Hiking, Monkeys, and You
There is a big mountain on the Western edge of Kaohsiung, and you can see if from almost anywhere. It’s beautiful, green, tree-covered, and much bigger than one would ever think from just looking at it. According to Wikipedia, it was originally called Ape Hill by the Dutch in the 17th century, but everyone here calls it Monkey Mountain (even Wikipedia). This is probably because of the incredible number of monkeys roaming wild on the mountain, and the significant lack of apes to be seen anywhere. Crazy 17th-century Dutch.
There are many hiking trails up Monkey Mountain, but until this morning, I hadn’t sniffed a single one. I’m not opposed to hiking up the mountain, mind, you, I’m just opposed to finding hiking trails in weather as sweltering as this. Luckily, my friend Erika – another Schoolhouse stalwart – had blazed a couple of trails for me.
Some of you may be asking, “How do you have time to hike up a mountain and make it to work on time? Aren’t you pretty out of shape?” Well, first of all, I resent the negativity about my physical health. And also, no, Tuesdays are now wonderful days.
Let me explain: Now that it’s September, Taiwanese children across the island – much like their American or Canadian counterparts – are buying rulers and Trapper Keepers and going back to school. For we English teachers, that means one thing: no Tuesday afternoon class! You see, so many Taiwanese kids attend so many specialized schools, public school attendance rules are different from that in North America. But federal law here does mandate that on Tuesdays, all children up to 3rd grade must attend a full day of public school (more full days are required as the kids get older).
Thus, our first class on Tuesday isn’t until 5. And that’s wonderful.
And so to celebrate the enforcement of the Taiwanese school laws, Erika and I decided to climb Monkey Mountain this morning. We made plans to get coffee and breakfast at 8:30. Done and done. I then followed her a couple km’s via deathcycle down one of the only roads I’ve been on in Taiwan where you can almost smell nature. ‘Twas nice.
About 9:30, we parked, disembarked, and started our trek. It really was a beautiful and pleasant hike, save the heat. We were actually walking in shade just about the entire way; but humidity knows not of this shade you speak, and its oppression alone was enough to slow us down a bit. Halfway through, my shirt was soaked with sweat, and I decided to just take it off. We didn’t actually see any monkeys on our way up the mountain, and I’m pretty sure my radiant white torso was at least partially to blame.
But we did make it to the top of the mountain, and it was gorgeous. And serene. And incredible. There was a little wooden shelter there, where all kinds of different teas were brewing and available for free to anyone who arrived. I took a little paper cup and filled it with a rich herbal brew. I was soaked with sweat, and a cup of hot tea was the last thing I was craving, but I wanted to live like the locals, and I’m not kidding – that was the greatest little cup of tea I’ve ever had. Erika and I took in the view, talked for a bit, caught our breaths, cooled down, and then decided it was time to go back down.
It was fairly uneventful downward hike… until I saw a monkey. And then two. Then three. Then a whole family! I snapped pictures, they eyed me warily, and we continued down the trail, where we saw even more. And these weren’t your swinging-on-the-vine-watching-you-from-afar monkeys; they were sitting on the hiking trail, almost daring you to walk past. These guys have a mixed reputation. They can be cool and non-chalant, but you better not have any food in your hands when you go by, or they’ll snatch it right from you. Erika told me a story about these monkeys swiping a package of almonds from her mom, and then nearly absconding with her backpack!
So I clutched my camera tight as we passed troops of monkeys, but none of them made a move at me. Eventually, we passed all the monkeys, and then we were at the bottom. It wasn’t even 11, and I’d hiked a mountain, drunk some local tea, and been mere inches from more monkeys than I could count.
This place is alright.
After the jump, see all the photos from the trek up Monkey Mountain, including lots of monkeys!