Friday, 25 September 2015

Day 341: Macaque attack!

In the morning, we got up fairly early and walked into the village to see if we could find somewhere to have breakfast. We settled on a funny little place called Jungle Juice, where we got some pancakes and eggs and toast, and then set off down the road towards the national park. Just before we got there, we noticed some movement on one of the telegraph poles and spotted two little chipmunks, which ran up to the top and then along the power lines. 

At the park entrance we paid the extortionate entry fee – a total of US$30 for the four of us – and headed in. There's essentially one path leading from the entrance and into the park, which takes you past a series of waterfalls; you're allowed to visit the first three without a guide. For this section, the path is actually a wide dirt road – apparently safe enough for us bovine tourists to follow without the expert input of a trained guide (not that I'm bitter about it). The road is cut into a hillside, which sweeps up on the right and down to the river on the left. Large stands of very large bamboo fringe it on either side, giving way periodically to some rather scrubby rainforest. We walked slowly looking for wildlife but all we saw was a couple of squirrels high in a tree, some slender skinks in the leaf litter and a small green dragon on a thin sapling. Apparently there are wild elephants in the park, but we didn't see any sign of them, although we passed through a few patches of forest that smelled an awful like elephant dung.

After about an hour we reached the end of the road, where there were large signs informing us that if we continued without a guide we would be fined (although the fine was less than the cost of hiring a guide for the day, so I was tempted to just keep going). We walked down to the river and found a spot where there was a wide, deep pool, stripped off and jumped in. The water was clear, cool and refreshing – and filled with a fascinating array of fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. At the upriver end of the pool were a couple of large, round rocks, and when Sarah and I climb them we found that there was a nice deep spot adjacent to one of them, into which we took turns jumping. As we swam, people came and went – many of them with guides, some of them on their way to or from overnight treks. 

When lunchtime rolled around we made some tuna and cucumber sandwiches and ate them on a large rock near the river. Afterwards, a trio of French tourists arrived with their guide and set themselves up a bit further upriver from us. We swam some more and then I noticed a branch a bit upriver shake briefly. I kept my eyes on it and after seeing it shake a few more times I was rewarded with a glimpse of grey fur, and then a better look at a decent-sized monkey with a long tail. I grabbed my camera and started rock hopping upstream until I got to a good spot to watch a small group of dusky langurs moving through the trees. It was mostly just tantalising glimpses, but then one of them climbed out on top of a tangle of vegetation atop a small tree, sat down and started to feed on nearby leaves. They're very striking monkeys, with a mop of pale hair on the top of their heads and white circles around their eyes that make them look like Papa Lazarou off The League of Gentlemen.

Later, as I was sitting on the bank drying off between swims, Sarah called out: 'Daddy, there's a snake in the water.' I rushed over, camera in hand, and spotted a slender brown snake sinuously swimming near the bank. I jumped down and attempted to catch it, but it quickly disappeared under some rocks. The French group's guide noted my interest in the snake and told me that he had seen a viper not far back down the river. I asked him where and he gave me some rather vague directions, but assured me that if I just looked I would find it. I was pretty sceptical but wandered down to where he had indicated anyway, scanning the vegetation as I walked. I was looking for a small green or brown snake coiled up on a branch and as I didn't really know where I was meant to be looking, I didn't hold out much hope of finding it. And then I did - and quickly saw why the guide was so confident I would. It was huge and boldly patterned with white, yellow and black stripes – stretched out along a piece of bamboo right beside the path at waist height – I mighty impressive snake that I was very careful not to get too close to. 

At around 4pm, we packed up and headed for home. As we walked along the road, Sarah suddenly said that she had once again seen a flying lizard fly - onto a small tree nearby. I ran over and spotted it quickly this time. As I was trying to first photograph and then catch it, we heard a noise in the trees a bit further down the road. When we went down to investigate we spotted a small group of macaques making its way through a stand of bamboo – a male, two females and a couple of youngsters. As we stood watching them, the male came down to the road and quite boldly walked over to us. He checked us out and then wandered over to the side of the path, sat down and started to eat some grass with one of the females. We moved over to get a better look at them and they got up and strolled past us again. Which is when the trouble started. One of the young monkeys started to walk over to join them. His chosen path required him to walk among the four of us and he set out courageously, but then, when he found himself surrounded by four enormous humans, he lost his nerve and broke into a run, squeaking a couple of times as he did so. 

The adult monkeys instantly sprang into action – the male sprinted over to Zoe and grabbed her by the ankle, mouth open, lips pulled back to reveal some rather nasty-looking incisors. She squealed and jump back, shaking the monkey off, and he ran at Kate, grabbing her as well, all the while making a nasty hissing noise. She, too, shook him off but then one of the females got involved and the two of them began to advance on Kate. I quickly jumped in and did my best to intimidate them, which seemed to work as they (and the second female, which had now joined the fray) all backed off. As Kate and the girls moved away, I made a few more advances on the monkeys and they finally retreated to the trees - and we slowly made our way down the road, slightly shaken but otherwise unhurt.

Walking further down the road, I spotted a gap in the trees where there was a nice view of some limestone cliffs. I climbed the bank beside the road to get a better look and noticed another flying lizard on a large tree to my right. As I took some photos of it, it ran up the tree and I saw another. We're all (other than Sarah) now desperate to see a flying lizard fly, so we stood for a long time waiting to see if one of them would, our necks getting increasingly cricked with each passing minute. Finally, we were rewarded with the sight of one lizard dropping, 'wings' outstretched, from one perch high in the tree to another just below, but it wasn't a very satisfying flight, so we're still waiting.

When we finally made it back to the bungalows we had a bit of a lie down and then went out to a small restaurant adjacent to the driveway to the resort, run by a chatty Scottish woman. While we waited for our food, the girls played with the restaurant cats – in particular a tiny rotund ginger kitten called Felix, which the staff had found with its dead mother and sibling only a few days before and nursed back to relative health. When we got back to Baan Khao Sok, Sarah and I stayed up late again, me photographing frogs, her playing on the iPad. 

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