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    • Ok, I'm on a roll with the monkeys now. December 2005. There is a famous Onsen (Hot Spring Bath) & Ryokan (Japanese Inn) in the mountains in Japan outside of Nagano that is really hard to get to. The area is appropriately translated as Hell Valley. Long train ride, followed by a long bus ride, followed by a 30 minute walk up hill through the snow. The food is pretty nice (Japanese Kaiseki style), though I do remember one of the items on the menu was a deep fried cricket, which actually wasn't too bad. You sleep on the floor on a futon on the tatami mat. There is not much to do there. It is COLD has hell.

      So WHY is it famous? This is where the Japanese Macaques (aka Snow Monkeys), the northernmost species of monkeys in the world, I think, come down out of the mountains to soak their weary bones in the healing waters of the natural hot springs after a hard day of doing whatever monkeys do. The Onsen has two separate baths, one for the monkeys and one for the humans. The humans aren't allowed to use the monkey bath, but alas, monkeys can't read and don't know they aren't allowed to use the human bath. Now I love monkeys, but they will just go about their number 1 and number 2 business wherever the urge strikes them, so there is no way you will catch me getting into a bath that has been occupied by a troup of Snow Monkeys! Nonetheless, this was something that prior to 2005 had been on my "bucket" list, and it was absolutely worth the trudge through the snow with our bags, braving the freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions, and even eating a cricket.