Friday, 25 July 2008

Day 429 - Bengkulu

I forgot to tell you in the last post that I have at long last crossed the equator, just before Bukit Tinggi. It has taken a heck of a long time, but I am now in the southern hemisphere.

I read that Buket Tinggi was on a ridge, odd then that as I left I had a 6km climb, pretty gentle admittedly, but uphill none the less. I would have said it was in a valley, though I suppose the centre, which wasn't very big was on a little hill. Still, I reached 1100m and with a return to sea level ahead of me and a new road surface it was just a little bit of fun. The only problem was the traffic, it was busy. I could whizz past the trucks with the cars and vans but when I was in a steady flow the driver behind always wanted to fill the gap I had created for safely braking, so I had to make myself big and fill the road, sounds like an excuse for another breakfast doesn't it? Once down it was a fairly flat run into Padang on the coast, then I wasted about an hour trying to find a room that was reasonably priced and not a flea pit or a cell. Once checked in I went for a walk along the prom. There was a pretty serious football match taking place on the pitch, so I became a spectator. It was only a narrow strip of beach so waterlogging was a bit of a problem, one minute they were playing on a good surface, well reasonable anyway, 5 seconds later they were knee deep in water and the goal posts had been washed away. You don't get entertainment like that in the Premiership. Actually I was desperate to join in, a game of football was just what I needed, but I can't swim!

The brief description I gave the Indonesian people in the previous post was wrong. I wrote that the night I arrived from Singapore, I didn't really want to be there, so I made my judgement way too early, I was wrong. The people here are lovely, all too willing to smile, wave or call out "Hello Mister", or "Hello my friend". When I stop they are always interested in me, happy for a chat, wanting to know where I am from, where I am going, though with my map most of the time I haven't got a clue.

I stopped a second day in Padang, another day of chores, mainly lots of phone calls, so it was just a bit of a nuisance that I couldn't find anywhere to make any. I also had more bike maintenance. The cyclists among you will know that when you change the chain you sometimes have to also change the cassette and the chainrings, well I had changed the cassette as the gears were jumping, but the middle chain ring sounded and felt really rough, so I have changed that as well. Once my other jobs were done too I took another walk along the prom. I was somewhat surprised to find a muslim girl beside me, she was dressed very conservatively and asked if she could walk with me. It's an example of just how relaxed and friendly it is here. She spoke a little English so the conversation was a tad slow, but we had a coffee together before going our separate ways. I got a bit distracted when another game of beach football started in front of us, technically much better than yesterdays. The rules were slightly different, if the ball went into the sea it was a throw in. I think I would find that very frustrating if somebody kept moving the touch line, but it would keep the linesman on his toes.

I want to talk about something I don't normally talk about, a photo, by pure coincidence it's the one here of the mother and child. I want to talk about it because it has become one of my favourites. I keep going back to it to have another look. It's not a very good photo to be honest, but I just love what it portrays to me. The observant will realise it is actually from the previous post, it's the mother and girl from the restaurant that I stayed at in the mountains. We were sat there at the table having breakfast, the boy was beside me and I really liked the side light on their faces, so I went and got my camera. As soon as I took it out the little girl got up and put her arms around her mother and I took the photos. To me it is a lovely image of harmony between two human beings, I see love in the little girl towards her mother, the way she instinctively posed and the way they are cheek to cheek. The mother doesn't appear to be showing the same affection, but would the little girl feel so loving towards her mother if her mother did not show love to her, probably not. I love the photo, it's a picture portraying love and companionship, it makes me feel good every time I look at it.

I set off from Padang along the west coast of Sumatra, it looked a tricky route out of town so I asked in the hotel which was the best way, I was told to follow the green taxis, so I knew that would be easy as I hadn't seen any yet, so when I picked them up I would definately know I was on the right road, until he said "this green", picking up a blue chair, I had seen that type of green taxi everywhere! It was through the hills to start with but the scenery was great, beside a picturesque fast river to start with. The weather looked as though it was closing in, so I chose to stop in a little town rather than camp in the rain. I was given the best room, still grubby and very basic, but he showed my that the water was running, it wasn't in the others. I turned the tap on for a shower, 10 seconds later the water stopped flowing, you have to shower quick here. As I walked around town I was clearly a novelty, a few stares but everybody else was very friendly. The power went off early, so I decided on an early night, the mosquitos decided on an early dinner! They went for my feet, I covered them, they went for my legs, I covered them, they went for my chest and sides, I covered them, they went for my hands and arms, I covered them too, but they went for my face and ears, it was hellishly hot covered in a sheet. I gave them a stern talking to but they ignored me, I threatened them but they ignored me so I carried out my threat and killed them, but reinforcements arrived almost immediately. I had had enough, there was no way I would sleep so I went in search of some mossie spray, but I couldn't find anybody despite my loud knocks on the doors, they probably didn't want to let the mosquitos in! I went for the last resort and got out the insect repellant I have been carrying for the last year, it's useless so I have never used it. I didn't so much roll it on as roll in it, but it was brilliant, they never bothered me again, well one buzzed my ear but I am sure I heard it say "Whoooa, YUK" as it flew away. Now the only think stopping me sleeping was a strange smell.

The following morning dawned, at least I think I did, but I had been right about the weather, it rained during the night and it was raining and dark as I was about to leave. Experience told me the rain would be over in 10 minutes, two hours later the rain was still pouring off me, my skills at weather prediction are sadly lacking. I stopped for breakfast, all that was on offer was chicken and rice. I was shown the chicken, it had clearly been eaten by somebody else, what he was showing me was a pile of bones that he had forgotten to throw away long ago, I moved on. It rained on and off all day, but ended as it started with heavy persistant rain. I stopped at Tapan, there was only one place to stay, but I couldn't get anybody to answer, I was getting very cold and shivering, I need to get out of these wet clothes. I resorted to going around the back, sticking my head through an open window into a very dark room and shouting "HELLO" at the top of my voice. At about the 5th attempt a door opened and at last I could go in. After pouring cold water from a bucket over me for a shower I was even colder. Having been so hot the previous night, now I was wrapping myself in a blanket and was still cold. I began to feel ill so lay down. It was still raining hard, but at least I wasn't in it. I went without dinner, I would have got drenched just crossing the road.

It was still raining the following morning which made it oh so hard to get up. By the time I was ready to leave it had all but stopped. My legs were heavy, I had little desire, I needed a nice flat easy run today, it wasn't. It was hilly, I wasn't enjoying it and I still had no energy, so I stopped early and rested for the afternoon.

Now I can't deny that from then onwards it hasn't been going well. My mind and body take it in turns to have bad days, so the going is tough, really tough. In reality I think I have chosen the wrong route for what I need at the moment. When I first looked at the map there were 3 obvious routes south on Sumatra down towards Java. The first looked the flattest, and the shortest, but looked uninspiring. The second ran along the eastern edge of the mountains but was a main road. The third road required crossing the mountains, but then it runs all the way along the west coast, a small road with hardly any towns and the mountains to the east. As soon as I saw it I knew it was for me, I loved it. Well hindsight is a wonderful thing as now I hate it, hate it with a passion. But I am staying positive, I am positive I hate it that is for sure. As I started the next day the legs were heavy, but the mind pushed them onwards, easy going at first, but then it became hilly, not what I needed. I made an early stop for the night and rested in the afternoon. Looking at the map the next 2 or 3 days were just what I needed, the road was right next to the sea, dead straight and dead flat. Was it hell! The first 20k was flat and near the sea true, and for 2k just a bit to close to the sea, a larger wave the normal and I would have been in it. In fact the sea was washing the road away and defences were being put in place. Then for about 10k the road went directly away from the sea until it found some hills, then for the next 150k that is where it stayed. I would never have believed that I could do so much climbing and go more than 70m above sea level. Most of the ascents were only 10-25m height gain, but it was tough, really tough, Thankfully my body was up for it but my mind wasn't. I lost count of the amount of times I said "Oh dear, what a shame, another hill", "Oh joy, the roads goes up again" or "Oh no, another hill, never mind", but "Oh BOLLOCKS, when will these bloody hills come to an end?" won hands down. Despite the small hills they were very steep and often required 100% effort to get up them, I whizzed through the gears in the blink of an eye, a turn of the legs. I was changing gear constantly, there was never a chance to get a rhythm going, it was relentless and I hated every minute of it. There were lots of gravel patches too with a drop between the two and to make things even worse there was often flat ground to the sides. On the few occasions I got a glimpse of the sea on the horizon the road turned inland again as if to say "Oops, you weren't supposed to see that, have a few more hills for punishment". I don't know if I told you but I hated it, I still do.

For dinner one night I looked at all of the food on offer in a restaurant and chose the chicken dish. When it arrived I was delighted to find that it had no bones, that was a first, but closer inspection revealed that there was in fact no chicken either. I complained and asked for some chicken, but obviously the chicken had passed it's "Use 3 times before..." date, as the only thing he could bring me was a chunk of fish.

Today was a bit easier, the hills more gradual, I was oh so thankful for that, but my body still wasn't up for it. When both body and mind decide on the same day that they aren't interested I am in big trouble. From here I have a choice of roads. This is the only point that I can cross the mountains and join the main road, but it's much further and who is to say that it isn't going to be just as tough. No, I shall stick with it for the next 600k, but I am honestly not looking forward to it, I am not enjoying it one bit, every kilometer is hard fought for and all I want at the moment is the easy life. I just want to be in Jakarta, but that is still about 800k away and I suspect when I get there I wont want to be there either. It doesn't help that communications are so bad here either. Internet cafes are few and far between, there are a few here, but the first ones I tried had lost connection to the internet, the next ones had no power. I eventually found one with both, but it might as well had neither as it was so painfully slow.

Well it was very good to see a comment from Aoiffe on the prvious post, she sounds her old self doesn't she, but that's the problem with email and blogs etc, it hides voice tones and might give the wrong impression. I am sure it came across exactly how she intended, but it doesn't mean to say that she is fit and well yet. After a few complications she has had the bone marrow transplant and the doctors are happy with her progress, but she is still very ill at times, there is a long way to go yet and your prayers are still needed, so don't forget about her, keep them coming. Thanks.

Despite me sounding jovial I am finding it tough at the moment and I hate the thought of what's ahead of me for the next week or so, but I got myself into this place, I have to get myself out, and I will. Hopefully I will feel stronger after a days rest, hopefully I can begin to enjoy it again. The people here are a saving grace, that's for sure.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Day 421 - Bukit Tinggi (Sumatra, Indonesia)

Well I am Bukit Tinggi, I was in one of those in Malaysia, though this one has been a bit more of a challenge to get to.

Taking the ferry out of Singapore to the island of Batam was easy, though I was thankful of the $10 deposit returned to me for the locker key at the hostel as they wanted $10 to take the bike over, it left me with enough for a tea and a small bite to eat. Just as we docked at Sekupang the Singapore skyline disappeared behind the trees, I was about to enter a different world. The orderly way of life has gone, it's back to chaos. I made my way to the domestic ferry terminal next door to get a ticket to Sumatra, there was a row of kiosks with heads poking out and people shouting out their destinations, not that I could make out what they were shouting when they all shouted together. Soon enough I have a ticket for 7am the following morning. I went in search of a hotel, the first one I found was 16km away. I walked around the town, there is traffic everywhere, mainly motorcycles, few pay attention to road rules, a red traffic light seems optional. Peoples reactions to me seems to fall into one of three categories, call out a greeting, talking to me in order to request money for some service or just a very fixed stare. I am not a lover of the later, but I will soon get used to it again. A greeting, nod or a wave changes nothing, it's a very fixed stare, a sort of 'the lights are on but no one is in' type of stare.

The following morning I had breakfast at the hotel, there was a delicious looking rice pudding, that would go down a treat, but it didn't, it was a salty fish based dish and came as an awful shock when you are looking forward to a nice rice pudding. By 6am I was ready to leave, it had just started to pour with rain, great. After 5 minutes, experience told me that this weather was set in for the day, I had to make a move and get wet or miss the ferry, there was no point waiting any longer. I set off when it eased a little, but 5 minutes later I was wet through, another 5 minutes later and the rain stopped for good, so much for experience! The ferry to Pekanbaru arrived at 12:30 but sells you a bit sort, 150k short to be exact! As I waited to get of with my bike the hawkers were around me, "Where are you going","Pekanbaru" I replied, "How are you getting there", "I am going by bike", "You can't go by bus, the road is too rough and it's too bumpy, it will take 4 hours, you can go in my car", "No, I am going by bicycle" I reply and point to my bike, "You can't cycle there, it is to far", "Yes I can", "No you can't", "Yes I can", "No you can't", "Yes I can", there is only ever going to be one winner, he walked off in a huff. I was shown to my baggage on the back of the ferry and asked for 2 dollars for the service, I gave him the same as everybody else was paying, nothing. So I set off down a deserted road, clearly I would not reach my destination by night fall. I had mixed feelings about this extra 150k, a bit pissed off as it is unexpected, but happier that I have been dropped off at the edge of the island rather than in the middle. The road was ok so long as you weave around the potholes, some were more like craters! I stopped for lunch at the first place I found, it might be the last place too. The guy opposite me is a starer, nothing I do can get through to him, so I just return the stare and he eventually looks away. As soon as I turn my head he is stareing again. The going is reasonable until it starts to rain again, so I dived into a cafe to take cover and ask the locals where the nearest hotel was, it's another 30k including a ferry across a river. There was a policeman there, I asked if I could stay at the police station but he said they are just offices, I asked if they have any cells and everybody laughed, then I politely ask him to arrest me for the night but he wouldn't, I must remember not to be so polite when asking to be arrested. Still he paid for my coffee instead. I set off into the rain and by the time I reached the ferry it was getting dark. It arrived and the queue of motorcycles started to move, then stopped. At this rate it will be another 2 or 3 crossings before I got on. I could see the ferry on the other side, it didn't return, great! I was told it has broken down, somebody else said they have stopped for dinner. A small fleet of little boats started up but few used them, but I was one of them, 4 motorbikes per boat. Once across it was completely dark, time to use my new rear light, oh, how interesting, it doesn't seem to work, it did when I bought it. Another sound investment. I arrived in a town and was about to go into what looked like a hotel only to find out it was a hospital. I found a hotel but it was outrageuosly expensive, so I looked elsewhere. Having been lead around by motorcyclists to other outrageously priced hotels, some with no water, I had covered every road in the town at least twice, it was near 8pm and I as rapidly losing the will to live, so I went back to the first hotel I tried where only the executive rooms were left. Looking around me I suspected the word
executive would have been misused, rather like calling the ferry the Pekanbaru Ferry, I was proved right. My executive room was damp, moldy and stank. It had a squat loo and bucket for a shower, no running water, the television had three channels, but the reception was so bad you couldn't see a picture on any of them, but at least you could hear faint voices from one of them. The air-con sort of worked though. As I ate in a restuarant a couple came in who had 14 dishes taken to their table, they must have been cyclists, I was proud of them and just a little jeaous too. I have a new challenge here in Indonesia, it's trying to find the name of the town I am staying in. I eventually found out that this one is Perawang, a big place, but not big enough for my map, and there are no signs for it. When I asked the name of the place, the usual answer I got was "Yes". My one inch to the day map is decidedly lacking.
By lunchtime the following day I arrived in Pekanbaru, but after a bite to eat I carried on covering 60k of the 143k marked on the map to Bukit Tinggi, leaving just another 80k, though it is back into the mountains. Hotels have a number of names here, Wisma being the most common. They are family run affairs, more like a guest houses than a hotel, somewhat basic. In Bangkinang the electricity was off until 6pm, I thought I had left all that long behind.
Soon after I set off I saw a sign for Bukit Tinggi, it was 147k, either the map or the sign was wrong, more likely both. The first lots of kilometers were flat, but with the mountains ahead I was still in for a tough ride. I arrived at a small town which seemed as though I might be able to stop at, but first I asked somebody how far it was to Bukit Tinggi, 24k the man said in good English in a confident tone, the type of person and reply that instills confidence. The kilometer stones only have 3 letters on, the rest you have to work out. PYK was another 45k, but clearly wasn't Bukit Tinggi which should be the next town, odd. When I stopped and had a closer look at the map PYK turned out to be the town before it, that would make BKT at least 75k, oh shit! The climb through the mountains started, it was long and hot, not overly exciting as there were no views through the trees. It became clear I wouldn't reach the next town, it also became clear that I wouldn't be able to camp, the flattest ground was the road and my legs over the last 15k confirmed that even the road wasn't that flat! Then I could see a big glass fronted building way up the hillside, I hoped it was the top and at least a village, but it turned out to be just a restaurant, quite a smart one. I pulled in and asked if they had a room for rent, they straight away offered me the smaller room of the restaurant, excellent, I was being smiled on for a change. There were people there of various ages though I never could work out the connection, there was a bit of a language barrier. There were 2 young childen and their mother, a man about my age and an elderly couple, but I don't think any were related other than monther and childen. After a shower I joined them outside on the terrace which had a great view. The children were wonderful though got just a tad too excited when I took the camera out. After that the little girl just wanted to hug me all the time, she was like a limpet. At least I assumed it was a hug, she might have been trying to strangle me for the camera. Then I was joined by the elderly man of 82 who clearly wasn't going to let the minor detail of a language barrier get in the way of a few good stories, most of which ended in a big smile and him pointing to an even bigger ring on his finger. The evening was spent with the children playing ludo and snakes and ladders, me learning the numbers in Indonesian, they learning the numbers in English, they were doing better than me. The women slept in the main restaurant and I slept in the smaller room beside the old man who made the most of another chance to tell some more stories, though as he had his blanket pulled right over his head all I had to do was grunt occasionally.
Come morning the little girl was soon in our room, I knew that meant there would be no more sleep. Once up I was offered tea and with it came fried bananas. They wanted nothing for my stay, but as the woman seemed to really like the beads I was wearing around my neck I gave them to her. It was another 2km to the top of the climb, then a nice descent that had a series of switchbacks that were so sharp lorries couldn't get around without a bit of reversing. The rest of the ride to Bukit Tinggi was easy compared with the previous day. I found a hotel then did a great pile of washing, which reminds me, it is on the balcony and it's raining. I had a walk around town, it's nicer than my first impressions of it when I arrived, but I was flagging so stopped at a cafe for a bite to eat where I met Udi, a 46 year old man who was not slow in coming forward, "Hello, my name is Udi, I am gay and my boyfriend has just left me, do you want to come back to my house tonight?", "Er, thanks very much, but I really must wash my hair tonight!".
To get to Bukit Tinggi I had expected to take the ferry all the way to Pekanbaru, then ride the 143k as stated on the map to here, however it's taken a ride of 385k to reach here, but that's travel, that's life.
Indonesia is geographically an amazing place, covering a huge area, but made up of over 17,000 islands. So far I have visited 2, so I don't extect to get around them all in the 2 months I have here. Tomorrow it is back down to sea level and Pedang, then I will ride all the way south along the west coast. My map shows just one big town, so there will probably be loads, so you may not hear from me for a while.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Day 415 - Singapore, last day

Well a couple more days have slipped by and I am still here in Singapore. I replaced the chain whilst here and as I cycled out to the harbour the gears were jumping, I had left the other chain on for too long, it had become overstretch and consequently worn the cogs at the back, so now I had to get those replaced too. The cassette had been on since Delhi, so I can hardly complain. I found the bike shop but they didn't open until 11am, that's half day opening, though in fairness they do stay open until 19:30, so very useful hours if you live here. Thankfully you never have to go far to find somewhere to sit and have a drink. Back at the bike shop I found a pair of cleats so I snapped those up too, but I was amazed to find a rear light the same as the one that dropped off in India, the only type that fits onto the my bracket, so I felt like a kid at Christmas. Once I left I went for a pootle about. Whilst waiting at some traffic lights I was joined by another cyclist, a proper cyclist, a tourer, Wendy Chan, who lives here in Singapore and has the only custom built Roberts bike in Singapore. Chas Roberts is a high quality bike builder from London. We chatted a while then she lead me to another bike shop. As she lead the way she said "I am a bit concerned about my speed, I am a bit slow". Blimey! That's slow! Obviously over the last year I have become too accustomed to pootling about with all the time in the world, it felt pretty swift to me. Once at the next bike shop I felt I ought to do more than just window shopping, so I asked them to have a look at my rear brake which has become a little stiff. The cable had become rusty in the housing so the handlebar tape had to be removed and a new cable and housing were fitted whilst I stood around and chatted, all for less than the price of a cable at home. As things get slowly worse over a period of time you don't realise quite how bad they really are, I was amazed at the smooth operation and the fact that I could stop so quickly. I think I should now get the accelerator looked at now, though it going to be a much bigger job.

Today has been tying up a few loose ends, things that had to be done, such as sending various bits and bobs home while I still feel confident with the postal system, oh, and getting a ticket out of the place. After constantly changing my mind about the best ferry route across to Indonesia I have finally decided to cross to the Indonesian island of Batam from here and do my best to get a connection to Sumatra from there. The deciding factor was talking to Wendy, she seemed quite positive that a bike would be taken, even if it required a little bribe. I went back to the harbour front, decided on the ferry time I would take, then as I was booking it I told them I was taking a bike. "Oh, you can't take a bike on our ferries", I pointed out that if I had booked it two day ago I could have done but they were insistant, well done Pengiun Ferries. Penguin Ferries....more like Mickey bloody Mouse Ferries! As I was leaving they called out "Oh, you want to leave on the 14:10, you can take bikes on that one", so it seems that of all the big list on the timetable you could only takes bikes on the 14:10, how lucky am I? Soon I had a ticket in my sweaty mit.....for the 16:10, though they did soon change it. Back at the hotel I talked to the Welsh guys out side and after a while went in for a coffee, meaning to return, but it was another 2 hours before I got away from the kitchen, my ability to gas is certainly improving. In the evening I met up with Audrey again and she took me to the Harbour Front, though this time to the mall, it's massive, even by Singapore Mall standards. We had a bite to eat as I again worked on my new found skills of talking, or letting other people do a bit of talking.

After almost a week here the place is beginning to feel like home, I know my way around reasonably well and I have even been out to meet a friend. So tomorrow I will pack my bags and leave home, new horizons beckon. To be honest I have really enjoyed Singapore, the city is ok, but I haven't done alot, but the people I have met have been just fantastic, locals and travellers alike. The staff have been great, very friendy and helpful to all way above the cause of duty. I talked to Gerry this afternoon, I suspect she thought it was better than doing the cleaning. She had been to Australia recently and has put ideas into my head that could mean a complete change of route to the one in my head. Jackie has helped too. She has been there in recent week and by reading her blog about the dives she has been doing it seems a waste of time for a non swimmer to go to the barrier reef. Other guests at the hostel have all been great too, especially the Irish lads, Brian, Conor, Darren and David (photo). They have a wonderful thirst for life, especially when it comes in a can. They were good fun, but would have been even more fun if they had let me win at Monopoly. I was really mastering their stong Cork accents, apart from in the early hours when it became a bit slurred. Thanks to you all.

Thanks for your comments too. I should point out that as Clement starts off by say "Bloody hell" he is taking the piss out of me, but try imagining it in a lovely French accent, it's wonderful and still brings a smile to my face. He loved the useless little English words I taught him and used them at every opportunity, so I am glad to see that he has still remembered them and even slipped "pootle" into his comment. I am please you are enjoying the blog Frank. At a couple of kilos apiece I wont be able to bring too many Durian over, especially as I will already have to pay for excess baggage, but I will do my best.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Day 414 More from Singapore

Singapore has been very sociable in the hostel, the staff are very friendly, welcoming and create a nice atmosphere. It is back to late nights and the odd drink, but not anywhere near as late as in Penang. I seem to be one of the last ones to turn in, these youngsters just can't take the pace. My problem is that I sometimes go a long spells without any really long conversations, so when I get the opportunity I seem to make the most of it. Strangely enough everybody I have a long converstaion with tells me they have a flight the following day, but I have wised up to it now, one of the first questions I ask them is "When are you leaving". I saw a t-shirt the other day being worn by a girl, it said "Why does the weirdo always sit next to me", I am that weirdo! I followed her around waiting for her to sit down. I was once again up early, well 8:30ish, but I just seemed to carry on where I left off, so didn't get away from the hostel until about midday again. I walked all the way down to Chinatown via Kinokuniya, the bookshop that had a map reserved for me, so at least once I get to Sumatra I know which way to go. The map has a scale of 1:4,500,000 so I will only be travelling about an inch a day, so I should be able to do that even with a lie in. Chinatown was a bustling little place, with shops full of all sorts of dead things which smelt even worse than Durian. There is no shortage of clothing and electrical shops either, surprise surprise. I walked back along the river giving fantastic views of all the tall buildings of the commercial district. Combe has a tall building, the church, but it's not as tall as these thingys. I passed the Raffles Hotel, I don't suppose they would let a scruff like me in, so I didn't bother asking. There is a statue where Raffle landed in 18 something or other, there is also a hospital dedicated to him. I hope he wasn't ill when he arrived as it doesn't look as though it would have been there at that time. It turned into another late night as I met up with 4 Irish lads. I had to concentrate really hard to catch everything they said as their accents were really strong. I played table football with them and even watched a film without falling asleep, that's a first.

Finding the ferry port to Batam was challenging, but not as challenging as finding out if I can take a bike on an onward ferry to Sumatra, the best answer I got was "no it is not possible", the worst answer was "What's Sumatra, is it a town?". It's only the 6th biggest island in the world and just across the waters from Singapore, it's a bit like a ferry operator in England saying "What's
Ireland?". I think the safest thing is to head back up to Melaka. The first thought that sprang to my mind was "Oh bollocks", but clearly I couldn't put that in a nice blog like this so I will say I thought "Oh blow, what a shame" and I will leave you to read between the lines. I cycled across to Sentosa, a little island a stones throw from Singapore, that was a disappointment too. You even had to pay $3 to get on the thing. I offered $2 for cash but it seemed that their sense of humour detectors were switched off. If you are a beach person it was alright, but I am not, so it wasn't. It was pleasant, clean etc, etc, but it also felt very artifical, it felt very man made, just a big beach resort. Singapore has more beach resorts than Combe. Combe doesn't have it's own flag, or it's own currency what! There was a little road with nothing on it, literally nothing, then I saw a sign on the cycle path next to it saying "Main road ahead, dismount", then another on a little downward slope saying "Steep hill, get off and walk". I made my way back to Chinatown for a late lunch. I got back just as it was raining, good timing for a change. I met a friend of Nick's in the evening, Audrey, whom I had met a couple of days earlier at the hostel, she was going to take me out for a little walking tour. She arrived and I had to pop upstairs for my wallet before we left, so I soon returned "Oh, I thought you were going to change". I was already dressed for a night out in my best clothes, this is as good as it gets. These days I have to rely on my wonderful personality rather than my stunning good looks when I meet people, but first impressions are important and I look like a tramp! We went to a hawkers for some excellent and plentiful food followed by a trip to see some of Singapore lit up at night, very impressive too. I asked all sort of questions as I wanted to gain a bit more of an insight into life in Singapore. She told me that the people of Singapore feel very restricted by the laws here, and that she personally yearns for the freedom we have in Europe. With laws such as, no chewing gum and no jay walking as well as it being illegal not to flush the toilet, there had to be a big fat fistful of more serious laws that would restrict people. There are heavy taxes and little in return, so no NHS, there is national service, and a whole host of rules and regulations about the type of house/flat that you can live in, there are payment meters in all cars and on all motorcycles for journeys that have to be paid for on arrival at your destination, I was surprised. My view had been very different, it looked a wealthy and easy going lifestyle, but as a tourist just passing through you really only ever just scratch the surface, but Audrey helped me make the scratch a little deeper, but making deeper scratches is probably illegal here! I suspect living on an island the size of the Isle of Wight with 4 million other people feels somewhat restrictive too without all the laws. Audrey was a wonderful host, a Singaporian of Chinese decendancy and a Jehovahs Witness that didn't try to convert me, and a delightful person. She talked non stop and then exlaimed "I normally don't talk like this, when I go out I hardly ever say anything", I found that hard to believe. As we waited for a taxi home for her she said out of the blue, at least that is how I remember it, "I always try to be positive, no matter how bad things are I always try to smile, and it normally works, it makes me feel good and I feel much better". That was good to hear. When I returned I once again met the Irish lads, Conor, Darren, Brian and David, a fine bunch of lads but my little brain has to work overtime when they all start talking at once. I only learnt their names as I left them to turn in at 3am. I told them I will have forgotten them by the time I got upstairs, but I had already forgotten them by the time I had washed up my mug.

This morning followed my normal lifestyle here, wake up, get up, eat breakfast whilst talking, eat a second breakfast whilst talking to somebody else, this time to three Welsh guys. Now come on, you can't expect me to remember their names as well, one was named Alun, the other two something else. I made my way on foot to a cycle shop, but took a diversion to an art museum as the outside looked interesting. I stuck my head inside to find that I had just timed it right for free entry, I had also timed it right for a free guided tour. Well, if it is free I will have it. We were shown a bit of a sculpture type job, birds in a cage with the title of "We are happy, are you?" a reference to life in Singapore which rather emphasised what Audrey had been telling me the previous evening. I never did find the bike shop, it was getting late so I decided to give it a more serious attempt tomorrow.

Singapore has more tax free shopping than Combe, but Combe has more shop free shopping. After a shopping trip in Combe you never come back and say "I couldn't find what I was looking for".

I rather like it in Singapore, for me it is relaxed, it's not the most exciting city in the world and it hardly feels Asian, but right now it suits me fine. In reality though I think I need the social life at this time, there is always somebody to talk to, I like the access to the internet to keep in touch, and I suspect that deep down I like the feeling that there is an airport and I can be home easily in 24hrs from any given time. I know I should be moving on, but I find it comfortable here, it is going to be hard to move on. Looking at the map of Indonesia it is huge with not much between where ever I land and Jakata, but I suspect that is just the lack of information on the map.

In reality Singapore is nothing like Combe other than the fact that people live in both of them. No, Singapore is more like Dubai, a finished Dubai without the need to show off, it even has green grass using a natural watering system rather than sprinklers everywhere.

Now Dubai IS a bit like Combe!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Day 411 - Singapore

Leaving KL was leisurely, I didn't want to go, or at least I didn't want to get up. I was just about to leave when I got talking to somebody who was just arriving, so I didn't set off until 10am, still I didn't have far to go as I was taking 2 days to get to Melaka and it's only 160k. I decided to pick up the expressway for an easy route out, the expressway that goes right past the Indonesian Embassy. I got to the embassy really easily, I did it, I wasn't defeated, and what's more it's only 3km to get there, the shortest I have done it in before was 6.5km. For reference, just in case you need to get there from the hostel, go out of the front door and turn left then at the traffic lights turn right. Technically the right turn isn't illegal, but to get yourself there you have to go a short distance the wrong way along a one-way street, that bit might well be! Left at the T junction, then do a U-turn at the next lights, slightly illegal, but you wont be the only one doing the manouver. Immediately left, then keep going straight until you hit the lights at the expressway, where right, on to the wrong side of the road heading into 3 lanes of oncoming traffic and then the embassy is a short way down on your right. Hmm reading through that again I shouldn't be so chuffed with myself about finding an easy way there. I haven't told you where the starting point is either, I don't want to make it too easy. Anyway I made my way down the expressway, but didn't get very far before the heavens opened. When it rains that hard it is no fun, so I took shelter. The heavens closed again so I was off, but before long there was a repeat process, this time lasting longer making the water somewhat deeper. When I stopped I took off everything apart from my shorts and wrung them all out, my shirt holds an alarming amount of water. Clearly I wasn't going to get far today. I decided to stick to the expressway until Seremban, it was easy going and route finding was a doddle. I was going well too, was it because of a few days rest or because of the tailwind, probably both. The tailwind was a man made one from the passing vehicles, but still welcome. I saw a sign to Melaka saying 89km, so tomorrow was going to be a short ride. Then I decided to make tomorrow no ride at all as I would push on and get to Melaka, I stuck to the expressway for all apart from the last 15km, not the most exciting thing to do, but it suited the mood I was in, besides I was enjoying the easy ride, it was fast too. With just 7km to go the heavens had another delivery for me, this time it looked big, black and even more nasty than the others. I had a sneaky feeling I was going to miss it though, but I was proved hopelessly wrong as I waited at another set of traffic lights, so I dived for cover in a petrol station. It dumped the worst of it, but the cloud had more patience than me, so I set off after 30 minutes into the rain and water covered roads. I rescued a tortouise I saw crossing the dual carriageway, I took it to the otherside, but I have to say it looked a bit cheesed off with my good turn, it probably only wanted to get to the central reservation! I checked a couple of guest houses before opting for one full of character, though it would have been nice if the walls reached the ceiling, they fall a good 2ft short, it is more like a dormitory with cubicles. It's a very green guest house, though I am sure not really intentionally. There are few lights which are all very dim. I looked around for an electrical socket but can't find one anywhere, oh well.

A day in Melaka was enough, I liked the place but the points of interest are all in the centre and close together, easily managable in a single day. The highlight for me was the trishaws, the whackist I have seen, there seems to be a competition as to who can get the most plastic flowers on them. Once it's dark they are lit up with hundreds of LED lights and unfortuantely my photos don't show the music blaring out of the CD players. Half of the centre is old colonial Dutch buildings, the other half was the ubiqitous China Town, though it was a rather a nice place to have a wander about, though there are no pavements and with the traffic and open drainage, you need to be a bit careful. I have a nasty feeling I shall be returning to Melaka after Singapore as it seems to be the easiest place to get a ferry to Sumatra. From Singapore it means some island hopping and nobody can actually confirm if it is possible to do with a bike, we will see.

Heading south wasn't over exciting, though there seemed to be a constant smell of Durian, I rather like it. The idea was to make it to Singapore in 2 days, so the further I got on the first day, the easier the second day would be. It was easy going, though trying to avoid the new road was the biggest challenge. I managed to stick to the coast road most of the time, at least I assume it was the coast road as I never saw the coast, though I did see plenty of places that suggested it was there 'Sea View Restaurant' for example. What sea view? It was only a single storey place, perhaps you view it contents on your plate, then eat it! I seem to have food on the brain at the moment don't I? Lunch was late, about 3:30, but I stopped off at a little restaurant and was soon joined by the owner Zainurin, a 43 year old man with 8 children, he has my full sympathy. He said life was a struggle with prices on the rise and his eldest son needed funding at university in KL, yet when I came to pay he refused payment. I didn't cost a huge amount, but I am sure that the money would have meant more to him than me, what a wonderful gesture. The Malaysians have been kind and friendly the whole time, I like them, and he was a fine example of the people in general. I pushed on, I knew I wouldn't find a place to stay and I couldn't stop to camp yet as I had no food and water, I passed plenty of good spots though, so it wouldn't be problem. At Serrangar I bought my food and topped up with water, but from there on it was houses, villages and little towns the whole way, my exploration down little paths and tracks only brought me to more houses. I called in at 2 police stations to see if there were any homestays in the area, there weren't. Then I saw a fire station, so I called in there and asked the same, still none. We got chatting and before long I was asked if I just wanted to stay one night, if so I could sleep there, well I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I was given a whole appartment, 3 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and lounge, all to myself and all for free. You could tell the place was used by men though as the tele only seemed to tuned into the football channels, what a blow!

Just to make sure I could still do it I left at 7am, it was only just getting light. I thanked the crew and it turned out they had no overnight calls, they looked disappointed. Again, not an exciting ride, but I went through a traffic jam, the first proper jam in a long time, 3 and 4 lanes of stop start traffic, a normal road at home. I opted to use the First Link causeway to Singapore, though I was seriously tempted by the Second Link when I saw a signpost earlier, though thankfully I didn't head that way as I later heard that cyclists apparently can't use the expressway there.

As soon as I entered Singapore I wondered what all the hype was about, it's reminds me of Combe where I live, just with a better road surface. I knew straight away I was going to like it, there were signs for Pies everywhere. Actually it was just Pie, but I assumed as there were so many signs that there must be more than one pie otherwise they would sell out pretty quickly. Imagine my disappointment when it slowly dawned on my that it was actually the road I was on, the Pan Island Expressway. You can't eat that, not in one sitting anyway. Combe doesn't have a PIE, well it wouldn't do would it, it's not an island, but it does have a PVL, not that is signposted as such. I found the hostel I had booked very easily, my crap map of Malaysia has a very good map of Singapore on the other side. The dorms are mixed and most occupants seem to be female. I was on a top bunk and I knew straight away that whoever the girl was on the bottom bunk had to come from the UK, who else would come to a place where it is over 30 degrees and bring gloves? Ok, so it's the same as Combe except that there are more people here, about 4 million more and Singapore has more shopping Malls than Combe.

Today I had expected to do another visa run, to the Aussie embassy, then I discovered that it can be done online, so I will leave it a while yet and do it much nearer to my arrival date. I was still up reasonably early and ready for the free do it yourself breakfast. I sat next to Nick from Canberra and we chatted for good length of time, but I was in no rush. When Nick left I was joined by a girl from Scotland, Aberdeen, and she didn't have a Scottish accent. It seemed rude not to have another breakfast with her. It was about midday before I eventually set out, just in time for it to start raining. I managed to get far enough away from the hostel to have got very wet going back, the rain here is much wetter than the stuff at home. Not one to miss an opportunity I went into a cafe for lunch, but to be honest it rained long enough and hard enough to warrant 3 lunches, but I was very good, I only had the two, I am on a diet afterall. Come to think of it Singapore probably has more cafes and restaurants than Combe. Then I went shopping, and this is the city to do it, unless you want a map of Indonesia. Everywhere you go, or at least I went, there were shops, shops and more shops, it seems to be the only passtime here, shop until you drop and more, shop until your head falls off (photo). I found some maps of Indonesia, one was a reasonable Nelles map but I knew Borders was around the corner, so I checked that first, their maps were useless. By the time I had got back to the other bookshop some bastard had nicked my map, can you believe it? I asked if they had any more in stock only to be told that they had never stocked it. I pointed out it had been there earlier and that somebody had stolen my copy, so they checked again, they had sold it 5 days ago. Time goes so fast when your head falls off. They tracked one down for me in another store, but I will save that for tomorrow, I needed to get back before my feet fell off.

Well some of my odd jobs carried out in KL seem to have been a bit of a waste of time. My tooth is only marginally better and my watch after just 3 days says the battery is running low which means the light and the alarm no longer work. I am dreading having a look at my Indonesian visa, I have a nasty feeling it will have reduced to just 30 days!

So having told you all about Aoiffe and her BMT in the last post, I have to decide what to write about her in the future. If I write nothing, then it seems that I have forgotten about it, but you obviously realise now that that will not be the case, I will hopefully have an update at least every other day by a text message, but it will still be a tough emotionally. But I don't want to write about it every time either, it's not a blog about Aoiffe, besides, she is lying in bed doing nothing, she can write her own bloody blog! So I have decided to mention it occassionally, as I see fit, as it affects me. Yes this is a travel blog, but I also want it to include my emotions. I have always thought that a long journey is all wonderful, a bed of roses, but in reality it isn't. Sure it's good, afterall it's what I want to be doing, but there are tough times too, but they don't often get a mention from other travellers.

Ok, so Combe doesn't have a Chinatown or a Little India. Also it doesn't have any ferry terminals or an airport, but otherwise you couldn't tell the difference.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Day 405 - Kuala Lumpur (Last day)

Aoiffa,Teri and Brian, you are all right about the Durian fruit, it is the very smelly stuff, I can even smell it without seeing it as I cycle past stalks selling it during the day, but it does also taste very good, though with so much choice of fruit in this area that you never see at home I tend to opt for other smaller fruit. There are also signs on hotel doors here saying no Durian, apparently the smell gets into the air conditioning and stay there, oh lovely!

Well one of the jobs that needed doing was a bike repair. The bottom bracket has been going for quite some time now and after Singapore I would have little chance of replacing it. For the non cyclists a bottom bracket a sealed unit full of bearings and stuff that fits inside the frame that the cranks bolt onto. It has had a wobble on it and I am sure that eventually it would have broken completely and siezed up. It wasn't a problem to cycle with, it just had an annoying jerk at the top of each stroke. Having checked for decent bike shops on interenet I opted for the best sounding shop which was well away from the city centre and well off any free map that was available. I bought the best looking map I could find, more of a book, and set off. First I went to find the Indonesian Embassy, getting a visa is another job to be done here. I almost passed it on the way in so I knew it would be easy to find. Oh no it wasn't. Heading back to it was almost impossible as it was all oneway streets going in the opposite direction. I got a bit pissed off with it all and restorted to a bit of law breaking, turning right where there were no right turn signs, heading the wrong way up one way streets etc, but it still took an age to get there. Unfortunately my wonderful map book doesn't show the directions of the one way streets. Having found it I decided to head the considerable distance to the bike shop by the expressway, it had to easier. Wrong again! It was even worse, there were so many junctions going in all directions that the book didn't seem to be able to handle them all and appeared to have just given up on some of them. I had to take best guesses, but when you get on the wrong expressway there are no chances of U-turns or going in the opposite direction. I was getting even more pissed off. Interestingly it seems the more pissed off I get with route finding the louder my curses become, thankfully there was nobody around to hear them and to be honest they are not really suitable for printing in this blog. One useful thing the book had was the road numbers, though I couldn't get them to match anything I was on. Thankfully I had brought my trusty compass, that was the most useful thing I had. The book was as much use as a chocolate teapot, no, no, no, less use, because at least you could eat the teapot, the book tasted terrible! At last I got there, some 3 hours after setting off! I had made a good choice of shops as the bottom bracket was fitted straight away by the boss man who clearly knew his stuff. I also bought a new chain. For the non cyclists that's the mucky thing that goes around the cogs. It's much easier to pedal without a chain, but you don't go anywhere near as fast. The journey back was far easier, once again heading towards the landmark of the ever visible Petronas Towers. The journey out had been 41km, heading back was just 14km, so I think I must have taken a wrong turning somewhere. The 14km back was a joy to cycle, pedalling was so smooth, no annoying jerk any more, apart from the one on the saddle! I once again was forced onto expressways, but these had very good cyclepaths that went underneath the junctions and were so much safer.
Sunday had it in for me and was telling me it was a day of rest. I planned a long walk, but every time I went out it started to rain. On one occasion I went into Burger King, now there's an admission, to get out of the rain. I hate such places but at least it was better than getting wet. I had a burger (do people really go back to such places after having eaten one?) and a coffee and was sitting there waiting for the rain to stop when somebody came in through a side door which created a strong wind that blew everything off my tray, empty cup, lid, napkins, burger wrappers the lot, all that was left in front of me was an empty tray. I looked around to see them stuck to the sides of not very happy looking people on the tables next to me. I appologised doing my best not to laugh as I feeled them off their clothing. One or two more jobs were ticked off, I got new sim card for a mobile phone that now works, got the broken chains that I wear around my neck repaired, which incidentally seem to be just as dirty as the chain that goes on the bike.
Monday's weather was totally different, lovely and sunny, just the weather for sitting in the Indonesian Embassy trying to persuade them to give me the visa I wanted. I need a 60 day visa, they only issue a 30 day visa at the border, but you also need to show your tickets in and tickets out. I told them I would sort that out in Singpore, but that was not good enough, I had to bring them in tomorrow. I kept explaining my situation but they insisted I needed to produce the tickets, so I played my trump card and told them I had sufficient funds to see me through, even though I counldn't really prove it to them, and after that they dropped the request and told me to pick up the passport tomorrow. "Tomorrow?" I said somewhat suprised as I had expected it to take about 3 or 4 days at best, "Yes" he said "If you had your tickets you could have picked it up this afternoon". What a result, I left with a smile on my face and an empty wallet. So back I went to the hostel via a cash machine and made my way to Mid Valley Megamall, another place I would rather not be, but I needed to get my heart rate monitor fixed. The address was a sod to find and turned out to be a residential address in one of many attached blocks of flats. The guy was the sole distributor of Polar in Malaysia and operated from his home. The watch needed a new battery as did the chest strap and that meant a completely new chest strap as it is a sealed unit. I left without a smile on my face and my wallet empty again. Me and the cash machine are now on first name terms.

Another day dawned bright and cheery, this time the dentist beckoned. I went to the first one I found, up some dirty old stairway in a block of flats, but once inside I was impressed, he seemed to be better than my dentist at home. It turned out to be the same tooth giving me a problem as I had temporarily fixed in Dubai, so the dentist in Dubai was right, it was temporary. This time a PC was started up and photos of my tooth were there in front of me in glorious technicolour, I think I would rather have not seen them thank you. The tooth needs some heafty work done on it, so it was another tempory fix, a filling. I was asked if I wanted an injection or not, so I thought I would give it a go without. I have to say it was OK, the worst part was the cold squirty thing at the start, but I would expect that to hurt as it is cold drinks that really cause the pain that I get anyway. He cleaned out the cavity a proudly brought a little chunk of food out and held it in front of my eyes and said "look, smelly". I know my shirt wasn't clean on today, but that is no way to address a patient. Once the work was done he showed me another photo, it looked as though he had done a good job, but I am no expert. I left with a grimace on my face and the strange feeling of deja vu as my wallet was once again empty. I need to get out of this place, quick! In the afternoon I made another trip to the Indonesian Embassy. Each time I go there I try a different route to try and beat the one way systems, each time I get lost or go around in circles, getting back is so easy. I picked up the passport with a nice shiny 60 day visa, no questions asked, so I left with a big smile on my face and an empty wallet, only this time because I hadn't refilled it yet. Getting back was a doddle as usual. I stopped off at a couple of the big malls just to see how the other half live. I parked the bike and expected to be moved on. Before I could get away security were on to me, "You can't leave you bike there, it is a big problem". "What can the problem possibly be" I replied, "I don't know, but you can't leave it there" was the only answer I was given. The malls are very posh, very modern, dare I say it, very nice, but there are so few people in there, probably because it's a big problem to park. How can they justify so many big malls for so few people? My jobs are almost done though I still have a form to fill in and return to the Inland Revenue, so even after all this time they haven't forgotten me, I am touched. I suspect there is an unopened Christmas card from them waiting for me when I return.

Today has been my last day in KL and my first real day of just sightseeing, so thankfully I saved some of the highlights to the end, literally. First stop was the Menari Kuala Lumpur Tower, the 3rd highest comms tower in the world. The lift fairly shoots you up the almost 300m to the obervation deck and wow, what an impressive view. The only other building that is higher, or even comes near it is height is the Petronas Towers (photo), but other than that you are way above everything else. It was mesmerising, like looking down on a moving map. I stayed there for almost 2 hours just watching life below, watching the progress of trains, seeing helicoptors landing, watching the traffic move through junctions, see all the places I had been to and trying to work out the way to the bloody Indonesian Embassy without going the wrong way down one-way streets. I didn't want to leave but time was pushing on, I had another tower to go up. The Petronas Towers are the headquarters for the Petronas oil company, but it also a very fine building, very modern, but also to me very beautiful, not you normal ugly concrete structure, but a graceful piece of architecture that enhances the skyline. It has become the KL icon, no, the national icon. You see pictures of it everywhere, it's on a bank note, I have even see it moulded to form the back of plastic chairs, and why not, it deserves it's status. The tower is free to go up, but only to the skybridge on the 41st floor, but there are a restricted amount of tickets and by the time I gor there the days allocation had gone. I wasn't over bothered, the KL tower is much higher and has a 360 degree view. At the bottom of the tower is another mall, there are no shortage of them here, in fact as I walked around I popped into each one as I passed. They are architechturely all very different and needless to say the news ones are far more graceful and have far more space than the older ones, they also have far more glamourous shops with prices to match so far less people in them. A scruffy herbert like me was clearly only there to have a look around. One of the old ones I went in was huge but the walkways so narrow that it was claustrophobic. It was full of small affordable shops and stalls, so full of people too, I was glad to get out.

Well my time in KL has been enjoyable and I like the city. My stay has been a mixture of getting odd jobs done, sightseeing and chilling out, a bit different to my normal way of life. If I was staying in a nice hotel I could easily stay a few more days, but that is partly why I chose the place I did. My wallet has been moaning too much and wants to go, it says it needs a holiday now, but I have told it that in 5 days we arrive in Singapore, then it will have to work it socks off.
I said a while ago that I would tell you about my plans for the future and why it was about to become more difficult, well now is the right time to tell you.
When I left home I really didn't expect to be away more than a couple of months as I have written earlier, but as time went by things were going swimmingly well and what's more I was really enjoying it. I had feared that I would become homesick, but I wasn't. Sure I miss things, Tesco's cheap cheese and white chocolate spring to mind, and oh, not to forget my family and friends, but you can't eat them, or at least shouldn't! So as far back as Iran, that's about last October, I had pretty much decided that this was the life for me, I couldn't see why I should stop once I reach Sydney, I decided I would carry on around the world. So the rough plan is to head for South America, cycle through there but not right from the bottom, up to and through Central America, then Mexico and USA to San Francisco and across America to New York, probably taking about 3 years in total to reach NY from when I set out. The great thing in my opinion about all this is that I have never thought about an end date. To have an end date puts a deadline on the whole thing, I would start to think I am half way through, only 4 months left etc, but without a deadline there is never a rush, it's just living and enjoing life for what it is.

But let me tell you something that you didn't know: Life is a bitch. Oh you did know? Now there's a surprise. In life you never know what is around the corner, but you can be pretty damned certain there whatever it is, it is not going to be very nice. And so it is in this case. When I left home my sister Aoiffe had been ill for quite some time, about 10 years at a rough guess. She has Polycythemia Vera, sounds posh doesn't it, but I wouldn't recommend it, it's sort of a Lukemia type of thing in a nutshell. Whilst I have been away she has gone steadily downhill, pining for me probably, to the extent that she now needs to take drastic action in the form of a bone marrow transplant. So the search was on for a donor, the best donors being siblings, of which she has plenty. I obviously knew about this a long time ago and whilst I was in Laos and Cambodia I was preparing myself for a dash to Bangkok and a flight to Singapore where I could get a blood test carried out to see if I was a suitable donor. As it happened one of my other many sisters was a good match. I had mixed emotions about that, I felt a little down as I wanted to be the one that helped, but the important thing is that there was a good match and with only a 1 in 4 chance of a match with each sibling it was a relief too. So now a donor has been found and Aoiffe goes into hospital on 3rd July to start the process, a very long process. She will be in hospital for the first month, in an isolation unit as her immune system takes a bit of a bashing and any infection is a real threat, even a cold or a sore throat. But it's no holiday, not even a picnic, she will feeling very ill the whole time and it takes a few weeks before the new bone marrow even starts to grow. The chance of success in bone marrow transplants is 1 in 4 and a 1 in 2 chance of there being no change at all. All being well she then leaves the hospital and returns home but has to have 24hr attention for following two weeks and a return to hosital at the slightest hint of any problems, so nobody with the slightest infection can go near her. Aoiffe is all very positive about this and sees a better quality of life at the end of it all, but that is about a year away if everything goes to plan. She claims she is only having a BMT so that she can follow me around the world in a VM camper van with the music of Fairport Convention's 'Keep on turning the wheel' bellowing out.....oh joy! This is all very much a brief overview, needless to say there is so much more I could write as it is very complicated. All through the years of her illness Aoiffe has always had a very positive outlook on life, always ready for a laugh, she has been strong in the face of adversity and a real inspiration, a REAL inspiration, not the inspiration that some people say that I am. It has changed her outlook on life a bit, it's bound to. She lives more for the day rather than waiting for the future. If I was in her position I would like to think I would be like she is but I sure I wouldn't be.

I have thought long and hard about what I should do, whether I should continue my journey of return home and I have talked about it at lengths with Aoiffe. She understands that I am doing something that I have always wanted to do and that at least whilst she is in hospital there is nothing I could do if I came back anyway. In fact she wants me to continue because she enjoys reading the blog, she say it transports her to places that she could never go to and that will be even more important whilst she is in isolation, she has even bought a lap-top so that she can follow my progress from the hospital bed. But none of this really makes it any easier for me. Over the past year I have been in contact with her on numerous occasions as due to her illness I know she will always be at home and contactable, she has been great support to me. It hurts to think about what she will be going through, should I really be out he having a ball, having the time of my life, not that I really think I will be from now on, it will all become much tougher and I will continue to question whether I am doing the right thing. Hopefully I will be in daily contact via text messages as to the progress that is being made, but I am also aware that at any time I may have to abandon the trip and return home as quickly as possible. I pray that things go well, go as planned, and if they do then I will return when I reach Sydney, probably around the end of October/beginning of November. What comes after that, who knows, but there is sure to be a pile of poo waiting around the corner for me to step in.

So how is all this affecting me. Well I feel as though I am doing pretty well at the moment, but I am sure it will hit me hard from the day she goes into hospital. There are a couple of physical changes in me that I think indicate that I am stressed. Those who know me well will know that I had a very bad habit of picking my fingers and nails, but whilst I have been away that has stopped completely and they are now normal, or at least were as the habit seems to be returning and I don't even realise I am doing it. Also I have noticed my heart rythym goes somewhat strange at times, that too has been fine on this journey, so I put that down to stress too.

Your comments and emails have always been generous and supportive when I have been going through a rough patch and I know many of you will want to do the same now, and I thank you most sincerely for that, but some of you may not be able to find the right words to say. Don't worry about it, I would rather that on this occasion you didn't send any comments or emails, but I would like to ask a little favour of you all instead. Aoiffe will be unwell and in hospital a very long time and needs all the help she can get, so if you can find it in your hearts to say a prayer, just one, though the more the better, that would be far better and appreciated far more than comments or emails. I have said before that my prayers are never answered but that I only pray when I need something, well this is a classic example, but the more people that pray the better. It only needs one persons prayer to be answered, that's all. If that happens it's a win for us all, Aoiffe will come through with a renewed quality of life and we will all think that our prayers have been answered.

As a foot note to all that, I sent Aoiffe a draft copy before I published it. Below are a couple of her comments that clearly shows her positive outlook on life and the future:

Re para 3 - (a) course you should be out there having the time of your life; you are living life to the full, drinking deeply of it, good and bad, joyful and scary and boring and delightful as it is. That is what I do albeit in a very different way to you and over the next months I will be living my life to the full as I journey through this challenge.
(b) poo may be piles of shit to some but to others it is fertilizer for growth!

Re para 4 - All welcome to the the party this time next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!