We chilled out on Langkawi for two days making use of the duty free beer and free wifi to really relax. Malaysia is predominantly Muslim so this would be the last beer we would be able to afford for a while and beer is something we've become accustomed to being able to afford as a home comfort. Of course the extreme amount of exercise we're doing has made us complete lightweights and we can manage a maximum of two beers before we get way too tipsy! Whilst the day we arrived on Langkawi was sunny and warm, the rest of the time was a wash out so we stayed in our hostel most of the time and just chilled out watching movies and TV shows. We finally got round to watching the two epic bicycle documentaries "Ride the Divide" and "Inspired to Ride". If you've not seen these yet, then I implore you to buy them online now and set aside a few hours to be inspired and motivated to get out on your bike and challenge yourself like you've never done before.
Both of these movies cover American ultra-endurance bike races, the Tour Divide and the Trans-Am. The Tour Divide is an off road route from Canada to Mexico (so, north-south) and the Trans-Am is an on road route from the west coast to the east coast, although nowadays you can do it in reverse too. It was tough to watch Inspired to Ride as it features the late Mike Hall who passed away this year after being hit by a car during the new bike race across Australia. Next year the Trans-Am starts not long after we arrive on the west coast of America and for two days we pondered on the logistics of entering it ourselves, solo, and seeing how good we are. We entered our email addresses into the website for inquiry but since the entrance fee is $250+tracking and we'd need to find a company to loan us road bikes for the race and we'd need to ship all our touring stuff to Canada, it's just not really possible next year. BUT, watch out for our names on the roster in futures years. We'll do it one day.
From this dreaming we began a list of stuff we wanted to do before we conk it and it keeps growing. It's really easy to get caught up in the next adventure so it took a few hours to get over the disappointment of not being able to do the Trans-Am whilst we're in America but we soon shook ourselves out of that feeling since... We're still going to be cycling across America anyway! This keenness to plan, and already having a list of small and big adventures, hopefully means any post-adventure blues will be short lived once we're home next year.
Once we stepped off the ferry onto the Malaysian peninsula we plodded south to find somewhere to stay before the looming storm clouds poured down. Little did we know at the time that there was a local festival taking place and we'd soon find out that ALL the hotels, motels, guesthouses and homestays would be absolutely full. Finally the heavens opened and the deluge began and eventually, as we kept moving south, the light began to fade. We stopped outside a KFC at about 6pm so I could use their bathroom and Mike started ringing around all of the accommodation places Google could provide us information about. Finally, he had luck with a golf course resort who asked us to ring back in 15 minutes and also got a call back from a warmshowers host who was 25km away who said we could stay with his parents. OK, so plan was to just aim for that host so we stayed on the main road hoping that the street lights would carry on the whole way because our bike lights seems to have drained themselves since we hadn't used them in... Months. Luckily another cyclist pulled up as we were investigating our lights and offered to showed us the way. As the light dimmed and eventually the sun set, the street lights dwindled to nothing and the full on heavy rain began again. By this point our lights had a bit of charge in them but it got to the point where I couldn't see the road well enough with my glasses on or without my glasses on purely because the rain was so heavy it distorted the bike light so much. It just became so dangerous I started to panic a little bit. So before something bad happened, I stopped and looked left and to my joy there was a sign pointed towards the hotel we had rung and had told us to call back 15 minutes later. The other cyclist who was leading us in the right way had disappeared by this point so Mike called them back and they told us they had room for us and it would only be about £18... So not as bad as it could've been for a golf resort.
We turned up dripping wet and they were so nice to us, completely shocked at what we were doing and that we were out there in the rain. Our clothes didn't dry overnight and thus began three days of wet clothes and shoes as the rain didn't stop. It's quite enjoyable at some points, especially when it's just an incomprehensible amount of rain! By the time we were passing by Kuala Lumpur the weather had improved and now we had the challenge of the bad roads. We were taking the 5 straight through Klang and we're pretty used to big roads, but these roads lacked a hard shoulder and the surface was really bad in some places. We tried to take a quieter road out through Klang but it turned into a death trap - a single lane full of speeding trucks and I really thought this be where we would have our trip-ending accident. Thankfully we survived! And then blasted out 40km in two hours to reach our hotel for the night near KL International Airport. It was weird to think we'd be back there in a few weeks to fly to Australia, especially since had so much more cycling to do.
You may be wondering why we stopped camping. The simple answer is that it's still just too hot and humid at night for us and we haven't found a good enough USB powered fan to keep us cool AND anywhere we investigate to camp is covered in ants. Like, big arse bitey ones. So we're a little put off by that. We've recently read that it's sometimes possible to sleep at fire stations in Malaysia so we may give that a go at some point.
Anyway, at the end of the day finishing at KLIA we sat down and made a vlog basically explaining that sometimes you can have a run of days where you really don't enjoy what you're doing. I've still got a saddle sore which just won't go away (and won't until it has a few weeks to heal), the roads we'd just been on nearly killed us, the weather has been difficult and there just hadn't been much joy in what we were doing. We weren't going to quit and take public transport to Singapore since we'd come this far since the start of China without doing so but it was important to get those raw emotions out on camera. Unbeknownst to us, the next day things would take a complete u-turn.
As soon as we changed roads the next day the cycling became the total opposite of what it had been - joyous rolling hills, a clear shoulder some of the time, smooth flat tarmac and beautiful scenery, and no rain. If you're struggling along the west coast of Malaysia, all I can say is that it does improve once you get past KL. Today was also the day we found Faxian the kitten.
Mike pulled in to get a cold drink as he was struggling by mid morning and we found Faxian outside of this shop. Watch our vlog from 3:49 to discover what happened:
We got to Melaka and Mike checked into our hostel for us while I stayed outside with Faxian to feed her. I had been feeding her a little bit every hour or two so as not to overload her tiny belly. I can't explain how thin she was - absolutely skin and bone. She'd already grown quite attached to us (since we were her new source of food) and didn't walk off or stray far while I waited for Mike to take everything inside and find out about getting a taxi to the vet. It was about 7km away and we had initially planned on cycling directly there but had run so short on time that it was already 10 minutes away from closing. After calling them again to beg them to stay open for us, we went round to the nearest taxi rank to hop in a taxi and get there as soon as possible. The shutters were down when we arrived but we could see that the lights were on and they quickly opened a side door to let us in once we'd knocked. They really did stay open for us, they were so kind.
We left Faxian there overnight and the taxi we'd taken there took us back into town. We went back the next day (as agreed) and here was the update:
The virus she had has really awful symptoms, none of which she was exhibiting at any point we were with her. She would've been in considerable pain once they'd kicked in. After posting this video, we received an email back from the vet. She had done everything she could for Faxian including quarantine and lots of pain meds but she passed away by herself. The rest of our donation we had left to pay for Faxian's vaccinations and steriisation had been donated to the sanctuary which took care of her burial so it can help other stray animals, and we're happy with that. At least she lived her last few days knowing what love and affection is. She really liked being held and stroked and I'm glad she knew what that was like in her short life.
We were desperately keen to try and help Faxian. It's been extremely difficult seeing the way animals are treated in non-western countries (including eastern Europe and Turkey) and especially in Vietnam and China. Since we've been on the road we've seen countless stray animals in varying conditions. Most commonly the strays are dogs but we do see a few cats from time to time, though the cats seem better able to look after themselves. It is common talk among cycle tourers about what to do when stray dogs attack but honestly we haven't had any trouble from stray dogs since we began our journey. They are always very meek and want simply to be left alone. Perhaps this is a reflection of how many animals are treated. In Turkey we cycled past the bodies of countless dogs left to rot at the side of the road, the stench being overwhelming every time. In Vietnam it was a common sight to see dogs and pigs stuffed into tiny containers on the backs of motorbikes to be sold at market or slaughtered. The same too for chickens and ducks which were often bound by their feet in bunches like onions and dangled from the rear of a bike. Mike had a terrible experience in Cambodia with the dog that was needlessly run over and then dragged away for meat. Of course cruel practices are common worldwide and we can't pretend that the UK is cruelty free but all of these experiences have confirmed our commitment to being vegetarian back in our normal lives, and as much as possible on our trip. Throughout all of this we've wanted to help so many animals in distress; puppies, hungry, mangy dogs, injured cats, and with Faxian we had the chance to do that. It was just sad that she was beyond helping. I didn't take it too well since my own cat, Felix, was put to sleep in July after 17 years living a great life with my family. He had kidney and bowel problems and an operation wasn't going to do him good. I've not got over the fact that I couldn't get home to see him before he passed away and I think the dormant emotion from that spilled over again when Faxian took a turn for the worse. Grieving for a pet who's been around for more than 50% of your life is unknowable when you weren't around to say goodbye.
By the time we got to Johor (the cyclist's gateway to Singapore) we had some closure with Faxian as we knew what had happened and where our donation had then gone to do more good. We were due to give a walk at a bicycle themed cafe the following day in Singapore and had asked the cycling community to ride with us across the city. We were hugely delayed in crossing into Singapore by the world's slowest border crossing guard who I swear moved at the same speed as a sloth, and so were 45minutes late getting to our meeting point. Thankfully an expat, Tom, was late too and he met us. We don't know if others turned up as they said they would, but by the time we knew we would be late our Malaysian sim card had stopped working so we couldn't let anyone know.
Nevertheless we had a really enlightening ride across to the southern harbour front with Tom who took us partly on his route to work through farms and quiet roads out the west of the island. We had originally intended to cross to Sentosa and finish at the "Most Southernly Point of Mainland Asia" fake touristy landmark (it's not even the most southernly point) but looking across the water to the island from the harbour front (which felt exactly like the SouthBank but with palm trees) it looked like a touristy hell so we agreed that, especially as it would be getting dark soon, we should finish the journey there. Tom went and bought some beers to celebrate with us and off we went to a park overlooking the South China sea to have a drink before heading to our hostel. We had originally thought we'd be staying with a member of the Singapore cycling facebook group who said he was interested in hosting us, but the night before we arrived he said he was too busy so we got a last minute deal on two beds in a hostel in Little India for essentially 2-for-1. Even with this deal, Singapore is disastrously expensive and if you're planning on stay there for a while then seriously try and get a warmshowers host because it'll eat through your budget like a hungry cyclist and bananas. All of the warmshowers hosts we contacted were either already hosting or just didn't reply so we went for the hostel. We didn't stay in Singapore as long as we'd planned because of the extra cost so we re-organised our stay back in Johor with the same hostel we stayed in before hopping over to Singapore
The talk at the Autobus was scheduled for 10am on the Sunday we were there, so the morning after we arrived, and whilst I had only finished the slides the night before, I felt confident with what I wanted to say. When we arrived at 9.30am no one really acknowledged us so after 15 minutes we felt it right to approach a member of staff and ask about the set up. She said it would be set up soon and by 09:58 I had to pester them again to set the screen and laptop up as promised. We kicked off at 10:10 with a small but keen audience who seemed to engage with what we were saying. Unfortunately, not long after we started talking, the kitchen ramped up and the coffee machines doubled their workload and we were shouting above the din to be heard. All my enthusiasm for producing an in depth and emotional talk just disappeared as my throat started to get sore and thankfully we made it to the end of the slides at 11:00 on the dot with a few Q&A to follow. Even with a presentation which I wasn't personally happy with, we seemed to inspire those who came along with one lady asking the name of Meg Hine's book, and one guy emailing us later to say he was planning his first bike tour. So it probably didn't go as bad as I felt, I'm just a perfectionist. All my years doing theatre and the Showoff franchise makes it difficult to feel happy when I'm not fully in control of the production of a presentation!
Even though we found Singapore expensive, we really loved the city. I'm a city person at heart, I think, and Singapore is one I could see myself living in... If I was rich. I was impressed by the way the city planners had worked greenery into as many nooks and crannies as possible. They are still making the mistakes London did early on with the cycle provision though, but I can see Singapore becoming a haven for bike travel.
Now, reaching the end of Asia, we have a couple of things to do. We fly from Kuala Lumpur on 31st December to Perth, Australia. So right now we have to return to Kuala Lumpur to get our bikes cleaned, dismantled and boxed up ready for the flight. We then have Christmas. So we'll cycle 5 days back to Kuala Lumpur, but a different way from the way we came down. Just before Christmas we'll then take public transport to Penang to spend Christmas with my friend Vick and his family who have kindly agreed to have us as guests at their mega family Christmas. We really can't wait to fill out bellies with lots of good food, rest and relax, let our saddle sores heal and sleep until we reach 100% again. Then, the adventure continues.
Just 5 more cycling days in 2017!