It is overcast, and can stay that way all day if it likes. Still 30′c as we pick up the 73 and head for Perit. Traffic is heavy, but giving us enough space. Exciting to see Water Buffalo are in the fields next to the road.
Parit is small and bustling, and is the first place to have anything of an architectural style of any sort. It is a riot of colour in all directions. We are standing, trying to take it all in. Two girls come up to ask if we need help. They like talking with Esther. It is often the women who like to come up and talk and they feel at ease talking and laughing with Esther. We ask for directions to the nearest place to eat Roti.
We are now supplying our own Bananas, which often gets a laugh. Sitting at a cafe and just taking in the energy from the people. Getting glimpses of unknown lives that we pass through for just a few minutes. They will be here tomorrow.
38′c as usual by midday and we are riding through Palm and Rubber plantations. The road is rolling. But the up bits are short enough to keep a high gear and hold your road speed over the top and down the other side.
We park the bikes. Carefully leaning them against the spikiest tree you would ever want to lean a bike against. A sweet tea each and a sit in the shade. ” Welcome to Malaysia “. We have had this greeting shouted from cars, trucks and mopeds. This is eye to eye, from a man sitting a few tables away.
This is the joy of touring by bike. You are forced to stop at unlikely places. Here we may almost certainly be the first Europeans travelling by bike to ever stop and have a tea. The young man must return to work, and insists on paying for our drinks. Quite possibly he is the poorest person to ever do this for us.
We cross the river into the town of Kuala Kangsar. It is early afternoon and we have a hotel recommendation. We ask at the Tourist Information for directions and straight away there is a problem. ” The Prime Minister is here in the morning and all hotels are booked “. Bugger.
Any distance you do once you think you have stopped for the day is hard. There is a Homestay 2 Km away, and it has space. The Tourist Information staff want us to follow them as they drive to the place. Which is how we end the day doing a 6 Km eye balls out time trial through the crowded streets. Everywhere paint is being put onto flaking walls, things brushed clean. Local officials are metaphorically tidying their bedrooms for Mum.
It is impossible to make any sort of deal with the last place to stay for 40 Km. We get ripped off. It is a wooden hut for more than the price of the hotel in K.L., but it has air con. I turn it on, and as it opens a startled lizard spills out. The air con struggles. It is a wooden hut with a metal roof, sitting in still air at 38′c and the temperature drops slowly. But a storm is brewing, which will help.
It has been holding back for hours. Unable to summon that satisfying sneeze. Eventually it breaks with a ferocity that would make you think twice about a trip to Malaysia in monsoon, if you have any sort of anxiety about thunderstorms.
In minutes ditches are flooded and soon every bit of flat ground is filling with water. Strangely, birds keep flying through the storm, even appearing to enjoy the experience.
We are away early. A couple of Km down the road a moped draws along side, ” Esther, Esther “. It is Asmah, a lady that Esther had talked with last night. She has made a gift for Esther, a hand sown bag. She is so excited to have caught us. It is heartbreakingly wonderful. She turns the moped around, straight into two lanes of oncoming traffic and waves goodby.
We ride back into Kuala Kangsar to pick up our route. It is awash with police and military and has the nervousness of a teenage first date. Turning off traffic lights has been shown to help traffic to move more freely. They do this in London now quite a lot. If you want to screw things up, you put a police officer with a whistle to control every junction. It is gridlock, and for no good reason..
We celebrate 20 Km of riding without getting killed, with a tea at a roadside stall. It is an easy ride, and we get to Taiping early enough for a good look around. It is, as usual, an assault on the senses, mostly smell. I try to take photographs, but nothing lines up pleasingly. There is always something spoiling the image. It is like looking at a Jackson Pollock and trying to get it to satisfy the rule of ‘ thirds ‘. It just does not work. You have to let it just flow.
We try a new fruit. I am far from certain that you could stop someone back home on the streets of Edinburgh and get them to name 10 fruits and not include sausage. ‘ Jackfruit ‘, to give it its common name. It looks a bit like a peeled onion or leek and tastes like pineapple. It is now in my top 5 fruits of all time. Banana is still at number 1, and will take something monumentally special to top it.
8.00 am and we are riding the quiet roads of a Sunday morning. It is hot already. If there is a qualification here or a discipline, that has anything in common with ‘ town planning ‘, then goodness knows what is taught. We pick up the 76 to Butterworth. Within 20 Km, the roadside ditches are full of standing water. This is flat, coastal land of rice fields and swamp.
The ditches have enough fish in them to make it worth throwing a line in and standing around. We are in the realm of the Kingfisher. They have electric blue wings and flash up and down the streams in huge numbers. Many sit on branches, and watch us pass. ‘ Ziggy Stardust ‘, I am thinking, definitely ‘ Ziggy Stardust ‘.
The ditches have Lotus flowers and Lilly, but also plastic bag and polystyrene food box. We turn left onto a dead end road and within a couple of Kilometres there is a mat of bright orange prawns that have been laid out to dry. It stretches for many hundreds of metres, and is part of the thriving fishing industry in the bay.
We get a room at the hotel and then ride the bikes to the fishing village. It is an education. Homes and fish processing take place side by side all run by Chinese workers. Floating pontoons have homes and more fish processing on them. It is a headlong rush to get the catch dried before the rain starts for today. Mopeds run the narrow streets, many pulling trailers with the days catch piled to tipping point.
There are cafes in amongst the chaos, and we sit for a tea and try to take it all in. It is industrious, colourful and obviously smelly. It is time to take cover. Our chalet sits on piles over the river. Rain is pounding the roof. It is an angry, angry storm.
Traffic on the river continues in the storm. In a gap in the rain, we go down to the pontoon restaurant that is in front of us. It has the feel of one of the bars in Star Wars, but with a widescreen tv showing a live Chelsea game.
It goes from stars reflected in the river and a crescent moon, to full daylight in just 20 minutes. It takes a force of will to get up and dress in the dark, but you have to do that here to maximise your ride in the morning cool. The first fishing boats have left before us, but we are out by 7.00 am.
It is a misty morning, but still 30′c and this morning our legs are hurting and we are far from fresh. The road goes over a river. In the water under the bridge is another fishing village. A dog on the pontoon catches the scent of touring cyclists and barks. No idea how they do that.
We are now working our way up the west coast, going north. We get 20Km on the metre before breakfast. Piandang is the local market town, and it is in full swing. Mopeds are everywhere and going in every direction and all at the same time. Many try to do their shopping without once leaving the seat of the bike. It is hard on the nerves.
We are looking for an Indian stall in amongst the mostly Chinese faces. It is actually easier than we thought and we are sitting down with Banana Roti and sweet tea in quick order. We watch the mopeds swarm. They move like Starlings, all managing to keep just enough distance. Five people on a moped, a new record. Mum, Dad and tree kids. Every child loves riding at the front of a fast moped. Enjoying the thrill before they get any concept of life threatening injury or loss of limbs.
We know things are going to get busy for us ahead. It starts as we turn onto Highway 1 and gets worse the closer we get to Butterworth and the ferry terminal we are aiming for.
The final 12Km is amongst the wildest we have done since we started almost 2 years ago. Heavy trucks, fast cars and mopeds. We dial in the ferry terminal into our gps, which allows us to concentrate on the road and not the navigation. We need every bit of an edge.
Mopeds have the road manners of shopping trollys. Like flies, they can not hold a straight line for even a moment. Just because it is a one way street, it does not mean that a moped will not be coming the wrong way, and that may be on the path.
We get to the ferry and line up with the mopeds. Our nerves are in tatters. It does not improve on the other side and we take a break at a stall. I lean my bike against a bamboo pole. People are everywhere and tables spill out into the road. The owner of the cafe runs out and is shouting at me. The Bamboo pole is more than the Bamboo pole that it appears to be, it is a religious shrine and she does not want 40Kg of touring bike leant at a jaunty angle against it. Bugger again.
We are going to stay at ‘ Pedal Inn ‘, a hostel for touring cyclists and travellers that has just opened in Penang. The gps shows that it is not far, which is great news. It is calm, clean and friendly. A great place to stay, the choice is yours, but you would be a fool to go elsewhere.