Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Civilisation II

Sun 25/10
A lot of people arrive at Taman Negara via speedboat, which winds it way up a beautiful stretch of jungle-verged river. We should be so lucky, arriving via the tradesman’s entrance and mile after mile of oil palm instead.

And so finally, when confronted by the thick wall of ancient rainforest, it takes a little adjusting to fully appreciate where we are. So we grab a boat across the river and scramble up one of the easy trails, up the side of a reasonable sized hill which looks out over the jungle.

Easy? Bollocks! Well that’s Ann’s assessment of the afternoon’s activities anyway.

Mon 26/10
The jungle here is extremely jungly it must be said, and we see more wildlife today than all the other Malaysian parks put together. Most people get pretty blasé about monkeys in this part of the world; you see them everywhere, usually being fed peanuts by tourists at the side of the road. But out here, away from all that, you can sit and watch them for hours just being themselves. Playing, fighting, picking fruit, picking their noses, swinging from the trees, peeing, rooting and generally just monkeying around. We’re pretty knackered that afternoon after the boat guy deposits us back on the other side of the river.

And could really use a good night’s sleep for a change, but it just isn’t working out that way. Maybe we’ve led sheltered lives, but up until now neither of us has laid eyes on a bed bug. Or maybe we’ve just been lucky, because Malaysia seems to have a reputation for bug infested beds. Either way, at around midnight, our luck finally runs out. So for those of you unfamiliar with the joys, let us enlighten you.

First of all they live in beds. And luggage. And clothes. And any other cool dark place they can ferret themselves away. They’re about the size of a tick, look a bit like one, and are of course biting, blood-sucking, evil little bastards. Oh yeah, and when you squish them, they stink. They stink like something you think you know the smell of, but can’t quite place. And what comes out when you squish them is something not exactly blood and not exactly purply smelly goo. You really don’t want them; they’re the traveller’s equivalent of lice. Crabs even. Something socially unacceptable at any rate.

And so, especially after last night’s family affair next door, and the fact that the “resort”, which we’re paying top ringgit for, is more like some 70’s pigsty summer camp, we are fucking furious.

Tue 27/10
The guy who runs the place gives us some “So what?” attitude the next morning, saying that a lot of places have bed bugs and we should just deal with it. As a consequence, after two days slogging through leech-infested jungle and two nights without sleep, he becomes the recipient of our outrage, some of which is actually latent Indo outrage if we’re honest, but the asshole deserves every bit of it.

Maybe the whole thing is still playing on his mind, or maybe its the fact that your average Malaysian is an appalling driver, but a couple of hours later Lucas is run off the road by some dolt in a Proton. We see this sort of thing happen to the locals all the time, but when you’re on top of an oversize trail bike weighing ¼ of a ton you really don’t want to be in a drainage ditch doing 60 on short notice.

About 30 seconds afterwards, Proton Boy becomes the next recipient of our Latent Indo Fury when he finds himself boxed in by two stationary BMWs and two furious bikers.

Malaysia’s a deceiving place to ride. One the one hand the roads are great; KL’s network of toll roads is astonishing for example. But on the other, the roads are populated by the most appalling drivers we’ve ever seen. Most of them wander all over the road like Farmer Brown’s cows, regard indicators as optional extras, pull out right in front of you without looking, cut you off, merge into your lane as if you don’t exist, run, jump or just plain ignore red lights, are clueless negotiating roundabouts, and to top it off there are so many Indos and Indians riding mopeds here who don’t give a damn about anything at all, that riding in traffic is like riding in the Wacky Races.

So we’ve decided to compile a list. There are loads of lists these days, ranking countries according to cost of living, transparency, happiness etc. Our list will have nothing to do with the state of the roads or the amount of traffic on them, its simply an Idiot Behind The Wheel index, and the country with lowest driver IQ will sit in last place. Here’s how it looks so far:
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Oz
  • USA
  • Timor Leste
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
Sorry about that Malaysia, but we’ve given you a few months... Its a bit of a shame really, because some of the roads here are spectacularly good. The one today is maybe the best we’ve ever ridden and snakes its way up to the Cameron Highlands like an empty formula one track.

Wed 28/10 -29/10

Up here in the Highlands it rains quite a lot, especially during the (surprise) rainy season. So while sitting out some of it we get to know a couple who are travelling the world on two pushbikes. Its taken them 5 years, but Richard & Stani have managed to pedal themselves from Europe across to Mongolia and down through China, Laos etc., and have mostly camped and cooked their own food along the way. Including, unbelievably, bread (they have a freakin oven for chrissake). On the one hand they make us feel like complete wusses, but on the other, after hearing that Stani carries 60kg on the bike and Richard 80, we wonder why we’ve been giving ourselves such a hard time about luggage. All up, including the weight of the panniers, we’re probably carrying the same.

The Indian hotel owner seems to think having all four of us in his hotel at once is good karma or something, because he decides to shout us all tea tonight. The guy’s a bit obnoxious and seems to regard himself as lord of the manor, which is appropriate, being as he’s drunk as one most of the time. But we’re all sluts for a free meal so happily agree anyway. In fact it really doesn’t register with us at all, because like many alcoholics he seems to manage day to day. So when the time comes and he insists that he drive us to the restaurant in his old Honda, everyone thinks this is a great idea. 10 minutes later, watching the centre line pass between the front wheels and the oncoming traffic scatter, we're starting to wish we’d walked to the nearest 7-eleven in the rain instead.

Fri 30/10 – 7/11

Ipoh Ipoh Ipoh. Another town most tourists give a big swerve.

But there’s a cheap Chinese hotel here with underground parking (a first for us in Malaysia), the staff are friendly, the room is old but huge and clean, and we have no neighbours. Woohoo! We may never leave this place. That’s a photo of Kellie’s Castle by the way.

The town even has a bit of character, including the seedy part we’re in.

We’re not quite on first name terms with the prostitutes on the corner, but they’re usually hanging around on our way to breakfast every morning. We sit outside the little Indian restaurant sipping a cup of kopi o kosong, waiting for the roti to arrive. The shopkeeper next door throws a couple of handfuls of rice out onto the road for the pigeons, while the ginger tomcat waits patiently before beginning his stealthy approach. Let’s face it, we’re not big pigeon fans (they’re really just rats with wings), so we’re always rooting for the cat, but at the last second one of the shop owners always chases him away, and he stomps off, balls swinging proudly. On our way back to the hotel, the purple pimped Proton carelessly parked across the road signals the arrival of the pimp. Some mornings, when he’s a little late out of bed, he can even be seen arguing a parking ticket.

Yes folks, we are living an Asian cliché.

By the way, Ipoh has lots of interesting temple caves as well.

Ok sure, some are a bit tacky, but once you get past the tackiness they’re... still pretty tacky.

But Lucas loves photographing them... Ann indulges him and amuses herself people watching.

Sat 8/11 – 14/11
Paradise was never meant to last, and so it is with Ipoh. We’ve been waiting and waiting for bits and pieces to arrive, and KL is too expensive and awkward to wait in. But Ann has been on the phone to a friend of a friend, who virtually insists we come down to KL and stay at their place and assures us that they have plenty of space for the bikes.

Nothing can quite prepare us for Thobrani & Sharifah’s place however, and as we ride through the gates past the security guard, past the rows of German cars, up into what looks like a resort, we each experience a brief moment of panic and wonder if we’re actually in the right place after all.

Sharifah welcomes us like honoured guests (we’ve only just met her), and asks if our “room” will be ok. Um. How can we explain this? The room is actually a 2-storey house (one of six), complete with a huge kitchen, dining and living areas and one massive bedroom. We’ve lived in apartments half this size. “Yes its lovely, thank you.” we reply politely, trying not to act too much like the poor relations from Out Of Town.

Over the next week we’re housed, fed and treated like part of the family. We may even put on weight here.

Actually, our sharper viewers would have spotted the other photo was still Kellie’s Castle. This is really their place.

Really though, the whole reason we came back to KL was to try and track down a package of bits for the GPS. Finally, after a visit to MASKargo at the airport, the matter is resolved once and for all. Somewhere between Canada and here its gone missing. ####ing morons at Canada Post sending it without a ####ing tracking number means no one can tell us jack, and no matter where we source some replacements its still going to take another 3 weeks. ####!!!

Thobrani generously offers us a room until then, but we can’t help feeling like we’re overstaying our welcome.

Sun 15/11
In the meantime though, the whole family are heading up to Penang for the weekend and ask us to join them.

On the way up, and just to enrich your lives with a bit of motorcycle trivia viewers, Ann’s bike hits a new mileage record. Before we chicken out and stop to refuel, it gets 423 kilometres from 14 litres. At 30km/l this works out to 525 kilometres from one tank, on a fully laden 650. We’re pretty impressed. We knew you would be too...

1 comment:

  1. Wednesday 2nd Dec. Summer time , OOOOOOOO yes , it started a few weeks ago here .Hot and humid all ready.
    Bout time you caught up with your story, thought you might have been kidnapped by the owners of the manor you were staying in ;). Got the spares yet ???
    Alls well this end,must try and catch up on skype b4 Xmas. Take care , Love N