30 October, 2007


Kuala Lumpur

The passenger ferry to Port Klang in Malaysia was more like an aircraft. Except you couldn't see out of the windows unless you stood up. I found a quiet seat and waited. Of course the lad who came and sat next to me was a world-class fidget. At least he took a telling after I made it clear to him that his constant movement and bumping of my arm was spoiling my reading of the bike mag I'd been saving since Darwin. He tried to give room, but needed so much more than his actual size. He also seemed to need his mobile phone out every other minute. He couldn't seem to grasp how much easier it would be for both of us if he kept it out, rather than in his trouser pocket. More than once I deftly ducked an elbow in the nose. Maybe he was doing it on purpose . . ?

An hour before we arrived at Port Klang most of my fellow passengers began to queue up as if we had already docked. I quietly read my bike mag, and listened to the iPod. It was air-conditioned inside the high speed boat, so even after we did dock, I sat still and was very happy. My eager neighbour had joined the queue. It seems not all Malaysians are mad about durian!

Pt Klang was odd. We had to get off the ferry and then pay 13Ringgit (7RM = 1GBP) as an arrival tax. Well I didn't have any Ringgit, not having been anywhere near a Malaysian ATM. What were they going to do about this? I mused. Had I any Rupiahs from Indonesia? Well I might have a few. Okay, 40,000 of those would do. I had 25,000. Lots of humming and hawwing and scratching of heads. Some showing to other bigger, shinier guards and that was fine. They gave me the wee pink entry slip and directed me into the "Arrivals Lounge".

There has recently been some trouble about illegal Indonesians settling in Malaysia in growing numbers. Of course, just as the UK tabloid Press blame everything on immigrants to the UK (tolerant society?), so growing crime rates in Malaysia are blamed on increasing numbers of Indonesians. One symptom of this is a lot of waiting in a lot of queues at entry points like Pt Klang. I can't be bothered with queues and would rather wait in my seat while the queue goes down than shuffle along for hours. So I was at the very back and could at least see what was going on. Lots of standing around uselessly seemed to be going on, with lots of very quiet Indonesians in lots of very long queues. Some guards occasionally barked at them and they moved queues, and the queues moved slowly forward. I was in no hurry. Always the best way to be on these occasions.

A barking guard eventually noticed me scanning a disapproving eye over all this wasteful inefficiency and came and demanded my passport, not barking, just growling. Skin tone? Westerner? I don't know, but I was escorted to the front of all the queues and processed in double quick time. I apologised as best I could to those I'd just overtaken, but they made no response. That was highly unusual in my limited experience of Indonesians. There was a very slight air of menace in the atmosphere. Maybe now that the Westerner was out of the way, the guards could have some real fun!

I found a taxi willing to rip me off as he took me to the nearest ATM. When I say "rip me off" he did charge me 15RM for a 2mile ride, but that still comes to only 2GBP for taking me places I'd have spent hours finding myself. This should have cost about 5RM but I was grateful to be in his car and out of the sun.

Naturally, nobody at any of the three cargo forwarders I went to knew anything about any bike or such a boat. Even the company whose address I'd been given. Two helpful guys quietly played chess in their smoke-filled howff. When I suggested I might go and look for the boat before it got dark, they'd have been hard put to show less interest. They let me leave my two bags with them and off I went. Luckily, I'd taken photos of the boat and so I found it tied up at a distant quayside. I couldn't get to it. When I returned to the howff however, the two guys jumped up when I announced my discovery. Soon we were flying along on wee motorbikes, ripping over muddy roads, scattering cats and frightening dogs as we went.

The crew looked surprised to see me. They were waiting for the tide to go out so that the boat would be lower against the quay before unloading anything. We chatted and I showed them photies on the digital camera while we waited. Getting the bike off was the usual "what safety?" event. Where's Customs? Closed. Ah well, tomorrow then.

Stuart, a contributor (The Highlander) to previous blogs, had pointed me at Lorenz and Hilary way back in Cairo. Stuart lives in Kuala Lumpur (KL) but it was far too late by then to go searching for him. And I'd need to find customs in the morning. Hotel, food, bed, sleep.

Malaysians seem to have got their directional abilities straight from the Indonesians, or maybe it's vice-versa. I am very pleased to find that the languages are remarkably similar. 'Selamat pagi', still means good morning, 'terima kasih' still means thank you. But the answer to the question "where is Customs" got the odd response "over there" with the usual vague arm movement. Picture a policeman asking a captured teenager where his friends are hiding. Of course after riding around for a few hours I hadn't found any Customs and so I gave up, deciding to take advice from Stuart and his wife Suit Yoo on the matter.

With a clear address and some help from fellow motorcyclists, I found Stuart's home in the southern suburbs of KL without much difficulty. Having settled into the spare room (en suite!), we were off out for tea! Suit Yoo did all the ordering and I happily waited to see what tasty things arrived. This was a highly satisfactory pattern for the whole weekend. Food is everywhere here, plentiful and inexpensive. Stuart and Suit Yoo only eat at home during the week. What a taste-bud treat of a weekend!

Stuart also has the "Highlander Bar" in his house, (you can find his website at the link mentioned in the comments below) which has a fair selection of some flavoursome drinks from the more obscure regions of Scotland like Islay and Speyside. We'd never previously met, but I've known his brother Alan for more years than I might care to remember if they hadn't been such a good laugh! Stuart has been based in Malaysia for 18 years. It's been a few years since Stuart sold his last motorbike, but he still takes a keen interest. He told me not to worry about Customs. Fair enough. Stuart is at least as excited about my trip as I am and he's also been following this blog from the start. He even has some top ideas about how it might be improved. Yes even further, dear reader! Constantly updating and improving for you. Coming soon.

On the Sunday, Suit Yoo was flying off to Jakarta for a break with some pals. Having dropped her off at the airport, we were passing Sepang, the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit, where MotoGP had only just taken place the previous week. We went for a wee look and stumbled our way into the Pit Lane. The place was almost deserted but we were "caught" by Ahmad, who wasn't in the least troubled by our presence. He introduced himself as the Chief Marshal of the circuit and then took us up to the control room of Sepang before awarding both Stuart and I our first podium places. Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia seem on much of a par with Europe as far as development and industrialisation goes. Excellent roads, infrastructure all sorted out and massive improvements going on all the time. One of the best things about Malaysia is that it has so much variety of food and people. There are three main groups, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians and while they did have some trouble in the late 1960's, they get along very well. There have recently been some quiet(ish) rumblings about how the Malay majority have a few unfair advantages over the other two though.

There are several religions too. The country's official religion is Islam, but it's not an Islamic state. Everyone is free to do whatever they want and it's a wee bit odd to see one lady in full burka chatting away happily to another wearing hot-pants and a skimpy top! There are lots of Christians, Hindus and Bhuddists around and very few nutcases so everyone seems to be treated with great respect. One other top advantage is that all the various festivals are celebrated. We've just had Ramadan and then Eid al Fitr (Muslim), now we're into Deepavali (Divali - Hindu), soon it will be Christmas and then it's Chinese New Year just before Easter. Plenty of good reasons for holidays!

Another civilised thing here is the bike-parks under shopping malls. They have guards, are free and even provide free helmet lockers for you while you browse the shops.

Ipoh? Oh no!

On a run up the motorway to see an old pal in Ipoh, the skies opened and I was caught and completely drenched. Happily however, the Malaysians have organised little motorbike shelters beneath all the fly-overs, protected by armco. I sheltered with a few others but the incredible rain had already made the bike go onto just one cylinder before I'd reached the shelter. As the rain eased I switched on and pushed the start button. No joy. That triple wire between the alternator and the control unit that has dogged me since Honduras seemed the most likely culprit. It was cleaned out and put back together. Still nothing, and now the rev counter needle was moving without the engine even turning, and sometimes the lights didn't even come on! Scary and quite worrying. It was getting dark and so I quickly put everything back together and pushed the bike through the heat and quickly evaporating soggy wetness up (aye - UP!!) to the nearest Toll "Plaza". Now I'd been soaked by rain, it seemed only slightly different to be soaked in sweat. They kindly allowed me to abandon the bike safely with them and take a taxi into Ipoh, about 30km away.

Rather than bother my old pal Foo with my worries, next day I found the local BMW dealer. There, Kevin was extremely helpful phoning and organising a truck to go back to KL, since the Ipoh branch doesn't do bikes. He'd also phoned the KL branch so that they could expect my arrival. Then he ran me back up to the Toll Plaza to organise one more night's accommodation for the bike. All sorted, Kevin promised to pick me up next morning in a new 7-Series car. What a job, 22 years old and spends his days driving around in flashy BMW cars. A dream job for one so youthful, but he told me he doesn't get to take them home.

That evening I met Foo all too briefly, hoping to get together for a longer time soon. Foo and I met 17 years ago when we shared student accommodation in Belfast. We kept in touch first by old-fashioned letter and latterly by this modern e-mail thing. Back in Belfast we were struggling students, but now Foo runs his dad's Pharmacy business, has a lovely wife, Angie and three young daughters.

Kevin apologised next morning as he drew up at the hotel in merely a brand new 3-series. It was fine and comfy and had a/c so I had nothing to complain about. He whisked us up to the Tolls and the break down truck arrived soon after.

Friday is a half day in Malaysia. Geoffrey the head mechanic insisted I should come in to help since he hadn't been trained on these 'old' bikes. I left the bike and made my way back to Stuart and Suit Yoo's place. I was quite looking forward to going into 'work' on Monday.

That evening we went out for a Japanese meal - another first for me, and again, Suit Yoo was happy to do the ordering while I was more than happy with whatever came. Stuart had to fly off to India on business early on the Sunday morning. He kindly said he'd look into the possibility of the Mumbai to Mombasa ferry. There isn't much that I can find on-line.

Monday morning and BMW KL were having a clear out of their workshop. With no other bikes to think about, Geoffrey and I were left to work away in relative peace. Don't ask me what the dismembered manikin is all about. Nice hat though. It's embarrassing to have to confess that in the end, and after about five hours testing, cleaning and trying things, it was the three pin thing. I had cleaned it on the motorway but in my haste to get out of the heat I'd not put it back together properly. One lives, and one hopes to continue learning! How much? "No no, I wasn't busy," said Geoffrey, "that was just fun!"

Round North Malaysia, Penang and Langkawi

Then an e-mail from William, telling me that he could send my tools with an Australian man who was flying to an island in the north of Malaysia called Langkawi. He was coming from Bali to pick up his boat. William's boat was finally mended and he had even organised new crew. He was very happy. I immediately asked him the man's name, which marina he'd be in and what his boat was called.

Bike all mended, I got another e-mail, this time from Lizzie (last seen in Peru) to say she had an interview for a new job in Penang, another northern island, not far from Langkawi and did I want to meet up for dinner? I certainly wanted to explore Malaysia and I could maybe collect those tools at the same time. I thought I had a week to spare, so I rode up to Fraser Hill at the southern end of the Cameron Highlands where it was refreshingly cool only 1500m up. Then I went over to the East Coast where I found a fantastic wee beach hut for a night. I'd have stayed here longer but I'd misunderstood Lizzie's timetable and had to get over to Penang if I was to be in time for her Saturday free day. It was a long run but over a wonderful cool, winding road over hills and through jungle and forest. I never saw these warnings in Africa!

I had selected the Cathay Hotel, George Town from the book as a likely place for me to stay. As I drew up into the car park - guess what? Two BMW F650's with British number plates! But no, not this time! Will and James are safe at home now, looking forward to a visit to this year's Bike Show in Birmingham. Charles was typing away on his laptop. His pal Jim was just coming and they were off out to find food. They'd only arrived half an hour previously. I'd heard about these two while I was in KL, they'd been at the showroom in town while I was in the workshop on the outskirts. Charles and Jim were on their way to Jim's motherland of Australia and so we were able to exchange many tales. Of course, my trip was less interesting to them since they are nearly at the end of theirs, but I had loads of questions for them!

Saturday and Lizzie came down to the Hotel and we had a day of tourism which was relaxing fun. The Chinese had a great influence on Penang and we saw some amazing buildings as well as visiting an old fort with this guy outside. A fine meal at a wee Indian place topped off the day.

I hadn't heard anything back from William about the man in Langkawi but Jim and Charles were planning a visit there. This seemed an excellent opportunity for me to search for the tools. Another high-speed ferry took just three hours to get to Langkawi. We'd left our bikes in the safe custody of Jim's pal Dave's driveway. Charles had already found a perfect beach resort where we pooled resources for more comfortable "family" accommodation.I wasn't overly hopeful but in the spirit of "it's worth a try" I searched three different marinas during the following day, almost boiling my brain in the heat, despite wearing my hat all day. It was great to see all the boats and I spoke to lots of very helpful yachtie people. But the flimsy information I had - "Australian, flew in from Bali recently, has tools for me" wasn't quite enough. I doubt he'd arrived really. There was someone in each marina who seemed to know all the comings and goings. I even found the "Gwendolyn" from Bali, but there was no-one aboard.

Back to Kuala Lumpur

I headed back down the motorway to KL. Stuart and Suit Yoo were flying off to Cambodia where Stuart was going to attend a photography course. I needed to mend the bike and work out how to get Indian, Pakistani and Iranian visas, so I moved into a hostel in town. The hostel was called 8ight, since it was at number 8 on the street. Good name! I also wanted to see the football game between Scotland and Italy that weekend so this seemed the most likely place to find an atmospheric spot to watch.

I spent all Saturday in Sunny Cycles where the mechanic/owner Sunny, the owner and his expert son, Sunny Jr, allowed me complete freedom to use their tools and yet do stuff for me that I was less experienced in. So, while I took things apart and got everything I could ready, Sunny Jr changed the fork seals, and Sunny Sr welded the pannier rack - the one that's been broken since Guatamala. I was there from 10am until 6pm in the shade and with a fan on, but still the heat seemed to drain just about every ounce of strength I had. Or maybe it was just a full-on "honest day's work"! Okay, perhaps a bit of both.

But the heat here! If you were sitting inside a house in Scotland with the level of heat you get here at night you would definitely turn the heating down. Sticky, sweaty, clammy. I'm slightly ashamed to say I have to seek out air-conditioning wherever I can find it. The Malaysians and others living here are quite happy in the heat, although most taxis seem to have a/c.

I found a wee bar that had Irn Bru. The Green Man, joint owned by a Scot and an Englishman. Some few other Scots had gathered for the game, one with his bagpipes! Kick-off wasn't until 1am our time, but excitement and hopes were high. Both these lads called Ross!A fair amount of tartan and some Scotland tops and all seemed right and ready. If you didn't see the game, Scotland lost against the World Champions, but not without giving them a real fright and, it seems widely agreed, playing the better game. On the TV and in the papers, I only heard about the game itself. I didn't hear this bit, but I was glad when Ewen sent me his viewpoint afterwards. Over to Ewen . . .

Well, no trip to Switzerland next year for the Tartan Army. As I suspected, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday, with a 2-1 defeat by Italy, the World Champs. We needed a draw to be still in the chase, a win to qualify without relying on other results. A brilliant, brilliant performance by the team, following the loudest rendition of Flower of Scotland I have ever heard by the footsoldiers on the terraces! We made Italy NOT look like World Cup winners :) 1-1 in the final minute of the game and we were still in it. Then the most ludicrous refereeing decision I have seen in a long while gave Italy a free kick close to our goal, where they promptly scored... a bit of a sucker punch to say the least!

They should never have had a free kick and we should have defended it better, but they scored and we're out. In good Scottish manner, the Tartan Army were so impressed with the performance that nobody left the stadium until the team came out for a lap of honour about 20 minutes after the final whistle! The Italian fans were quite befuddled because they won, we lost, they were celebrating, but WE were celebrating as well!!! Brilliant!!

Speaking of Flower of Scotland, another amazing sight that I have never encountered. It started when the Italian anthem came on. A group of Neds a few rows in front of us started booing. At this they were promptly turned upon by a very large number of Tartan Army and in no uncertain terms were told to 'shut up', which they did! Not only that but in a way which again befuddled the Italians, the whole of Hampden started clapping in time to the Italian anthem. I dont know if you know the Italian anthem but it is quite upbeat and Hampden was a surreal place with 50,000 folk clapping along merrily - in a respectful fashion, but very strange. Then followed an absolutely bellowing rendition of Flower of Scotland - sent the hairs up and down my back all tingly. :)

Breathtaking stuff and one reason why I love going to these events.

Me too. We left the Green Man in the small hours of Sunday morning, and I felt a greater sense of pride than of defeat. Next time!

The Iranian government isn't on the best of terms with the British one, so my passport fairly underwhelmed the man at the Iranian Embassy. "You are a British subject. We will take 475RM (about 70GBP) and a decision will be made in a month. Maybe yes, maybe no but there will be no refund if we decide no." I tried to get out of him what the likelihood of a "no" decision was. It seemed it was 50/50. Later, by phone they agreed that they could let me apply here, and then I could pick the visa up in Pakistan or maybe India. All I had to do was write a letter explaining what I was doing.

Letter written, forms filled out and cash in hand, I went back to the Embassy. "You know," said the man, "the quickest way for you would be to turn up at the Iranian border and get a visa there. They are less likely to refuse, it will take much less time and it will cost much less."

So after a week of sitting around waiting to see what was possible, how long it would take, how much, etc. I am just going to do as I did in Africa. You get the visa for the next place either at the border or in the capital city of the country before. So, ride to Bangkok, fly to Kathmandu in Nepal, get an Indian visa. Ride to Delhi, get a Pakistani one, and so on.

But through all of this waiting and running about and hiding to 'research the web' in the cool of iCaffs, I found that there is a Roll On-Roll Off ferry from Mumbai to Mombasa. It takes 21-23 days though, which may be too long for me, but if things get any worse in Pakistan . . .


At 26/11/2007, 15:03, Blogger Mick said...

You can all visit Stuart's shiny and welcoming bar at; www.thehighlanderbar.com


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