I heard the monkeys before I saw them. Yakuzaru, the monkeys of Yakushima. I was five hours into my whirlwind, 25-hour tour of the inland mountains, and I had almost forgotten I was keeping an eye out for these sometimes elusive animals. I was trudging down into a valley when I was startled from my reverie by an unmistakeable grunting and screeching coming from the trees above. The one voice was joined by another, and another, and I realized that I was surrounded by the monkeys, although despite my frantic searching, I could only hear them rustling branches as they moved from limb to limb. I fumbled my camera out and walked slowly for the next 10 minutes, turning at every noise. Finally, I spotted this monkey, casually loping along the ground rather than swinging through the trees.
That sighting was part of the trifecta of things to see when hiking in Yakushima. I had already spotted another part of that, the deer, or shika, that have actually become numerous enough on the island to be a bit of a pest. Most sightings of those consisted of me coming around a corner on one, us both having a startled moment of eye contact, and the deer gracefully bolting into the trees. The final portion of the sightings, also the oldest, is the great, ancient cedars, yakusugi. Not having too much time, I decided to try to reach the oldest one, Jomon-sugi, which is also one of the highest up in the mountains. At an estimated 2000-7000 years old, it would have been an imposing sight even if I had not come on it in the dark, exhausted from the steep 2-hour hike from the valley floor. But it certainly didn’t rely on its history to inspire awe; the massive over-arching boughs backdropped by the moon and stars took care of that.
I passed it once more, heading out of the mountains after an overnight stay in a spartan mountain hut. This time I saw it as the rays of the sunrise broke over the ridge, and it was no less spectacular. From there, it was a 6-hour quick march down and up and down again, out of the mountains to catch the ferry back to the mainland, which is where I am now. We are on our way to another ferry, to cross the bay, and then hopefully get as close to Cape Sata as possible for the start of our main trip. Wish us luck.