THIS BLOG CHRONICLES A FAMILY MOTORCYCLE TRIP FROM CAPE TOWN TO SINGAPORE, FROM JANUARY TO APRIL 2012. THE GROUP COMPRISES MAL, SON JULIAN, DAUGHTER SHANNON, AND JOHN

Day 123 – Port Dickson to Singapore to Gelang Patah (388 km)

Malaysia to Singapore to Malaysia

30.04.2012

Jules writes:IMG_6689 (640x427)

After driving for exactly four months, our big day was finally here. We were now just a few hours drive to the border, a few hours from the goal that we’d been aiming for. It was strange packing the bikes for the last time, knowing that this was our last day of riding. After this, there was still some more admin to do, a ride down to the docks, no doubt, but as far as our journey was concerned, weIMG_6668 (640x427) would be done by the end of the day. We have travelled 22,200 km, across 17 countries and three continents in these past 123 days. We have slept in beds in 64 different towns, once on the side of a Pakistani highway, the floor of an Ethiopian bar another, on the deck of a ship, inside a Turkish bus while the snow and icy air brought the surrounding temperatures to minus twelve degrees, in the back of a truck wedged beneath four motorcycles, on an airport floor, on a unbearably long train ride in 45 degree temperatures, and three times in tents when alternative lodging could not be found. We have had days of no food and days of plentiful generosity. We have experienced over 17 flat tyres, eight broken shock absorbers, snapped clutch and choke cables, re-welded a shock attachment and clutch pedal, jump-, push- and tow-started bikes on countless occasions when the batteries have failed, replaced an entire battery, replenished the acid when it’s run dry on us, tinkled with engines and carburettors….and in fact, just so much more! What a phenomenal privilege.

We took our time loading up, chatting with the bikers from the festival, and trying to soak in the moment. We had a couple more quotes we were waiting for, and e-mails to send, and so it was only after 11:00 that we were on our way. The driving was easy, IMG_6705 (640x427)but our heads were a whirl of thoughts and emotions. By lunchtime, we had reached the Malaysian border, efficiency to the extreme. In fact, we weren’t even required to present any paperwork, and we had to chase up the officials to find out where to get our carnets processed. When I managed to find the office, I had to show the young official there how to fill them in, and show her which parts she needed to keep. And with that, we were free to go. It was quite a distance to get to the Singapore side, but after driving along a stretch of highway, we turned a corner and there was the bridge leading over the channel, and on the other side: Singapore. We drove slowly across, and stopped underneath the “Welcome to Singapore” sign to get one last round of photos. And then we were driving through to the immigration desk.

IMG_6735 (640x417)IMG_6698 (640x427)093 (640x480)

Right from the get-go, it was clear that while Singapore may be very regimented and bureaucratic, this was by no means a sign of efficiency. Shan and Kath had even been warned to dispose of their chewing gum before entering, as chewing gum was an offense that could earn you a stiff fine if you were caught. “I’m not sure if they’ll confiscate it if it’s already in your mouth” the custom official kindly warned, “but maybe. Definitely any that you have loose”.  After being directed to two closed booths, we finally managed to find one able to help us. We filled in our arrival cards, and with a minimum of fuss, we were through, and headed towards customs, bearing our carnets.

That was when the problems started. Upon presenting the customs official with the documents, he gave us a dubious look, and asked us for our third party insurance. Now this is pretty standard in many countries, and there is always a place to get it at the border. But not in Singapore, baby. It seems that one has to either take a bus through into the city (which we were not allowed to do, as we had to stay with our bikes), or one had to find a broker in Malaysia somewhere to organize it.

On top of that, there was another document required, called an International Circulation Permit (ICP). True to form, this could also not be obtained at the border, but should have been obtained before arrival. Before we had left South Africa, we had spoken to the AA to make sure that we had all our documents for each country in order. They assured us that only the carnet was required (and a subsequent e-mail apologizing profusely for this oversight was about as helpful as a PowerPoint presentation at a conference for the blind).

And Singapore being Singapore, there was nothing we could do. At any other border post we would have been able to make a plan, but here, inflexible bureaucracy is the name of the game. We pleaded, we begged, John and Dad even screamed (but seriously, they actually screamed – personal mental highlight for me) but nothing. And so with that, we had no choice but to turn around and make our way back to Malaysia. To add insult to injury, they even demanded that we pay $1 each for crossing the bridge, some sort of toll. It is difficult to explain the frustration that we felt at that point. To have worked so hard, gone through so much, all the punctures, the broken shock absorbers, the late night truck drives with the bikes strapped to the back, the terrible roads, the hungry days, and freezing cold nights, only to be turned away right at the end was quite devastating. 105 (640x480)

Back at the Malaysian border, the officials were extremely sympathetic and helpful, and cancelled our departure stamp. Maybe it was a kind of emotional shock setting in, but we actually were in pretty good spirits heading back through, cheering on the myriad bikes that streamed back across the border as Malaysian workers returned from Singapore. Shan even managed to high-five a fellow rider as they drove next to each other along the highway. We were later told that 100 000 bikes crossed through each day, and none of the people we saw ever stopped to go through any paperwork at all, no sign of a passport anywhere.

110 (640x480)We made our way to the closest border town and found a hotel. We unloaded our bikes and dumped the bags in the room. It was a pretty subdued supper that we ate in our rooms. From here on out, it will just be a question of looking for the best way of getting the bikes back to SA, either trying to sort out the paperwork and getting them into Singapore, or finding a way to ship them from Malaysia

And so that was that. We decided that since we had been stamped through immigration, we had technically arrived in Singapore, but it was hardly the grand entry we had anticipated. Whichever way you looked at it though, we had done it: we had driven our bikes from Cape Town to Singapore, and now it was time to start setting our sights on home again.

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13 responses

  1. Margaret Rundle

    Waitng for the final instalment! Did you get back to Singapore? Are you home, or still waiting to get the bikes onto a plane?

    Thank you for your great descriptions of your adventures – I have enjoyed travelling with you all the way, and have marvelled at how you kept going through thick and thin!

    May 18, 2012 at 22:21

  2. Impatient

    So did you get there or must we send Interpol to com looking for you?

    May 18, 2012 at 12:47

  3. Pete Sumner

    I am in limbo ( like you guys). Please get me to Singapore, or the next day!

    May 14, 2012 at 21:55

  4. Well done guys!!! WOW what an experience, I followed your story every night, just fantastic, what an achievement! Don’t let the officials take it away, you made it through thick and thin, have a blast!!!!! Cheers

    May 12, 2012 at 16:08

  5. Fantastic !! Congratulations !!! Ramon – Brazil

    May 10, 2012 at 23:31

  6. carolvwyk

    Never a dull moment !!!

    May 10, 2012 at 11:44

  7. steve turner

    Bloody amazing. You guys freakin rock!

    May 7, 2012 at 11:44

  8. Karen Grant

    I am so sorry to hear of such a muted/bureaucratic response in Singapore. Having lived there they are indeed the height of efficiency but unfortunately that can spill over to anal bureaucracy. I never saw anyone fined for chewing gum by the way and sometimes I think the anecdotes are worse than the reality. Wish some of my Singaporean colleagues could help you but alas all are in the private sector….

    May 7, 2012 at 08:35

  9. Libby Manuel 9/1 The Esplanade,Balmoral,Sydney P.O.Box 526 Mosman 2088 NSW Australia

    Congratulations to you all.Have really enjoyed following you trip.Please keep in touch.Would be great to have some contact details in South Africa.
    Best wishes Libby Happy and safe travelling home

    May 6, 2012 at 22:31

    • Thanks Libby,

      Great to be back… but I want to be back on a bike exploring again!! Hope all is well.

      Shan

      May 27, 2012 at 23:21

  10. men321

    Whew!! What a fabulous experience and achievement… We armchair travelers are going to miss your blogs so much. Huge congratulations to all of you, for finding and cultivating the broad range of strengths you needed to complete this journey– intact and smiling! Lots of love to you all. Sheryl

    May 6, 2012 at 19:53

    • Thanks Sheryl!! We LOVED it… I’d do it again in a heartbeat… much love, Shan

      May 27, 2012 at 23:26

  11. sad face. but what an adventure – as i was reading your bike descriptions [punctures, shock absorbers etc etc] it was starting to get reminiscent of that description by Paul in Corinthians of all the hardships he had gone through and you certainly have been through it all altho now that it’s done it all becomes one great story and no more actual pain, toil and sweat so yay and WELL DONE TO YOU ALL – very proud and amazed and super amped and hope whatever is next is good for you and all who walk with you – thankx for documenting the journey so entertainingly julesmeister… been a great ride slash read slash catchup.

    May 6, 2012 at 19:33

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