Monday, 22 February 2010
On the 15th of this month Leana and I took the ferry from Malaysia to Sumatra, Indonesia - a two and a half hour trip from Melaka to Dumai. From Dumai the narrow busy road was in a rather poor condition, with steep ups and downs at times (the frequent heavy rain showers didn't make things any easier either). However, after we'd passed the city of Pekanbaru conditions improved, and we crossed some impressive rivers and mountains in the process. Sumatra, the 6th largest island in the world, straddles the equator which we also crossed, but unfortunately we missed the sign indicating the spot. Now I'm back cycling in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time since crossing to the North in Kenya. We also crossed from the East of Sumatra to the West, and are now in a mountainous area in the town of Bukittinggi, close to the West coast of the island. There are a number of active volcano's in the region, and the area is also prone to earthquakes, having suffered two great shakes recently. Perhaps the greatest crossing is the cultural divide, and I've found the people of Sumatra to be quite different to any of the other SE Asian countries. Perhaps a recipe for Sumatra could be as follows:- Mix generous portions of Africa and India together with daily heavy rain; Add a pinch of colonial and other Asian influence, and bake in a hot humid oven. Season with plenty of cheerfulness and friendliness towards foreigners. Wherever we've gone so far in this country we've been welcomed with "Hello Mister", "Hello Friend", "Selam", and "Welcome to Indonesia", etc. Another peculiarity is the traditional architectural style in the area - strange curved multi-pitched roofs. From here we intend to continue to the city of Padang on the West coast, and then head South from there. Daily distances cycled in Sumatra have been:- Dumai 18 km (plus ferry crossing); Duri 85 km; Minas 110 km; Bangkinan 89 km; Pangkalan 85 km; and Bukittinggi 86 km. Total distance cycled so far on this journey is 55 301 km.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Since leaving Singapore Leana and I cycled North along the S-West coast of Malaysia to the former Portuguese/Dutch/British colonial territory of Malacca (now called Melaka). On our way we stayed over in Batu Pahat, where we were royally entertained by Keng and Penny who we'd met almost 2 years previously while they were backpacking in Iran (we even stayed in a luxury condo which belongs to Penny's family). In Melaka where Keng is at flying school, we were given a grand tour of the historic sights as well as being taken out for meals all the time. Then it was time to head on to Kuala Lumpur (commonly known as KL). We had to go to the Indonesian Embassy there for renewable visa's - and of course also to see the Petronas Twin Towers (until recently the tallest buildings in the world). In KL we also bumped into Joel, a cyclist from New York who we'd previously met in Bangkok where he'd started his trip. We were unsure about the route into KL, but once on the highway we found ourselves on motorcycle paths for much of the way to the city centre (of course we assumed the paths were also for bicycles). When we left the city, however, we took a different route and were twice requested by police to leave the highway - they were so polite that the second guy even apologised for having to tell us we weren't allowed. Nonetheless, we arrived back in Melaka in the midst of Chinese New Year celebrations. Not only are we staying in Chinatown, but a significant proportion of Malaysians are of Chinese origin. The streets are colourfully decorated, some areas are converted to night markets, and of course there are the obligatory fireworks. Today, 14 February, is New Year, so we're relaxing before taking the ferry across the Straits of Malacca to Sumatra Indonesia (probably tomorrow). Distances cycled since my last update from Singapore have been:- Pontian Kechil 103 km; Batu Pahat 81 km; Melaka 108 km; Port Dickson 95 km; Banting 109 km; Kuala Lumpur 67 km; Port Dickson 95 km; and Melaka 82 km. Total distance cycled on this journey is 54 828 km.
Monday, 1 February 2010
After my last report from Cukai I emerged from the internet cafe to find that the rear tyre on my bike had blown (this is probably becoming boring - the 3rd consecutive report of a blow-out). After eyeing a bike shop and feeling in my pocket, I realised I'd have to improvise and sewed up the tyre with fishing line. A few days later, after spending my last cent on a kilo of rice, I turned into the town of Mersing to see if I could find a sympathetic ATM - no go. Needing a quiet moment to consider my next move I took a break at a shady spot close to the ferry jetty, and watched the ferry from Tioman Island arriving. As the passengers disembarked I recognised one of them who had a bike with her - Leana! After a month apart she took pity on me, and we booked into a room where I was fattened up with loads of tasty Malay food - I also received a new tyre for my bike. However, we couldn't leave the following morning as my feet and lower legs had swollen up beyond recognition - I'd noticed the start of this condition a few days earlier (perhaps a parasite, or malnutrition?). After elevating my feet I was well enough to leave a day later. We cycled South to "lands end", and took a small ferry boat across the Straits of Johor to Singapore Island where we arrived before we'd left (time difference). At first I was impressed by Singapore, the airport is an international hub and to many the airline is synonymous with the island state (continuous stream of aircraft landing and taking off over the ferry as we approached). At the ferry dock close to Changi airport we received a free 30-day visa, and cycled along clinically neat and clean cycle paths through the E-coast park along the coast to the city. So far so good, but then my impression of the place started to change. There was free camping at wonderful places in the park, but upon enquiry we discovered that this facility was for locals only (foreigners had to take formal accommodation). Trying to buy anything made my hair stand on end, prices were at least twice that of "expensive" Malaysia. We'd heard of some budget accommodation close to the city centre, and in our efforts to get there we ended up in an underground expressway tunnel, where the cops loaded us up and dropped us "somewhere else" in the gathering dusk. In various other countries one would literally be able to buy a bed for the price of a bunk-bed in a crowded smelly dorm room here (eventually we settled for the cheapest overpriced room we could find). My camera has been "on the blink" for some time, so while in this city once famous for cheap electronic goods I looked around at the markets but was unimpressed (many of the items were cheaper in places like Thailand, China, and Vietnam). My impression of the city centre was that this was a strange, impersonal movie set - totally opposite to a vibrant lively place like Bangkok. Things were not all doom and gloom though. "Little India", where we stayed, showed signs of life and it was good to tuck into some South-Indian food again. Chinatown is another place close to the city centre which has a pulse. The leafy suburbs as well as the city's parks and beaches are scenic and neat, without the litter found around many other places in the region. However, we couldn't afford to stay for more than 2 days, and returned to Malaysia via the causeway and ultra-modern immigration check points on both sides (the biggest, busiest, and most efficient I've seen). Daily distances cycled since my last report are:- Cukai 20 km; Kampong Perful 74 km; Kampong Hulu Tering 78 km; Padang Endau 82 km; Mersing 44 km; Kota Tinggi 94 km; Kampong Rengit 86 km; and Singapore 55 km (plus 1 hr ferry). Total distance from Cape Town to Singapore is 54 099 km.