Saturday 16 July 2016

The Day the Beast Disappeared

Current Location: Mersing, east coast of peninsula Malaysia
Total Distance on Tandem: 24,431km
Total This Trip: 961km
Health Status: Chaffing in all the wrong places, both of us with one bung knee.

Was it resentment at being stored in the left luggage room at the airport's frozen fish shop? Was it the final ignominy when I reached into his cardboard box and let the air out of his tyres so they wouldn't burst in flight? Or was it simply carelessness on the part of the Air Asia ground staff at Kota Kinabalu airport?

Whatever the reason, the Beast of Bridgwater (BoB for short) failed to board our plane to Senai, the airport that serves Johor Bahru, near Singapore.

We collected our panniers off the baggage carousel and waited expectantly at a door where we figured the oversize baggage would emerge. 

An hour or so later, our fears were confirmed - the Beast never made it onto the flight. Worse still, he could have been put onto another flight, perhaps to Kuala Lumpur. 

Instead of cycling to a hotel, we caught a taxi and waited. At 12.30 am, the phone rang and I slipped downstairs where the Beast was being delivered. It took three of us to extract him from the car, he had been wedged in so expertly by the driver.

It has taken two days ride to get from Senai to Mersing, on peninsula Malaysia's east coast. The first day's ride was a straightforward 49 km. This photo was taken on the second day when we had to knock off 92km. To avoid the worst of the heat we set off in darkness shortly after 6 am. We were at our destination by 2 pm having averaged 16.8 kph. We were pretty pleased, especially as we avoided an afternoon downpour.

Early morning breakfast stop - buffet style, sausages, fried eggs and vegetables. 

We shoved him behind the reception desk and I went back to bed. But sleep wouldn't come. It's the first time the tandem has gone adrift in our travels and although we had been confident of getting him back, it was unsettling.

It took Judy and me two hours to reassemble the bike on the footpath, and the sweat was running off us by the time the job was finished at 9.30 am. We needed showers and a change of clothing before we could face breakfast.

Our plan was a short ride of 45 km to Kota Tinggi, but our start was delayed even further by one of those delightful meetings we have learned just to accept and enjoy. 

The kopi kedai (coffee shop) where we had breakfast has been run by the same family since 1972. Mum and Dad started it, and now all these years later several of their 14 children are involved. They were delighted to show us old photos and their pride in the business was obvious.

For 44 years the same family has run a coffee shop in Senai. Like so many people in this part of the world they were welcoming, especially when they learned we were a couple of kiwis riding a weird bike.

Mum, Dad and 13 of the 14 children - several of whom are working at the coffee shop.

By the time we emerged, the rain had stopped and it was nearly midday. Fortunately, the ride was straightforward and by mid-afternoon we were checking in to a newly opened hotel with gleaming tile floors, a tv with hopeless reception and a windowless room.

That was three days ago, and now we are in Mersing on Malaysia's east coast. The town and the faded Empire Hotel where we are staying are our kind of places. The town has not undergone the mall makeover that seems so common in Malaysia. The hotel is rumpty but clean and comfortable and we have big windows that let us watch the weather and the street below. The tv doesn't work. Perfect.

Windows on the world. Many of the cheaper rooms in budget/midrange hotels are windowless boxes.

The perfect hotel room. Air con, own bathroom and room to spread our gear - a shelf up high for the helmets and coat hangars for our rinsed out clothing. 

Mersing is the jumping off point to Pulau Tioman (anyone old enough to remember the Hollywood musical South Pacific? It was filmed on Tioman). Since before we arrived here, we have been talking about going to Tioman, or one of the other 63 volcanic islands that make up the Seribuat Archipelago. 

Backpackers converge on a ticket office for ferries to Pulau Tioman.

But we just can't generate the enthusiasm. Tioman in particular is backpacker territory, and while the resorts on some of the other islands look attractive we just can't see ourselves lounging around a pool.

So tomorrow we are going to unshackle BoB from the handrail by the stairs and point his front wheel up the coast to a Malay settlement where we know there is at least one very small, local resort. It sounds more our style.

Brosnan Lookalike

"What are you doing," asked Judy lifting her head from her phone and her game of Words with Friends.

"Um, just looking, googling Pierce Brosnan actually, to remind myself what he looks like."

"Not like you," said Judy returning to her war of words with someone 8,000km away.

Pierce Brosnan - actor

After a while she peered over my shoulder to look at the picture I had up on screen - Brosnan in one of his more recent acting roles in The Ghost Writer.

"It's the hair, you've got lots of it, just like him."

I felt slightly miffed.

"What about the face? The bone structure?" 

But she wasn't buying into it. She'd already returned to her game.


This attempt at a comparison came about because we met a modern young Muslim couple in the street recently. As we drew nearer, we acknowledged each other and fell into conversation. 

They were married, he had moved from KL so they could be together and he was researching various trees for their potential use as a source of scent for cosmetic products. He dabbed some samples on the back of our hands and looked pleased when we said one reminded us of pine resin.

It was about then he said,"I thought you were Pierce Brosnan walking down the street."

Judy laughed. She can be so undermining at times.

"Don't tell him that. He'll want a movie contract, and the money."

I noticed his use of the past tense, as if saying "I originally thought you looked like Pierce Brosnan but now you are up close, I don't anymore."

We chatted some more and they headed off hand-in-hand, she in her fashionable clothes and colourful tudung (headscarf), he with his bag of samples over his shoulder. Both of them with their hopes for the future.

I went off to check bone structure, but I fear Judy is right.

Maps & Stats - copy and paste link to your browser.

Senai (nr Johor Bahru) to Kota Tinggi 49 km

Kota Tinggi to Mersing 92 km

Roti telur maker, Mersing.

Fabric shop, Mersing.
Breakfast, Mersing.


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