After all the months of careful preparation, we finally left our house in Melaka five minutes before the landlord was due to move back in, stuff packed everywhere, hangovers on board.
We'd still heard nothing about the RoRo ferry we wanted to catch from Penang to Indonesia but had decided to head North to visit our friends in Ipoh, Brett and Christine, and watch the motocross race on Brett's track. From there we could easily get to Penang to see what the ferry status was. We would also be near the Thai border as our visas are due to run out on Sunday 30th April, so it would be easy to head out of the country if we couldn't get to Indonesia.
It all felt incredibly unreal, as if I was in a dream. We said bye to the house, our home for the past 7 years, the deck and the sea. My cat came to bid us farewell, having found her way back home. I took her back to her new home at our neighbour's (twice - new name, Houdini) and then we set off, our friends Nicki and Chris waving madly behind us.
One km down the road the speedo decided to pack up after years of faithful service so we stopped and Hame attempted to fix it.
An hour sweating by the roadside gave me a chance to think about what on earth we were doing, I was a bit nervous, excited, scared, bewildered all at once. It had been such a crazy week of 'to do' lists and farewell parties (about 10 of them) that we'd not really had time to think... standing by the roadside it sank in a bit. A man by the name of Joseph appeared with a rag for Hame to wipe his hands on. Joseph was wearing a t-shirt with the logo for a motocross ride in California, I explained that we were in Hour One of a round the world trip, and that we were headed to California, amongst other places. As I told him this it began to dawn on me what we were doing...
Speedo fixed, we set off again, only to see the needle drop. Hame said it was too hot to stop again and fix it (as usual it was about 35 degrees) and that he'd fix it in Ipoh in our friend Brett's workshop.
As we rode it still felt as if we were off just for the weekend, we chatted down the intercom and sang very badly and soon covered the 150km to Sungai Buloh, near KL. At this point I turned around to see one of our bags (the one with all the stuff in that wouldn't fit anywhere else) sliding off the back so I yelled at Hame to stop. We pulled up right outside a KFC to fix it then decided we may as well stop and eat (am developing a worrying addiction to burgers after a couple of weeks of not much in the fridge).
We arrived in Ipoh a little physically and emotionally shattered, but a good night's sleep sorted that out. The next afternoon we all headed to the track to catch the end of the race and catch up with some friends. More farewells.
It is Monday 24th now, and we still have not heard about the ferry. As we don't have a carnet we cannot safely ship from any of the other ports; this particular ferry operator has an arrangement with Indonesia to temporarily import Malaysian registered bikes without a carnet so it's ideal for us. It's been running since August last year (Penang to Medan) but two months ago we were told the service had stopped for 'three weeks' - we've both been in Asia long enough to know that three weeks can mean anything!
If we can't get the ferry we'll head North to Thailand and make a new plan from there. One possibility is to air freight the bike to Australia and miss out Indonesia altogether, but we don't want to do this. Fingers crossed, we'll get some good news today, or head to Penang tomorrow and speak to the agent face to face. While at the track yesterday we met a guy who has a bike shop in Penang and said he may be able to help. I never realised, not being a biker, how many networks of bikers there are in the world, and how all bikers will help other bikers in need.
As unfortunately predicted, no ferry ran this week, therefore we're off across the border to Thailand tomorrow to renew our visas and chillout on a beach in anticipation of a ferry running next Friday (5th May). The agent informs us, as he has done on previous occassions, "100% definitely maybe", therefore there is hope!
Despite attempting to be reasonably organised, we didn't envisage a stalled departure from Malaysia preventing us from kick-starting our journey. Therefore, the delay to our only realistic route to Indonesia and beyond, the RoRo ferry from Penang, was at first extremely disappointing.
However disappointment and frustration have waned as we begin to unwind and relax in our tent at our friend Steven Lee's holiday hideaway, located next to a tranquil waterfall in North Malaysia. A valuable lesson in what will be will be.
I sorted the speedo in Ipoh, so Em's back to restricting our progress with a thump on the back from time to time! Other than that, the bike seems to be running well, other than the non-engaging ABS, which appears to be a bit of an achilles heel on the BM 1100 GS. Despite a brand new battery I still have to contend with flashing red lights, therefore I have to assume a faulty connection or sensor. Not the end of the world at the moment to be honest.
We left Malaysia on April 29th, finally tearing ourselves away from Steven's beautiful retreat. We had a really lovely time there, swimming in the waterfall, short treks through the rainforest (and the leeches were lovely too) , and a good test of all our camping equipment. We even managed a candlelit dinner in the jungle...
We rode up the coast, past miles and miles of bright green padi fields on either side of the road. After the most painless border crossing ever we were back in Thailand, unexpectedly!
We quickly sorted out bike insurance and rode North. All our Thai maps were on the way to Scotland in our container so we were using a photocopy. Riding down a road that was definitely on the map (but not the GPS; warning!) we were having a great time and making good progress by taking a huge short cut to the West coast.
Suddenly, as often happens in Asia, the perfect tarmac road vanished and became a track, which the locals assured us went nowhere. This meant we had to turn around and do a long detour... being sensible for once as it was getting late we decided to stay in the very unpicturesque town of Hat Yai instead of heading on to the coast.
We picked a place on the map which had a lot of promising looking umbrella and swimming symbols on it but after a few detours through tiny fishing villages we decided to head instead to Ko Lanta, further up the coast but still within a day's easy ride back to Penang in case a ferry miracle happened.
We found a bungalow near the beach, jumped into the sea, got stung by a jellyfish, jumped out again and had a beer instead.
On the way to the coast I'd e mailed some old friends, James and Corinne, who I knew were somewhere in Thailand en route to Canada from New Zealand. They didn't need much persuasion to come to the beach so for remainder of the week we've got some beer tasting activities planned on the deck of our hut. Really great to see them and catch up.
Here's a picture of the four of us caving in Ko Lanta.
So we're back in paradise, and not too worried about the lack of ferry, it'll happen, eventually. In the meantime all I've got to worry about is finding a place to transfer some pictures onto disc to put on here, and the fact that the sea is too hot - (really, it is) although I know anyone still experiencing winter will hate me for saying it!
Our friends James and Corinne left on Saturday after some great days catching up over a “few” Singha beers. We had quite an energetic week; exploring a large and slimy network of caves on Ko Lanta and going on a boat trip to snorkel around some nearby islands.
The trip also included a visit to the Emerald Cave - an 80m swim through pitch black tunnels trying not to lose sight of our guide’s torch ahead of us or bump our heads on the low cave roof. After what I found quite a scary few minutes we swam out into daylight and found ourselves in an enclosed bay with steep cliffs on all sides, reminiscent of Alex Garland’s Beach. We weren’t alone though, every other tourist in the area seemed to be there dressed (sensibly, unlike us) in bright orange life jackets. Their method of getting through the tunnel was to form a huge chain and be dragged through by a couple of guides, I don’t think many could swim and dreaded to think what would happen if one broke the chain and slid off down the wrong dark tunnel. We remained intact on the way out but I found it just as scary, and was relieved to see the bright turquoise water at the entrance.
James and Hamish invented their own version of beach tennis, battling it out each evening and I’ve continued the battle with Hamish “Agassi” Oag every evening since, before enjoying a sunset Singha.
We have continued to hang on here in Lanta for ferry news. Alan, our agent, is at the mercy of the Indonesian ferry company and it’s difficult to get any definite news. Over the last few days we’ve been through plans A – Z; Laos, East Malaysia, straight to Australia, Northern Thailand to name just a few but this morning, for various practical reasons, returned to plan A - back to Penang and a face to face chat with Alan to see if there is news either way.
Our visas for Indonesia expire on 23rd May so if nothing happens by then we will be forced to go straight to Australia, but at least we’ll have given it our best shot. We almost left for the airport this morning, before deciding to give it just one more week.
For some reason it is almost half the price and a much faster process to ship from Malaysia than it is from Bangkok so at least if we are in Penang it’s not too far to get back to Kuala Lumpur airport. One other issue is time, even though we’re really flexible we’ve made plans according to weather and climate patterns in South America and don’t want to leave things too late.
So tomorrow morning we’ll finally be back on the bike - who’s been waiting very patiently - leaving the beautiful beach and the dog who’s been following us everywhere since the day we arrived. We're both in good spirits, getting great tans and looking forward to the next bit!
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