15 November, 2011 9 Comments
Our last blog finished as we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and we had an awesome week of fun before we touched the bikes again. First we had a fun few days staying with the Addington family. They’d emailed us after reading about our trip in the Newcastle University Alumni newsletter and invited us to stay. We then met up with Bex’s family (who flew out to meet us for a holiday) and travelled to Tioman Island for some relaxing beach time and seriously good snorkelling. Finally, and in complete contrast to Tioman, we spent a few days in the city centre surrounded shiny new shopping malls and sky scrapers.
The Petronas Towers in particular are stunning – whenever they were within sight I couldn’t help but just stare at them! They’re magnificent iconic buildings, visible from miles around. When it was finally time to leave KL we decided to cycle past to get one final glimpse.
As always, it was a bit of a sluggish start after some time off and it felt like hard work to pedal up any tiny incline. Within in the first hour of cycling after pretty much every break, Bex is convinced she has a double puncture and stops to check…..nope, your tyres are fine, it must be the legs I’m afraid!
The contrast between KL city centre and the villages just 40km either side was fairly striking, as after just a few hours of cycling we were back amongst the tiny roadside cafes, full of men chatting and drinking tea. During the 5 day cycle from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore we tried to make the most of the things we’ve taken for granted recently that won’t be possible when we’re back in a more expensive part of the world – including lunchtime cafe stops, takeaway bags of iced coffee, and daily showers in cheap guesthouses.
Unfortunately as we approached the final land border of our journey (Malaysia to Singapore), a dodgy policeman spotted us cycling up the car lane rather than the motorcycle lane, took us to one side and tried to make us pay a fine/bribe. This was the first time any policeman had been anything other than friendly to us, and we weren’t about to start handing out cash now. In any case, we’d spent the last of our Malaysian money that morning and he eventually gave up.
It took about an hour to go all the way across Singapore to the very tip of the Eurasian landmass that we’ve been cycling across since rolling off the ferry last September. It felt great to be there – Singapore had been our target for so long that it had almost become a mythical place in our mind! It seems ridiculous now that when we left we had no idea which route we would follow, other than we wanted to get to Singapore – we didn’t even know which countries we’d cycle through after leaving Europe!
However we did know that we wanted to lay down continuous tyre tracks all the way from the ferry port in France to Singapore, and that meant that we forced ourselves not to take the easy option on the occasions when it got really tough. In particular, I can remember freezing hands and feet in Turkey, stupidly long days to get across Turkmenistan, and ridiculous winds in the Turpan basin in China. Each time, hitching a lift would’ve meant we could’ve been in a warm bed by the end of the day, and I doubt anyone back home would’ve cared. It certainly wouldn’t have lessened our travelling experience in any way. But we choose to commit to pedalling every kilometre to give ourselves a different kind of test – a mental, logistical and physical test. At the moment it feels more surreal than satisfying, almost as if someone else cycled all those kilometres. But weirdly, I’m already beginning to treasure the memories of the bleakest moments more than most others.
Back to Singapore, and we spent a great few days staying with Damian and Lauren, admiring the spectacular view from their balcony, eating roast dinners and learning how to play squash in the court in their apartment complex. We also borrowed their iMac to knock up our sixth video. Most people we meet assume we’ve become mega-fit athletes over the last year, but those few games of squash confirmed that our muscles are definitely only fit for one thing! We could barely walk the next day…
Our final task in Singapore was to carefully pack our bikes into cardboard boxes, load them onto a plane bound for Australia, and cross our fingers.
It felt odd to be taking a flight. Inevitably any long distance cycle journey will eventually be broken up by an ocean, but it still felt weird waking up in Asia, as we have done for the last 11 months or so, before being transported 2,500 miles south. The weather, culture, continent, language all changed in an instant as we stepped off the plane into a surprisingly cold Australia – such changes usually take place gradually over months when travelling at bike speed.
Temperatures (day or night) in SE Asia rarely drop below the mid-twenties, so the 15 degree evening that greeted us as we stepped off the plane in Perth was a pleasant shock to the system. Neither of us have shoes or jumpers at the moment as they’d have been a waste of weight in recent climates, so we shivered over to collect our bike boxes, which thankfully looked intact.
We’d timed our arrival well as my old housemate from London (having since emigrated to Perth) was due to marry his fiancé just a few days later. It was great to see Andrew and Dilini again, and they kindly let two smelly cyclists stay in their house for the week despite having friends and family fly in from all over the globe for their big day. We wallowed around in their hot tub and picked up some crucial supplies from the city centre shops, in between about 4 BBQs fired up by Bruce, Andrew’s dad.
We had a great time at the wedding (wearing a borrowed suit/shirt/shoes – cheers Brock!) and partied hard until the early hours.
Now once again it’s time to leave, and this time it’s back to the grindstone. No more hot tubs and fancy apartments for us for a long time! This morning we start the next leg of our trip, 5,000km from Perth to Sydney. The next major city, Adelaide, is 2,800km away and we hope to be there for Christmas. I’ve spent a few hours scribbling distances and details of the small towns and roadhouses that we’ll be relying on for food and water for the next few weeks.
Although we’ve been softened up with all the recent luxuries, I’m actually excited about getting back to it. SE Asia was a great place to travel by bicycle - culturally interesting, warm weather, cheap shops and guest houses everywhere – but now it’s time to get back into adventure mode. Camping is the only option from now on, and we’ll have to carry lots of food & water at times as we cycle through a few thousand kilometres of bush. I can’t imagine we’ll find much internet as we go, but via our new Aussie sim card we can text mini-updates to Twitter if anyone’s interested (they’ll also appear in the side panel on our website).
England to Singapore stats:
Distance cycled: 19,947km
Countries visited: 21
Days on the road: 425
Days cycled: 250
Highest point: 3,150 metres (Gansu, China)
Lowest point: -155 metres (Turpan, China)
Hottest temperature: 38c, midday in Malaysia
Coldest temperature: -25c, night time in East Turkey mountains
Punctures: 20+ (Just two for Bex, the rest for the fatty…)
Number of tyres used: we’re both on our 3rd pair
Number of kilos lost between us: zero
Total raised so far for charity: £4,435