11,996 km so far.
I have been looking forward to today’s destination for some time. Lopburi, which is a slight diversion from our route, is a town populated by macaques (as well as people). Since we haven’t seen any monkeys yet that weren’t pets, today promises to fill this gaping hole in our experience.
We rode along the Mae Nam Lopburi river for most of today’s ride. It was peaceful, meandering, shaded, and made a nice change from the highways we have been seeing too much of this past week. Some of our route wasn’t paved, but was a packed earth track with the river to our right and ramshackle homes to our left. It had a real ‘locals’ feel and was quiet, breezy, and relaxing.
The houses here are, for the most part, quite simple, and made of wood, bamboo, and corrugated steel. Many seem to be constructed out of whatever boards and pieces of steel were handy. The yards are barren packed dirt, with a few banana and coconut trees to provide a bit of shade.
Outside most houses sits at least one giant terracotta urn. We assume these are filled with the household water supply. From the looks of them, many of these homes don’t have running water, or electricity.
Quite a few do have a sun-bleached red shirt hanging off a wire hanger or a bush at the front of their property, showing which side of the political struggle the owners support. It is interesting that they feel the need to declare their affiliation, as the lines are clearly drawn between the farming class (red) and the middle-to-upper class (yellow). No Thai person would ever look at these homes and suspect them of supporting the yellow shirts.
However, every once in a while we pass a brand new, not-out-of-place-in-North-American-suburbia home.
I suspect the red shirts may be a reminder to these wealthy interlopers that they are on someone else’s turf. Sort of like LA gang signs and colors.
You Damn Dirty Ape
Our first sighting of monkeys was really quite exciting.
As we rode into Lopburi, I spotted one running across the road, through busy traffic.
A real live macaque!
Then I saw another, then another. I looked ahead and there were literally hundreds. Hanging from scaffolding, fences, and building facades. Sitting on the curb eating mangoes and bananas, dodging traffic, harassing tourists.
Phra Prang Sam Yoy is a former Hindu temple, converted to Buddhist, in the centre of town. It is also monkey central. Its three towers are dedicated to Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva, but one could be forgiven for mistaking the entire complex as a temple for Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god).
As it comes into to view we see the macaques climbing its brick structure, swinging from tower to tower, and scampering through its grounds.
They are everywhere.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
The town of Lopburi is like a sinister science fiction film, where monkeys have replaced people. Of course, the whole movie would be a clumsy metaphor for the downfall of our own society.
While our human societal norms help keep things in check, the monkeys don’t abide by any of that crap.
This is, I assume, what anarchy looks like.
As we wander through town we see monkeys harassing shopkeepers and climbing (and defecating) all over cars and scooters. A monkey getting its fur checked for ticks shows very visibly that it’s enjoying the attention a little too much (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more). Three different monkeys jump onto my water bottle trying to steal it out of my hand.
The Phra Prang Sam You temple is ringed by derelict buildings. We assume the former owners of these buildings and businesses have been run out by the plague of monkeys.
A few hardy business people have hung on. As far as we can tell, they spend most of their day banging long broomsticks together to try and keep the macaques out of their shops. The monkeys barely notice the attempt, moving away a few feet each time the sticks are banged, and then right back where they started when the humans back off.
In the buildings that are now empty, the monkeys have free reign.
We can see them on the balconies, sliding down the drain pipes, and swinging from the electrical wires.
I dread the thought of what might happen to the hapless tourist who loses their way and ends up inside one of these abandoned sites.
It is a chaotic scene, and doesn’t in any way endear me to the city, which seems to have turned to rubble around the monkeys.
Even the areas where monkeys don’t go, like the closed market we wander into, seem almost post-apocalyptic.
The excitement of seeing monkeys wears off quickly.
The more we look, the more they appear to be a nuisance, a plague overrunning the city. Of course, from the monkeys’ point of view, we are the nuisance, putting up buildings and barbed wire, where before there was only wilderness. ♥