Victoria recounted our journey up Emei Shan with poetic precision in the previous post. Yeah it was beautiful and all, but she left out a very important, rabid filled detail.
As Victoria mentioned, we had decided to tackle the crazy all day (and almost night) hike up Emei Shan. Sure, there was a gondola ride we could’ve taken that would’ve allowed us to ascend to the top in an hour, but we didn’t want to be tourists – we wanted to be travelers. We’re young, able-bodied and in fairly good shape, so why not?
We had spent the evening before researching the different trail options up to the summit, as well as best views and cautionary tales from other travelers. One such caution we discovered was that Emei Shan is home to wild monkeys, with certain areas of the mountain full of them. We read other hikers’ posts that warned about their aggressive behavior towards tourists – they’re smart and know that humans have food. One traveler was even bitten by a wild monkey during their hike. Okay, so we needed to be extra careful, but it shouldn’t be too bad dealing with the monkeys. Or so we thought.
We started the day off just fine. The trail was challenging, but we were prepared and set a good pace. Within the first hour, we came across a group of monkeys hanging out. Clusters of tourists were feeding them with some monkey food sold by the locals. The monkeys were happy and friendly, and the tiny ones were cute. It seemed like all those horror stories we read online were just one off occurrences. The monkeys were tame, and with all the tourists around, it seemed like a safe environment to be around them. I was pretty excited to see the monkeys up close, while Victoria observed from a distance. I snapped a few photos before we moved on.
As we continued up the trail, we encountered a group of tourists who were walking slowly ahead of us about 10 to 15 yards away. One man was wearing a backpack, and paused to greet a single small monkey perched on the handrail. It seemed innocent enough. Then out of nowhere, a bigger monkey hopped on the man’s back, promptly ripped the backpack open, grabbed a bag of food out, and immediately started eating the food. Victoria and I stared in disbelief, but the entire incident happened rather quickly, as the monkeys made off with the goodies into the trees above. Nobody was hurt, and we thought to ourselves “Glad that wasn’t us!” We cautiously passed by under them as unwanted potato chips fell from the trees. I guess the monkeys don’t fancy the mesquite barbeque flavor.
For the next two hours, we passed by hikers here and there, but we mostly had the beautiful mountain almost all to ourselves. All throughout, we saw monkey warning signs posted along the trail, but we had already forgotten about them since the minor tourist incident.
There are pit stops along the trail where locals set up shop to sell drinks, snacks, and meals, to those who need to refuel for the long hike ahead. After one such pit stop, we came across another couple coming down the trail. They seemed a little distraught and warned us about a group of monkeys up ahead. They advised us not carry anything in your hands and to hide all water bottles inside your backpack. That way the monkey will see that you have nothing to offer them in you open arms and ignore you as you pass. I had bottles of water hanging on the outside of my backpack, so I figured it would be best to heed their advice.
We stopped immediately before heading into the “danger zone,” and while Victoria packed her things away in her bag behind me, I dropped my backpack to the ground in order to stuff my water bottles in it. Suddenly, I saw a brown blur in front of me, and without warning, my backpack was yanked away from me. My initial thought was that it was Victoria, but when I looked up I saw a full-grown wild monkey (I’ll call it Marcellus) in front of me grabbing at my backpack. I had all of my valuables in there (my passport, money, cell phone, and camera), so losing it was not an option.
Marcellus was not especially huge – he was the size of a smallish-medium dog – I could tackle him. I was not going to let go of my backpack, but neither was Marcellus. We ended up having a mini tug-of-war session. Victoria raised her walking stick in an attempt to try to scare him with it. Bad idea – this just pissed Marcellus off. He intercepted Victoria’s attempt to hit it by Kung-Fu gripping the walking stick tightly and yanked it out of her hand, stripping us of our only “weapon.”
With his right hand firmly grasped onto my backpack and his left hand now clutching the stick, Marcellus immediately showed us who was the alpha in this situation and bared his ugly, scary, sharp, and plaque-ridden fangs. As soon as he did that, the game was over. Suddenly, losing my backpack was an option. I did not want to be bitten and contract rabies over it. I let go of my backpack. Victoria and I stared at each other, dumbfounded and fearful. We did not know what else to do but to back away as Marcellus and another monkey that joined rummaged through my belongings. We were robbed at fangpoint and there was nothing we could do about it. My heart was pounding and I was worried about how our missing passports would complicate our round the world trip.
As we slowly backed away from Marcellus, I couldn’t help but think how human like he was as he opened each compartment of my backpack with precision. He unzipped, unbuckled and reached his hand into every compartment. Every time Marcellus took something out of my backpack, I figured it was a goner and I would have to replace it somehow. I specifically remember seeing him pull out my wide angle camera lens and trying to eat it.
Some of you reading this may think that Marcellus is just a silly monkey. I should have just kicked him in the head to reclaim what was rightfully mine. But that’s much easier said than done. These wild animals have super human strength, crazy agility, razor sharp fangs, and let’s not forget, they opposable thumbs just like us! When I stared into Marcellus’ eyes as he hissed at us baring his fangs, he definitely let us know he was playing for keeps. So I backed down because in the end, no material thing is worth getting rabies over.
We retreated back to the last pit stop that we passed and told the resting hikers there what had happened. Some thought it was funny and were excited there were monkeys up ahead. Victoria and I were not amused. In fact, we were traumatized. The lady who owned pit stop (I’ll call her Ling) did not seemed fazed at all. I’m sure she deals with Marcellus and his friends all the time. We could still see Marcellus; he had made his way partially down the trail and sat in the middle staring at us and everyone else at the pit stop as if to taunt us.
Ling decided that enough was enough. She grabbed a rock from her shop and proceeded up the trail. She then turned around and waved for us to go claim our belongings. Still traumatized, we reluctantly followed her back to where we encountered Marcellus and his friend.
When we found my backpack, all of my belongings were strewn all over the place. Nothing was left untouched. Fortunately, all Marcellus did as he rummaged through my backpack was make a mess. I was able to retrieve almost everything intact. The only thing that Marcellus ruined was my earphones – he chewed it thinking it was edible.
From then on we were on high alert for wild monkeys. Our encounter with Marcellus happened around hour four of the ten hour hike. There is strength in numbers, so for the rest of the day we hiked up the trail along with the other hikers from the pit stop, talking loudly and banging our walking sticks to deter any would be wild monkeys away.
When you witness someone else being attacked by the wild monkeys, it doesn’t seem that bad. It’s just a harmless monkey, right? Nope. Not after what I’ve seen. When you are face to face with a wild animal that means to and will not hesitate to hurt you in order to eat, your view of wild animals automatically changes. I have always respected animals in the wild and this experience has re-iterated how dangerous being around wild life may be. They are not just cute and fuzzy things – they are hunting predators who are looking for their next meal to survive.
We climbed what seemed like a million steps. Just when you think you’ve reached the top, you turn the corner and find yourself faced with another thousand steps. The trek up Emei Shan is not for the feint of heart and was enough to write two blog posts about the journey Couple that with our experience with Marcellus and this was definitely one of the most memorable experiences we ever had.
As proof of our fangpoint incident, here is the one and only photo with Marcellus. Photo credit goes to a young couple who quickly snapped this with their phone as our fangpoint robbery was going down. Although we did not get a photo of him up close during the incident, the image of his deadly fangs remains forever seared in our minds.