The journey is now over. There was still a lot we had to do to make sure our bikes were sent to Cape Town safely, but this was essentially just admin. As the days went passed, it became clear that it was going to be better to ship from Malaysia. The insurance alone that had been required at the border would have cost us around $200 per bike, even before looking into the ICP. That is a huge amount for just a few days. We began to phone around, but it turned out to be quite difficult to get people to respond to our queries, and often it was a back and forth exchange of information that clearly wasn’t going to produce anything in the time scale that we had available. The Taylor contingent had already booked tickets, and so one way or another, we would be flying out of Singapore on Friday evening. We said goodbye to Kath on Wednesday, when she caught a flight to Kuala Lumpur, and then on to Laos to join up with her siblings who were still backpacking for another month together. It had been fantastic having her along, and we would all like to give her huge thanks for how easily she fitted in with the group, and the fun and light-heartedness she brought with her.
By Thursday at noon, with no shipping prospects yet organized for Friday, we decided to make one last move, to get us one step closer to the shipping port city of Johor Bahru. By about 1:00 p.m., we were packed and ready to drive the last 20 km. Unfortunately, Shan’s bike shared none of our enthusiasm, and chose this moment to develop a fairly serious leak from the fuel tap, where the fuel leaves the tank, and is piped down to the engine. The next hour was spent removing the tank, and then taking the part around to some of the local garages to see if they could give us any advice. This proved to be more than a little frustrating, as at each place, attempts to explain the situation were immediately drowned out by emphatic statements that they did not have the part we required. The fact that we were not actually looking for a part, but merely some advice never managed to make an appearance in any of the conversations, and so we eventually gave up, and just decided to stuff it with gasket sealer and hope for the best. That seemed to do the trick, and we made our way to our hotel in Johor Bahru, having to make several U-turns in order to find our way. We finally managed to find the place, and settled in for our last night.
Late in the afternoon, Dad received a call from a guy that had been in contact with one of the shipping agents that we had approached for a quote. It turned out that this guy, Larry, was himself a shipping agent, and a biker, with lots of experience in shipping bikes out of Malaysia. He offered us a quote that would cover picking up the bikes from Johor Bahru, the closest city to us, and then sending them on to Klang, a port town right by Kuala Lumpur. From there, the bikes would be put directly into a shipping container, without any crating required, and then shipped off to Cape Town, where it would arrive three weeks later. This suited us perfectly, even though it was a higher quote than we had originally had. It was in fact the ONLY quote we had. Without so much as even signing a document we accepted his offer, with a sense of peace that we were going to be okay, after all the anxious moments.
And so when Friday morning came, we loaded up the bikes one last time (this REALLY was the last time) and drove them down to the pick-up point nearby. We offloaded the luggage that was going to go with them, and after saying goodbye to our untrustworthy steeds, piled into a taxi, with all our luggage, and were on our way to Singapore.
True to form, we had to go and speak to some high-ranking official to explain why our previous entry stamp had been voided, but once we had told him the story, we were waved through, and we were in Singapore. The taxi made its first stop at the hotel John had booked for himself and Carol, his wife, who was flying in the next day to spend the next couple of months backpacking around South East Asia with him. We said our final goodbyes, and then took the last drive down to the airport.
And that is where our story ends. As I write this, we are somewhere over Kenya, having covered in just over 24 hours the same distance that we have just taken four months to complete. It has been more than just an incredible experience; this will now be a reference point that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. I will try and make sure that there is a final report given by each of the riders, to give each of us a chance to sum up our thoughts about this journey, but for now, it is the end, and we thank you for being a part of this with us, and for all the support and encouragement that has been given .
Malaysia to Singapore to Malaysia
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, we 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.