Today we catch a flight to Melbourne. I'm actually writing this on the plane at 30,000 feet (or however high a plane flies). It's somewhere between 3.30am and 6.30am (I'm not entirely sure when we cross time zones) and I'm a little sleep deprived, which could make for either a deliriously weird or tediously dull blog!
A month of adventures awaits us in Australia as we travel from Melbourne to Alice Springs, to Uluru, back to Alice Springs, on to Brisbane, Noosa and Fraser Island, up to Cairns and finally down to Sydney and a big New Years Eve party! We are excited, for many reasons, one of which is simply the fact that the temperature in Melbourne is set to max out at 18°C which, to us Brits, is just perfect! The heat, humidity and resultant constant sweating in South East Asia is something we never quite got to grips with. Whoever invented the air conditioning unit has been temporarily promoted to the status of 'my favourite person in the world'!
Our final stop before leaving Asia was Kuala Lumpur, having arrived there by train three days ago from Singapore. It's a really nice city to walk around, with plenty of interesting buildings both old and new. Without doubt, the most spectacular are the Petronas Twin Towers which, on completion in 1998, was the tallest building in the world (currently eighth....although the marketing team cleverly rebranded as the tallest 'twin towered' building in the world!). We thought that it was worth the £16 ticket price to take a trip to the observation room on the 86th floor (via the sky bridge on the 41st) and weren't disappointed! We chose to visit at 6.15pm which would provide us with those wonderfully dramatic last moments of daylight as well as the opportunity to see the city lit up in darkness. The building itself is a shining beacon of glass and steel that rises into the skies like a pair of emaciated and elongated daleks. With that image in mind, the skybridge connecting the two at their mid point just looks a bit naughty!
Going back to where my last blog ended: we soon found ourselves pedalling into the city of Melaka. It was a great place to spend a couple of days. We were staying with Howard (a contact through Warmshowers) at his guesthouse (Ringo's Foyer) and as soon as we arrived, we were asked to join him and two other guests (Michelle and Paul) to go straight out on the bikes once more. How could we refuse?! Feeling a little bit grimy and smelly, we headed to a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious meal! We finished the outing by wandering around the awesome night market...making mental notes about which foods to try the following evening, when we'd be sure to return with empty bellies...
...and return we did! We tried the infamous Durian fruit (foul smell, odd taste, bearable but not pleasurable!), Popiah (Spring roll) and tender Malay-style chicken with rice. The feast was completed with an ice cold kiwi smoothie, which we enjoyed whilst listening to Karaoke from the big stage. The 'entertainment' flitted between enjoyment and endurance but simply being among the throng of locals and tourists was a fun and a very smiley way to spend an evening!
There is plenty to see in Melaka. A history, influenced by its Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods (combined with the current Chinese, Indian and Malay communities) has created a melting pot of colour and vibrancy! There is nothing more colourful than the richly decorated Trishaws! Fitted out with impressive speaker systems, it's like there are hundreds of little mini parties pedalling around the city. At night, they become even more gaudy, as they twinkle with hundreds of fairy lights! I enjoyed watching wives and young children thoroughly enjoying the highly-camp experience, whilst husbands/fathers often appeared to want the ground to swallow them up!
Leaving Melaka, it took a further two days of cycling to reach the border city of Johur Bahru. The final day (135km) was completed in the pouring rain, which wasn't actually that unpleasant, given it's warmth! It just meant that we had to give the bikes a good clean to remove all the grit and mud before shipping them to New Zealand where they will face the notoriously fastidious Customs checks. The last 30km, that took us into the centre of the city, was right up there with some of the most stressful cycling that we've undertaken and, for prolonged periods, the experience was akin to (how I imagine) cycling on the M25 in the UK.
We had decided to ship our bikes from Singapore using a logistics company. It was pretty much our only option, given that no other companies, bike shops or cycling enthusiasts who we'd contacted for advice about shipping bikes had proffered a more suitable alternative. It proved to be a relatively easy process and we can't fault the level of service that we received. It was, however, a little galling when our bill proved to be more expensive than our return flights home from New Zealand...ouch! A combination of factors had caused the original estimate to almost double and it took a wee while (and a delicious steak lunch, courtesy of the logistics company) to regain some perspective. It would have been very easy to lock ourselves in our hotel room and bemoan the unexpected overspend, but instead of dwelling on something that was now consigned to the past, we headed into the city centre, celebrated with a nice cold beer and watched a stunning light show from the waterfront.
Singapore is pretty much like being in London or New York...or any other big city. The financial district is at the (geographical) heart of it and full of trendy bars and restaurants, populated by the perfectly-presented 'champagne and oyster' set. With both of us sporting do-it-yourself haircuts (carried out with a rusting pair of craft scissors) and beards that are rapidly spiralling out of control, it's fair to say that we didn't really blend in! As much as I was fascinated by wandering around the central area and experiencing a level of prosperity that we haven't seen for many months, I found Geylang, the red light district where we were staying, a far more interesting place to spend time. I'm not sure what that says about me (?!?!) but, as with most red light districts, it is a really vibrant and interesting part of the city. There are plenty of really good, cheap and noisy eateries as well as plenty of weird and wonderfully charismatic people!
Day two saw us spend several hours in the Botanical Gardens. Free entry was an obvious lure, as well as our keen interest in all things plant-like! It is an awesome green space. There are foliage, fragrance and eco gardens, a wonderful evolution garden (which takes you on a trail through the progression of plant-life on earth over its 4.6 billion year history) and a children's garden, solely for those under the age of 12. The number of groups of excited school children was a pleasure to see. Horticulture is an awesome, exciting and creative science and the Botanical gardens get two big thumbs up from me for promoting it as such!
It would have been rude to visit Singapore without paying homage to one of the most famous hotels in the world. With a limited travelling 'wardrobe' of rapidly fading tshirts, shorts and flip flops, we weren't ever going to meet the dress code of the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel to enjoy a 'Singapore Sling', so we simply took pleasure in walking the perimeter of the stunning, colonial building which offers a real glimpse into an era gone by.
For 2013 our cycling has now ended. The extended break in Australia will be fully enjoyed and much appreciated, but we look forward to being reunited with Dorothy and Clara, in January, and beginning the final leg of our overseas adventure!
Love and Christmas hugs. X