The 140 km, 6 hr journey down to Malaysia’s historical city of Melaka turned into a bigger day on the bike then I expected. Trying to ride out of Kualu Lumpor was ridiculous with freeways going every which way. After 1 hr of circles I stuck my thumb out and caught an airport bus, 40 km south to the International airport which is out in the countryside. Once I was here it should have been 112 km to Melaka but it took close to 7.5 hrs due to a couple detours and rain. I quickly found out it is Monsoon season in Malaysia.
The first monsoon came in at 2 pm, I ducked into a palm plantation for cover and was on my way 45 minutes later on a now puddle ridden highway. The second monsoon came at 3:30 pm, where I hid out in a store and bought some sandals while the sky did its thing. The third monsoon came at 5:30 pm, in which I found shelter under a coconut vendors stand. I waited 30 minutes there having an awkward malay english conversation with the vendor. It was getting late in the day and with just an hr left of daylight and 27 km to go I figured I better get going or else I would have to try to negotiate with the Coconut man to use his vending stand as a bed for the night. Heading out once the rain let up I had hopes it would let off. Instead the monsoon came back in full force and the next 1.5 hrs were spent biking on a flooded highway in a monster sized storm as lightning started to flash around me. It was a tad sketchy. Half hour after dark I rolled in Melaka, a city of 600 000, stopped by the info office, received directions to a guest house in China town where I found a quiet place for the night.
The next morning I woke up groggy as the adrenaline from the night before had worn off. The first 2 hrs of the day were spent having green teas with a trio of Americans before I headed out on a ride around town to find out some info on the boat situation to Indonesia and attempt to locate a map. What I learned is that Indonesia is not an easy place to find biking info about and maps are even tougher to come around. The strategy was now to just get over there and find out what it is all about first hand.
Hopping on an Indonesian bound ferry at 10 am the next morning I soon found myself as the only white boy around. Docking in the port town of Dumai, 3 hrs later was a culture shock. At the immigration office I met another Canadian, John, a 65 yr old retired school teacher who was a native from China. He fit right in with the crowd over here while I stood out like Rudolph. After paying our $25 Visa fee, our bags and bodies were thoroughly inspected over. It was pretty intense. When they pulled out my bag full of whey protein powder, hemp seeds, and power gels a few eye brows went up. They have a zero tolerance level for drugs in there country but after they closely inspected my “dope” they let us on our way. Once outside and into the Indonesian environment we quickly realized that tourism was non-existent and that we were in for a bit of a ride.
There was one “tourist aid” person in town who requested 3$, and he would lead us to the bus station. John hopped on the guys motorbike with him and I chased behind on my bike. It was chaos. Indonesia is a wild place. Third world. Scooters and motorbikes were ripping all over town and everyone was yelling something as I road by. It was nerve racking. At the bus stop John figured out the only option out of town that day was a 12 hr overnight bus ride up north to the hub of Sumatra, Medan city. This sounded as much fun as eating rotten eggs so going against the advice of our tourist helper I headed out in the mid afternoon sun to try and ride to my pre-planned destination of Torgamba, which I had seen on a google map the night before.
Without a map, unable to speak the language and poor road directions this plan was not brilliant. After an hr of riding on a gong show highway with cars and people going every which way, I came upon a police checkpoint. These I usually get waved through but this one tw0 of the cops came running at me blowing there whistles. I stopped and spent the next 30 minutes in the midst of 6 officers trying to explain my situation. One of them spoke broken English and informed met that my destination of Torgamba was a palm plantation, not a town. This combined with various other bits of sketchy information, I became a little worried as all the officers seemed to be saying don’t go. It was against my religion but I made the call to head back to Dumai, spent 3 hrs riding around there trying to get a better feel of the country and then I caught the night bus with John to Medan.
The 12 hr ride, turned into 10 hrs of praying as our bus driver lived by the motto “if your smaller then me get out of the way!” Various times he would pass while traffic was oncoming, causing cars and scooters into the ditch. A couple times the ladies beside me screamed. I had front row seats to the action and didn’t sleep one wink.
Arriving in Medan at 5 am, my situation hadn’t improved as I was now in the middle of Indonesia’s third largest city (3 million) and dead tired. I fell asleep on a bench at the bus stop, waking at 7am as John hopped a bus up to lake Toba. I opted to try and ride out of the city and go to the mountain town of Berastegi. Trying to get out of the city with my one word of Indonesian (Berastegi) wasn’t smooth. After 3 or 4 mis directions, and 1.5 hrs of dodging traffic later, I was on a sweet little highway in the jungle headed up into the mountains.
After 4.5hrs of riding, and 1300 m vertical gain later I was at my destination, found a guesthouse and slept the afternoon away. This evening my trip took a turn for the better as I tracked down a map. I’m not sure how accurate it is but it does lighten up my world.
Tomorrow it is off on a ride to the deepest lake in the world, Lake Toba. It covers roughly the same area as Belgium. The trick here seems to be getting up early and to finish riding by the time the mid afternoon monsoon hits around 2-3pm.