Arriving in Singapore I made my way somewhat accidentally to the cyclist favourite Tree Inn Lodge run by the wonderfully helpful SK. I actually ended up sleeping in a small hostel just around the corner from the Tree Inn as it was fully booked but I gate crashed each evening to quiz SK on my route ahead. I also bumped into fellow bike tourers Vinnie, Mark and Tamara. After a few days in the city – which is very pleasant by the way – Vinnie, Mark and I set off for Malaysia together. It wasn’t until I came to do this post however that I realised I’d failed take one photo in Singapore, which is somewhat problematic when trying to create a photographic journey, so I’ve pinched a few snaps of our departure from Tree Inn’s facebook page. (By the way – I know circles are a new and quite frankly rather exciting addition to the blog but just so you know, clicking on them will not only reveal Mark’s face but also my interesting and informative captions)
Crossing Singapore in a day we were soon working our way north towards Melaka where we hoped to meet up with Aussie rider Tamara. Having ridden alone for so long it was nice to have some company although riding in a group brings about it’s own challenges with adjustments to your pace and routine and a schedule that all of a sudden has to take others into account. It’s easy to get used to doing what you want when you want when travelling alone but this isn’t particularly conducive to a harmonious group dynamic.
We spent a few nights in Melaka camping for free on the roof of Ringo’s Guesthouse. I’d been to Melaka before and I don’t remember being all that impressed with it but this time around the city really grew on me. In fact I think it’s fair to say that Malaysia as a whole really grew on me this visit. I found the people to be more welcoming, I felt I had a better understanding of the culture and it seemed more relaxed, laid back and care free. When I stopped to think about it I realised that the country hadn’t changed over the past few years but rather my enjoyment was more a reflection of where I am in my life now in comparison to my last visit. For the first time it made me realise how much of an impact state of mind has on one’s perception and experiences, something most people would likely consider to be rather obvious notion but nonetheless, something that had previously failed to occur to me.
A day north of Melaka, Mark and his fat bike decided to take a different route to us girls and so Tamara, Vinnie and I rode on without him. It had been nice to ride as a 4 but If I’m honest I was quite pleased with the change as although a nice bloke and unfailingly friendly Mark was something of a talker and there had been a few nights where I didn’t so much feel as though we were having a conversation but more that we were being talked at. An attempt to join in was a near impossibility that I found both frustrating and, ultimately, boring.
As we left the coast the riding and roads were pleasant but the landscape was dominated by palm oil. Malaysia’s palm oil production is second only to Indonesia’s and rows and rows of identical trees stretched as far as you could see. The land, if not already planted, was in various stages of preparation and those areas of native jungle we did pass were more often than not bordered by cleared land, no doubt next in line to be cultivated. Such lack of diversity is terrible for the environment although encouragingly the Malaysian government has pledged to maintain a minimum of 50% of their land as forest. Let’s hope that this is a pledge that is kept.
Maintaining the bike tourer’s tradition of sleeping anywhere and everywhere, below are some photos of the friendly folk who gave us somewhere safe to rest our heads each night. Other than the free nights in Melaka and a couple of nights in a Cameron Highland’s hostel we found/were offered somewhere to sleep every night. In fact I’d say I found Malaysia to be one of the easiest countries so far in which to find somewhere free to sleep. Hospitality was genuine and abundant and our interactions with people gave us a lovely organic insight into many aspects of life. One particularly memorable evening was spent with the wonderful Yaz, her family, her friend Bella and Bella’s boyfriend. Bella, a transgender woman, experiences her fair share of difficulties living in a small Muslim village and, with Yaz acting as translator, she was incredibly open and honest with us. “At the end, it is only God who will judge me” she said, “what other people say doesn’t matter, what is important is to be a good person”…