IN THEIR HELL
The Yokoyu River cuts through a series of mountains high up in the Nagano Prefecture. The crystal waters slide through ancient valleys until they reach Jigokudani Yaen-Koen or as it's known locally, Hell Valley. The crystal waters mix with bubbling hot springs that flow from the earth creating a scene reminiscent of the bubbling lava ponds of hell. Steep cliffs and jagged rocks help to complete this idea. Not all walks of life think along these lines and what the locals see as hell the local population of Japanese Macaques see as paradise.
Getting to the Macaques requires walking a short trek along the rivers bank. It is never a trip made unnoticed, beady eyes crack open and monitor your every move.
The sound of the rivers water calms you as you walk. The only sign of hell I see is a large Macaque sitting by the path. Like the gate keeper to hell he judges my progress.
He is intimidating but it is as if he knows a misdemeanour I've made in the past. He turns his body as if he is saying my access has been granted.
Further sentinels scrutinise my passage. Larger males sit on rocks, poles and the path. They mean me no harm but stand guard. The path rounds a bend and I finally realise the scrutiny has not been about this hell rather than their paradise.
Mothers suckle their young as others pick at parasites. Elder monkeys settle for a midday naps as the whole scene could not look further from hell.
The sun breaks through and the steaming pond sits as a centre piece. Young Macaques sit by its side like they are on a Mediterranean vacation, while others paddle in its warm waters.
The Macaques forage for seed that sits on the ponds floor. Ducking and clutching like infants on their first swimming lesson, the younger Macaques dive for the submerged treats whilst others cling tightly to their mothers backs.
Like an unappreciative and grumpy old man who is set in his ways, a larger Macaque enters the pond. His presence clears the pond like a summer storm. The area is cleared in minutes as the macaque continues to scavenge on his own.
Just like an old man his exertion brings exhaustion. Like that older man he is not bothered by his location of slumber and soon he falls asleep where the others wish to be.
His slumber signals my departure. The others have retreated and a sleeping Snow Monkey is no longer an attraction to me. I have seen their paradise and decide it is time to leave the older monkey in peace.
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