Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Day 391 - Georgetown, Penang

After a lateish night we woke up late in Kangar, to make things worse we both felt pretty lazy and getting anywhere fast didn't seem to be an option and to make things even worse to started to rain, hard. We lay on our beds and started to nod off, until a pipe poured water onto the corrougated roof outside of our room, it was deafening. I was all for staying put and reading a book, but Clement was all for getting out of the place as it was a cramped dive, a good enough reason to move on. When I say cramped, I mean to the extent that if there had just been 2 people in the room you would have had to manouver your way around each other, but we also had 14 bags and 2 bikes in there, we are talking cramped. So once the rain eased we were off. It wasn't long before we could tell it was the right decision as the sun started to shine and we saw blue sky for the first time in a few days. We weren't going far, about 50k, so we just ambled along on little lanes next to the main road, sometimes ending where a bridge over a river had collapsed resulting in us doing U turns. We met a Malaysian cyclist, David, who had just started a journey to the Beijing Olympics. He owned a cyclists guest house which we will probably stop in and recommended a place for us on Penang Island. As planned we stopped the night in Alor Setar, a place of dual identity, sometimes called Alor Star, both on road signs and signs in the town. There wasn't much there, but our room was oh so much better than the one we had just left. We were both glad to have moved on and we talked about why we had felt so lazy in the morning. We decided is was because of pushing to the Thai border with a deadline, no chance or choice to stop, so once we were across the border we could relax, the first day that we at least had the choice to be able to stop.

We were up earlier the following day. We knew we were heading south but had no idea how far we would go, on which road, or where we were aiming for in the evening. We used the main road to get out of town then stopped for breakfast after about 10k. By the time we eventually got going again it was midday, then we saw a signpost to Butterworth where the ferry to Penang goes from, it said it was 83k, yet we had expected it to be much further. It seems I am once again the proud owner of a very inaccurate map as it distances indicated on the map are much further. We had intended to take two days to get there but decided to reach there by the evening so went for a main road bash. The ferry terminal was signposted along the motorway, so not being sure if we were allowed to cycle on it, we did anyway, passing through the toll area without any problems. I was amazed to find the ferry ran every 20 minutes and was packed, despite there being a bridge a little further south which apparently we couldn't cycle over. We soon found ourselves a cheap guest house to call home for a while.

So all this is a clear indication that I am taking my received messages seriously. Rather than pushing on impulsively I have gone across to an island where I intend to stop for a few days, and so far I am really enjoying it. To add to that I have already changed my planned route down to Kuala Lumpur. The west coast seems to be far too busy, densely populated flat and boring, so I am going to cross the mountains and head down the interior, which will hopefully be much quieter and more scenic.

So far Malaysia seems pretty similar to Thailand, but subtley different. As already stated the roads are much busier, but gone are all the new Toyota pickups that the Thais love so much to be replaced by far more makes of car which are much older. I read in the paper today that it is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a car, hence the older cars. Fuel prices are cheap, though recently the government withdrew its subsidy on fuel, so it went up 40% overnight. People here are very friendly and as some people pass us they call out "Welcome to Malaysia". Malaysia is almost entirely muslim, but it feels very different to any other muslim country I have been in. Women wear the veil but it seems much more relaxed as men can talk to women without any problem. It also a very lush and green land, whereas other muslim countries have been arid and brown, it makes it feel quite different. Food here is also eaten with the fingers, not my ideal way to eat, especially with a runny sauce. They also have 3 pin sockets here, the first I have seen since I left home and a bit of a bugger when my hot water heater is only two pin, I really miss my coffee. Clement has shown me a away around the problem by sticking my penknife into the top hole then pushing the socket into the bottom holes, works a treat. I am not convinced it is entirely safe, so if I manage to electrocute myself I would like to leave my underpants to The Farting Monk in Palain.

Our first day in Georgetown was the lazy day we didn't have in Kangar. I enjoyed doing not alot. I didn't have breakfast until 3pm, then dinner at 10pm. Clement is leading me astray as we spent the night in a bar. I was somewhat dismayed to see a sign saying "English Pub", if I had seen it earlier I wouldn't have gone in. But they did serve Kilkenny, so we ordered 2 pints and were surprised to receive 3. Apparently it was happy hour so 3 pints for the price of 2, great. "How much!!!" Compared with UK prices it was sad hour with 3 pints for the price of 4. After that we stuck to Tiger and normal UK prices, still very steep for a stingy git like me. A well dressed man collapsed, was lifted and propped against the bar with a stool wedging him in to stop him falling, he must have had his bill for Kilkenny too! It was a pub of loud music and sports on the tele. We sat by the window, not that there was a window and soon I had a woman eyeing me up and beckoning for me to come over, I declined the offer. At 2:45am Euro 2008 started on the TV, Turkey v Czech Republic, one advantage of being in a crap pub. At 3am it went off as the pub was closing. Soon we were the last people in there other than the guy still passed out and wedged against the bar. I guessed he was the owner, I was wrong, he was only the manager. We walked down the road and found a 24hr cafe with a big screen showing the football where we joined a German. As we sat and watched the woman who had been eyeing me up arrived, but the German said she was a ladyboy, a bloke dressed as a woman basically, or an ex bloke. See I told you it was a good job that my message from the book wasn't that I fell in love as I can't even tell the differences between the sexes here! We watched the end of the match, the first of Euro 2008 I have seen, and well worth watching as the Czechs were 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go and lost 3-2 with two goals in the last 2 minutes. We arrived back at the guest house at 5am. I normally get up at 6am, I decided to have a lie in.

The next day turned into another lazy day, so no surprise there. Another 2 cyclists arrived, Coen and Dienne from the Netherlands so we joined them from brunch in Little India with a mound of rice and various curries served on a banana leaf and eaten with the fingers. They have come up from Singapore, so we were able exchange information and tips of our routes and experiences.

I suspect I will be in Georgetown another day or two before heading inland, where Clement and I will once again go our seperate ways.


nursheila said...

Hi there, it's amazing how you are reading The Alchemist and I 'spot your blog' cos that's my job. Pls go to author Paulo Coelho's blog and you will see that for the 20th Anniversary celebrations of the Alchemist, the first question answered was from me. Anyway, I work for a newspaper in KL and would like to feature you in our Blogspot column. To send you the questions, i need your email. Kindly contact me at themalaymail@gmail.com .... Cheers, sheila

Caff said...

Well after 10 days away it looks as though I have a mountain to climb to catch up with your news - I look forward to reading later in the day when I have more time to myself - I will print off and take your blog to the bog!!!
Reading the comment from nursheila it looks like you could be in for an exciting time in KL - talk about coincidences!! :-)

YeeJen said...

Hi, I read about your story from Friday Malay Mail. It's such an inspiration. You cycled to my hometown, Kangar too. :)
Hope you enjoy your every journey cycling throughout the world. Good luck!

dad said...

Looks like fame is awaiting you wherever you go. I look forward to reading about you in Australia's leading newspaper.

dad said...

Looks like fame is awaiting you wherever you go. I look forward to reading about you in Australia's leading newspaper.