Sunday, June 25, 2017

Malaysia - Being mistaken for terrorists!

Let me start by apologising for this blog being so far behind. As you're reading this we are no longer in Malaysia, we're not even on the journey anymore. I've written before that keeping a blog with photos and video when free-camping as much as possible and/or using the cheapest accommodation around has proved to be much more difficult than anticipated. Editing video on a laptop's battery power alone is impossible and while the internet providers portray an image of how easy it is to upload all your photos and video where-ever in the world you may be, the reality has proven to be somewhat different. In the end we decided to concentrate on the journey and let the blog fall behind. Spending fruitless hours behind a computer waiting for the slow wifi to upload your material and hoping it wouldn't crash/stall/drop out is really wasting time. Time which we could much better spend enjoying where we are. The plan was to 'catch-up' once we had finished the trip. What we hadn't realised is what would happen after the trip... We had planned to start our own business together,, but had no idea this would be 14 hrs a day and 7 days a week! Hence the blog slipped further and further behind... as making a living after being away for almost 4 years was now priority number one. As I'm writing this, we're having our first weekend off from work since last Christmas... Am I complaining? Not at all! We love what we do and feel lucky we are able to do it, I was just painting a picture on why the blog has fallen so far behind. Still, the stories are as valid today as they were then as they had all been written and the photos and videos made. So here goes:

We had a short ride planned today. The Cameron highlands were on the menu and we would either stop at a campground halfway or look for a hotel/guesthouse at the south end of it. As usual it went different than we thought. For starters, despite taking it easy our progress was good. Much better than expected actually, which meant we were at the campground around 1 pm. Slightly early to pitch a tent :-) So we continued and went for the second option. But that didn't happen either...

The reason why we were making good progress is that there wasn't much traffic around as we had steered away from the main road. The other factor was that we hardly found any places to stop to take some photos... The day had started well enough, we were on the road early to avoid rush hour and get out of town before half Malaysia woke up and joined the traffic. It worked, we were out of town before the ride-to-work brigade had even switched off their alarm clock. The turn-off from the main road, was a narrow country lane according to the GPS... which in Malaysia apparently means a dual lane highway. No idea why as there was hardly any traffic but it gave us a beautiful winding road into the mountains!

The rather aggressive traffic we had the day before was nowhere to be found, trucks were old and slow again and everything moved along at a much more sedate pace. The fast saloons had been replaced with old Bedford trucks, obviously still in daily use. Hurrah! When I say old I mean seriously bloody old, something like 50 years or more. For some reason most of them had no doors anymore, whether Bedford doors rust badly or had simply fallen out I have no idea as the truck drivers we met didn't speak English. The speeds they drive are that low that nothing much will blow out of the cab I suppose. Uphill they can be overtaken by the slowest mobility scooter :-)

Up until then we had not actually been in the Cameron Highlands, well not according to the map. And yet it was already beautiful. Generally good roads too. We had been told by other travellers we had met, that we would find Malaysia much more western than Thailand. Apart from petrol being self service again and Tesco selling more familiar food products, we didn't get that impression. If anything then I'd say Thailand is more western than Malaysia. To us the biggest difference between the two is that in the latter more than half of the population is muslim. We saw minarets again too.  

Once we arrived at the more generally known Cameron Highlands, things changed. Traffic became aggressive... very aggressive, while the Cameron highlands turned out to be pretty much over commercialised everywhere we looked. The beautiful nature had mostly been ruined. I suppose you can still take serene photos if you go on hikes of several hours but as a road trip we weren't that impressed. The strange thing was that up till where the Cameron highlands started, it had been quite nice! The one exception was a photo point on top of a hill which gave a beautiful view of the tea plantations below it.

The rain, which was forecasted, had stayed away until then. It had even been sunny in the early afternoon(!) but in the end the rain decided to make up for it and came down in bucket loads after all... Time to look for a guesthouse and call it a day we thought. We found one at 4 pm which didn't look too expensive... it looked a bit of a dump actually and was situated next to a petrol station... bike parking wasn't too secure either. Still doubtful if we even wanted to stay there, we asked the price, without blinking an eye she said 30 USD... My hearing must have gone funny, I thought, we had been in better guesthouses with secure parking for 1/3 of that in Thailand and even the night before had paid just 15 for something which had secure parking and looked better too.... Surely there must be other guesthouses? So we donned on the bike gear again and continued on. It was nice weather for ducks, but we didn't see any. 

Of course when things go wrong they tend to go downhill further and further. The good thing is we didn't have to stop anywhere as there wasn't a hotel or anything for miles. Meanwhile the rain kept coming down in proportions that made me wish I was a duck... A Chinese hotel appeared but had no parking at all and wanted to know if I needed the room for the whole night or per hour... The bikes would be safe out in the streets they said... while just opposite the parking area half the town was drunk and facetious at a tent party...  

'There's a Formula 1 bed and breakfast just south of Kuala Lumpur' Mike said over the intercom. Thinking that would be the French cheap hotel chain we continued. Well tried to... it was rush hour in Kuala Lumpur, which is a weird word to describe a traffic jam where no-one is going anywhere. The aggressiveness of the traffic we had seen yesterday had doubled. To be honest the people on small motorbikes were the worst of the lot. Totally brainless they fly between slow moving cars with the throttle wide open... race past everyone waiting for the traffic light or park their bikes in front of the cars and thereby blocking the road. The police just lets them be, apparently only interested in making a report when another one gets run over. That obsessive 'I have to be in front' behaviour also applies to the ones riding the oldest, slowest step-thru in history... It gives this strange traffic view where 6 rows of small bikes totally block the three traffic lanes behind them. By the time they are all gone the light turns red again, leaving the poor car drivers waiting for the next group of bikes to block their way. It's very rude behaviour from the bike riders.

As we were closing in on the guesthouse I started to wonder what sort of place it would be. The GPS took us to a secure community... surely there can't be a hotel in there? But according to the security guard there was! Arriving at the coordinates we found a youngish man sitting outside, who turned out to be the owner of the Formula One Bed and Breakfast. He was friendly but also somewhat reluctant and said he was very sorry but the bed and breakfast was fully booked. He offered to make some phone calls to find us another place, but then I spotted an almost square bit of grass inside the secure gate (yes a secure gate inside a secure community!) 'Mate, can I put my tent up here for the night?' I said 'I'm exhausted and don't really want to go anywhere anymore. His dad stepped in and offered us his bed, he would sleep on the couch. We didn't want to rob him of his bed and said we preferred the tent. Then Josylan, the owner, said he had a room... Later-on we heard why he told us he was full... he wasn't too sure about us and thought we looked like terrorists or something... ?!? I'm sure it was Mike's black helmet and black visor that did it :-) We ended up staying there quite a few days, as they are great people and our plans had to change again! More on which in the next post.