31 January 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Mersing to Singapore

26 January - Mersing- day 1030

The previous day I’d already noticed that Ernest’s feet and ankles were unusually swollen (perhaps from malnutrition as he’d been living off rice for the past few weeks). This morning I thought it may be Elephantitus – and it got worse as the day progressed! I fed him multi-vitamins and all the take-away food I could find, including roti canai, to see if it would make him recover.

So, we decided to stay on in Mersing for the day, also so that Ernest could pay some attention to the bikes. I bought myself a new saddle as the old one had seen better days - hoping this was not going to be a pain in the butt!! I also needed to do some laundry and update my web site.

27 January 2010
Mersing – Kota Tinggi

Ernest’s legs seemed much better, the swelling had gone down and he looked nearly normal again. It was a real slow start to the day but eventually we got underway, heading south towards Singapore. It was an undulating road past oil-palm plantations, with a few interesting bits and pieces along the way. We had to take shelter from the rain a few times which is always a good excuse for a sweet cup of tea from a roadside stall.

We found a real good hotel room for 32 Ringet with air-con and hot water. I was absolutely ravished as I’d had no breakfast and could not get down to the food stalls quickly enough. This was definitely a Chinese area as there was no roti canai to be had - only Chinese rice buns, and Chinese food, which I truly love.

My new saddle was fairly comfortable, but my backside was still sore, I guess it will take a while before it is completely ridden in.

28 January 2010
Kota Tinggi – Kampong Rengit

Once again it as 11h00 by the time we left. We had to hide from the rain at the local bus and taxi stands a few times but the road was good and the weather very humid as usual. It was a leisurely cycle as there was no rush at all. We headed for the coast and in the process of looking for a nice camping spot we found ourselves in the seaside village of Rengit (with the help of a nice tail wind) where we opted for a room again – we’re getting so spoilt. Rengit is located at the south-eastern point of Malaysia close to Singapore where we planned to go the next morning.

Everything in Malaysia seemed oversized, including the bananas (called pisang, can you believe that), ants, and cockroaches. In fact there seems to be quite a few words that are similar to those in Afrikaans, including “pomelo” and “kampong” referring to a village. Then, on the other hand Malaysia also has a history of Dutch influence, so it’s maybe not that strange.

29 January 2010
Rengit – Singapore

It was a short 17 km scenic cycle along the South China Sea coast to the ferry port. There we found that the regular big ferry doesn’t take bicycles, so we had to wait for the “bum boat” (it only leaves when there are 12 passengers aboard – but it was a lot cheaper than the ferry). The slow little boat took nearly an hour to cross the straits of Johor, and technically we arrived in Singapore just before we’d left Malaysia (there’s a time difference of one hour). All that was required for a 30 day stay in Singapore was a stamp in the passport.

From the ferry port to the city centre we followed a very scenic cycle path through parkland and along the coast. We spotted some fantastic camping along the way, but unfortunately it is not for foreigners. We continued on to the city centre but took a wrong turn and found ourselves in an expressway tunnel somewhere under the city. The traffic police was quick to spot us and load us up on their truck, dropping us somewhere else away from the forbidden routes (they strictly follow the many rules, and we were lucky not to be fined). With all this shunting back and forth we had no idea where we were, but eventually found the suburb of Little India. Gosh, how expensive things were!! We searched and searched for a cheap room but there was none to be had, and by 20h00 we had to settle for the cheapest overpriced room we could find.

By that time I was starving and could not wait to get some food from the Indian restaurant downstairs. Price did not matter, I just had to find food urgently.

30 January 2010

We walked around the city, but at 6 SA Rand to the Singapore dollar things are far too expensive for us. Electronic items are also not as cheap as expected and I’m sure one can find things even cheaper in Malaysia. The city is large and modern to such an extent that I thought it to be rather soulless, just another big, busy city with a busy harbor, airport, shopping malls and boulevards. High rise buildings dominate the skyline and even Little India seemed far more organized than the original “Big India”.

The Singaporeans are busy people who always seem to be in a hurry, of course, with all the electronic devices one can imagine stuck to their ears. There was no shortage of designer stores and fancy eateries which we could only stare at through the windows. Around just about every corner one can find Mc Donalds, KFC, and 7-Eleven.

I felt that Singapore is overrated and way too expensive, so it was time to get out of there in a hurry (i.e. the following day), making this the shortest time I’ve spent in any country.

26 January 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Kuala Taha to Mersing (and Tiomand Island)

15 January 2010
Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara National Park)

I was rather tempted to do the 3-day trek into the inner jungle, but decided against it. Instead I packed my little day-pack with my peanut butter sandwiches, some water, and a raincoat, and set off map in hand to hand explore the jungle on my own.

I followed the touristy walkway for a while, but soon found myself alone heading up the mountain on a much less traveled route. The forest was dead quiet with just the occasional chirp if a cricket or the call of the colorful pheasants to remind me that I was not all alone. Needless to say it was extremely hot and humid but I continued up the mountain till I reached the top and had some lovely views of the surrounding forests.

I spent most of the day wandering around the dense forest until it was time to head back, catch the ferry back across the river, and find some food.

16 January 2010
Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara National Park)

I managed to do absolutely nothing the entire day. What a pleasure. I played around with my photos (just to discover there was absolutely nothing good at all), ate, at sat around. In the process I came up with the idea to take the ferry boat back to Jerantut instead of cycling back the same way, and therefore still have a chance of doing the river trip. I booked the boat for 9am the next morning and was fairly happy that I did not have to back track the 70km to Jerantut, which is always such a drag.

17 January 2010
Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara National Park) – Jerantut
By boat (+20km from the boat jetty to town)

After a breakfast of fried noodles I was on the boat with loads of other traveler back to Jerantut. It was a most scenic ride through the dense forest back to the Tembeling boat jetty. Once there everyone around helped with the bike and bags to get it off the boat and up the stairs. People are just so nice, and then it was back on the hilly road to Jerantut.

In Jerantut I stocked up with some essentials i.e. coffee, noodles and soup. My stinginess made me buy the cheapest 3-in-1 coffee sachets they had. Back in my room, however, I discovered that it was not coffee at all but, wait for this……. tea! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Instant tea???? How much more instant can one get than a tea bag?? Well there I had it, powdered tea with milk and sugar!

18 January 2010
Jerantut – Maran

After a cup of instant tea, I followed the road due east and what a fantastic day it was. Flat, scenic, hardly any cars, and perfect weather. There is not much more any cyclist can ask for.

I must have looked quite a sight, as even the village dogs took to their heels. One poor dog ran for its life and never looked back once until it was safely under the gate at its home.

It was a relatively short ride to Maran where I wanted to see a famous Hindu temple. Threatening clouds made me opt for accommodation in Maran (very expensive) on the golf course. What a view I had. Nothing came of the threatening clouds but it was still a good excuse for spending that much money on accommodation! At least there was a cheap Roti Canai shop around the corner where I could gorge myself.

19 January 2010
Maran – Pekan
110 km

I packed at leisure and tried to take some pictures of the birdlife on the golf course. People taking wildlife pictures must surely have Job’s patience, as after 5 min I gave up and rather stuck to what I’m used to.

Again the lush vegetation continued and I spotted a lot more life along the road that day, monkeys, ducks, birds etc, - even a few resorts, all looking very nice with wooden chalets and some even offer camping.

Malaysia is such a multi-cultural country, the day before was a distinctly Indian day with loads of Hindu temples and Indian food along the day. This day, however, was more a Chinese day with Chinese temples and Chinese food. I could not cycle past the steamed buns without stopping and bagging some for the road.

By the time I reached the east coast at Pekan I called it a day, as I could not see anything on my map in close proximity to Pekan. (The map is rather useless so that did not mean that there was nothing else in the area).

20 January 2010
Pekan – Rompin
117 km

The road hugged the coastline and from time to time I cycled along the coast and at other times through the forest. Again it was a day I felt that it was just me and the many troops of monkeys in the wet and watery jungle. I just love Malaysia.

I turned off the road to explore the beaches and found the most fantastic Beach and Golf Resort, beautiful, just a bit pricy for me. So it was back to the main road and on to Rompin, where I found cheaper accommodation. I was absolutely starving by the time I got there and went shopping. I was so hungry I could eat the spices and came away with a bag filled with foodstuff that no human being could possibly eat in one day. Apparently I thought I needed all that for supper!

21 January 2010
Rompin – Mersing
62 km

I knew it was going to be a short ride to Mersing, so I packed up slowly and lazily cycled south to Mersing. I stopped along the road for a bite to eat at a roadside eatery. I was quite sure that there was meat in that dish, but as Ernest was not there to eat it on my behalf I finished it off.

I soon reached Mersing but was too late for the ferry to Tioman Island, so I look a room, bought my ferry ticket (RM 35 one way) for the next day and relaxed.

22/23/24 January 2010
Mersing – Tioman Island
By ferry

The ferry was not until 11h30, so it was a lazy start to the day. I got on the ferry (paid 10RM extra for the bike) and in less than 2 hours I was on the most idyllic island I could wish for. The ferry stopped at various locations on the island but I got off at Tekek, the main village. In no time I had a bungalow on the beach and could just sit and watch the waves roll up right to my doorstep.

It was out of season so I could negotiate a good rate for the room. It was rather quiet with very few visitors and therefore just me, the beach and my hammock - glorious.

I stayed on the next day and did as little as possible, except for sipping a tax free beer and watching the ocean. By the 24th I got off my backside and walked (with Niklas and Benedikte whom I met on the ferry to Tioman) over the mountain to the other side of the island where we had a light lunch. It was a lovely walk through dense forests and past waterfalls - we even spotted a monkey or two.

25 January 2010
Tiomand Island – Mersing (return ferry trip)

It was time to leave the island and get back to business. I’d e-mailed Ernest that I would be in Mersing on the 25th (he never got the message) so I thought I’d better get back there. Once again the ferry was to leave at 11h00 but it was much later by the time we left.

Arriving at Mersing I found Ernest at the ferry terminal (it was pure co-incidence that he was there at that time, saw the ferry arriving, and decided to wait and see if I was not perhaps one of the passengers). He was looking a bit worse for wear after a month traveling around Malaysia with hardly any money. I took pity and invited him to share a room where he could have a shower, do some laundry, and sleep on a bed. I went to get some t/a food (he ate like a horse), and I also got him a new saddle and a rear tyre for his bike (after the 3rd blow-out in as many weeks he couldn’t afford another tyre and had been cycling for 4 days on a tyre sewn up with fishing line).

15 January 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Tapah to Kuala Tahan via Cameron Highlands

9 January - Tapah – Tanah Rata (Cameron Highlands) - 60km

What a super, super, stunning day it was. All though it was uphill all the way, nothing came of the serious climbing that people warned me about. It was supposed to be a 1000 meter climb but I’m not convinced of that. The road twisted and turned through dense forests and past waterfalls and vast tea plantations. Gorgeous! After reading what other cyclists had to say about cycling the Cameron Highlands I was at first a bit apprehensive about the route.

Well, it was nothing like that or the hills in China. From Ringlet to Tanah Rata took about an hour and a half and I made it to Tanah Rata in good time and arrived just before 15h00 and before the storm came in, so a good day all in all.

10 January - Tanah Rata

I had good intentions of going for a walk in the forest, but somehow I managed to do nothing all day long. Kang Lodge, where I stayed, was comfortable and reasonably priced so I hang around and managed to do nothing. I did, however, find out that there was a road via Gua Musang to Taman Negara National Park. My map did not show any roads so I did not know what to expect. I also heard that there was no water or food along the way and other people who'd cycled that route had to camp along the road. With no stove in my posession I loaded up with a loaf of bread, cheese slices and some peanut butter.
11 January - Tanah Rata – Gua Musang - 130km

I packed my loaf of bread, peanut butter and some biscuits and left Tanah Rata at around 10h00. I soon found myself on a nice smooth, wide road with a roomy shoulder. I couldn’t believe that it was not indicated on the map! The road was rather hilly with steep ups and downs about all day long. There was a rather nice downhill of about 10km long and I felt rather reckless, flying down the hill at a high speed. The rest of the day was spent crawling up hills at 6km/h and flying down at 50km/h.

The day was very scenic again with dense forests lining both sides of the road. Logging is alive and well here and all day long trucks loaded with huge logs could be seen along the road. So, maybe the forest won’t be there much longer. Maybe that’s why the road is not indicated on the map, maybe they don’t want people to see them chopping down the rain forest.

It was not as wild as I had expected, I did spot some nice potential campsites along the road, but it was a bit early for camping so I carried on until I reached Gua Musang. What a large town it was with hotels, shops etc, etc. I was at first a bit disappointed as I was all geared up for the wilderness (ha, ha, with my loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter)!! I did, however, enjoy the lovely hot shower in my room. The room was a bit pricy but came with TV and Wi-Fi, (sigh) what happened to the wilderness I envisaged?

12 January - Gua Musang – Kuala Lipis - 121km

Phew, another very hilly day!!! I pedaled as fast I could down the hills to try and make it up and over the next hill without having to gear right down, but alas, that did not work. With my loaded bike I just lost momentum as soon as I hit the slightest incline. Anyone watching must have thought, “what is that women on about?” At least no one can accuse me of not trying! Up and down I went and I encountered the mother of all hills half way to Kuala Lipis. In the space of 5km I saw 7 broken down trucks, indication of the severity of the gradient.

The road followed the boundary of the National Park so it was very scenic, complete with monkeys and small alligators (or whatever those things were). This was rainforest area and very humid, I sweated buckets slaving up the hills. Most of the forest along the road has, however, been cut down to make way for rubber and palm oil plantations.

I was rather happy to reach Kuala Lipis as my legs were starting to feel rather tired. I found a nice room (air con and all) and enjoyed a much needed shower. Definitely time to rinse the cycling clothes!! Then off to find some Roti Canai (roti with dhal and potato curry) or nasi goring (fried noodles).
13 January - Kuala Lipis – Jerantut - 61km

My map is useless!! I can just as well dump the silly thing. The distance between Kuala Lipis and Jerantut looked just a little shorter than the previous days, but (thankfully) it was only 61km. The hills were even steeper and more frequent that the previous days, but at least it was a short day. I took it easy and had some really good roti canai along the way. A stop like that always came with the same comments, “You’re alone?” normally asked in amazement. “How old are you” (even more amazement if you tell them) and “Where are you from”. Truck drivers stop and offer lifts and are just as astounded if one declines their offer. This day was no different and the truck driver assured me that he was going to Jerantut anyway and that there are many hills along the way. He could just not understand why I did not want to make use of his kind offer.

I arrived in Jerantut fairly early, found some nasi goring and then it was time to get some info on the national park.

14 January - Jerantut – Kuala Tahan - 71km

I changed my plans slightly, as I was going to leave my bike and bags in Jerantut and then take the river ferry to Kuala Tahan. There was however a good road going all the way to Kuala Tahan, so I did what I’m used to, and cycled there. I found that a lot easier as then I had all my stuff with me instead of packing a small day pack with just the necessary items.

I thought it would also give me the opportunity of cycling through the forest and experiencing it firsthand. Most of the way was, however, past palm oil plantations; I was a bit disappointed and could hardly conjure up any sympathy for a loaded logging truck that had careered off the road along the way. It was nevertheless a beautiful ride and closer to Kuala Tahan the real forest started appearing.

The Taman Negara forest is said to be over 130 million years old and I was eager to explore it. So upon arrival I booked myself on a night walk into the forest. Once again I was a little disappointed as the walk was along a walkway and could hardly be called a jungle. We are so spoiled in Africa where there are so many real wild places and so much wildlife!! I saw nothing that I could not have seen in my own garden at night back home. Well, that said, I must admit it was still rather nice just walking in the dark, listening to the night sounds and smelling the wet and damp forest.

09 January 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Langkawi to Tapah

2 January - Pantai Tengah Beach, Langkawi – Alor Star - 72km 

I was rather reluctant to leave the island as it was very relaxing but I packed my bike, had some coffee, and ate the leftover bread, so it was fairly late by the time I set off. It was 22km to the ferry port and although the ferry was to leave at 12.30 it was much later by the time we got away. Once on the road I followed the coast to Alor Setar which was much closer than expected. The road was scenic and flat with the coast on the one side and backwaters on the other side.

Once in Alor Setar I found a room, had a shower and rinsed my cycling clothes. I went looking for a map of Malaysia, still to no avail. I also tried to find a charger for my laptop but that was just as unsuccessful. Instead found some very interesting food. Wrapped in newspaper, some in a pyramid shape and others in a flat parcel. I had no idea what was inside, it turned out to be fried noodles and some very hot rice.

3 January - Alor Star – Georgetown, Penang Island - 130km

I first had some coffee (man that little cooker element comes in handy). I also still had one parcel of noodles left from the previous night which I had for breakfast.

I felt remarkably energetic and took the small roads along the coast (or tried) as it is not a good idea to take small roads when you don’t have a map. I only went wrong a few times but nothing serious. I did however get caught in a very heavy downpour and got totally soaked. 10km down the road it abruptly stopped and even the road was bone dry.

The road was fairly flat past very dense forests - it felt that I was in a real jungle. What a multi cultural society Malaysia is. I cycled past Buddhist temples, Chinese temples, Hindu temples (good to see old Ganesh again) and of course the ever present mosques.

Once I reached Butterworth it was easy to find the ferry to Penang Island. It was a fairly short ferry ride on a very packed and crowded ferry to Georgetown (the main town on the island). From the ferry Georgetown looked like a large city with lots of high-rise buildings. Just the short cycle from the jetty to a local hostel made me realize that there was more to Georgetown than high-rise building. Although Georgetown is a modern city the “old town” has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and has therefore been preserved in its original state.

I found a fairly cheap room with loads of nearby foodstalls and feasted on both Indian and Chinese food.

Lo and behold, will Neil and Emma (whom I met at Zackary) not walk into the same hostel, we had a good old chat and it was real good to see them again.

4 January - Georgetown

What an interesting place Georgetown turned out to be. There were architectural styles from every corner of the earth, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Malay, Burmese and even Victorian, I even spotted a church or two. The most amazing was the Railway station, a beautiful Neo-classical style building, but without a railway line. What were they thinking? I explored the narrow alleys and interesting Indian and Chinese quarters, complete with the best Indian and Chinese food you can wish for. I even found my favorite Chinese steamed rise buns (not as good as the real thing in China though)

At last I found a charger for my notebook!! Now I could type away to my hearts delight again. Hopefully I’ll be better at keeping my diary up to date. I even got a new sim for my phone and can now be in touch with my family again, who are not all that good with the facebook thing.

5 January - Georgetown - day 1009

It’s no wander they have declared Georgetown a UNESCO World Heritage site, as the old quarters with all its temples and alleys is a potpourri of nationalities, building styles and food. I spent one more day just wandering around the place and eating at all the roadside stalls in Little India and Little China.

While sitting in the sidewalk café of the hostel Ernest came cycling past but then proceeded to find a cheap room somewhere else.

6 January - Georgetown – Taiping - 115km - day 1010

It was time to move on again and it was 9h00 by the time I got away. So I continued on over the bridge joining the island with the mainland. Wow, what a long bridge it was, easily 8km long, it must surely be one of the longest bridges in the world. I headed south past mangrove swamps and bird sanctuaries. It is so lush and densely forested that it feels all the time that one is in the jungle.

It struck me how different the mosques are from country to country; here they seem to be mostly yellow(ish) in color, while in other countries they seem to be mostly blue or green.

I got caught in the most severe of monsoon storms one can imagine, complete with lightning and roaring thunder. I took shelter at a roadside stall with just a rickety umbrella for cover. The lady proceeded to feed me endlessly while I waited for the worst of the storm to blow over. Once the storm subsided I continued with a rather full belly to Taiping. The people are just so nice, I asked a man on a motorbike where I could find accommodation for the night and he escorted me all the way to a local joint where I could get a room. At the hotel they were really helpful as well, and allowed me to use their washing machine to wash my dirty and wet clothes. I was surprised they even let me in as I was dripping pools of water all over there clean tiles!

7 January - Taiping to Ipoh - 88km - day 1011

Another good day on the road, at least there were no thunderstorms like the previous day. The road was as scenic as anyone can which for, so I pedaled along quite happily. Although Malaysia is quite expensive (compared to what I have become used to in South East Asia), one can still find a cheap meal along the road.

I just had to look out for the places where the truck drivers take their meals and then I know there was a good cheap meal to be had. I spotted a few trucks all parked in front of a “Dhaba” so I pulled in. I had the best curried pineapple and rice ever.

Further along the road I met another cyclist with a rather loaded bike. He (like Ernest) seems to carry everything he will ever need in his lifetime with him.

The big meal I had along the way made me rather lazy and once I reached Ipoh, I found myself a room (very nice I must admit, with bath tub and all).

I was rather disappointed to discover that my notebook has finally packed up. I was so mad at this stupid thing that I went to the shop and bought a new one!!!

Back in my room I could just not believe what I had done. Spending all that money on a silly notebook, while I’m quite sure I could have had my old one fixed. I can’t even think of anything to justify my irresponsible spending spree!! Normally I’m quite good at that.
8 January - Ipoh – Tapah - 58km - day 1012

I packed both notebooks, as I felt too bad to just dump the old one! So I had two of the darnned things, as if I didn’t have enough stuff in my bags already! Well, maybe I could give it to someone.

It was an unbelievably scenic day with a number of very ornate cave temples along the way. Soon I reached Tapah where I had to turn off to go to the Cameron Highlands. I understood that it was only about 60km to the Highlands, but as everyone had warned me that it was a steep uphill all the way, I decided to stay in Tapah for the night and start the climb in the morning.