Asia | South East Asia | Malaysia | East Coast | Kuantan – Singapore – Kuantan. – The East Coast
Today is day 5 of being on the road; A rest day in the eastern Malaysian city of Kuantan.
The route over the last four days has been a painful refresher course in how not to cycle in the tropics
Saturday was billed as a get of Singapore warm up day. My anticipated easy 75km jaunt onto mainland Malaysia turned out to be anything but. It was hardly a surprise as I managed to ignore every single rule about cycling and surviving. By the time Id psyched myself up to leave the opulent luxury of the Marriott it was 11am. It was getting to be the hottest part of the day, Id hadnt actually gotten round to eating anything and I then for some stupid reason took the busiest route from down town to the bridge to the mainland.
When I fought my way across to the Causeway I was in a crazy hectic town, I had no local currency, a desperate need for food and nowhere for me to stop and get sorted. I eventually rode out of the town finally getting cash from a drive through Citibank before catching the end of some fried noodles and egg lunch from a street side Chinese.
Back on the road the negligible 35km hike seemed an ugly concept. The only road I could find was the major highway out of Johor Bahru and the Saturday traffic seemed solely comprised of huge trucks and those raspy little motor bikes whose audible emissions are only bearable if you had a solid crash helmet covering your ears. Something the bike riders did have and I most certainly didnt. This, combined with the extreme heat of the mid afternoon sun and a bike weighed down with enough equipment for a trek up Everest it was all getting a little hard. Another stop for shade, a Coke & a KitKat seemed to help and I eventually rolled into Kota Tinggi just in time to hear the local Mosque commence its evening prayer session.
When I arrive in a new town I always try and survey the central area, locate all the possible accommodation opportunities and then make a call as to which one will have the best price/value offer. If I dont like the price of the one I choose I can go more up market or down market depending on my options. However, due to my level of exhaustion and a very urgent need to get out of the heat I went to the first one I came across. My usual take it or leave attitude which I try to convey to the proprietor to ensure I get the best price possible was not particularly effective. He could visible see that I was sweating from head to foot and Im sure he knew that I knew if I didnt get into a cold shower within the next few minutes I was going to melt!
After the shower and a quick nap I ventured into the town to get as many calories in as little time as possible. Cycling does odd things to my taste buds sometimes and as I wandered past a KFC the thought of a Zinger burger entered my mind. I was very disappointed to find the Internationally renowned Zinger was temporarily off the menu while they promoted their new Calypso equivalent, which as the Muslim lady serving pointed out was why all the staff where having to wear stupidly colorful Hawaiian shirts!!
My new strategy of an early start worked fairly well., Up at dawn, inhaling yogurt, chocolate milk and donuts in my room before turning the pedals by 8.00am. This was definitely a new day, the traffic had all but subsided and without the sun beating on by back (actually the exposed area of skin between the top of my shorts and the bottom of my shirt) the ride was pretty enjoyable. The road undulated up and down all morning mainly through the palm plantations that make up the core of one of Malaysias traditional exports (I saw a program on it Palm oil prices are down at the moment running you PDA is going to be a lot cheaper this year!! ) I biked past monkeys, Iguanas and finally stopped around 10:30 with a major part of the days miles completed.
I realize one of the unique benefits you get out of cycling in these countries rather than busing, flying or even driving is you stop at villages and road side cafes that never get to see Westerners and for a few minutes our lives interact. Every time I stopped I would be engaged in a garbled multi language conversion as to where I was from, where I was going and who my favorite football team was.
After refueling on curry, Pepsi and bananas (the classic breakfast) I was back on the road fighting a nasty headwind for the final 10km into town. I was there by 1pm and although hot and tired I was in significantly better shape than the day before. I was in Mersing, a port that runs ferries to the resorts on the Tioman Islands. However this was the monsoon season and like Eastbourne in February there was not much going on. I took a few photos, had a Chinese and had passed out by 9pm.
Today I was up even earlier, on the road by 7:30. Goal, 60km by 11am, R&R during the heat, then finish off the riding after 5pm. The road ran alongside the coast, it was flat and relatively straight, not my favorite cycling terrain but conceptually pretty easy. I say conceptually as this was the monsoon season and I now know that winds are a major part of a monsoon (along with rain of course). As always lady luck was working for the other team I therefore had to face a viscous head wind all day. I hate headwinds with a vengeance. Hills, bad roads, bad legs are all enemies to performance you can rationalize, you can either see them or know why they are happening. Headwinds are not. Quite literally they slap me in the face every time.
In spite of this everything went pretty much to plan. I found a resort hotel just off the beach, had an early and delicious lunch then retired to the beach for one of the greatest inventions of sub-tropical civilizations; the Siesta. Since the beginning of the day I had the beach firmly in my mind, It was lush, coconut trees hung over the white sand, I had already picked out my hammock in the shade. The beach that actually existed however was a float sam ridden windy shambles deserted except for a couple locals who evidently spend the off season riding their raspy little motor cycles up and down the sand! I still managed a few hours of sleep before the monsoon season started living up to its name and I got back on the bike.
Id slightly misjudged my distances and at 3pm I still had 60km to ride and my legs where starting to feel the pain of 3 days cycling without the adequate pre trip training. After wasting another 30 minutes trying to get some photos of some monkeys sitting by the side of the road (bastards) I virtually crawled into my destination as night was falling. 120km (80miles) completed and thankfully the tiny fishing community of wooden shacks known as Nenasi had a hotel of sorts. I ate chicken satay, drank sweet tea and had a chat with a local about Manchester United and Liverpools recent departure from the FA cup (which was nice on many levels). I was asleep by 8pm.
I dreamt about not cycling today and when I woke up I was thinking of phoning in for a conceptual sicky, or at least take a half day. But as always I mis-judged how much work I had to do and once on the bike my 100km target didnt deem too challenging. I was still fighting the headwind along the coast but I had Kuantan in my sights and a rest day always helps the pedals turn a little easier. Ive got an afternoon routine now where I stop every 30minutes. Sometimes in a café, sometime just by the side of the road in the shade. The sun is just too hot, as I progress I hope it gets easier (I am heading away from the equator) or I will just have to reconsider my routine. I realized last night we didnt have the same problem in South America because we were at altitude when we passed through most of the equatorial areas.
I rolled into Kuantan about 4pm, found a hotel, a bargain at $8 for 2 nights, en-suite of course, then went for a walk around this provincial capital.
I was expecting to find a bustling town center full of lively street markets and food stands, but it seemed deserted I ate alone in an Indian restaurant then while heading back to my hotel I found everybody. They were where every self-respecting member of the free world is on a Tuesday night the mall! The malls here are huge. The first one had cars for sale in one of the atriums, I then stumbled on an even bigger mall the Kuantan mega-mall which is where I am know writing this on an exceptionally slow internet connection.
Despite the size of these malls there only seems to be on main product for sale. In fact I as I travel through this region I now realize that where there were shoe repairers, coke salesmen and shops selling radios 10 years ago there are now store selling mobile phones and mobile phone accessories. Until now I never realized how big this industry is. In Malaysia everybody has them, its not just students in Leeds text messaging the whole world are doing it. Sitting at a reststop talking to a local fisherman yesterday about what he does in the off season (ride his raspy motor bike up the beach, apparently) when I was rudely interrupted by the tune of humpty dumpty emitting from the piece of technological wizardry clipped to his belt, how things have changed.
Anyhow tomorrow in an attempt to avoid this wind I am heading west into the highlands and Jungles of Central Malaysia.