Japan — Starting the Trail Tomorrow

Monkeys terrify me.

I was hiking in Japan, more than a day’s hike away from any road or city. I was by myself, high in the mountains. I turned a corner on the trail and ran into a family of monkeys.

They were not happy to see me. I was wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses freak monkeys out. They make you look like an alien.

I was less than a meter away from the pack of monkeys. The trail was steep and my bag was heavy. I couldn’t run.

The alpha male began to hiss and spit at me. He bared his teeth and put up his hands. I responded by taking my pack off and putting it in front of me like a shield.

That was the wrong move. I was shaking something large at him, pissing him off even more.

As the larger simian, I probably just should have made myself seem larger and louder than the alpha male. But as he hissed at me, I remembered that monkeys are stronger than humans. A child-size chimpanzee can tear the arms off of a strong adult human. I remembered that monkeys will eat your face.

The alpha male stood down. He jumped into the bushes. I turned around and got the hell out of there.

I walked as fast as I could, down the slope. I felt like I was making good time on the monkey pack. They were stalking me.

I would look behind me occasionally to see how far away I was from the monkeys. Sometimes they were 3 meters away, sometimes they were as close as 1 meter away.

I have never felt more terrified in my life. For 30 minutes, a huge group of monkeys stalked me, almost close enough to grab my ankles, certainly close enough to jump on me and start attacking with their teeth.

I got away from them. I took another branch of the trail that was flatter. I walked as fast as I could, fueled by adrenaline. I encountered a Japanese tour guide and his client. I stuck with them. They couldn’t speak English, but they could see that I was terrified. To explain my terror, I used charades to imitate the alpha male baring his teeth and hissing. The tour guide laughed and invited me to go get some water from a nearby stream. I got the impression he had dealt with monkeys in the past.

Yesterday I was in a mall in Tokyo. A monkey walked past me.

I felt a jolt of fear. What the hell was a monkey doing in a mall?

I noticed that he was wearing a vest. That didn’t make me feel any better. His human minder walked up to the monkey and then asked me if I wanted a picture. Sure, I guess.

As I photographed the monkey, I wondered what I would do if monkeys came to visit me at my campsite when I’m on my long Tokyo to Kyoto hike. I don’t want to run into a pack of monkeys in the middle of nowhere again.

I’m preparing to leave for my long hike. I think it is doubtful that I will be able to do the whole thing. While running this week an old foot injury came back; every time I step on my left foot I feel a sharp pain. If it doesn’t clear up by tomorrow, I can’t go.

Monkeys, foot pain, heat exhaustion, I don’t care. I’m going anyway.

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