open the pack and spread out the crackers, or if I should leave it partially opened. In the end, I realized that the monkey would probably eat the plastic wrapper and crackers in one bit, and that would do me little good. I decided to spread them out. I had little time, as they all knew that I had crackers at this point, so I had to do something before they decided to come and get the crackers on their own.

I took out the three crackers and broke them all roughly in half. I threw two pieces to my left, and two to my right. I was hoping to divide the monkeys into two groups and have them fight over the crackers while we ran. I threw the remaining crackers to the left of the boss to get him away from the camera bag. It was a great plan, but the monkeys were on to me. I fully expected them to jump at the saltines and forget all about us, but it didn't work that way. At least not right away. The boss monkey stared at me again for a while, and I tried to stare back without staring back.

Then, as if he had had his fun, the boss monkey hopped off the deck and grabbed the crackers. I slowly walked over to the camera bag and was pleasantly surprised when I was not attacked from behind or pelted with monkey feces.

The boss watched me, but he did not make a move towards me, so I grabbed the camera bag and backed away. Once I backed away about five meters, the monkey stopped staring at me and started eating the crackers. Peace offering accepted, we backed our way down the trail.

It wasn't until a bit later that I realized why the monkeys came out to play with us. After all, there was no scent of food. The only edibles we had were the crackers, and those were sealed up tight. They wouldn't come for our water, as it was just plain water, and I don't think that monkeys are attracted by the scent of sport drinks and soda anyway. It was only after eliminating food and drink that the obvious struck me: they were simply protecting their territory. They were accustomed to people coming and going, and probably would not have bothered us at all had I not tried to stake my claim on their urinal shaped tree. It was a scent that brought them out, but it wasn't food. I guess that they thought I was trying to move in by marking my territory. Oops.

So, when you travel in monkey country, watch where you pee. Moral: Don't pee on a monkey's tree lest you piss off the monkeys.


Post a Comment

<< Home