Home > Emei Shan, Travel > Attack of the Pirate Monkeys

Attack of the Pirate Monkeys

After getting up late, getting the bus late, finally getting to Emei town, going back to the bus station to get Carl’s jacket that he’d left on the bus and navigating our way to the giant mystic mountain Emei Shan, we were getting the feeling it was too late to climb and make it to a guest house half way up the mountain. So we got the bus.

Emei Shan is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China and one ofthe biggest tourist attractions in the Sichuan province. There are stairs that lead all the way to the top, but most Chinese tourists opt for the bus. As we’d arrived about 4 in the afternoon we also opted for the bus which would take us about three quarters of the way up. After the 2 hour bus ride up winding, well paved roads, we were on the mountain and beginning the 3 hour ascent to the top. We decided to stop at a scummy overpriced guesthouse near the summit so that we could climb to the remainder of the mountain for sunrise. We were accompanied by a scary group of middle aged Russians who informed us that it was a 2 hour walk to the top from the guest house and that we’d have to leave at 4:30am for the sunrise at 6:30am.

4am came and up Carl and I sprang from our insect ridden beds to navigate our way through the pitch black forest path leading to the summit. About an hour later, 5am, we were at the summit. Apart from a few pilgrims and the first morning birds we were the only ones there. Equipped with our head torches, we explored the exterior of the monasteries and the various Buddhist statues that dotted the area. We were honored to be with the true pilgrims who walked koras round the main Golden Buddha statue lighting candles and reciting mantras. We took our place with others who were slowly arriving and waited for the sunlight to break through. As 6:30am approached
the summit became filled with Chinese tourist groups and the familiar high pitched chatter broke the silence of night time. Sunlight came but the views and indeed the sun itself were obscured by the clouds. Lots of heavy thick clouds that seemed to follow Carl and I where ever we climbed in China.

Then it was time for the descent. Although Carl tried his best to persuade me onto the bus I stubbornly maintained that if we didn’t walk up, the least we could do is walk down. Past the bus station the mountain became devoid of people, and those we passed going up were either Buddhist pilgrims, school groups or Western climbers. We passed one girl clinging onto the handrail in tears while her cackling boyfriend pushed her onwards and upwards with his walking stick. Carl decided at this point that he too needed a walking stick.

Four hours or so went by and we descended into the dense misty forest that dominated the mountain. Our knees were getting sore and our legs shook when we stopped but still I decided to ignore Carl’s requests to be airlifted off the mountain. Instead we bought Carl a bamboo stick which the locals told us would also come in handy to fight off those troublesome monkeys. However, Carl decided to use his stick as a) a dramatic aid for his exaggerated limp, and b) an air guitar. He sung a little song that went like this…

(In a Delta Blues Style – think slide guitar, Robert Johnson, Bubba White, Seasick Steve)
My Girlfriends a stinkin’ liar baby,
She keeps on sayin’ we’re almost there.
She’s a dirty stinkin’ liar baby,
And she’s got bright orange hair.
Oooooooo, if she keeps on lying to me baby,
I’m gonna have to get the retard chair.

To explain the song, I’d apparently lied about how far it was down, and the retard chair was usually reserved for the over 80’s. The pensioners were carried up or down the mountain above the shoulders of two men on a bamboo and ribbon chair. Whenever the men saw Carl they’d insist that he get on and they’d ask me to try to persuade him. It was his dramatic limp and the swinging on his stick that made them think this. Plus by about the seventh hour we were both pretty sweaty from the increasing humidity.

As 4pm approached (exactly twelve hours since we’d woken up and climbed to the top) we came to what appeared to be a flat conservation area, full of swing bridges and wooden towers looking over a clear water stream. The mist had subsided and we found ourselves among bright greenery and sunlight. The lack of stairs brought relief to our legs and thoughts of finally reaching the bottom to our mind. Then we saw them; monkeys everywhere. Shaking the trees above us, drinking from the stream below, and right in front of us on the wooden path and accompanying. As we approached they stopped to stare at us, some would circle round us but scatter when Carl stamped his stick. We managed to get through most of the area unharmed but as we approached the last swing bridge we noticed an unusual amount of rather large monkeys gathered at the end of the bridge. At first I thought they were squinting at us but under closer examination I discovered that a lot of gang members seemed to only have one eye. In addition to this many displayed open cuts and scars from previous fights. As we approached they fiercely opened their tiny mouths and showed us their teeth letting out screeches of anger. We were trespassing on their territory, and facing the legendary pirate monkeys with just one bamboo stick. We decided the best thing to do would be to walk quickly through the crowd while Carl banged the floor with his stick to scare them off. This tactic didn’t bother the pirate monkeys. They moved in closer and closer around us still displaying their sharp little nashers. But it wasn’t us that they were after, it was the food content of our backpacks that they could smell. One jumped onto my backpack and snarled “arrrrr your mine Cockle”. Despite all the signs that tell you not to run and scream if this happens, I decided that this would be a sensible option. In tandom with my screaming Carl fought the monkeys away with his stick and he followed me to saftey with a big grin across his face and the need for an Indiana Jones style hat in his eyes.

So after twelve hours of walking down 33km worth of stairs and an unprokoved attack of the pirate monkeys we were at another bus station, not even at the very bottom, but pretty near. Thunder clouds approached, as they often did in China, and the rain started to pour down. So finally we borded the bus to Bagou town, our legs shaking, our bodies totally exhausted, and we left behind the monster that was Emei Shan.
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