Or: How I repeatedly disregarded my hunch and ended up paying dearly for it.

Woke at 6:30am. The rain had started the night before and I had thought I’d call the whole thing off if it was still coming down in the morning. But instead, I got dressed, went out in the dark, and bought a bus ticket.

Got off at Wannian temple and bam, Chinese tour groups and loud speakers! Maybe it wasn’t too bad compared to normal but to me it was shocking because I’d spent the past couple of weeks in remote quiet places. Thought about turning around. But then went ahead to get entrance ticket. 185 yuan, so freaking expensive.

Most tourists take the cable car up to the temple proper; i was pretty much by myself walking. (The temple was so noisy I didn’t even go in.) Passed a mom and daughter team, daughter already in middle age and mom a granny; I was so impressed. Crossed a young guy who seemed to want to walk with me but I ditched him. Big mistake. Why I ditched him I have no idea. He seemed nice enough. I was just in a cross mood. It was raining the whole time, sometimes fast and hard. My pants were wet, my shoes soaked. I took my socks off to wring out the water when I stopped for lunch and had to put them back on frigid after. I seriously considered just saying f*** it and turning around. But I pressed on. My feet were numb for an hour.

Sichuan, Emeishan, winter, hiking

So many times on the way, I paused and said out loud to no one: “what the hell, you’re crazy!” And in my head I was thinking: “did your parents raise you all those years to do this, taking a miserable hike in the cold wet rain and not even being able to see anything past 30 ft?” It was incredible misty and foggy. Finally climbed to the highest temple and then it started going down for a bit. This was getting slightly better.

But no! The monkeys appeared. There had been so many signs along the way: “Aggressive monkeys! Don’t joke them!” and I’d thought: No of course I don’t engage with wild animals; I’m not even interested a tiny bit in monkeys having seen too many of them in real life… Let’s say those signs were a serious understatement. I will never forget the leader’s mean face with his teeth out. He jumped right on my backpack and stripped the rain cover off and started gnawing at the top part. Then he very smoothly unzipped the side pockets but found no food so back to gnawing again. I got my pack off because he was weighing it down, which was a big mistake in hindsight. Should have just ran downhill with it (and with the monkey, but maybe he’d have bitten my neck off). I tried to tell the gang I’d give them all my food, and even attempted to unzip the top part for them so they’d stop tearing it. Of course they thought I was getting the bag back and started biting my legs. Hard! And from behind! Those sneaky thugs! Things were falling out and they got hold of my precious sleeping bag, and wanted to carry both the bag and the pack (and in it my passport) away, which really pissed me off. I started screaming, snatching both back and hitting the meanest one with the sleeping bag (wanted to find a stick but didn’t see any, and sleeping bag definitely doesn’t even hurt an ant). More bites ensued.

At this point I was shrieking so hard, someone finally heard. (There were quite a few people coming down after but no one was passing by at that point, such was my luck!) He came over, my savior!!!! He shooed the monkeys away and I was just standing there shaking and couldn’t stop crying. He kept saying “meishi meishi” to calm me down. And I was choking over tears to utter a few words asking him to give me a minute, and explaining to him that I don’t speak Chinese. He gathered my bag and the few essential things that were scattered around, and asked me to walk down a little further to a couple of small shops where I could rest (and where he came from). I was still crying the whole time. The monkey teeth tore my pants and sank quite deep in my flesh and blood was soaking out. I was completely shaken. The first time in my adult life, crying out of fear and helplessness.

I composed myself a little after sitting down. They cleaned my multiple wounds with alcohol (6 were bleeding and the others were more shallow and had dried up), gave me a place to change into drier clothes, and also a bucket of coal to warm myself and dry my shoes. Tears were still rolling down my cheek but I wasn’t choking up anymore. At this point I thought I could just walk down the mountain myself, but I’d need someone to accompany me past my tormentors. Of course I couldn’t say all that in Chinese (didn’t even know the word for monkey) so i decided to reach out to Kaylee for help. Girl is so golden. She was in Shangrila and after learning of my plight, made a series of calls to see what my options were and what could be done. All thanks to her, an assistance guy was dispatched to my place to help me get back to the foot of mountain. 14 freaking kms. At least most of it on the descent; instead of another 10 kms uphill. (None of the hikers that came after even saw monkeys. Make me wonder if they actually spied and seeing that I was alone and without stick, decided to ambush me.)


That walk back might have been the best thing of the day. I was thinking: damn this is the most romantic I’ve ever done, could be straight out of a Korean drama, a guy and a girl walking arm in arm in the rain under un umbrella in the forest. I’m sure my companions didn’t find it that way. The first guy looks 19 and he was panting way too hard and sweating quite a bit, having to carry my (light) pack and supporting me on one side. I almost didn’t believe I’d climbed up all those stairs in the first place. They were just never ending. (And now I can’t believe I made it back down.) A couple of locals offered to carry for 800 yuan but I declined of course.

Got a free cable ride at the end. Then driven to a clinic where they cleaned the wounds good (and damn it hurt), bandaged them up, and gave me 2 rabies shots. They even gave me money for the extra shots I’d need to get in Vietnam. The staff who drove me to the clinic left to go home before I was all done. I thought that meant it’d be easy to get back to hotel but I was wrong. After getting a walking stick and a goodbye wave from the doctor, I was on my way. Hobbling along a dusty road near lots of construction filled with trucks and vans, bamboo stick in one hand, torn bag in back, sleeping bag dangling on the side, and a super miserable face, I must have been such a sight. People gave me some good long looks. That was really the least of my concern then. I thought the doc had said I could find lots of cars to get back once I got to the big road, but there was no taxi in sight. Quite a few big buses but there was no way i could just flag them down and tell them what i needed and climbed those steep steps. Stopped a few guys to ask to borrow their phones to make a phone call back to my hotel, but they just laughed and told me to use my own. Tried to say my phone wasn’t working (ran out of money from all the calls up on the mountain) to no avail. They just walked away. So here’s what to remember, if you can’t help someone in need, at least don’t laugh in their face. That’s bad manner. It turned out ok in the end though, that they left me helpless. A moment later, I saw a police station and went in. They let me use the phone, then drove me back all the way, and even checked to make sure I was back in proper hands. Thank you Emeishan police! And really Emei, you should stop pasting those cheerful monkey faces on all kinds of signs and banners. The staff took photos of my wounds, I hope you’ll put those up on warning signs instead.