Bicycle blitzkreig

Thai visa in hand I fled Pennang before dawn on the first free ferry to Butterworth. A quick roti chennai later, I gave the bike it's head and whistled north.


The countryside opened out into a patchwork of farms spread across lush riverland.


Trusty Steed

One thing has remained constant during my travels. 



And that most faithful friend is well deserving of an ode

A bicycle born near Bristol
Heard a silent starters pistol

Solvitur Velocipedo

Cocooned in my forest lair by day, by night holed up in the sequestered serenity of the campsite's riverside glade. I passed my time beneath the 1600m peaks that closet the table land. Five trails led away from my tent; four into the forest hills. The fifth, least used, led back to roads and noise and people. Occasional forays that way into the tourist hub of Tanah Rata's main drag to procure food a fleeting, grating reminder of the busy reality just a tree screen away.


The stillness couldn't last. Altitude is a a cyclists hardest won currency; the urge for a spendthrift splurge rose irresistibly. With a glorious descent promise-note burning a hole in my pocket I packed up my camp and romped through Brinchang and Kampung Raja, the tableland's northern most stations. The scale of the developments was difficult to miss. The WWF's describing land clearance as "rampant" did not seem hyperbolic looking over valleys glaring back from reflective cellophane and glass.

Return to Titti Wangsa

Leaving behind Tamra Negara before dawn I ignored the temptation of a return boat ride. Instead I took the quiet roads south along the banks of the river Tembeling. Rushing south over the hilly landscape through isolated Kampongs and Orang Asli settlements. Stopping at a banana stand a cheeky older woman helped herself to one from my bunch with the arched eyebrow, incomprehensible innuendo and insistent stare of a practiced flirt. Inevitable palm oil encroachments followed as I closed in on the main road west from Jerantut.

Heat rose, humidity cloyed, but no solace from mid day sun was sought. Gripped by a mad dog's longing I pressed onwards unwilling to stop before I had retraced the Lipis river road section I had ridden two days prior.

With sweat stung eyes noticing afternoon shadows stretching I veered into one of the small road side cafes that dot Malay roads and rewarded my westward dash with shade and a cold drink. Touching the ice filled glass first to my forehead and then rolling it across my abdomen a sharp pain fired. Muscles knotted oddly under the glass and I became dizzy. The moment passed but I resolved to take a little more time over cooling off. 

Fortunately my race was almost run and I was a mere 25k from my planned destination. Returning to my earlier strategy of scuttling from shade to shade it was not long before I rolled into the shabby chic of Kuala Lipis.
  The already colourful Chinese frontage downtown, enhanced by New Year preparations. 

Pahang: Judge not lest ye be judged?

I left Fraiser's Hill wreathed in a thick layer of wet mist.


Ignore the spinal tap impersonator blocking the mist-obscured view fairly pulsing with highland cool 

The upland forest continued to titillate as I weaved down the hairpins.

Doolittle Fallacy

Suffice to say I didn't die.

I accelerated downwards for perhaps five feet before my heels hit ledge. Jarred forward by the impact my flailing hand clutched handful of thorns which finally brought me to a halt.

A shaky, undignified, but thankful stop.

Legs straight and rigid, both arms locked behind me from the shoulder, torso leaning forward at 45 looking straight down. I must've looked like nothing so much as a very out of place and inept ski jumper.

Tentatively I stepped back from the brink. Now feeling 100% keen to be down I carefully descended the blessedly flattening lower portion and hit the bottom.

Thank fuck, I thought eloquently.

I was shaken. Failing to follow the path to its conclusion called into question some of the qualities with which I had begun to identity: Adventurousness, stoicism, stubbornness. The confidence in my willingness to carry on regardless was suddenly in doubt. If I can't even reach a sodding waterfall... At least I could say with certainty that I didn't have a death wish. Having set out on this trip depressed that I suppose was no minor thing.

Retracing my steps looking around for turn off's missed, my certainty that this hadn't been the way evaporated. The path underfoot was undeniably there if over grown and tough going.

The phrase 'kids and oldies may find it tough' swirled. May???? Maybe I had just wimped out.

I got back the rainforest level and trudged back eyes cast down.

A beautiful Blue Necked Keelback appeared right in front of me. Delicate coils of luminous orange. The Keelback was calm, no flattening of its neck to threaten a strike with its small venomous mouth. Instead it paused and then gracefully waved its way to a sunny leaf strewn spot to bask.

I watched enraptured as he relaxed and, just like that, I felt much better.

Battle of the Bulge

Departure #2 was from a lovely spot called Hutan Lipur Sungai Sendat, a waterfall, just north of KL. Peter, keen to test out his new hammock, joined me. Arriving in the early hours of the afternoon we found it closed...

Fortunately Peter and I are on the same wave:

The best sort of travel always involves a degree of trespass. The risk is both the challenge and the invitation. ~ Paul Theroux


So we ducked under the police tape and were rewarded with a blissful place to camp for the evening.

False starts and faulty parts

Having arrived in Melbourne I then flew directly to Malaysia.

...

Wait that's not right.

There was a glorious intervening year spent cycling in Australia and New Zealand and staying with my sister and her family in Sydney.

Have no fear hardy handful of readers. The pictures of that leg are uploaded and copious notes have been prepared. A poorly spelt overly loquacious account of those antipodean adventures will be enumerated here.

A sneaky peak of Tas, Nz and Gippsland

Just not right now. My sluggardly blogging output has left me so far behind that the entries risked becoming more memoir than travelogue.

So with a waft of my cyberJedi wrist while murmuring 'those were not the posts you were looking for' I invite you to join me as we touch down in steamy Kuala Lumpur at the tail end of the rainy season.

Bicycle Sounds

I was recently contacted by Fil Corbitt. A talented podcaster from Reno.

Showing uncharacteristic poor judgment he wanted to do an interview with me.

Here it is:
 
Naturally I apologise to Fil and you for my relentless erring and umming, an odd pronunciation of Pasargadae, and even odder plummy accent. I put the later down to a spontaneous post-colonial reaction to talking with an American.

Musandam and bust

I was pleased to be waved through the border crossing at Dibba.

I was pleased not to have to pay for a new Omani visa.

I was less pleased to now be an undocumented foreign national. 

To complicate matters further non-GCC nationals (me) aren't allowed to pass between border crossings here. Travelling from say Dibba, north to Khassab and then on to re-enter the UAE at Ash Sham was prohibited. 

A shame indeed, as that was exactly my intention. I'd read about dolphins cavorting in the fjords around Khassab and I meant to see them.

Bureaucracy be damned.

So I scooted out of Dibba to make camp.

An obliging acacia grove provided a discrete and comfortable spot. 

Emirati hospitality

Where the north-eastern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula tapers into the mouth of the Persian Gulf geography gets exciting and political boundaries get confusing.

Enclaves within enclaves compete with exclaves to confound the unwary cyclist.

For those with a taste for such things the addition of internal Emirati borders reveals yet further complexity.


Predictably we British must take our fair share of responsibility but this patchwork is at least the result of a commendable effort to ensure borders correspond to the reality of local loyalties on the ground. A starker contrast to the brutal linear creations foisted upon much of Africa is hard to imagine.

My practical considerations were limited to making my way towards Musandam while minimizing visa costs and avoiding dead ends like those I'd encountered in Al Ain

Muscat: The wadi forks

I left the mountains that had beguiled me so and moved from Oman's desert interior to her salty coastal plain.




A different Oman, no longer dominated by the Rub' al Khail's echoing void but by the call of the waves. Fishermen and maritime trade replace goat herds, camels and date farming.