27 February 2010

CYCLING SUMATRA, INDONESIA - Dumai to Padang





15 February 2010
Malacca (Malaysia) – Dumai (Indonesia)
By ferry (plus some cycling)

Malacca was rather slow to wake from the Chinese New Year celebrations, and we weren’t sure if the ferry was even running. Time to move on however and we packed up early and cycled down to the ferry jetty. We were advised to take the second ferry as the first one was choc and block full, whilst the second one wasn’t even half full. The ferry ride took about 2.5 hours and walla, there we were in a new country again – Sumatra Island, Indonesia.

Indonesia appeared to be halfway between India and Africa, hot, humid, crazy traffic and potholed roads, this is more my kind of country (opposed to more organized SE-Asian countries like Malaysia). Don’t get me wrong; I loved Malaysia, but feel very at home in more chaotic countries. I think I’m going to like Indonesia! So here we are back in dirty rooms with peeling paper-thin walls, shared toilets, and bucket showers - what more can I say.

16 February 2010
Dumai – Duri
85km

We followed the busy, potholed road south in blistering heat; I somehow think that this is going to be our lot for the next few months.

I haven’t worked out the money thing yet, the local currency is Rupiah which seems to be about 1 000 Rupiah to one SA Rand. Here we are in a conservative Moslem country again and being stared at yet again (especially in shorts and T Shirt). They will just have to stare as it is far too hot to cycle in long pants and sleeves.

The people seem very friendly and everyone wants to be your friend, we are constantly being invited to stay at their homes. “Hello, how are you?, Where you go? and Welcome to Indonesia” is constantly being shouted from the side of the road. They seem to get the Miss and Mister thing a bit wrong as I’m often called Mister. (A reminder of the “Good morning teacher” in Africa, is the regular “Good morning Mister”, even in the afternoon).

My heat rash was so bad that I opted for an air-con room, but accommodation seems rather expensive in Indonesia and we cycled around for a long time in order to find a reasonably priced room. In general the quality of the rooms are similar to some of the Arabic countries and Pakistan, not to clean, curtains hanging from washing pegs, mouldy peeling walls, and a bit smelly.

17 February 2010
Duri – Minas
110km


The map that I bought in Dumai was rather useless as it showed no km and was a very small print but at least it was better than nothing. We headed for Pekanbaru on the narrow potholed road and I was amazed that the truck drivers were so courteous, sitting behind us until they had space to overtake. This is not a road for listening to the i-pod, we had to be very aware of vehicles on the road. Not only was the road narrow but came with lots of steep little ups and downs.

We could tell that we reaching the equator as it was not only hot and humid but rain came down in buckets every now and again. So we took shelter with the local motorcycles waiting for the worst to pass and then continued along the road. I spotted a sign for a hotel, and we went to enquire even although Ernest said it would be far too expensive as they had security guards at the gate (a sure sign that it is out of our price range). The place turned out to be a resort type of hotel with tennis court, swimming pool, etc. The price list scared us, but after chatting to the management for a while they gave us a decent room for 100 000 Rp, not only with air-con and hot shower, but with dinner and breakfast included - now that’s what I call a good deal.

18 February 2010
Minas – Bangkinang
90km


We were rather slow to leave our luxury accommodation but eventually got underway, and I was pleased that the road leveled out a bit. So we cycled past rice paddies and the ever present timber stalls on stilts under rusted corrugated iron roofs, selling everything imaginable from cigarettes to petrol by the liter. There were Mosques aplenty, some quite impressive and some looking a bit worse for wear.

Although this is a Moslem country they do not seem to be as conservative as some other countries. There appears to be many Girl Schools and women are quite independent, schooting around on their motorbikes, and very much doing their own thing.

We’re becoming really lazy, and by the time we reached Bangkinang we called it a day and found a room for the night.

9 February 2010
Bangkinang - Pankanang
85km


We left at around 10h00 after looking for a cap for myself, (I once again lost my old one). It was by far the best day on the road since we arrived in Indonesia, although hot, humid and hilly it was very scenic past small villages, dense forests thick with ferns, and a large lake where the river was dammed up, probably to feed the hydroelectric plant that we saw earlier.

We crossed a few very large rivers complete with fish farms but had no idea of where we were as our map is not very accurate and the sign boards indicated places not mentioned on the map. The final stretch leveled out and we cycled along a river which, had it been anywhere else, would have been jam packed with holiday resorts. Eventually we spotted a petrol station where we were offered a room to sleep on the floor. As there was a restaurant, showers and toilets we settled in for the night with hordes of people staring and watching our every move. When we sat down to eat our table was shared with curious onlookers. Ha, ha our room was invaded every now and again by people coming to have a look at us. As this is a public room they proceeded to sit down on one of the mats and just look at us. I’m putting the laptop away now as they sitting right on top of me to see what I’m doing. There’s nooo private space here, what a disaster, should have pitched the tent next to the river instead.

During the night the room filled up with other people sleeping over, and I woke in the night to find a local man lying next to me with his hand on my leg; I couldn’t wait for the morning to get out of that room.


20 February 2010
Pankanang – Bukittinggi
85km


I was up at first light, but we still didn’t get away until 9h00. We expected to climb all the way up the mountain to Bukittinggi, which I’ve read is on top of a mountain. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the climb up the pass was only 20km. In the process we crossed the equator but missed the sign somewhere along the way (must have had my head down huffing and puffing up the hill).

On top of the mountain we stopped for a bite to eat and marvel at the view of the surrounding mountains, then it was on the bike again and we flew down the mountain on a very steep winding downhill. The road continued to be busy, especially in the villages, where the main road was packed with busses, trucks, cars, horse drawn carts, motorbike taxis with sidecars and of cause us on our bikes. This part of Sumatra is home to the Minangkabau. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the houses are owned by the women of the family and ownership is passed from mother to daughter. The houses are mostly of timber and have dramatic buffelo-horne like curved roof structures.

Soon we were caught in the tropical rains again. We quickly found shelter and waited for the worst to pass so it was after dark when we arrived in Bukittinggi.


21/22 February 2010
Bukittinggi


Two days spent doing very little, although we did walk to Panorama Park which has views over the gorge, and we even went down and explored the WWII Japanese tunnels. I still want to know how dog owners manage to sleep with their dogs barking all night long! Just as the dogs went to sleep the mosques started up! At least their purpose is to wake the whole community. This is a Muslim country so there’s no getting away from it, but the dogs??? How can the owners not wake up from that constant barking?

23 February 2010
Bukittingkki – Padang
95km


This must surely rate of one of the best cycling days for a very long time! 95km of downhill past small villages, raging waterfalls, over rivers and through lush and green forests with volcanoes as a backdrop! Oh yes this is volcano county and there are hundreds if not thousands of volcanoes in Indonesia. It’s also a country which has experienced various natural disasters recently, such as the tsunami and a succession of earthquakes.

Early on in the day Ernest and I lost each other somewhere along the way. When I arrived in Padang and was shocked to see the full extent of the devastating earthquake of a few months ago. See and hearing it on TV never seems to be very real. Many buildings have collapsed and are now in ruins, hotels have been destroyed and the few remaining ones, now charge exorbitant rates.

Early on in the day Ernest and I had somehow lost each other along the way. However, just after I pulled into one known cheap hotel, Ernest pulled in there as well - ha, ha there’s just no getting rid of this man! I was however quite relieved to see him, as I was getting a bit worried after I saw a bicycle flatted by a truck along the way and it made me realize how quickly an accident can happen.

Padang remains a busy coastal town with a very scenic beachfront packed with stalls offering crab and prawn meals. We watched the sun set and what a display of color that was.

22 February 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Kuala Lumpur to Malacca

11 February 2010
Kuala Lumpur – Port Dickson
95km


It was another easy and short day on the road as we biked back to Malacca. Once we reached our previous campsite just outside Port Dickson we pulled in and set up our tents under the trees next to the beach. It was still fairly early but the memory of a shower made up our minds for us.

I was fairly content just sitting and watching the sun set over the Straits of Malacca. This time I was careful about where I put my tent as my experience with the fire ants from a few days before were still fresh in my memory. It was boiling hot even after sunset and my tent was like a sauna. Shortly after I lay down I felt a damp spray and thought it had started raining, but to my horror I discovered that it was the camp’s tomcat that had sprayed through the door netting onto my head!! Don’t laugh it’s not funny.

12/13/14 February 2010
Port Dickson – Malacca
82km


It was another fairly short day as we biked into Malacca. It seemed to be getting hotter all the time, and we sweated buckets. The dorm we found at the Sama Sama annex was however well ventilated and spacious and came complete with mosquito nets, what a pleasure.

The following day was Chinese New Year, and what a colorful time it is with thousands of red lanterns decorating the streets and houses in Chinatown where we stayed. Firecrackers went off until late in the night but still did not come close to an Indian cricket match!! The alleys were packed with people and stalls and one could sample all kinds of food to you hearts delight. I’m into the curry noodle soup lately and just can’t get enough of it.

09 February 2010

CYCLING MALAYSIA - Singapore to Kuala Lumpur


31 January 2010
Singapore – Pontian Kecil
103km

After a rather costly 2-day excursion to Singapore, we beat a hasty retreat back to Malaysia. It was an easy route through the suburbs, and we made it to the North of the island in good time. It was a Sunday morning and therefore lots of cyclists along the road, all wanting to have a little chat on the move – one guy even thought we could do the 250 plus k’s to Melaka that day (perhaps he overestimated his pace, or, more likely, he’s never been to Melaka).

The border crossing between Singapore and Malaysia is easily the largest, most sophisticated, and busy immigration check point I have come across so far.

We cycled through the city of Johor Bahru on the Malaysian side and along the Straits of Johor on our way North to Kuala Lumpur. Soon we found ourselves back along the West Coast of Malaysia, what a relief. In the seaside town of Pontian Kecil we found a room and bunked down for the night.



1 February 2010
Pontian Kecil – Batu Pahat
81km

Another surprising day. We met up with Penny and Keng, two Malaysians whom we met in Iran nearly 2 years ago. They drove all the way down the road looking for us and then proceeded to buy us lunch.

When we reached Batu Pahat they were waiting for us and took us to Penny’s sisters flat where we could stay. It was a rather up-market flat (referred to as a “condo” around here), with all the mod cons and a soft bed and hot shower - we felt like the king and queen of Malaysia. That evening they took us out again to a real “steam boat” restaurant. There one can sit around a steaming pot of soup and cook your own food, nearly like a fondue, but instead of cheese it’s soup.



2/3 February 2010
Batu Pahat

There is just no end to these people’s generosity. We were fed and taken to the local bike shop and temple; we literally had to refuse to eat anymore! In no time at all, however, it was dinner time again and we ate and drank again!

We also stayed the following day lying on the sofa and watched movies, all things I haven’t done in past 3 years.


4 February 2010
Batu Pahat – Malacca
108 km

Penny decided to cycle with us to Melaka and arrived early morning on her brother-in-law’s bike and dressed like a pro. We set off at a leisurely pace. Although the road was flat it was still a hell of a long way for a non-cyclist. Penny hung in there and cycled all the way to Melaka, she is now officially known as the Iron Lady! Keng (who is currently at flying school in Melaka) cycled out to Muar to meet us (about 30km out) on a strange looking bike he borrowed from a friend. On our way back he started cramping and we had to stop at the local clinic for some rubbing cream – it must have been real good stuff because it took him the rest of the way.

We arrived in Melaka old town and although Penny was tired and terribly sunburned she was still in high spirits. Keng, who knows the place like the back of his hand, took us to an Indian restaurant which served some of the best Indian food I have eaten in a long time. Thanks Keng!!!



5 February 2010
Malacca

We walked around colorful Melaka and visited some of the historic sites. Melaka is a blend of Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese architecture. The town is especially colourful at this time of year as everyone is frantically preparing for the Chinese New Year. Houses are being scrubbed and cleaned and new decorations put up. The streets and shops are adorned with red Chinese lanterns, dragons and lion heads. The shops are stocked with all kinds of interesting foodstuff, especially for the New Year when food seems to be at the centre of the celebrations.




6 February 2010
Malacca – Port Dickson
84 km

It was time to load the bikes and leave our friends and our luxury life behind. We followed the coastal road, but lost it from time to time. Just before Port Dickson we spotted a wonderful campsite. It was on the coast with lots of trees, a toilet and shower and it was free!! Paradise. This euphoria did however not last long. I got attacked by fire ants and came out in huge lumps burning and itching like crazy. My feet, hands, under arms burnt like it was on fire!! I did the equivalent of a bad break dance, moaned and groaned while sweating profusely and at the same time having cold shivers. Wow that was a scary experience. Fortunately Ernest still had some anti histamine tablets (which he’s carried with him this entire trip) and after an hour or so things started calming down. ???.


7 February 2010
Port Dickson – Banting
109 km

It was once again 11h00 by the time we left our campsite. So it was another short day on the road, with plenty of small fishing villages along the way. We stopped every now and again to drink green guava juice at stalls along the way. Once or twice we also had to hide from the rain and it was therefore late by the time we reached Banting. We took the first room we could find just to be attacked by bed bugs, what next???

8 February 2010
Banting – Kuala Lumpur
67 km

I expected to battle through heavy traffic into the city, but not only was it a shorter ride than expected, we also found ourselves on a dedicated bicycle / motorcycle path leading right into the city centre. The path followed the freeway and came complete with its own road signs. What a pleasure that was, now tell me why can Cape Town not have something like this.

We headed straight for China Town where there was said to be cheap accommodation to be had. Soon we had a room, not to pricey, central and clean. No bed bugs this time.

9 February 2010
Kuala Lumpur

It was time to apply for our Indonesian visas, so early morning we were off to the embassy, using the KL Monorail for most of the way. Unfortunately I only got one month instead of the two I was expecting, but apparently one can extend it once over there. It was extremely expensive at 170 RM for the visa - at least it was quick and I could pick my visa up the same day. Ernest could not enter the embassy to apply for a visa, as he was wearing shorts (not allowed).