Into the Mix

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Our farewell to Thailand ushered in a return to the Muslim world. This time to colourful Malaysia. First stop – Duty Free Langkawi!

The island had some beautiful white sandy beaches and an aquarium. I got a good look at the sharks and hoped not to encounter any in the wild.

Langkawi also provided a reality check for us. Used to living cheaply we were shocked at price of everything. A meal cost RM10, (over £2!) a room in a cheap hotel RM50 (or £10!) That was twice what we had been paying in Thailand and almost 3 times the cost of China’s more remote regions.

It was with some pleasure that we arrived on Panang, a couple of days ride south along the coast. With it’s richly decorated Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist temples alongside Mosques it provided a vibrant mix of cultures that had been absent since leaving England.

The real delight, though, was the (cheap) cuisine! Hawker stalls and food corners were busy nightspots where you could mix with the locals while wolfing down a delicious mix of Chinese, Indian or traditional Malay food.

Leaving the island a little heavier than when we arrived we headed inland towards Taiping, the old English capital of Malaysia on our way to the Cameron Highlands.

The going was flat, but complicated by soaring temperatures and a bout of tonsilitis I picked up along the way.

By the time we arrived at Taiping I was finished. Each beat of my heart produced a pounding pain behind my eyes. I lacked the energy to get us accommodation and sat on the kerb while Matt booked us into the Cherry Motel.

I slept the rest of the day. The next morning I still felt rough. Fearing a costly delay I quietened my inner bloke and took myself to a health centre.

The place was new and clean. A triage desk at the entrance a friendly nurse asked me for my symptoms then she asked me to count to 9. I thought this odd but perhaps it was a test of my cognition so I reeled the numbers back to her, passing the test, no doubt.

She paused and looked at me, frowned then added

“No, no, countER 9. It’s over there,” she pointed to a desk at the back of the clinic. We all burst into laughter. I had failed the test.

While I made an idiot of myself, Matt went on a tour with our hosts at the Motel. Mr Soo and Ms Tee took Matt to the first railway station and prison of Malaysia. They were incredibly proud of Taiping.

Leaving Taiping we raced on through scorching temperatures to the verdant Cameron Highlands – a place built-up during the 19th Century to host the Brits to whom the lower temperatures at this altitude appealed.

From cool mountain to hot jungle. The Malaysian national park, Taman Negara, is part of the oldest rainforest in the world. It is also bloody hot and humid.

After purchasing a 3 day trek we had only been in the jungle 5 minutes before we were drenched in sweat.

It was an aggressive environment. Everything was armed to the teeth with poisons, spines, spikes and…er…teeth. The canopy towered 50m high above while we bobbed and weaved amongst spiked foliage beneath.

Our first night’s rest was spent at amazing Gua Kepayang Basar cave – a bat cathedral. The cave was the size of a football field and hid us from the jungle humidity. There was a price to pay, however.

Bats, just after letting go from their cave roof roosts, will also let go of their bowels. Thus we spent an evening listening to their high-pitched squeaks and being crapped upon.

Next evening was spent in the humorously titled Bunbum Kumbang* hide. Here we saw a civet, a large cat, who came creeping after nightfall to eat the remains of a revolting chicken curry. I don’t know the condition of the Civet now. He was the only wildlife we saw so I hope the curry didn’t kill him.

The combination of the constant damp of the jungle and anti-malaria medicine had done me no favours. I came down with a rather embarrassing fungal infection. Jock itch.

It is a horrendously itchy condition. It got so bad that I had, once again, to seek medical intervention at a chemist.

Have you ever wondered into your local Boots and enquired after something to help stop your testicles from itching? You should be prepared to receive some funny looks. The accusing eyes softened a little, though, when I explained, through the medium of mime, that I did not have pubic lice.

Our time in Taman Negara came to an end. We rode south, along the east coast, in a rush. We had a presentation to give in Singapore, to catch-up with my friend, Bex, and our cycling idol, Jilly Sherlock. It also represented the finishing line for this, the humongous middle section of our ride.

On the way from Kuantan we met two Dutch cyclists heading north, they warned us of an RTA ahead.

Not 5km later we rode past the incident. An express coach had smashed into white pick-up truck. The passengers were unhurt but looked pale and shaken. They stood or sat on the grass verge one side of the red coach.

The other side we saw a white truck, or what was left of it. It had barely damaged the coach but had been almost vaporised by the collision.

At the front of the coach lay the body of the pick-up driver. His head and torso covered in a blood soaked blanket. Just his arms and legs protruded.  His skin looked pale and waxy.

This was the first dead body I have ever seen. I wanted to see it because I always want to recall that image to banish doubt or fear, to remind me to seize opportunities.

It also reminded me of the fragility of life, that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

That night we camped out on  a jetty extending into the Rompin river. We saw the sun sink into the South China sea and, still ruminating over death, drifted off to the sounds of waves (and thousands of mosquitoes)

Perhaps the sight of the dead person had set me thinking too much because in the next town, Mersing, I carelessly lost my diary. All of my recollections and observations from China to Thailand were gone! I couldn’t leave without it so stayed until it turned-up in the Chinese restaurant I’d had supper in (and where I had previously enquired after it).

The delay meant a midday start and with 140km to cover I’d have to push really hard to have to reach our next stop, Bandar Penawar, and meet Matt, who had left at 7am.

I made the distance in 7 hours – stopping only 3 times for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. It was a stern challenge but I love to push myself so was pleased. Not so pleasing was Matt’s absence.

His bike had been making scraping noises at each turn of the pedals for about a week but it seemed that it had finally broken en route forcing him to ride to the nearer town of Kota Tinggi. We agreed to meet-up in Singapore.

I arrived in Singapore not knowing what to expect, but I found it to be pleasant, if a little sterile. The large East Coast Park hugged the coastline and was popular with groups of kids, families and fitness nuts riding, running or skating along the wide, criss-crossed pathways.

The path took me right into the heart of the city and it wasn’t long before I was climbing the stairs to Tree Inn Lodge. A fantastic hostel that allowed Matt and I  to use their longe area for a brief public presentation.

We also met with the amazing Jilly Sherlock – a fellow cycle tourist who has been an electronic companion for Matt and me. Riding ahead of us for most of our journey, reporting back on her findings and offering advice.

Post presentation we were taken out by my friend, Bex, for a celebratory feed. Her friends often ate at a popular food corner. Allegedly the best satay in town. Well, we had to test that claim out and also have a crack at the groups satay stick eating contest.

The record was 26 sticks. I pulverised it and consumed 36 satay sticks. A victory tainted by the shame of my gluttony.

Singapore was a suitably grand location to end this part of our trip; the laser light shows and luminous glass buildings seemed to blast out a visual fanfare just for us. Here we celebrated crossed two great landmarks – the end of the Eurasian landmass and £20’000 raised for War Child.

We still have 5000km and £30’000km to go!

 

* Also the title to one of Matt’s ‘special’ movies

What!? You want more! OK here’s the latest article in The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/activityandadventure/9548546/The-Saddle-Saga-one-year-down-one-continent-to-go.html

2 Responses to “Into the Mix”

  1. Johann Ahmad says:

    hey guys good luck out there…hope you enjoyed nasi kandar….

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