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Cycling Plus

Cycling Plus #4:
Indonesia to Malaysia
5/3/99

It was time to say a fond "selamat jalang" to Indonesia and head for mainland Asia to begin the overland journey to Europe. Arriving by boat at dusk, I was greeted by a Singapore skyline far removed from anything I have ever seen, and a world apart from that of Indonesia.

There are many different faces to Asia. On Lombok, horse and carts are still used around the island, ambling sedately along the narrow and winding roads. The west coast was one of the most beautiful and quiet stretches I have ridden. Torturous in the heat, the road climbs and drops sharply; locals thumbed encouragement as they overtook on their struggling mopeds. The sea was like thick glass and fishermen had waded far out; their hats, long fishing rods and nets silhouetted against the sun. Leading a simple lifestyle, families stopped to watch as I passed and children joined me on their bikes before peeling off to their respective villages.

Cycling in such a natural environment focuses you on your surroundings. One evening a storm drew close, like a dark ink blot spreading across the sky. The setting sun burned red and orange in a thin band below this bank of thick cloud. To escape the impending rain, a boy cycling by had fashioned a poncho out of a giant leaf, cutting a hole in its centre for his head to pass through.

Where in Indonesia I had stood in the sea holding my bike aloft to clamber aboard a dugout boat, in Singapore it was stowed neatly away on a high speed ferry. Arriving in this immaculately clean city, it was strange to think how far apart these two countries are in everything but geography; here dual carriageways feed businessmen into gleaming high-rise buildings in the heart of the city. I was contacted by a club called Bike Aid, avid Cycling Plus readers, who escorted me over the border into Malaysia.

Malaysia's infrastructure is far more developed than Indonesia; an expressway leads all the way into Kuala Lumpur. But dotted along its smaller coastal roads are peaceful villages, "kampungs". Chinese, Muslims and Hindus live side by side, and a profusion of colourful mosques and temples line the roads. Stopping to ask for directions I was invited into a home to experience kampung life. Photos dating back to colonial times were brought out, refreshing coconut milk was served and a hearty meal prepared before the family excused themselves for their afternoon prayers.

As the kilometres accumulate Possum is showing signs of wear and tear. With a broken chain and mislaid tool, a local nodded enthusiastically after hand-gestured explanations only to return brandishing a large hammer and a set of pliers... As well as replacing the brake pads, I took my buckled rear wheel to a workshop where old parts and inner tubes were stacked high. A gold-toothed Chinese man deftly slipped the tyre off the wheel and within moments it was straightened. I wondered how many thousand of tyres he must have changed...

From Kuala Lumpur I will take the jungle road into the Malay interior to the east coast, gateway to Thailand. This mountainous pass promises to reveal another side of Asia different again from anything seen so far.

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