Goodbye Kate. Goodbye Sri Lanka. Hello Malaysia.
WOW! Cultureshock is not the word. After 5 months in Sri Lanka I had no idea what was coming when I touched down in Kuala Lumpur. Bright lights, skyscrapers, the 2nd tallest building in the world (i think), mono rails, crazy kids up to their hairbands in technology, shopping malls the size of small towns and food,food,food….oh glorious food, different food, choice of food, more dishes than i can get through in one year and still not have the same thing twice. A week into Malaysian life I found myself walking round Bukit Bintang thinking that my flight had gone through a time warp and taken me 20 years into the future. A drizzly steamy day walking under the monorail with skyscraper size advertising screens showing models on catwalks and music pumping into the street. People and faces from every part of Asia and the middle east, dimsum and sheesha pipes next to Lebanese food and Guinness happy hours with the twin towers of the Petronas building pointing up to god above, whilst the prostitutes stand amongst shoppers in the clothes emporiums. He males and shemales and ladies form all corners of the globe asking if you want a massage or more. Where am I , how did I get here? It took me 6 visits to the Lower Yat Plaza to get over the shock. Six storeys rammed full of technology and every shop front has three people trying to get your attention to try and buy a smart phone, tablet, camera, powerbank, laptop or selfie stick. The escalators only ever take you to more floors and escape is futile. A labyrinth of technology filled with pensioners on twitter, housewives on facebook and kids on we-chat. Powerbank, powerbank,powerbank..no one has enough power, must get more battery, too much screen time for inbuilt supply, shiny pink, hello kitty, doughnuts, jelly tea, bread rolls called Tuna Turner but no exit, never, just consume, stay ahead, latest model, wickedest colour , share, upload upload. This amongst a backdrop of haircuts and long thin legs in tiny shorts, every woman wears tiny shorts. Even the airline coming here had a uniform that was so super futuristic & sexy I couldn’t relax the whole flight. It’s a dream, it’s a dream but no. It’s Kuala Lumpur and I love it.
After spending three lazy weeks in Kuala Lumpur doing nothing but eating dimsum, smoking sheesha pipes with Pakistanis and Algerians and generally enjoying the delights of a true 24 hour city for the first time in 18 months it was time to move on. Not a happy football experience though. A rollercoaster 2nd half to the football season every last bit of nervous energy extracted from me and LFC finished second in the league. No need to come home and so what to do next. A quick trip to the airline office round the corner and pay the 100RM (£17) to change my flight back to the UK to the end of June. Which was a nice surprise as the website had told me £75.
Liverpool didn’t win but what do I really care. I’ve got two more months on the road. I had cycled a bit in Malaysia but after chatting to a few people and my own experience I decide that I didn’t want to spend my last few months cycling on fast busy highways. A quick look at the map and the budget airlines hatched a plan. Rather than try to do too much too quick I decided to fly to Lombok in Indonesia, an Island east of Bali and try to cycle back to KL for my flight home.
Goodbye Malaysia, Hello Indonesia
Budget flights out of KL now fly out of Kualur Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 now. KLIA2. When I flew it had been open 5 days. Never ever fly out of a new airport, nothing works, nothing is finished and everyone is stressed. Before flying to Lombok I went and visited a friend in Medan for a few days. This involved me leaving my bike and luggage at KLIA getting myself to KLIA2 fly to Medan fly back to KLIA2 back to KLIA get bike and luggage get back to KLIA2 fly to Lombok. All this could have been avoided if the left luggage company had updated the website and told me that KLIA2 has got a left luggage as well.
The shuttle bus took an hour to arrive, the walk to the departure gate took 30 minutes and the only restaurant open at the the gate was a Mcdonalds that involved another 30 min queue with staff that looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world except serving customers. This is all set amongst every high end shop you can imagine, I’m sure there are more shops in KLIA2 than there are in Westfield. Selling everything from a £20,000 diamond tiara to an 80″ plasma or some garden furniture but no f**king food.
On returning things didn’t get any better. I discovered that there was a train that is not only more frequent, quicker and cuts down the walk by half but will also take my bicycle. I discovered this because I asked three different people working at the train counter on my way back to KLIA. I saw a sign on one of the counters saying no surfboards. Phew. Lucky me. Of course when I arrive back at the train terminal to take my bike back to KLIA2 a new sign had appeared with a bicycle crossed out!!! And they wouldn’t let me take the bike on the train. I had a little bit of a tantrum demanded a ticket which they refused to sell me and jumped the gate when the cleaner came through the other way and refused to budge. The train was empty and I had a flight to catch. If you want to get something done in this situation you have to take a chance so I started shouting and said call security if you have a problem. The manager came down, realised I was not a happy or more importantly nice bunny and allowed me to put the bike in the goods compartment providing I buy a ticket.
Arriving at KLIA2 I pack up my bike in shrink wrap and trolley it to the check in. I ask if the bike is OK and the check in woman says yes. As usual it doesn’t fit through the x-ray machine and so I spend another hour trolleying the bike to the cargo bay of the airport and back to the same place where I started when they say it’s not their problem. In the end I’m told to leave the bike on the trolley and they will deal with it. (This is what should have happened at the start)
I arrive in Lombok at 8pm the flight was delayed by nearly 2 hours but the bike doesn’t appear. Everyone else has collected their luggage and I’m the only one left. Various people get involved and no one can tell me what’s happening. I’m all done on getting upset. I can’t go anywhere without my bike and I’ve got no plan so I just sit on the conveyor belt. Every time I’m asked if I can move or go to customs to check my bags in I refuse. I say I’m not budging until you tell me where my bike is. This goes on for an hour or so. Various people come and go. I’m very calm and say I’m happy to go to prison or you take me to a hotel. Either way I’ll have somewhere to sleep. Another hour goes by in which I’m given dinner on the conveyor belt and it is finally confirmed my bike is still in KL but will be arriving on the first flight tomorrow. I accept this but still refuse to move. After a few phone calls back and forth to various bosses an offer is made to me to take me to a guest house (Losman). This involves the manager taking me on his moped and two other staff carrying my luggage on two other mopeds. They pay.
The next day I receive a phone call from the incredibly helpful Suparman (name of manager) to say my bike has landed and he will have it delivered to the guest house. He tells me he’s never met someone like me and that I’ve taught him a valuable lesson. He says he’s very grateful for the experience.
What I think he meant by that was that he had never met a more stubborn, obstinate little bastard who was so laid back about it all.
Although not his fault in any way he was a true gentleman the whole time. Reunited with my Nomad I was a happy bunny again and got back on the road. Lombok is not very big so I just decided to do a clockwork loop of the Island and see what happened. Usual stuff, camping on the beach at a fishing village of ten that was only accessible by a 2km muddy puddle between two paddy fields. I knew it would have good vibes at the end and it did. The next day the street was full of kids on mopeds with spray-canned shirts. Last day of school…ever and everyone was out celebrating. I didn’t make it far that day as I saw the perfect place to stop. A restaurant with garden down to the beach with a huge gazebo to hide away from the sun. The Garmin was now showing 43 degrees and my body was feeling it too. Although never that long some of hills were getting in to 20% plus gradients and I actually had to stand up to get up some of them. I very rarely stand up on my bike. I stopped and ordered some food. Had a swim and relaxed under the gazebo. I asked the two friendly ladies who ran the place if it was OK to sleep there for the night. No problem at all they said. With a showerin the toilet block it was my perfect place. In the evening the owner and his wife came down and invited me to stay at their house. The two other women Rus and Remy where sisters of Joh and As was the husband. I left the bike with girls and they locked up for the night. I hopped on the back of As’s scooter and off we went up into the Lombok hills to their house. I love my bicycle but I have a lot of good memories of just being sat on the back of a moped somewhere tropical just lolling along not a care in the world looking up at the perfect starry night time sky as the breeze cools you. Admittedly my eyes aren’t normally able to focus very well on those nights ;)
When we arrived we were greeted by As and Joh’s seven kids. Before long Dinda their eight year old girl was my new best mate with the most incredible piercing eyes and I knew she was full of charm and full of trouble in equal doses.
Joh came home with Remy and Rus each on their own scooters and had brought supplies of Tarang Bulan with them. A crumpety cakey spongey thing about 8″ in diameter and 2″ thick cut into slices and topped with chocolate and cheese. Oh my god its so good. I don’t think the NHS will be encouraging it, health wise it’s probably worse than a deep fried Mars bar but it tasted amazing. Every time I find a stall selling it I have to get one.
Morning and As took me back to the beach and fed me till I burst then I tried to get to Oble Oble. Someone had said it was the way to go. As wasn’t too keen on me going as he said it was a dangerous place and It might have terrorists. I think he was as much worried about my welfare as he was setting me up with Remy or Rus who both had 3 or 4 kids and a husband that had disappeared, which incidentally they both seemed quite happy about. I resisted the temptation of a ready made family in Lombok, which is quite hard, the people are so friendly here and you get an equal amount of tactile love from both the men and the women. But ventured on into the sun.
I made it to Oble Oble after more extreme hills, not surprising as I was cycling around the edge of Mt Rinjani an active volcano and Indonesias 2nd uppiest hill. I found the beach I’d been told about and asked the owner of a small wooden hut selling food if I could camp out back between the veggy field and the sand.
An old man was praying at the time , kneeling on his mat on the platform of his Gazebo. The rather stern lady owner said it was ok though and so I set up between the trees and watched the man weave palm trees to make new sides for the hut as the woman took her turn to pray to allah. Plenty of the women I’ve seen wear the veil but mainly casual clothes to go with it, plenty don’t wear any thing that would make them stand out as muslim. It seems to be a fairly libreal country from that point of view. The most liberal dressing place I’ve been to for a majority muslim country. I bought a water melon off stern lady and gave half of it back to her in the morning as I couldn’t finish it. In return she whipped out a machete on a 10ft long pole and craftily (good skill, not cunningly) nipped off some fruit from the tree growing above her hut. I never did extract the name from her, not sure what to make of them but I was grateful all the same. I was more grateful however for the coffee I bought from her. A few spoonfuls in a cup and mixed with sugar , no fancy dan apparatus here but by god was it good. All the coffee I had so far has been good here but definitely on the strong side. This had flavour that just didn’t knock your socks off. The only time I’ve had coffee like it was in Turkey at Bora’s house. That was coffee from the west of Turkey that took in the flavours of the Cyprus trees. Anyway, its probably the best damned coffee I’ve ever had. A few more cups and I was fit for the road and another 40 degrees plus day climbing steep hills.
About 3pm I came across some guest houses that were located for the ferry crossing over to a small Island (gili). Looking back the first one I rejected was fantastic value on the beach but I was trying to stay cheap. The cheapest one I got shown was awful so another night in the tent it was only before I knew it it was dark. No camping spots were making themselves known to me and the custom of burning ones rubbish in the evening gave a three pronged attack to my eyesight. I can’t see anything wearing glasses at night because of the glare, I can’t see if I haven’t got them on and the smoke and dark just make it seem like you are in a pea souper. Seeing car lights disappearing into the distance I decide to take the first side road I could find which happeend to be a farm track. I heard some voices and parked the bike. Shouted hello and it went quiet, I shouted hello again and walked in through the gate. Half a dozen men were just cleaning down from the days work and a woman lurked in the background. No one spoke English so I got the camera out and showed them a picture of my tent on Oble Oble beach and pointed to their field. Immediate recognition of the problem and I was shuffled off in the direction of a gazebo. Perfect.
That evening after having a wash with more frogs than I’ve ever had a wash with the men sat smoking strong stinky Indonesian cigarettes and I told a few stories to an English speaking man who had been drafted in. Along with the village chief apparently.
More strong coffee and photos in the morning and off onto the busy main road to Martaram the biggest town on the Island. I had gone past the half way point on the island circuit and it was mainly down hill. Stopping for food I discovered Bakso. Noodles and chicken or beef dumplings in a tasty vegetable broth. The key is to cover the dumplings in the super rich sticky onion ketchup. This gives the dumplings more flavour but also turns the broth into a rich soup at the end ready for draining from the bowl when you’ve finished the big bits. I learnt this from watching a Japanese film one night called Tampopo…watch it.
In Sri Lanka the horn on my bike made people think I was an Ice cream man. Here its the sound of the Bakso man. He goes around on his moped with his food on the back ready to dish up a tasty snack to anyone who stops him. And so it was that shouting “Bakso” as I beep my horn is my new catch phrase, and the shouts of “arse cream” are no more.