Just Monkeying Around – Shoushan Mountain – Kaohsiung, Taiwan

It’s safe to say that if we’re staying somewhere close to a mountain, we’re going to hike it. Fortunately for us, Taiwan is a mountainous country! And even though Kaohsiung is by the ocean, it has a few challenging hikes. Today, we went to explore Shoushan, a mountain that sits right along the ocean. It isn’t big – it tops out at 356 meters – but it has several peaks and a system of trails that wind around it. It would be enough to keep us busy for a morning. And besides, we really wanted to go there because Shoushan has an alternate name – “monkey mountain.” It’s home to a large group of Formosan Rock Macaques, a species of monkey that is endemic to Taiwan.

The day started out with some unexpected excitement. We woke up early to eat breakfast and get out the door before it got too hot outside. We hailed a cab that was across the street from our hotel. The driver did a u-turn to cross the street and accidentally cut off a motorbike that was running a pink light. The motorbike tipped over and skid out right in front of us…and the driver wasn’t happy. The taxi driver immediately got out of his car to help, and the motorbike driver immediately charged the taxi driver, yelling at him in Mandarin. We have no idea what they were saying, but it was tense, and there may have been some shoving. They blocked up the intersection for a few minutes, while bystanders looked on. Christine patiently held the motorbike up, not knowing how to get the kickstand down, wondering if she should pick up the man’s still-lit cigarette and give it back to him. A few minutes later, the situation was diffused. Needless to say, we had a super awkward ride to the trailhead with a taxi driver that could barely speak English.

The hike itself was pretty challenging. The trails were steep, and it was hot out. There were a lot of locals getting their exercise in for the day. Every couple of minutes, we’d be exchanging a “zao” (good morning), “ni hao” (hello), or even an enthusiastic “good morning!” from a few people who knew English. Perhaps we were a little out of place, two white folks hiking a mountain on a Monday morning. We stopped off at a few lookout points to get views of both the city and the ocean. The views were worth the hike! The picture is of Kaohsiung city, with some of the larger mountains in Central Taiwan peeking through the morning haze in the background.

Shoushan is an interesting place to explore. Large parts of the mountain are coral, which makes for a rocky landscape. There are groves of big, creaky bamboo trees, and banyans, those trees that grow horizontally with prop roots to stabilize them. There are small barking deer, but they only come out at night. And then there was our favorite, the monkeys. When they say there will be monkeys, you never know where they’re going to be. We came across two big groups of 10-20 of them, as well as some strays along the way. In our first encounter, one of them was very curious and started to follow us on the trail. We stopped, and he walked right up next to us and took a seat, occasionally looking up at us like a cute puppy begging for food. We hung out with him for a few minutes, then said our goodbyes and moved along. In our second encounter, the monkeys were a little more cautious of us, but for a good reason. This time of the year is when they have babies. Many of the women were carrying around little babies underneath them! We kept our distance, but got to see a few little ones. We also got to see two pairs grooming each other up close on the trail – National Geographic style with one monkey picking fleas off of the other monkey, then eating them. Then Christine tried to give a monkey a branch with some fruit as a peace offering and it yelled at her, so it was time to move on to the end of the trail and back to our hotel for a shower and a nap!