So onto our first port of call, Melaka or Malacca as it is also known. Having crossed the border into Malaysia with no problems and a 90 day, free visa we planned to cycle north (the only way you can go really!). However as you leave the border control area the roads all around Johor Bahru are all dual carriageways and motorways, we instantly lost our bearings and ended up getting on and off roads trying to make sense of the road signs. I usually navigate and have a map on my bar bag, however without a map (or road signs that made sense) I was struggling, it was hot and I was rapidly losing patience so Chris thankfully took charge. We got onto the road we needed and then stopped to buy a map of Malaysia at the petrol station to figure out the route. Note to self: buy map of country before entering!
After all this messing around getting lost and our late start that morning, it was now the hottest part of the day – the time we usually avoid cycling. The friendly man at the petrol station told us there was a homestay just around the corner, we didn’t need telling twice and we went off to find it. Jomi Homestay – run by John, accompanied by his two and half year old son, Sun Liew – was perfect, cool rooms, kitchen for cooking, internet and tea and coffee. So we stayed and were very glad that we did. A nice start to Malaysia.
After writing out step by step instructions with the help of Googlemaps, I figured out a route to get us onto Route 5, to go up the west coast of Malaysia to Penang. We set off and all seemed to go well until we came to the road I wanted only to find that it was a toll road and no bikes allowed. It wasn’t marked as a toll road on the map, doh! So we turned around and eventually figured out an alternative way. All the roads are 2 or 3 lane with big sweeping bends and slopes, ok but you feel very small on a bicycle and really have to cycle confidently. We got back on track after a 10km detour, not too bad all things considered. Once we got further from Johor Bahru and all the Kuala Lumpur signs, the roads were quieter and it was enjoyable cycling.
We stopped for a long lunch to stay out of the sun and as we left the heavens opened, cooling us down instantly. We made it to the west coast and cycled up to Ayer Baloi where we camped for the night on a wooden platform. Despite the frustrating start to the day, we were now on the right road and on our way, so we relaxed, read for a bit, fended off a few midges before sleeping.
In the morning we woke to a lovely sunrise, whilst having our toast, tea and coffee.
We set off with first priority being to get some water, we had hoped to boil or pump (filter) some of the river water, but there was so much debris and dirt in it that neither of us felt this would be a good idea. At the garage we asked if we could fill up with tap water, they said yes but that we shouldn’t drink it, not safe. So looks like we are back to buying water then! I bought a couple of bottles, Chris wasn’t very happy. He didn’t sleep very well, too hot and was in a slightly grumpy mood this morning. I was fine, but his mood was starting to rub off on me. When you spend so much time together, you are so sensitive to each other’s every word or gesture, you can’t help but be affected. Often you can help each other to ‘snap out of it’ or cheer them up, but sometimes you just end up in a bad mood too.
We cycled on, the roads are flat along the coast and nice for cycling, we were averaging about 18km an hour and it was a nice temperature. We both put on our ipods and went off into our own worlds. After about 20km I was feeling hungry and shaky. The sun was out now shining fiercely in the sky. We carried on for a bit until we came to a roadside shop with bananas hanging up. I announced to Chris that we were stopping. I went in, bought some bananas, more water and a drink they sell here called 100 which has electrolytes and rehydration ingredients. I sat down in an attempt to sort myself out, worrying that Chris was cross at me buying all this stuff. A couple of minutes later he came back with a big bottle of 100 for me to put in my camelback (water bladder) and another water for him. He wasn’t cross, just a little impatient at the situation – we hadn’t gone very far and i was already struggling with the heat. So rehydrated, we set off again.
About another 20km later and I was feeling awful, my head was throbbing and i felt like i was going to faint. I wanted to keep going so we could cover the distance by my head was hurting. I pulled in at a bus stop to rest in the shade. Chris was fine but I could tell he was a bit bemused by me stopping yet again. I wasn’t intentionally being a drama queen, but I just needed to get out of the sun. I sat on the floor and waited as my body cooled down. If only i could turn the sun off for a few days, I’m sick of cycling in this bloody heat, ‘it’s ridiculous’ (that’s my phrase when things are too hard) and despite 3 months in Australia and 2 in Indonesia I’m still not acclimatised to it! It’s so frustrating. When it’s cool i feel like i could cycle a hundred miles, yet the moment it warms up I’m struggling, head pounding. I felt my eyes prick with hot tears, oh dear. Chris suggested that we cycle on and stop at the next restaurant we see. That way we could have an early lunch and a place to sit and read our books, until it cooled down. Despite feeling that I didn’t want to move and just wanted to curl up into a ball, i knew it made sense and so I agreed.
Someone was looking out for me as the sun went behind the clouds and as we cycled a few more kms, the terrain went up and down, the rush of a downhill creates a cool breeze which felt nice. I felt a bit better and we soon stopped to eat. It was a particularly hot day I reckon as it didn’t seem to cool down and it wasn’t until about 3.30 that it seemed anywhere cool enough to get back on the road. We cycled on into the evening though and managed to do 80km in the end which was good. We had hoped to camp by the beach but on arrival it was a bit smelly and there were lots of monkeys who could be troublesome, so we moved on. Almost dark, we turned off down a side road and headed for a palm tree field. The ground was uneven and it was very close no breeze, we were both tired now and just wanted today to be over. Grumpily we put up the tent, trying not to snap at each other. I really wanted a wash, I was covered in a layer of sweat, road dirt and suncream, so with half a bottle of water i managed to have a mini shower and felt better for it.
Despite our tiredness, or perhaps because of it, we ended up having a discussion/argument about all the things that were bothering each of us. We don’t shout at each other ever really, but we are very honest. To do this kind of journey together you have to be open and honest, for your relationship to work and stay strong you have to be able to say anything and know that you’ll still be loved. Otherwise if you let things fester, unspoken, resentment builds up and everything gets blown out of proportion. It was good to talk and to find out that we were both frustrated about the same things although in different ways. Both of us being the problem solving type, we automatically looked for solutions and new things to try the next day.
5am and the alarm went off, not a great deal of sleep had, but it was starting to rain and we only had the inner tent up. In half-asleep mode we quickly rolled up our thermarests, dressed and bailed out of the tent. The rain came down and it was thundering and lightning all around. Still dark we packed up and left camp to find shelter for breakfast.. at the end of the road
By 11am you’d never known that there had been a storm or heavy downpour. We headed for Melaka, determined to reach the two by the end of the day. It was hot again, but we had an uneventful day and were both in much better spirits. As we entered Melaka, the map reading was a a little intense – the road signs never seem to match the names of my map, ah well good practice for China I guess. This is me besides 3 lanes of traffic trying to work out which lane we should take (I’m also busting for the loo, hence my position).
Chris was feeling a bit rough at this stage, a headache from the brightness of the day. So I was keen to get us to Chinatown as soon as I could. We reached the centre of Melaka by the river and went into Chinatown. We checked into Chong Hoe Hotel and relaxed, phew we made it!