Skipping through Malayisia to Indonesia

 

This is two posts in one as I got a little distracted in Melaka…

After a nice – albeit devoid of wildlife – side-trip to Taman Negara, I headed for KL totally underestimating the length of the climb to the Genting Highlands pass. It wasn’t steep, but it just kept going. In fact, the gradient was so slight at the beginning I didn’t realise I was climbing and was starting to wonder where the strength in my legs had disappeared to. By the time I reached the top I was pretty pleased to have a nice downhill run into the outskirts of the city.

Riding a bike in a big city isn’t fun, and I try to avoid it at all costs. I’d planned on heading for Gombak station in the north of the city and catching a train across town to just near Echo’s place. It was super convenient and I was unashamedly looking forward to the 40 minute trip as it was guaranteed to come with frosty cool air-conditioning. When I arrived at the station, I saw a sign that said “No Bicycles”…. ok, so I won’t ride around on the platform, but surely I can take my bike on the train in the middle of the day when the trains are not full??? After progressing from ticket-selling/information-guy, through station security to the Station Master and all of them said “No”, I was starting to lose hope. When the Station Master called his boss and the answer was still emphatically negative, I gave up and surrendered to the hell that is a hot, polluted city in Asia and prayed that I would make it. I also asked the staff at the station to put in a word for me with their deities as well.

It was hot, and the traffic was thick, but the first part into central KL was actually pretty straight forward and I got to KL Sentral station in good time to meet Monika and collect some papers for my Indonesian visa (more on Monika’s role in a moment). After posing for innumerable photos with the local constabulary who are always fascinated by my adventure, and listening to their sage advice about how I shouldn’t be cycling in KL because it’s too dangerous, I headed south and into the suburbs towards Putra Jaya and Echo’s home.

The traffic got thicker and the roads more closely resembled expressways than roads suitable for cycling (as far as I could tell there are no alternatives). Road works, strange merging intersections and missed entry/exit ramps, left me totally confused and lost in a mega-city. Google maps kept wanting to send me around the long way to get back onto the expressway and I had no choice but to follow it. Unfortunately, after 80km and an energy-sapping climb my concentration was waning and I just ended up even more lost. After climbing up another hill, through a very expensive neighborhood with a great view of the KL tower and city skyline, the on-ramp to the expressway that Mr Google swore was there, wasn’t. So it was up another hill and a backwards loop onto the expressway.

The fabulous view of the KL skyline from the top of the totally unnecessary climb I made at the end of a looooong day

The fabulous view of the KL skyline from the top of the totally unnecessary climb I made at the end of a looooong day

OK, I was finally heading in the right direction! On the roads in KL there are no bike lanes and no emergency stopping lanes so I was forced to hug the gutter and hope for the best. The most exhilarating part was when the expressway I was on joined another and I found myself stuck in the middle of a six-lane monstrosity. Some frantic hand-gestures, innumerable head-checks, and a good dose of luck saw me across to the left hand side and relative safety. All up, it took five hours to get to Echo’s place and I was emotionally shattered. Coffee, iced water and good old fashioned hug from a friend made me feel much better though.

It was so lovely to see Echo again and just have some time to chill out and relax a bit after a few weeks back on the road. I even got to eat sushi and see a movie in a real theatre. Good times! Echo made some magnificent home-cooked meals and I felt like my battery was fully charged. So it was time to head south to Melaka.

I took the highway down to Melaka, and it was pretty good cycling, if a bit boring. On the second day, I thought I was suffering from a few indulgent days off because my breathing was a bit laboured and by the end of the day I had bad pains in my chest. It turns out that the foggy haze I had been riding through, and blessing because it meant it wasn’t as hot out on the road, was smoke from illegal fires in Sumatra. The slashing and burning of the jungle is still going on to make way for oil palm plantations and the smoke is choking the Malaysian peninsular from KL to Singapore. Oh happy days… Sumatra here I come….

The strange looking sun through the haze over Melaka from the Sumatran fires

The strange looking sun through the haze over Melaka from the Sumatran fires

When we arrived in Dumai (Sumatra) the haze from the smoke had visibility down to about 100m. Most people were wearing face masks, although I’d imagine they are getting difficult to source now. Herman, an Indonesian immigration officer, offered to guide us out to the bus “station” which was 8km outside of town. The smoke was burning my eyes, lungs and nose and made the going difficult but I made it in one piece. The bus station was an innocuous looking shop front in a row of similar shops so it would have been difficult to find without Herman’s help. More kindness from random strangers!

Loading the bike onto the ferry from Melaka to Dumai. Tarquin was a tad nervous

Loading the bike onto the ferry from Melaka to Dumai. Tarquin was a tad nervous.

It had cleared a little by the time I took this photo, but trust me the smoke was not a good thing to have to ride through in Dumai.

It had cleared a little by the time I took this photo, but trust me the smoke was not a good thing to have to ride through in Dumai.

 

The bus trip up to Lake Toba was long, bumpy and quite cold as we ascended the mountains. After 20 hours and a random transfer to a local minibus we finally made it to Parapat, and the ferry over to the island in the centre of the lake. The air here is clear and free of smoke and the temperature is a delightful 25 degrees at the hottest part of the day. Hooray!

Clear skies! Looking back at Parapat from the ferry across Lake Toba, North Central Sumatra.

Clear skies! Looking back at Parapat from the ferry across Lake Toba, North Central Sumatra.

We took a little ride down the southern shore and were blown away by the distinctive architecture and the friendliness of the native Batak people. A local teacher invited us in for coffee and told us about the people an the area. She even showed us her wedding video and the traditional shawls “ulas” (or something close to that) that the Batak wear for special occasions. Her husband went and sourced some of the local coconut wine for us to try, which made for a lazy ride back to the guesthouse.

The son of our new Lake Toba friend reading from his school book. He was really good, but I couldn't understand a word of what he was reading.

The son of our new Lake Toba friend reading from his school book. He was really good, but I couldn’t understand a word of what he was reading.

So, you may be asking “who the heck is Monika???”. I met Monika before I departed on this trip, she is a fellow traveller who has based herself in Melaka and has spent the last couple of years exploring Asia. She’s keen on cycle touring and had a great bike built before she left Slovakia to come travelling. We will be cycling through Sumatra, Java and into Bali together. She’s also a pretty mean photographer, check out www.yathabhuta.net.

Some more pics:

I spied this gem on an overpass coming out of KL. I think I've found my new favourite job title.

I spied this gem on an overpass coming out of KL. I think I’ve found my new favourite job title.

An eerie view of St Francis Xavier church in Melaka.

An eerie view of St Francis Xavier church in Melaka.

Hidden from view, these old river houses are still occupied in Melaka. The government has constructed a wall and walkway to hide them from public view and keep the waterfront "chic".

Hidden from view, these old river houses are still occupied in Melaka. The government has constructed a wall and walkway to hide them from public view and keep the waterfront “chic”.

Now that's a pot! Cooking Indian food enmasse in the back alleys of Melaka.

Now that’s a pot! Cooking Indian food enmasse in the back alleys of Melaka.

The Host(ess) with the mostest: Joti, my homestay host in Melaka. A senational house in China town and a truly wonderful host.

The Host(ess) with the mostest: Joti, my homestay host in Melaka. A senational house in China town and a truly wonderful host.

My boudoir in Melaka. Lovely high ceilings and plenty of room. I'm a lucky camper!

My boudoir in Melaka. Lovely high ceilings and plenty of room. I’m a lucky camper!

At over 2m in length this monster monitor was not worried about the tourists at all. Melaka, Malaysia.

At over 2m in length this monster monitor was not worried about the tourists at all. Melaka, Malaysia.

The rickshaws in Melaka are covered in bling and play disco music at high volume as the transport tourists around Melaka. Tarquin was quite impressed and requested I camp-up my bike a little. I declined.

The rickshaws in Melaka are covered in bling and play disco music at high volume as they transport tourists around Melaka. Tarquin was quite impressed and requested I camp-up my bike a little. I declined.

The requisite plastic furniture at one of the rest break stops we made on the bus journey north from Dumai.

The requisite plastic furniture at one of the rest break stops we made on the bus journey north from Dumai.

A beautiful Indonesian house/mansion on the shore of Lake Toba, Sumatra.

A beautiful Indonesian house/mansion on the shore of Lake Toba, Sumatra.

The fishermen on Lake Toba laying out their nets. Unfortunately the only English these guys knew was a rather rude exclamation relying on the letter F.

The fishermen on Lake Toba laying out their nets. Unfortunately the only English these guys knew was a rather rude exclamation relying on the letter F.

More lovely traditional Indonesian houses on the Lake Toba shore.

More lovely traditional Indonesian houses on the Lake Toba shore.

Posing with a group of local girls on the shore of Lake Toba. Monika in the blue shirt.

Posing with a group of local girls on the shore of Lake Toba. Monika in the blue shirt.

We will be cycling south from here today, heading towards Padang. There are some steep hills to climb, and I left my climbing legs in northern Laos about 5 months ago, so I think it will be a little taxing. The scenery is magnificent though, which always makes it easier.

I hope this post finds you well, not inhaling smoke unnecessarily and surrounded by people who frequently show each other random acts of kindness.

PS: last chance to donate for Aussies who want to reduce their taxable income for the 2012-13 financial year… Donate now!


Comments

Skipping through Malayisia to Indonesia — 6 Comments

  1. Great story again! Is Indonesia the last country before you get to Australia? Well, I hope you have a great time and I guess it’s also nice that you’re not cycling alone now.
    Big hug and all the best!!!

  2. Heading for the Wide Brown Land at long last and whilst we can hardly wait to see you on “home shores” we are with you at every turn of the pedals. Great to see you have teamed up w ith another intrepid cyclist – it must be great to have some company. Your blogs keep us all “on board” and are a great read and the pictures pus all “in the picture” which is great! To all of your “followers” out there do not forget the great motivation for this epic and dig deep to support the cause for melanoma research! Safe travelling through Indonesia – a great country and our closest Northern neighbour – and we await the next update. Be home for Christmas or at the least give us the opportunity for a big party to celebrate your 40th birthday back here in Melbourne. Well done Intrepid Cyclists!

    Poppy @ Base Woody

  3. You have done well.Would have recommended TAMAN NEGARA================soppose you walked at tree-top level??
    And MELAKA=so much in a small space
    I had a great time at lake toba too!!
    XX rob

  4. Hi Jane. Been wondering how you are doing. I first met you in dali when you were managing Jade Emu. Then in Tha Kek,Laos earlier this year. Quite a surprise. Hope you are in Australia now. Best wishes.

    Buddy

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