Monday, 1 February 2010
CYCLE TO SINGAPORE
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.