Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Farewell Asia

(Germany) - Klang – Melaka – Singapore border

By the time we returned to Klang, our 10 day break in Germany already felt surreal. We had had a fantastic time oohing and aahing over our little nephew Felix and catching up with Freddie’s family and some of our friends. We visited her grandma and saw various aunts, uncles and cousins. Freddie’s dad took us out for a great day in Hamburg, visiting the world’s largest model rail exhibition and Russian spy submarine now anchored in Hamburg’s port. The day ended with an hour’s sailing on the Alster lake. The rest of the time was spent hanging out with Freddie sister and mum, not doing much at all except going for walks and chatting. The culture shock we had expected after all this time spent in Asia was actually a positive experience as we relished our calm and orderly surroundings and marvelled at all the produce available from the local supermarket. ||

Freddie with her parents   Maike and Denis with baby Felix

We were therefore a little sad to be back in Malaysia, knowing we would not see Freddie’s family for quite a while now. At the same time, the excitement about our upcoming bike ride through Australia was mounting, and with the return of Boris, our tent, the whole team was finally complete again (he had spent the winter in Germany as we didn’t need him for India and South East Asia). Jetlagged and sleep-deprived we set out the morning after our arrival for our final week’s cycling in Asia – the stretch between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

As we turned our first corner, Freddie almost ran down an elderly, slightly scruffy looking Chinese man on his rusty bicycle who was travelling in the other direction. After a chat the man, Bobby, insisted on inviting us for a coffee. Soon we were sitting in a local cafe, joined temporarily by his doctor friend, drinking ice tea and eating flaky roti break with egg filling. “Next time you come, you must stay in my hotel,” Bobby said pointing to the nice hotel we had just emerged from. It turned out that, despite his impoverished appearance, he was actually the owner of the five-story building. He also ran a fruit shop and filled out bar bags with oranges before he let us proceed on our way.

The road south of Klang was quite busy, with a lot of truck traffic and, as usual in Malaysia, no shoulder to ride on. We struggled a little due to our jet lag, but also due to the fact that we each had an extra 5kg of camping kit on our bikes. We stayed in a hotel in Port Dickson, which looked like quite a pleasant place except that it was totally booked up as it was National Day weekend.

The scenery was more varied the following day, with more hills and fewer palm plantations. The thing to do on National Day weekend seems to be to get a group of 30-50 friends together, each armed with a small backpack and a motorbike, and then drive down the coastal highway in mob formation terrorising everyone and everything on the roads. Ideally you want to impress your friends by pulling a stunt such as lying down flat on your motorbike, lifting your legs in the air, and then zooming past a couple of foreign cyclists as close as possible while giving them the thumbs-up sign.

On arrival in Melaka, we were very lucky to get the last room in a cheap and central hotel. The town was packed with weekend visitors and we squeezed through the night market along with everyone else, being tempted by an array of oriental foods and Chinese lanterns.

Melaka street

In the morning, we had a long sleep-in as we were still very tired from our jet-lag. The afternoon was spent wandering around town, admiring the antique shops, Chinese temples, flower-filled town squares, a Portuguese church overlooking the Melaka Straits and the old Dutch town hall. But mostly we spent our time hanging out in a coffee shop called The Geographer.

 Chinese lantern Chinese temple 

In the evening we had a knock on our door. “I see you also have the Rohloff hub,” fellow cyclist Marius from Holland introduced himself. With that, the scene was set for an evening of bike talk. Marius is a retired teacher who cycles somewhere in the world for a couple of months every year and had many tales to share.

Funky Melaka cafe   Bike taxis

As we were now only 2° north of the equator, the temperature became even hotter. We struggled with our 104km the following day and were quite tired as we arrived in Batu Pahat. We decided to skip the usual hawker stalls and treat ourselves to dinner at a chain restaurant called “Secret Recipe”. 

During the night Guy found out what the secret was. He was feeling decidedly queasy. After a sleep-in and a bit of deliberation, we decided to push on anyway as our timings were now fairly tight in view of our flight from Singapore to Darwin. Needless to say it was quite a hard day, but in the evening Guy felt better, and to add to this we were even upgraded to a seaview room in Pontian.

The following morning we had “last-day-cycling-in-Asia” buzz running through our bodies, it was now only 75km to the end of the road in Singapore. Mid morning we stopped in a little cafe for an ice tea and a coconut. A guy from Singapore who had travelled all over the world started chatting to us. After he left, we found out that he had cunningly paid for our drinks.

Goodie bag   Well deserved break in a drain

Shortly afterwards, we had lunch at a small food court, and once we had finished a man called Albert came by for a chat. He is a member of the local Lions Club and was quite interested in our trip. Before he left, he bought us a big bag of goodies including peanuts, cookies, crackers and cold drinks. We were really touched, it was such a friendly end to our stay in Malaysia.

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