With Shan’s repaired tyre deflating in the night, and our supply of repair patches exhausted, we could but wait until the first bike shop decided to open its doors before even thinking of hitting the road. Unfortunately, it was the weekend, and combined with our inability to meaningfully communicate with the neighbouring shop owners, it was difficult to ascertain when and in fact if these workshops would be open today at all. The best option seemed for Shan and John to simply station themselves outside the closed doors of two such shops and wait to see who struck lucky. John returned from his mission the proud new owner of about fifty spare patches. However Shan’s cunning plan of actually removing the wheel from the bike and presenting it to the workman meant that ultimately all the spare patches in the world counted for squat when presented with a freshly repaired and refitted tyre. While Shan had been sitting on the curb, wheel in hand, Kath had whizzed past her, side-straddled on the back of the hotel manager’s scooter. Apparently he was “so proud to be showing a white woman around his town” as this was his first time. Bless his heart, he took her to the ferry dock, and a few other roads before sitting her down with a map and explaining the richness and beauty of his country.
We are now less than 1000 km from our final destination, and with a few days in hand, we decided to head slightly off the main highway south towards the Cameron Highlands, a particularly beautiful part of the country. The morning’s drive was very uneventful (except for a small scare when we noticed John’s tyre was completely flat. Upon inspection it seemed that the valve has simply come loose and so a quick inflation on the side of the road sorted it out no problem), and we made excellent time along the highways. Since Nepal, we had been hearing about the Malaysian highways, and how fantastic they were. And the reports were completely true: three lanes in each direction, completely free of potholes, and the toll gates themselves even had a separate free lane reserved solely for motorbikes. After about 150 km, we turned off the highway and started East towards the mountains. Straight away, the road began to rise, gently at first, and then increasingly steeply. The roads were for the most part fairly quiet, making it the perfect motorbiking terrain, with sharp bends, and stunning views, and as we rose in altitude, we could feel the temperature dropping.
Around one corner, we saw a huge chocolate shop in front of us, attached to a tea garden, and with my Dad possessing a gloriously serious sweet tooth, we happily pulled over. It was such a strange place for the shop, as it seemed incredibly classy, with a huge variety of chocolate, and the best part? FREE SAMPLES!
After relaxing by the hydroponic strawberry farm with assorted strawberry themed desserts, we reluctantly climbed back on the bikes and started towards Tanah Rata, our destination for the day. It seemed that we were now in farming country, as from this point onwards, we saw covered plastic greenhouses on every available mountain slope, and large banners advertising strawberry farms on all sides, as well as other fruit, vegetables, and even fresh honey. The temperature was now a perfect 25 degrees, and we soon saw that this was the place to be in Malaysia. With Tuesday being a public holiday, it appeared that families were flocking to the area, and we turned a corner to find a solid line of cars, completely stationary. Fortunately, being on bikes, we were able to just ride along next to the cars, but this line continued through several towns, and must have stretched for over 15 km, with no-one moving. In one of the larger towns we passed, people were thronging the streets, and even with some large hotels on either side of the road, our guess was that many people would be sleeping in their cars tonight. And still the queue of vehicles continued, right up until we arrived in our town.
The first couple of hotels we tried were completely full, but after investigating several options, including one that was simply a mattress put down on the floor, we found a decent guest house on the edge of town. Once we had offloaded our bags and settled into the rooms, we emerged to have a look around. Waiting outside at one of the tables was a French guy, who introduced himself as Mat. It turned out that he was also a biker, and had been informed by his hotel manager that some bikers were in town and so had come to find us. He had also been all over Asia, and had actually followed a fairly similar route to us, starting from Turkey. It seemed that he was also potentially interested in shipping his bike to Cape Town, and riding up Africa from there. It was great to be able to swap stories, and get some advice from a fellow biker, and we ended up wandering around town together for a while.
We met up again that evening to get some supper and talk a little more about the possibilities of putting the bikes in the same container, which may end up a cheaper option for everyone involved. Over a steamboat, which is a kind of soup fondue, with mushrooms, chicken, fish, prawns, lettuce, noodles, eggs, and the like, we decided that he would look for shipping options from Malaysia, and we would investigate Singapore, and then make a final call about shipping them, once we had a few quotes, etc. We had been a bit concerned to discover that one of our original quotes that we had been given just before we left had gone up in the last four months, and was now almost triple what we had been expecting, never a fun surprise.
Kath and Shan had spotted a Karaoke bar in town while they had been exploring earlier, and we decided to finish off the evening there. We were given a private booth, where our caterwauling would not disturb the other guests. They ended up having a pretty decent selection, and even John got into the groove with some seventies classics, while the girls performed a spirited rendition of the Spice Girls’ “If you wanna be my lover”. Finally, long after midnight, we walked back to our hotel to collapse into our beds.
Thailand to Malaysia
Today was the day that we were originally due to arrive in Singapore, which is really making it feel like we are right at the end of our trip. But we still have a couple more countries to go. After the previous day’s rest, we were ready to be on our way, and after breakfast, we were on our bikes by about 8:30 and heading off towards the border. The landscape is still lush green jungle and towering hills looming over the road, with very few towns along the way. After driving about 100 km, I noticed that there was some white smoke flowing from Dad’s bike. Thinking that it may be some of his strapping that was resting on the exhaust pipe, I pulled alongside him to have a closer look. But when I saw what it was, I frantically motioned for him to pull over. His whole engine was belching smoke, and when he stopped, we could see that there was oil everywhere. This was serious stuff, as we had never had any engine problems up until this point. We wheeled the bike into the shade and began to strip off the seat and tank to have a better look. Upon inspection of the engine, it seemed that a couple of the bolts had rattled loose, and if that was all it was, we would have just been able to tighten them and be on our way. But the reason for them being loose was that they had stripped their thread in the engine mounting, which meant that we wouldn’t be able to tighten them in to seal the engine.
(For people who are unfamiliar with bikes or engines, that roughly translates as: “Sad face. The bike is broken, but not too badly.”)
After talking through several options, we decided that all we could do is tighten the bolts as best we could, and seal the thread with a special gasket sealer that we were carrying. Hopefully that would last for the next couple of days, and if not, then we would have to look at a more serious repair.
Meanwhile, Shan and Kath, who had been standing near the bikes, had been greeted by a local woman who managed to entice them back to her house on the other side of the road (which took a confusing 15 minutes to cross, since it appeared she was waiting for a gap of no less than 2 km between vehicles before deeming it safe to move over to the other side). After about half an hour of very stilted conversation, they were brought coffee and sandwiches by the son, who kept an unselfconscious grip on parts of his anatomy the entire time they were there. After that, everyone just seemed to sit around watching TV, making for a fairly awkward but very enjoyable morning nonetheless, especially with the father wandering around in just a sarong. Several visitors popped in, some of them just to stare.
Once the sealant had set, we topped up the bike with oil and took it for a test run: good as new. At least for now, anyway. With just 50 km to the border to go, and the rain just starting to set in, we were keen to be on our way into Malaysia.
We arrived in a torrential downpour, but this was quite welcome in the sweltering heat, and to our total amazement, we were whisked through customs and immigration in about ten minutes. We’ve never been through any border post that quickly anywhere on the trip, and very soon drove through to the Malaysian side. There, our luck ran out a bit, as everyone was on lunch break. But after half an hour, once they were back at their desks, it was the same story, just blisteringly fast efficiency. The one noteworthy point was the six fingered customs man (as in six fingers on each hand), and it was quite hard not to gawp at these two tiny extra digits protruding from the side of his little fingers, complete with fingernails.
And after fifteen minutes, we were through and on our way. Almost immediately, the road began to climb and we were presented with a stunning vista of jungles, mountains, farmlands and villages. Our plan was to get as far as we could today, and as it was only 2:30, we were intending to stop a few hundred kilometres down the Western coast.
That is, until Shan noticed she couldn’t really turn her front wheel all that well while passing through one of the small towns. Flat front tyre. We pulled over to investigate, and saw that somehow the lining that sits between the tube and the wheel rim had snapped, and was flapping all over the place. Well, at least this is something we know how to deal with. And so it was the usual toolkits out, wheel off, tyre off, etc. We had no rubber to make a replacement with, and so she ended up using ever faithful duct-tape to cover the rim. Unfortunately, the process of changing the tyre and lining the rim had to be repeated a number of times, since the spokes, which were sharper than we had thought, kept deflating each newly mended and inflated tyre. In addition, the tyre repair kit had run out of patches, so it was with some trepidation that we inflated the tyre for the third time. Happily, we seemed to have got it right, and once more we repacked the bikes, and started off, with the notable exception of Dad’s sunglasses which flew off from his shirt collar where he had placed them, but were only noticed a few kilometres down the road, necessitating a thorough sweep of the road, which lasted another half an hour, until their grisly remains were finally found , by Shan scratched and missing an arm. By this time it was starting to get late, and it was just a question of trying to find the closest hotel. We made for the coast, and found a decent place for a reasonable rate, although it was a bit of a cheek that the manager tried to charge us extra to park the bikes in front of the hotel, claiming that it would cost an extra R25 per bike for “security”. We quickly disabused him of this notion, and went to our rooms to shower, change, and recuperate underneath the air conditioning.
That evening, we made forays out into the street to find SIM cards, ATM’s, and food, which included some fantastic chicken satays, essentially small kebab with peanut sauce, and some fish which turned out to be far too fiery for John’s delicate palate. With nothing much else to do in town, we were back in the hotel relatively early, and soon asleep.