Monday, 8 March 2010

Snow Monkeys

It was only a few minutes drive to the parking area for the Monkey Park from the Ryokan but the Jigokudani-Yaenkoen monkey park is 30 minutes or 1.6km from the parking area. When you're walking on slippery ice that 30 minutes seems interminable. However finally you get to the entrance to the park and pay your 500 yen per person entry and you walk across a bridge to the macaque's onsen (hot spring). There's snow all around but not on the rocks near the onsen - hot water heats the rocks so snow doesn't really settle on the rocks nearest the water. In the pool are a dozen or so tiny monkeys. From babies to oldies. All just sitting quietly in the hot water or grooming each other. Occasionally one might raise a bit of a ruckus and get screamed at or chased away but most sit quietly with eyes closed or watching what we are doing. Not caring but keeping an eye on us.
They are so cute.
We managed to get snapped by the webcam (link to webcam here) but not at the times we posed. The 12th picture down is the apparently the 3pm snap. The next picture is my shot of an American posing above monkey shit pretending to take a dump. The shot after that is the 4pm webcam shot of the same pose. I was just off too the right of that picture.
It's not a long walk to the monkey park but good shoes are advisable so it was surprising to see how many Japanese girls turn up in shoes not usually recognised for their hiking ability. Check out the stilettos in shot 11.
At feeding time the keepers through grain rain around the place - into the onsen, on the rocks and on to the snow. The monkeys spread out and pick up the feed one grain at a time. One little bloke didn't like us getting too close while he fed. He "attacked" and tried to push me away. That is the aggressive looking monkey photo below. Michelle thought it hilarious that this little foot and half high, 45 cm, monkey trying to push big 'ol chunky me away.
A less aggressive smaller monkey took a liking to my camera and tried grabbing it a couple of times. He then took hold of my hand and tried to leverage himself with one and hand and one foot onto my arm. We were both in awkward positions so he didn't make it unfortunately even though he tried a couple of times. I think my Indian name should be Groped By Monkeys because a gorilla baby grabbed me by the leg in Rwanda when we travelled to Africa. Now I two very very special animal encounters to treasure. By the way I wouldn't touch any of these animals otherwise. They initiate the touching. I'm not a complete ignoramus.
The location of the park, set at the bottom of a ravine, is gorgeous. Especially with the snow everywhere. The snow and ice is what makes the path in treacherous. On the way out I was shooting some vid of some monkeys wandering through the forest when I went arse up on the path. I came down hard and let go of the camera which dropped over the edge of the path and bounced once, twice and three times on rocks down into the gully about 4 or 5 metres down. Fuck. Anyway I had to lower myself over the edge and down to the camera to retrieve it. It had looked like it had smashed into pieces but it turns out it was the battery and the lens hood flying off. I put it back together and wiped off the snow and dirt and it looked okay. It appears to be still working. The flip up eyepiece appears wonky and doesn't move right any more but it still works. I clambered back up to the path and we continued on a little more gingerly than before.
Still, the monkeys were worth it. I think we'll be back tomorrow.

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