by Darrin Zammit-Lupi Published 01/08/2015
What does a busy sports photographer do when not sitting huddled in the rain at the side of a soccer pitch - he sits huddled together soaking wet with a bunch of monkeys! In the third of his occasional series on travel photography and in perfect harmony with our theme in this issue, Paul chills out with the Snow Monkeys of Yudanaka.
For time immemorial, the Japanese have appreciated the natural benefi ts of soaking in mineral-rich thermal waters; it is one of the mainstays of their culture. Sinking into one of the many outdoor (and indoor) springs surrounded by the natural beauty of snow-capped mountains in sub-zero temperatures, is an experience in itself.
I must admit that, on my fi rst 'baptism', I was quite apprehensive. Walking out into sub-zero temperatures in nothing more than my birthday suit did not quite appeal to me and I almost did a quick about-turn. Plucking up courage, I soon learnt that, if you shower before entering the springs, your body temperature is hot enough not to feel the cold.
Steam rises from the waters, as seen in one of those eerie movies, as you quietly slip into the pool which is at more than 40°C. There are more than half a dozen people in the water. Some quietly chat whilst others seem to be in deep meditation. I feel cocooned by the warm soothing waters, feeling like an amazingly relaxed marshmallow, both physically and mentally. Tense and cramped muscles, from the previous days' hard treks, simply melted away. I was invigorated but not quite enough to feel like a teenager.
"Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch", goes the snow under my sturdy walking boots. It is the only sound that disturbs the otherwise serene valley somewhere high in the mountains of north-western Japan. I stop to catch my breath. The crisp, clean, fresh air sharply fi lls my lungs. The scenario is breathtaking. Snow-covered pine trees remind me of the decorations that used to adorn our traditional Christmas cake. Silence prevails, just for a moment. Then, the sound of rushing waters gradually amplifi es from every direction. The occasional gust of wind whips up showers of fi ne, powder snow. The scene is set to see one of the world's unique wildlife phenomena.
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