Archive for April, 2010


To Melaka

Friday, April 30th, 2010

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.

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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.

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In the morning we woke to a lovely sunrise, whilst having our toast, tea and coffee.

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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 P1000065

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).

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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!

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Two punctures in two hours!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Having set off at 6.30am we were keen to get 40km done by 8.30am, making the most of the cool temperature. After 21km I felt my back wheel wobbling and cycling was suddenly sluggish. We stopped and it looked like a puncture. So I unloaded the bike, turned it upside down, dug out the repair kit and set about patching up the hole. A tiny shard of metal had gone through the tyre and wedged itself into the rubber.

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All fixes and off we go. 6km later and the back tyre has gone down again, gggrrrr. No choice but to stop and sort it out. Am a bit cross now as we are losing precious ‘cool’ time. Rather than faff about trying to fix it again, I decided to replace the inner tube with a new one and get back on the road. Still have to unload the bike though!

All good and we stop in Banting for lunch, having met Peter, a dutch cyclists, living in Malaysia who has cycled over 100,000km in many counties across the world. After lunch we set off again and about 10km in, my back tyre feels funny again, am i just imagining things? No it’s gone flat again!?!  Now I’m puzzled, there must be something in the tyre that I missed the first 2 times. But no, it was just one of those days, a different spike of metal this time, stuck in the tyre and inner tube. Unloading the bike for the third time that day I was beginning to have a sense of humour failure! Chris helped me change it, whilst dripping with sweat and being attacked by ants, little blighters are everywhere.

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Funny – I’ve done over 5000km and only had 2 punctures in all that time, then today I get 2 punctures in 2 hours! Hopefully that’s the last one for a while. Despite the delays, we still managed to cycle 88km to our destination (whilst fiercely dodging any further debris on the roadside), and arrived about 5.30pm both a little shattered after our long day!

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Splendid Singapore

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Arriving in Singapore at the Harbour Front, back in the land of toilets with loo roll, no smoking signs, shiny floors and rubbish bins, we were instantly transported from our ferry trip and Indonesia into a new world. We cycled out of the ferry terminal onto lovely flat roads, very little traffic and no beeping, both in a bit of a daze… it was so quiet, nobody was driving in the wrong direction, there were no scooters, no beeps, no bumps… just street lighting and smooth tarmac ahhhh bliss.

There is a cycle touring hospitality website called warmshowers.org that allows cycle tourers to host other tourers, if and when they visit their home city/country. The idea being that when you finish your tour, you can then host others in return. So we had arranged to stay with Chuen in Singapore, about 10km from the ferry terminal. We both arrived at Chuen’s house feeling relaxed and immediately exclaiming how much we like Singapore. We had a lovely big room with a hot shower – the first hot shower since Australia. It was about 9pm already but Chuen kindly took us out to a local food centre where we sampled Chicken rice, BBQ Sting ray and noodles with minced meat. Having not eaten much on the boat, we were both delighted and really enjoyed everything. Chuen lived in California for 6 years and told us a bit about his cycle tour in the states, through the Rockies. He’s hoping to do another big tour at some point in the next few years.

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Next day we had a lie in – how you can be tired from sitting on a ferry for 28hrs I don’t know, but we were quite tired. Chuen then took us into the centre of Singapore, to Orchard Road, which is a lot like Oxford Street (London) only the roads and pavements are much wider, allowing for the number of shoppers with ease – very pleasant. We bought a new waterproof, shockproof, everything proof camera after much negotiation and much patience on Chuen’s part!

I spied an M&S and scampered over there excitedly, I bought some new underwear and trousers, I came out grinning – never been so pleased with a shopping trip! Having lost quite a bit of weight on the trip, it was nice to have clothes that fit once again.

Chuen then took us on a car tour of Singapore and we stopped at colourful Little India, before continuing.IMG_5247

We ended the day by having dinner at a very popular place that serves dumplings, it was certainly very popular when we turned up, there were 18 people queuing ahead of us…always a good sign though. We had lovely food there and sampled their dumplings which were delicious. Finally we headed to the river and got to see Singapore by night. I do believe that many cities come alive at night, all lit up, with buildings twinkling, the skyline somehow seems to have more definition.

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It was 11pm by the time we got home and we planned to be up early and cycling the next day so we headed up to bed. In the morning we said goodbye to Chuen before he left for work, and got ready to leave. Chuen’s mum then offered us bacon and eggs!!! how could we refuse? So we stayed and had breakfast with her and got spoilt rotten. We set off a bit later than planned, although we didn’t mind, it was worth it for the lovely food and a chance to chat with Chuen’s mum. We then cycled towards the border with Malaysia.

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Singapore is a great place and seems like a model city. With 4 million people there it seems very clean and orderly, with strategic housing projects, intriguing architecture and very low unemployment, yet interesting with great food, shopping opportunities and an interesting mix of people and culture. It was a shame we didn’t have longer there as we both really enjoyed our stay, but thanks to Chuen – who totally went beyond the call of duty by giving up his whole day for us -  we managed to see and do quite a lot during our short visit. Thanks Chuen!

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Java, Jakarta to Singapore by ferry via Batam

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Links and useful information about this route at the bottom of the post.

We arrived at the ferry port and  to the mass of passengers, food and drink sellers.  We had some food and watched life go by trying to get a sense of the order in what to us, seemed like chaos.  We wanted to keep the bikes loaded till the last possible moment as ferrying the 5 bags that are attached to the bikes is a much harder than just pushing the bikes.  The ferry was huge but only took cargo and people no cars.  We entered the departure lounge and greeted the usual stairs of amazement with smiles and confidence.  Sometimes looking lost can be helpful as often people will come and help you, at other times looking lost can attract unwanted attention from people keen to sell you or help you at an inflated price.  This was a time for confidence.

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The departure gates opened and there was a surge of people through the tiny double doors to go on to the boat.  Quite what the rush was I don’t know, we had two hours till scheduled departure and allocated beds on the boat.  After the rush we wheeled our bikes to the end of the queue that was forming to get on to the boat.  Hoping by some miracle that there would be an easy way to get the heavy bikes up the stairs to the boat.  We decided that no miracle was going to happen and it was time unload the bikes.  We had prepared for this as we carry specially designed bags that fit all of our pannier bags.  It only takes a few minutes to load up the bike and means we only have two big bags, our small days sacks and the bikes to contend with.  As we unloaded the bikes some keen porters came over to start helping us.  As appreciative as i was of the help i was concerned at the cost.  Waiting till we got to our cabin to find out the price was not an option.  The porters were keen to keep helping and trying to fend off questions of price.  Stopping everyone in their tracks, I forcefully but politely said we needed to negotiate a price before we continued.  After a few minutes of haggling we agreed on a price for two porters.  They would carry the big red bags and we would take the bikes.  It is difficult to know what a fair price is as wages vary dramatically in Indonesia and as tourists we are seen to have endless sources of money.

As we rejoined the queue another set of stairs was lowered for us, at the time i was not sure why but there was no reason to question this as these stairs looked much easier to negotiate with the bikes.  As we boarded, our tickets were checked and everyone was surprised that we were in economy class.  The special stairs had come down for us so that we could get directly to first class on the top decks.  Economy class was on the bottom deck.  We carried the bikes down the steps this time with the aid of Eyan an English traveller who we had met on the special stairs.  Eyan was kind enough to take Liz’s bikes as she is not quite strong enough to lift it down the stairs. 

We arrived at our communal cabin and I was happy with everything, we had no idea what to expect before booking but the large cabin that accommodated about 60 people had lines of beds with plenty of storage under the beds.  We paid the porters who conveniently did not have enough change, i had forgot to get some the night before.  We got settled in and chatted with our new friend Eyan and our fellow passengers who spoke some English.

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‘How come you are in economy class why don’t you pay for first class’ this was the question that our fellow passengers were most interested in.  We explained that although we were western tourists we still had a daily budget.  We often explain that we worked hard, saved up enough money to travel the world  for 15 months, but to travel for such a long period of time meant us living of a small amount of money each day.  This is often a difficult concept for some people to grasp.  To many people they can not comprehend that we could every have a little money.  The perception of our lives back home can be of endless wealth.  Later in the voyage Liz was talking to some people about our visit to the Prambanan temple.  She was asked if we had been to the Borobudur temple as well.  Liz explained that we only had enough money to see one of the temples.  This statement was again met with much confusion.  ‘Can’t you get your parents to send you some money if you have run out?’  Its not that we have run our of money, its that we have a certain amount of money to live on each week and if we spend more than that we will not have enough money to make it home. ‘Ok I understand’ said the person Liz was talking to with a blank expression on her face.  The same girl was keen to travel to England to work as a housekeeper as all English people have house keepers.  Again Liz explained that while some people do have house keepers or cleaners this was not the norm.

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This has given us an idea of how we are perceived and the perception of our wealth and lifestyle by some people.  It is a travellers conundrum rich vs. poor, but wealth and riches are not always in the form of money. 

The voyage was smooth with not much to do other than read and relax and talk.  There were some arcades and a cinema on board but not something we considered due to the cost.  We bought into the four meals for 10,000 RP about 0.70p and I enjoyed the forced relaxation time.  It is wonderful to just read and rest knowing that there is nothing else that you need or can do.

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We did take some time out to explore the rest of the ship, it was very similar and easy to get lost in the maze of passages and stairwells.  On one of the adventures around the ship we got locked into another cabin.  They had announced on the tannoy that all passengers must return to their cabins for ticket inspection, only we did not understand this so only found out about it once all the doors around the ship has been closed and locked.  Somehow we managed to find a few open doors and reappeared at the cinema that was next to our cabin.  We had our tickets inspected and got back to our beds without anyone noticing that we were missing.  Whether this was a normal procedure or if there was a stow away on board had sparked my imagination, and i spent some time creating an adventure story about a stow away on a ship.

We arrived in Batam a little later than scheduled 28 hours since we left Jakarta and decided that we could ferry the bags and bikes ourselves with Eyans help.  The porters that had appeared were a little taken back at this but when they saw me lugging the big red bags i think they were secretly pleased.  We got all the kit off without any dramas and set off to find out which port we had landed at on Batam and how to get to Singapore, i could not find out this before or during the passage.  We wheeled out to the main road and quickly discovered that telling the taxi drivers eager for business that we were going to Singapore was a good thing, as they would point to the terminal that was only a few hundred meters away and stopped trying to persuade us we needed a taxi ride.

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We got to the departure terminal and bought our tickets for the 45 minute fast boat ride to Singapore.  The terminal was new and clean and a stark contract to the rest of Indonesia that we had experienced.  I left the air conditioned departure lounge and went out into the afternoon heat.  I stood there for a while and said good bye to Indonesia, a country i had grown to love and wondered if i would return to explore more one day.  As i left, the heavens opened and it poured with rain, a fitting end as we had cycled in these downpours every afternoon in Java. 

Our passports were stamped and we boarded the small ferry to Singapore.  We did not say much on the passage, it seemed to go quickly, both of us lost in our thoughts and books.

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Clearing immigration and customs we were now in Singapore.  We loaded up the bikes said good bye to Eyan and cycled off to find our warm showers host and to explore Singapore. 

 

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Practical Information Prices April 2010

Ferry to Batam

Economy Class 252,000 RP p/p – 27 hours

Java Jakarta Tanjung Priok ferry terminal  to Batam Sekupang ferry terminal

Pelni website – prices and timetable

Pelni route map 2006

Porter to cabin 30,000 RP for two porters and two bags carried, starting prices 100,000 RP – carry smaller notes the porters are unlikely to have change. 

Food is available on board, each class has its own restaurant, in economy class we had four meals for 10,000 RP.  Very simple fish and rice each meal.  Bring snacks and water as it’s cheaper than buying it on or near the ferry. 

Economy class is fine, no bedding is provided, although sleeping  mats are comfy. Cabin is air conditioned, but smoky despite the no smoking signs. Showers and toilets are dotted throughout.

We were not charged any extra for taking the bikes but there is a weight limit of 50 kg per person slightly more in first class.

Ferry Batam Singapore

181,000 RP p/p.  Some people may have to pay departure tax about $13 SGD 45mins – 1 hour

Options are Batam Fast or Penguin ferry companies

 

Ferry Ports


View Jakarta to Singapore by Ferry in a larger map

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Yogya to Jakarta

Monday, April 26th, 2010

We were left with little choice, we only had a week left on our visa, not nearly enough time to get to Dumai, Sumatra our planned end for Indonesia.  We could have cycled another 300km further west and got a train from there to Jakarta but information on the train times was a little sketchy and we had to be in Jakarta for the 16th to get the once a week ferry.  We had already decided since landing in Bali that planes were off limits, due to the cost to the environment and in the spirit of more adventurous travel.  So we enjoyed a few days of in Yogya and hopped on the train to Jakarta.

We arrive in Jakarta hoping that it would be quite easy to get to the hostel from the train station.  The 7 hour journey had gone quickly and was comfortable.  At the station we negotiated the numerous steps, enthusiastic local bikers, keen to take photos and loaded up the bikes while we fielded more of the usual questions of interest and set off.  It was an entertaining experience trying to negotiate our way around a massive roundabout in the dark but we did it, and got to the budget hostel area and started to look for a place to stay.  Prices were a little higher than we had been used to but we found a small room that would do us for the two nights.  However the hostel owner decided that the room was too small for all our stuff and bikes.  I assured him it would be fine and said that we could not afford the more expensive upstairs room.  Without directly staying it he said that he would prefer it if we looked else where.  A bit taken aback i left Liz with the bikes and kit so i could explore more quickly.  15 minutes later and most places were either too expensive or full so we decided to wheel round together.  As we approached the end of the lane i noticed a hostel that i had not seen before, nothing special but they had availability for two nights, and it was late, still we managed to negotiate a price within our budget and got settled in. 

We did not sleep much as the design of the building and the Jakarta city heat was turning our room into a sauna despite the rickety small fan, that had been whering away all night.  Neither of us had much desire to traipse around a big city in the heat so we decided to skip the sight seeing and get the two jobs done so we could relax.  Get the broken camera fixed or replaced and recce the route to the ferry terminal for the next day.  We found the Olympus repair centre and reviewed our options.  To repair the camera was the same cost as a new one but a new one would not be covered under warranty outside Indonesia, so we thanked them for their help, they had been really helpful, many emails before our visit and set off to find the ferry terminal.

We took the bus to the end of the road and figured that the route was pretty simple and there were no surprises for the bikes.  We had a lunch from one of the local street sellers and headed back to the hostel to pack up and enjoy our last night in Java.  We had a nice dinner and checked some emails and got a basic plan together for Singapore and headed back to the hostel.  We were not looking forward to another hot night but were thankful it would be the last. We had also discovered that there was more to the hostel than met the eye and that it seemed to be operating as a brothel as well as a hostel or maybe the hostel was just a front? 

The next day we left early and headed of to the ferry terminal for an interesting 27hr crossing to the Island of Batam, part of Indonesia, just south of Singapore, and then another shorter ferry ride to Singapore. 

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