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 . . .

29 October, 2007

Into Indonesia

The time came. After waiting for the weekend after the week was up, the 'mechanic' came back to tell us that he had not mended the fuel pump, but that he would be taking it on a plane to Jakarta personally, so that he could see it being fixed since it would soon be Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan the holiday. Right. Slowly and sadly William and I heaved the bike off 'Quickstep'. Having made the decision to go, I got my head down and began putting all the bits back on and packing up carefully. I'd made some enquires the day before and Customs said there'd be no problems since I had a Carnet. Telling this to the cynical yachties; "that means there'll be LOADS of problems!" But I was confident in the polite way I'd been treated and sure enough, stamp, stamp, sign, stamp and I was finished with Customs. I'm glad I haven't become as cynical as so many I've met. Smile and be patient, that's definitely the key, but so many are always in such a hurry.

While reconstructing the bike, two English lads appeared and chatted for a long while. They warned me about Indonesian police patrols since they'd hired mopeds and been stopped four times on a wee run around Bali. The police, they said, were always looking for a bribe. I'd not been stopped once on the Harley, and we'd done almost 500miles. I'd be careful anyway.

At one point I was hot and thirsty and stopped work for a drink and a cool down. I put down my bag full of tools, tie-downs and some 'Highway pegs' I'd picked up in Darwin (I couldn't fit these because they seem to be US fittings). I checked the internet (the only air-conditioned room in the marina) and when I came back there was no bag! I searched everywhere as these were my favourite tools, an original BMW toolkit with some useful extras which I'd managed to get to be just right over a number of years. Two hours and a lot warmer later, I gave up, and scrambled the bike together. I knew that if I stayed, the tools might turn up but, maybe it was the heat, I had said I was going and had to go. On a plus point, the camera I thought I'd lost turned up in the pocket of a jacket I'd never even worn since coming into Bali. This jacket had been hanging in the cockpit of the boat. Funny place!

I didn't get far. The sun was going down fast and I found a friendly wee hotel for only 40,000IR (Indonesian Rupiah). This is about 2.20GBP. Food, bed, fan, toilet. What more could anyone want? I slept soundly and was up early next morning.

I arrived at the ferry port for Java at 8.30 with the sun just warming up. Along the way I had ridden alongside a friendly family. The dad seemed to be a careful sort who was taking no chances with his wife and family aboard. Still the riding was chaotic, but it made sense to me for us to make progress together smoothly through the traffic. Sometimes I was in front, sometimes him, with exchanges of smiles and thumbs up at traffic lights.

We made very little progress at the actual ferry port. There were three sweat-drenched hours in the ever-warming sun while we waited for each ferry to fill, go, return and let the next batch of motorcyclists on. Everyone was heading home for Idul Fitri. Spirits were quite high though, for a while. We were separated by a building from the air-conditioned cars and trucks but we could hear them tooting their horns in impatient frustration and grinned at one another as we listened. As the heat increased and there was no shade, some people who had fainted were passed overhead to waiting medics at the side who gave them water and sent them back into the overheated throng. Children were being sick and shade was constructed out of anything to protect them. The sun was directly overhead but we all kept our helmets on. At last some at the back began to cheer then roar and rev their engines. Wee bikes like these only have wee batteries and they wouldn't take lengthy toots on horns, so this seemed the reasonable alternative. We surged forward a wee bit being pushed from behind but just ended up in more fumes, with more kids being sick and just a bit more squashed up.

Idul Fitri is, I think 'Eid al Fitr' in Europe and North Africa. A Swede at the marina, speaking in a heavy US accent had managed to make it sound like "Ay-dolf Hitlir", but it's the same holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan fasting when everyone wants to be home with their families to break their fasts and party. I was told this was the heaviest traffic of the year. Great timing! Speaking of timing, I've gone back again. This is 1428 in the Islamic world. They only use our "Christian" calendar to make trading and business easier between countries.
These lads entertained and made money by swimming around till people threw coins from the ferry. Health and Safety?

Java itself was just entirely nuts. Half of Indonesia's 250million population live on this one wee island. And they were all out on their bikes rushing to get home. I tried to think of a way to describe it, and came up with this . . . Picture the English Lake District - hmmm, nice eh? Lovely scenery, sun blazing, skinny wee roads . . . but it's August Bank Holiday, and someone has organised a Moto GP in some imaginary circuit at Barrow in Furness, and a World Superbike round at a similar venue in Penrith. The M6 and A6 are closed, but tickets to both are free. Every motorcyclist in Europe (all for some reason riding modernised C90 equivalents) cannot make up their minds which one to attend, so they speed like maniacs from one to the other, trying to make it in time for the next race they most want to see. And there are lots of Italians with the entire family on the bike - dad driving, wee one in the footwell, another youngster squished between dad and mum who clings to the back in her flip-flops, all their worldly belongings on an elongated, wooden, home-made rear rack.

To make things a bit more interesting, SAGA, Wallace Arnold, Parks of Hamilton and Rennies of Dunfermline have somehow conspired to get their entire bus fleets onto these wee single-track roads. And nobody, bikes included but especially buses, has passed the emissions test at their last MoT. The temperature has soared way into the 40's, there's no wind and it's very humid. And the Lake District has stretched itself to become the length of all England. Got it?

It was real elbow to elbow stuff the like of which I've not seen since RD250LCs were let loose at Knockhill in the 1980's. Panniers were useful for fending off smaller bikes, or for giving them something to lean on as we edged round corners. At one point I'd got ahead of the screaming pack into a tiny bit of clear road and was peacefully and happily negotiating a tight left-hander, the jungle thick on either side. A bus was coming the other way cutting the corner just slightly - not enough to trouble me. To my real horror, a wee bike was overtaking the bus in a head-on collision course with me! I swerved into what little room I had to my left and and clipped some jungle greenery. He straightened slightly and went to his left. We missed!! How we missed? Sadly, to his left was the bus. In my mirror I saw a shower of sparks as I heard the scrape and scrunch of plastic. It looked like he'd gone right under the front wheel of the bus. I rounded the bend and stopped at the first bit of straight road. The traffic did not let up.

At this point the cynics will tell you that you should not stop, never go back, that foreigners always get the blame, that you'll be heavily fined, lose your vehicle, go to prison and never be heard of ever again. But how can you leave a young laddie lying under a bus!? I couldn't do that so I quickly U-turned. The bus hadn't even bothered stopping. There were white scrapes and some deep gashes in the road and a group huddled to one side. He had been travelling with mates who had pulled him and his bike out of harm's way to let the traffic continue. I made another U-turn and pulled up beside the group. They surrounded a winded youth who was lying on the grass verge gasping for air, but being well looked after by his concerned pals. His bike even looked serviceable. There were no obvious breakages, no blood and his mates, while not unfriendly, showed no emotion at my return. He'd live, and hopefully he'd learn. No need for my First Aid, I rode off back into the madness heaving a huge sigh of relief, and trying to control the shaking.

I got an e-mail from William saying my tools had turned up! They'd been left in the cockpit of Quickstep and everything was there. Very odd place where things get 'borrowed'. He'll send them on to me, or bring them to Langkawi, hopefully before I leave Malaysia.

Mileages across Java were way down on the usual 250miles/400km per day. Java slows you down whether you want to or not. The energy-sapping heat, the mad traffic and the state of the roads reduced my daily mileages to as little as 110, and that with a very early start. Speed was normally anything between 15 and 40mph. Moving any quicker was just impossible. Packs of bikes moved around like shoals of fish. The gearbox wasn't very happy being so abused and I worried about overheating. It was like dispatching through a crowded London for hundreds of miles a day, without the Highway Code! I decided not to let it worry me, since nothing could be done about it. I dawdled quietly along, stopping between 2-3pm to get out of the broiling heat and rest.I made my way over a cool, mist-covered hill to Borobudur. The road was almost empty up here. Borobudur (great name) is a World Heritage site on a par with Ankor Wat in Kampuchea. Or so the book said. Built in the 8th Century AD it uses similar technology to some of the South American monuments in that there's no cement and rocks are carved so that they fit together more firmly. Not quite as solid as the South American ones, it has to be remembered that these were built 800years before. I stayed two nights, spending one whole day on a relaxing visit to the the place. Well worth it and I was glad of the break. I saw just one other obviously western tourist.

Eventually I reached the far end of Java to get the ferry to Sumatra. Sumatra, I was told, was full of bandits and I should be very careful. I hope I'm not getting too complacent but everywhere I go in the Developing World, the next place is always "full of bandits" and I "should be very careful". This ferry loading took little or no time but the crossing took three hours.

On disembarkation onto Sumatra I was quickly in Bandar Lampung via efficient, fast, smooth, clean roads and checked into the best hotel yet. It had a movie channel on the telly, air conditioning and even a fridge for some cooling drinks. Heaven! The movie was some Hollywood 'action' rubbish but the fact I could understand it and relax in front of the boredom-box briefly was a real treat! After that, I'd have to say that the hotels on Sumatra were better than those of supposedly better developed Java. Less expensive, more comfortable with even friendlier staff.

And I thought Enfie had wide panniers! The roads were much less congested too, and on one day I made 310 miles and wasn't even too tired at the end of it. I'd got to Pekan Baru and made friends with the hotelier. In the morning he gave me a letter of recommendation to his friend at a hotel in Dumai where I'd need to organise the ferry to Malaysia. I'd only just heard from Jim back in Australia that there was no Roll-On, Roll-Off ferry here. This could become complicated so I might be there some time. A good hotel would help a lot!

Dumai was the usual dock/port town. Not overly pleasing on the eye but functional. I quickly found the Grand Zuri Hotel (another good name) and booked into a very comfortable room - a/c, telly, shower room, fridge, all the bits and bobs. And I got a fairly respectable discount. It was supposed to be 280,000IR per night, but my pal at the last hotel had got that down to 240,000, or about 13GBP. A help yourself breakfast was included. Top.

I had time so I went to the Ferry company. They said they didn't take vehicles and didn't know anyone who could. Hmmm, this would be more difficult than I thought. Then they said if I went to Customs and sorted things out there, they'd see what they could do. I made sure that the Ferry lady knew that if I went to Customs then I would have to leave very soon afterwards because my bike would no longer be in the country and would therefore be entirely illegal on the road. That was fine, she said.

When Customs opened next morning things all went very smoothly, my bike was now officially not in Indonesia anymore. I only had another few days on my own visa, so things were getting a wee bit tight. Back to the Ferry company.

Oh no but they couldn't take vehicles, they only took passengers! But their colleague yesterday had said . . . Better come back at 2pm and see her then, that's when she started. At 2pm she said she had not said what she had said yesterday and was now saying something completely else, so there. Go and see the Harbour Master about it, if I didn't like it. Crazy, but the feeling I got was that if this Harbour Master chappie said it was okay, then I could go with them. This was only day two of smiles and patience, after all. Plenty more to come.

Mr Harbour Master sent me to find DPI Berth to see if there were any boats going to Malaysia. But nobody knew where DPI Berth was, although they all pointed in just about every direction but up or down! "Over there" with a vague flap of a loose arm is about as accurate a set of directions as you can get anywhere in Indonesia. I returned to the Harbour Master and confessed defeat. "Never mind," he said, "I'll phone them in the morning. Come back at 10am." Why hadn't he done that before? I got the idea that this guy was looking for some sort of "back-hander" to get things moving. I'd give it a day or two more before I would ask how much he wanted. Smiling was becoming more of a challenge now, although I still wasn't in any great hurry so my patience was holding up pretty well.

That afternoon there was a knock at the hotel room door. A young lad said in very broken English that he'd like to come in and chat to improve his English. Not sure if this was an invasion of my privacy (I'd been dozing with a book) I decided to admire his pluck and invited him in. Said (pr. Sah-eed) didn't have much to say but phoned his teacher and asked if I'd like to come to his class later that evening. I'd no pressing engagements so I agreed.

I had to get food and found a likely looking place nearby. The set up there was that they brought the entire menu, (not the cardboard menu but all the actual plated-up food) put it on the table and what you ate you paid for. Excellent! I had forgotten all about the class when Said popped up again as I went to pay my bill. I jumped on the back of his bike and was taken to 'school'. Said went off, I thought to get his pal but he never returned, and I was left with the teacher, who insisted I "just talk" to his four pupils for an hour and a half! This isn't easy at the best of times. These were 16/17 year olds. I did my best and tried to hide the fact that I was surprised he had nothing prepared for them. I had thought I might be helping, or even joining in a lesson, not doing the whole thing myself for free!!

Back at the Harbour Master's office at 10am next morning, he wasn't there! He would return soon, I was told. I waited an hour before a neatly uniformed man approached and apologised in very clear English for my waiting. Captain Purgana was the real Harbour Master, had an excellent office with a/c, he offered me cold drinks and asked what my problem was and how he might best be able to help. I was a bit baffled but decided to keep yesterday's Harbour Master to myself. I explained the whole situation from the start. I learned that there were regulations about carrying vehicles but that something could be sorted out.

A shipping agent was summoned to the office and, yes, he could organise it just for the price of the labour required to load the bike. 300,000 should cover it (15GBP). "Fine", said the Capt, "now if you can give me your passport, we can organise your ferry ticket". The bike and I would be on different boats, and I would leave the morning after but we'd end up at the same destination - Port Klang (supposed to be named after the noise a motorbike makes as it is unloaded). While we waited for the ferry ticket to happen, the Captain and I blethered about salty sea dog tales. He'd been at sea for 20 years but had settled ashore to get married and bring up his son.

Soon the passport reappeared with all the necessary tickets and departure taxes paid. How much was that? "No, no I wouldn't hear of it." says the fantastic Captain, "I'm just happy to help and so sorry there isn't anything more I could do!" He paid for my ferry ticket! I was lost for sufficient words of gratitude. I wondered whether he knew more about my pillar-to-post experiences of the last few days, but decided it best not to ask. The first bogus "Harbour Master" had obviously wanted to get some money out of me, but I was pleased with myself that patience and smiling had worked out again.

All I had to do was take the bike to the appropriate boat and load up. The agent led the way on his wee motorbike and I surprised myself by having to pretend to be worried (I wasn't in the slightest) as the bike was gently manhandled onto the waiting boat and lashed to the deck. I've got over getting concerned about stuff like this, but it still seems to entertain the locals as the Western guy gets all excited in case the bike falls in the water. Of course they're not going to drop it
- they're all underneath it!

05 October, 2007

Bali Dancing on a Harley

William and I agreed that I would wait until a week has passed before looking into the possibility of taking the bike off the boat. This would only put me behind schedule by a week. Any more than that, and I can’t tell how I’d make the time back up at the other end. The fuel pump was sent to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, for renovation. It came back by the end of the week, according to the mechanic, but it didn't fix the problem. Meanwhile there were some tasks to perform on the boat.

There was some frustration in me though, the longer the situation continued, the greater my frustration grew and it took me a while to realise what exactly caused this. William and I didn’t mention Indonesia originally because he had no intention of going there. However, the simple fact remained that, having crossed the Timor Sea, I had no further need of the boat. Scotland was only four ferries away, all things being equal, and I had a perfectly well-functioning motorbike that could take me there.

The quandary was that I had made an agreement with William that I would accompany him as far as Malaysia, and having crew undoubtedly made his life easier. We agreed that I would wait a week, before being released from this agreement. I was fine with this, but it would be difficult for both of us if it came to taking the bike off the boat. We’d made pals over the last few weeks and I could see how my leaving would seriously inconvenience him. At the same time, I was looking forward more and more to getting back on the bike. Back to my own life and being in control of my own destiny, instead of being a part of William’s. Giving up control over things is fine for a while, but eventually you need to take back responsibility for your own life.

More boats arrived with familiar faces from Darwin. Most had left there before us but had taken a more leisurely route through the Indonesian islands, looking at komodo dragons and orang utan. I met up with Serge, a Belgian I'd met in Darwin, and his crewmate Emma, another backpacker, as well as the crew of 'The Spirit of Wales' Dave and Chris, a Welsh/Kiwi father and son team. Small social groupings emerged, and this four seemed to me to be the most adventurous.

Emma organised all sorts of outings for them (at the monkey forest) .and I found myself tagging happily along. Crews seem more able to socialise together, free from the hassles of ownership. Owners and captains made up other groups discussing best routes, salty sea tales and the best ways of splicing things. They have all their worries and concerns while we just want to relax and play at being tourists. At a Hindu Temple.

Emma and Serge found the captain with whom they'd sailed from Darwin to be a little elderly for the task he’d set himself. On the route from Darwin they had had a more experienced sailor crewing with them and they had felt more confident. But they had little experience themselves and the next part of their journey was to be much more difficult with more sea traffic, islands and a narrower passage to negotiate. They reluctantly told him that they were less than confident and asked him to find some experienced crew to accompany them. He was naturally unsettled by this.

One night I managed to leave my camera in the marina restaurant. Sadly, it wasn't there in the morning. All the photos of Louise's trip around Australia, as well as those of crossing the Timor were lost. I bought a cheap new one, but the loss is still heavy. I was promised photos from the others at some later stage.

With all this in mind, and little to do in port while things got mended, we looked for other activities to entertain us. It turned out that Emma had been raised in London in a family with motorbikes coming out of their ears. While she’d never passed her own test, she was keen to hire a bike and go for a run. This sounded good to me, especially since she was going to share the rental costs. We had the choice between a 90cc Yamaha moped and a 1580cc 'Fat Boy' Harley Davidson. Emma insisted on the Harley. Not my favourite choice of machine, but certainly more comfortable than a moped for two-up touring. We reckoned on three days to circumnavigate Bali.

The Harley was just immense and was all I expected it to be. Big, heavy, comfortable and very difficult to get around corners . . . basically a big, daft, shiny 1950’s motorbike with some silly wee leather panniers that could carry two people around Bali’s twisty roads in a sort of 'style'. I'm not quite sure what style that was. Not built for speed, this lump pottered us around at very low revs. I was disappointed it didn’t go "potato, potato" as the sound was copyrighted by Harley Davidson. Tongues firmly in cheeks, we leapt aboard and went off in search of air-conditioned accommodation. We both felt we deserved a bit of comfort after so long at sea!

We quickly got lost but Bali isn’t all that big so we were soon back on track and heading north. After some of the marina melodrama, it felt good to be heading away for a while. We soon found ourselves on the north coast of Bali and in a comfortable beach hotel owned by an American and his Jerseybite (from Jersey, Channel Islands) wife. He sat with us a for while and even bought us a welcome drink as he told us about the locality and how he'd come to own the hotel. His staff were lovely and cooked us an excellent meal.

Emma wasn’t too interested in sight-seeing but just wanted to sit on the back of the bike, looking at the fantastic scenery and sunbathing. Once I’d become more used to it, the Harley became quite good fun. It was pinking heavily though, so I couldn’t use its legendary V-Twin torque. In fact, as often as not, the 90cc mopeds were getting away from us at the lights, being nippier as well as more maneuverable. After teenage lassies in school uniforms began getting away from us, and they were two-up, I gave up using acceleration as a means of finding any empty road, and left it to developing speed to get us through the few determined souls who’d ripped us off at the lights. Brightly uniformed schoolchildren waved, screamed and smiled as we passed along the quieter lanes of Bali. In three days we got all the way around the island, including a very high (1700m) pass which was far too cold for t-shirt comfort. (I know, we should have been wearing leather for safety, but we’d have fainted with the heat!)

When we returned, Serge had already "jumped ship" onto the Spirit of Wales, and moves had already been made to ensure that Emma followed. She felt bad about it but had warned her captain and he’d made no serious moves to find more crew. Emma and Serge both got along well with Dave and Chris so the whole move made perfect sense. They didn’t particularly need crew, but were more than willing to have them on their happy-go-lucky boat. There were some people not talking to others and some whisperings of "mutiny" but it was all mainly in melodramatic fun. These things happen, and if people are daft enough to want too much from an inexperienced crew then they can only expect free-thinking individuals to take matters into their own hands.Myself, Emma, Chris and Serge.

Dave appeared to be about the most chilled-out skipper in the marina. He built his own boat slowly over a number of years and knows it inside out. Quietly confident but not one to put his oar in uninvited, he is easy to listen to, and knows much more than he lets on. Emma and Serge will be happy on their new boat and hopefully enjoy the next leg of their journey in a far more relaxed way.

As for Harleys, I can confirm that they (or at least that one) really are rubbish as motorcycles. Pretty to look at, they are absolute murder to sit on and ride. Our initial comfort became a real squirming misery after just two days.
It was difficult to return to the marina after such a freedom as even that bike had offered. I'd had a taste of movement, and I was back spending money but not going anywhere.
We had a few more parties and pleasant evenings in the marina restaurant. One evening while out we tried the fabled durian fruit. This stuff is supposed to "smell like hell and taste like heaven". As it approached the table we began accusing one another of pumping. The waiter just laughed. We grabbed our noses and passed it round for a try. Chris wimped out but Emma, Serge and I all had a go. The taste was truly unbelievable. Indescribable for me. Maybe ours was off but it tasted worse than the smell of a freshly filled nappy, maybe with some sick mixed in. Even worse than that, it kept coming back on us and so we spent the rest of the evening seeking ever stronger mints to try and get rid of the disgusting taste. Indonesians are mad keen on this stuff, and I hear the Malaysians are even more so.

Many skippers seemed to have read the same weather reports and five or six upped and left one morning almost together. The 'Spirit of Wales' was among them, sailing with 'Gwendolyn'. I was left on the quayside waving my hanky and snuffling. Fair winds and smooth seas - aarrgh!

04 October, 2007

Wee, sleekit, cowering, timorous Timor Sea

The days lengthened as we lost sight of land within just a few hours. Watches were four hours on, four off, with two hour “dog watches” each between 16-2000hrs. This meant that we could organise a decent meal at teatime and that we each did alternating 14 and 10 hour days. The rhythm of the boat and the sea soon came along and was soon a part of daily life. It was a bit like marooning yourself on a floating desert island and it was as well that William and I got on so well and could blether about a wide range of subjects from the school playground to geo-politics. After a few days, I began to find that I was putting in a fair effort to get to sleep during time off, and then working hard to stay awake during watches. Luckily, the lurching movement of the boat helped maintain consciousness during watches! It helped much less when I was trying to get some decent sleep in the cabin. Hard going though – never enough sleep coupled with constant fatigue.Shipboard life took a fair bit of getting used to. After about five days I began to sleep more soundly. Exhaustion might have been kicking in at this point because I still never felt properly rested when awake, no matter how soundly I’d slept. Showers were in salt water (never much lather!) with fresh water rinses. I thought I was reasonably roughtie-toughtie, but I felt like a bit of a wimp as I asked William if it might be at all possible to wash my hands just once a day in fresh water. My palms were beginning to feel like old waxed-cotton jackets!

William had plenty of clothes to last him the 25 days we expected to be at sea. I can’t carry that much on the bike and so I had to make mine last longer than maybe would ordinarily be thought hygienically proper. They didn’t wash well in salt water, but the wind prevented much in the way of sweating anyway – I told myself!

Occasional strange boats on the horizon broke the daily monotony of very little wind and bobbing about on heavily swelling seas. William became quite apprehensive at the appearance of these boats and told me some scary stories about salty sea-dog chums of his who had shown too much friendliness towards passing fishermen in these waters, only to be boarded, robbed and left. Some boats came quite close but none so close as to threaten boarding.

The weather forecasts for this area were completely inaccurate - the winds should have been far more favourable to us at this time of year. As it was we made as much as we could of what wind there was, and used the motor as we had to.

William had originally gone into buying this boat for racing with a friend who found that he had 'other priorities' when it eventually came to putting his hand in his pocket. By that time William had spent a fair bit more than he could easily afford on the refurbishment of the boat. He decided to make the best of a poor situation and sail it around the planet. However, it is a racing boat, albeit a 1970's one. It has no distinct or separate cabins, no fridge, no fitted shower, definitely no air-conditioning and no fan. It does have a toilet, a 'gimbled' stove which sways with the waves, meaning the kettle can boil in peace without anyone getting scalded, an almost limitless number of sails, two lifeboats, all the modern gadgetry and electrickery you could want, proper Scottish flags to fly in times of need, and space for a motorbike on the deck abd I get my own wee space. It is very 'hardcore' and no mistake. All other boats I had even glimpsed were luxurious in comparison. I treated William to a bit of a ribbing over this, but in all truth, very few of the others would have been overly keen to risk their luxury fixtures and fittings with the addition of a muckle great 200kg motorbike onto the deck. I was very happy where I was and knew that we would be doing more sailing than the others in whatever conditions we met. In further discussion William agreed that it was, right enough, a bit like fitting a roofrack and a tow-bar onto an old Ferrari, and while not exactly attaching a caravan, maybe hooking a trailer tent to the back before touring through Africa. It was a great challenge for me. William had only recently fitted the luxury of a shade over the cockpit, to protect from the worst of the tropical sun. I hope to convince him in time to found the Tartan Navy, so that we can sail to offshore football matches in, say, the Faroes . . .

The days began to roll into each other and I started to lose track. I had tried to keep a journal but, while not making speedy progress, there was still loads to do which prevented any boredom setting in. I had the time to watch the sun go round overhead, quickly followed by a moon which grew each night, and then by Orion before the sun reappeared. Dolphins and porpoises appeared regularly, flying fish skipped across the waves, and unseen things slapped and snorted around the boat at night. Of course there were all manner of the usual sea creatures from the fearsome Kraaken to the chatty Neptune and some huge jellyfish the size of London to watch out for, then there was the one that got away, Captain Nemo and those Sirens . . . then of course the golden haired mermaids wouldn't leave us alone in their endless search for ever more bikini tops. They weren't too happy that we'd none to spare.

We were using the motor more than any sailor would prefer and eventually the engine began to develop some problems. It was surging and then over-revving before cutting out completely. William decided that the best thing to do would be to head towards Bali, in Indonesia. We hadn’t intended going there, but it is a major marina and we thought there should be parts and expertise available. William made some attempts at mending the motor, but wasn’t able to achieve any significant improvements. I felt guilty, having trained as a mechanical fitter at the Dockyard in Rosyth, I realised I’d never actually diagnosed a malfunctioning diesel motor. All we’d ever had back then were refits of huge warships and submarines which got all new parts in those days, whether they needed them or not. This was known as “preventative maintenance” which the Royal Navy could afford (at that time), but private boat owners can only dream of and hope for. Of course, just like travelling on the bike, there isn’t much incentive for unscrupulous mechanics the world over to fix anything properly since any problem is very unlikely to come back to them. William said he had had several difficulties of this nature with his engine, and had ended up paying more than the price of a new motor in repair costs over the years, each time convincing himself "this time . . ." I’ve known motorbikes like that.Strong currents on the approaches to Bali made us both a little nervous. At one point, in the middle of the night, I managed to muck up the auto-helm by pointing us at a landmark I’d noticed previously. It seemed that, while, yes indeed we had been pointing at that lighthouse to the north, the boat was actually, due to the current, moving sideways at 90degrees towards the west – all controlled by the auto-helm. It had beeped at me at one point while William slept soundly below. It was about 0240hrs. I pressed the correct button one too many times, manually steered us back toward the lighthouse and 20 minutes later we were actually approaching the lighthouse – which in the nature of lighthouses, had arranged itself thoughtfully above a large, jaggedy rock. Time to wake William! Mad, but we didn’t hit anything and remained afloat.

At first light William began trying to raise some assistance on the wireless. There was no response on Channel 16, the international emergency channel. This was odd being as we were so close to land and an international marina full of Anglophonic yachties. Four hours after sunrise, we began discussing options - not that I had or even wanted too much say in the matter! Our only real option, given that we could not motor into Bali and the current was too strong for us to sail in, was to head for Christmas Island. All our Christmas Islands would come at once, I thought, but what sort of presents would we get? An Australian outpost maybe 400Nms out into the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island was four days more sailing. This just as I was beginning to look forward to the idea of a proper shower and a good lengthy sleep. It was like holding a wee bit of tasty steak up for a pup and then pulling it away at the last second. The cruel sea!

William was just trying to soften this hefty blow when there was a voice on the wireless. The local pilot had responded to our pleadings and, while the next few hours were never entirely clear, a big Indonesian Coastguard boat eventually loomed into view. There are some funny rules about stricken boats at sea involving whose rope gets thrown to whom. If he takes our rope, we’re fine. If we take his rope, we’re his "salvage". William was understandably wary of this rule, even when the Coastguard sped off at such a speed that they snapped the rope – three times!

We were dragged ('towing' would have involved some consideration on their part) into the marina and tied ourselves up. William had been awake since 3am, and I’d not slept since midnight. We had nursed the boat in this far and fatigue was strong. But there were all the officials and "where is your flag?" and "where is Dundee?" and "where is your captain?" questions kept waking me from my peaceful slumber in the cockpit. William had leapt athletically off the boat to go and deal with as many officials as he could in their own nests, before they could swarm around and surround the boat. I was left to guard with my life, and repel all potential boarders. I fell quickly asleep, but nobody came on board, all too wary of my menacing snore.We had tied up in someone else’s berth and needed to move. That was going to cost $100 just to be towed a few metres. Some familiar-looking faces appeared, smiled and began pulling at ropes and untying things and reassuring me all was well. A wee boat towed Quickstep to another berth for $40 and all was tied back down and secured. I tidied ropes and cleared the decks as best I could and somehow remembered to be grateful and polite to some of those helpful souls I’d last seen back in Darwin, before falling fast asleep.