Friday, June 29, 2012

There can be only 1!

Cooling down, chilling out, relaxing, getting away from it all... That's how we liked to think we've spent the last week or two. Wether it be taking the time to sample juicy strawberries and tea in the Cameron Highlands. Getting up at 5am to watch a plethora of exotic birds in front of our hotel in Frasers Hill or riding the bikes past a magical lake along a deserted highway... Although what didn't really fit into the mix was the craziness of the Genting Highlands. Alas from Genting, we met some incredible friends. Certainly worth braving the thousands of internal tourists, expensive food and 'interesting' accommodation.

Crusing north from Cherrating on the East coast of Malaysia we made great pace north by heading inland. Its been a bit of a gamble sometimes as we've been told the coast road is the good choice. Yet sometime the traffic and limited coastal views make the inland road seem a nicer option.

 As we continued to our evening goal of Kenyir Lake, the pace and lovely winding road begged to be not stopped now. So we kept pushing forward and through 'the lake' as the GPS was telling me. Little did we know at this point that the road (local name of the LPT) was officially not open yet or designated to be usable. No dramas in using it though, there was the odd landslide that had taken big chunks out, but these all had bypasses already routed.

Finally after a big day in the saddle (compared to our normal 150-300km ride legs) we made camp in a budget hotel in Gua Musang. Staying in the 'new town' that was 2km down from the original town we dined on possibly the most evil creation currently known to western man in Malaysia. The Roti John. Which is a soft baguette roll fried in an egg and then filled with shredded chicken and beef with extreme helpings of mayonaise and sweet chilli sauce. Forcing my body to consume such a demon I knew that my nutritional values has surely dropped a rung from earlier years. 'Shock the body' I used to say... Yeehaaa, take that body!

In a strange way it probably helped power me for my solo spelunking that was on the cards for the next day. Clarissa was still getting over her 'welcome to asian food' stomach issues which had been hounding her for the last week or two. So she rested in the hotel and did some facebook and reading.

The cave was a beauty. An entry slit that required a side shimmy for the enterance was the tightest part encountered. Unhappy with the thought of getting stuck or getting lost underground I've put the reins on going to deep/crazy with these caves we've been too. Alas it was a massive multi-cavern, both in length and height.
Also something that was a surprise was the great climb above the caves to the top of the limestone mountain. With the flat sides and height of the mountain it certainly made me want to jump!!! With a base jumping rig on my back of course. Something that's on the bucket list...

It was high up there! Even found a strange inverted mushroom at the top!

Eager as hell to get into the mountains for both the riding (Neil) and the cool weather (Clarissa) we pushed on. What a magical ride it was too. Over three hours or so we climbed up from sea level to 2000m through some really nice (and cool) scenery. Watching as the palm plantations began to change into fruit/vegtables/flowers/tea occurred quiet quickly as we ascended into the range.

After finding a hotel off the main road (very busy/noisy) we realised we were in for a treat food wise. The local produce and cuisine proved to be too good to leave early so we chilled out and explored over the five days we spent at Twin Pines guesthouse. 

No fan or A/C needed here in the cool weather. Exploring things such as the mossy forrest (think Avatar) and tea/strawberry farm was really a change in the Malaysia scenery pace. Including going on a jungle trek that was just a bit too intense for my poor Clarissa. She's sure to be a bit scarred from jungle trekking for a while.

It was certainly the time to meet overlanders in the Cameron 
Highlands though. Initially we met a bloody strong pom, Jilly, riding her pushbike through the traditional overland route from the UK via the 
middle east to Singapore. Wow. Made me feel a bit silly talking about riding hills when she was peddling up the crazy things. Clarissa and I really enjoyed our chats with Jilly. A real worldly character and a real gem lending her PC to help me when our macbook shit itself. Best of luck Jilly. Dominate the peddle powered systems wherever you may roam! 

Also we ran into Ian, Australian (not to be confused with Austrian!). Riding his monstrous KTM 950 Super enduro. He was riding with two local Malay bikers, Ronnie and Vincent. Very excited was I to stumble on a big KTM and a couple of local scramblers. We conversed about our riding in Malaysia and he really made me green of his amazing adventures through East Timor/Indonesia. Ronnie and Vincent were absolute gentlemen and we do hope to catch up with them before we leave. Malaysia will soon be on everyones adventure riding itinerary Ronnie – don't forget that!

South we travelled. Through some more riding bliss toward Frasers Hill. A bird watching paradise that luckily for us was hosting an international bird week! Our hotel was interesting, our first official 'resort'. Maybe it was a resort some years ago, not quiet unto the standard these days. Either way, sitting literally out in front of the lobby at 6am proved to provide this rookie 'birder' more fancy birds to watch than you could poke a dried cuttle fish at. We left the next morning riding down the wild road. Single lane, one way traffic of pure hairpins down the hill. It was the same on the way up also! My pace is in check as I stop frequently to ensure Clarissa is doing fine. These roads are very taxing on a new rider on such a monster of a bike.

The next step on our highland domination tour of Malaysia was Genting Highlands. Doing some googling I had been blown away at this crazy place. An amusement park and monster hotel system built upon a 2000m mountain. This had to be seen to be believed I thought. So over the weekend we did the really touristy thing and rode roller coasters, payed WAY to much for food/beer and slept in a shifty apartment. The main hotel was full. I didn't believe it. 6500 rooms full... Alas it was expensive and we saved a bit by staying in the dodgier part of town.

Notice the wild inside monorail car with its strange theming...

Yes...we had maccas...Big mac tasted the same!

Dammit. I said no banging!

All was not lost though. Amongst my googling of Genting something had caught my sky bound eye. Malaysia's only wind tunnel. What the?
Skyventure in the Genting Highlands got me excited to do some 'freefall' like activities again. See if my 7 month break from skydiving had made my skills deteriorate to nothingness. Needless to say, after about two 10-15 minute sessions in the tunnel all was not lost. Nizam, one of the four original body flight instructors of Genting Skyventure (10 years old the tunnel is mind you!) proceeded to allow me play around and have some good fun in the wind tunnel. 
Nizam and I relaxing after some tunnel time.
Unfortunately the tunnel being 6000ft ASL (above sea level) didn't allow for my big arse to get much lift for sit flying but I certainly tried and had a good time messing around. We even got to watch a team from Singapore do some four way training. Great bunch of guys (and girl!) and very envious of them dirt diving (practicing manoeuvres on the ground) and honing their skills.

Clarissa and I knew that Nizam was golden and was someone we wanted to get to know more. We asked if we could buy him and his family dinner. He lived back down at sea level, in his hometown of Batang Kali. He's been doing the insanely windy 45 minute drive up and down each day to work in the wind tunnel for the last ten years.

We left our apartment in the highlands, including our friendly Nepalese guards who watched over our bikes.

 Going was slow for the first 10 minutes with thick fog making it a bloody surreal descending back to the low lands.

 Arriving at town, we checked into a local budget hotel to get ready for dinner.

Not being allowed to buy dinner, we had a delicious evening of home cooking by Nazim's wonderful wife Azie. Also enjoying the local night market with their kids, Farmi, Farqal and Farham. We finished off the golden night with a dip in the local hot-springs (which were really BLOODY HOT) and then enjoyed the next mornings breakfast at the hotsprings also. It was very sad to say 'cya later' to more great friends.

Can't stress enough how lucky we have been to meet such amazing people here in Malaysia. The hospitality has been unbelievable and really will set the standard when we get to repay the favour in the future at home.
Neil being a girls blouse with the hot underground water!

We've continued our big donations to the economy by visiting Tambun handsprings here in Ipoh. 

We commonly cruise around locally on the one bike. Its just easier...

Even though its a bit unnerving doing the tourist things for me it was actually a bit of fun riding the watersides and relaxing in the 'hot-springs'. The hot-springs are a bit detached from the genuine variety by being based in a theme park but it is really a nice view with the huge limestone cliffs surrounding the area. There's tigers here also on display. 

Rescued from a circus in a state of malnutrition by the 'Lost world of Tambun' parks CEO. Good to see them having fun playing and looking like they were doing well. Also showing some serious sixth sense to get out of the way of a tree that fell over in quiet a powerful rain/wind storm that hit while we were there. There's a petting zoo with all manner of creature although the Marmoset surely was the coolest thing there. 

The hotel Sun Inn was great for a base to visit the water park/hot springs. They even took a photo of us and bikes out side with their state flag and the Malaysian national flag.

We've moved into the city of Ipoh for a couple of nights while we sourced a better camera for the trip. Finding an Olympus ZX-1 model that also had a great underwater case let alone SLR like picture quality for a bargain was gold dust. I've been well disappointed with the picture quality of our old knackered tough camera but with this upgrade hopefully our trip will be a little bit better documented. A hit to the trip budget but hopefully a worthwhile hit. Next week I will do a quick run back to Ipoh to pick up our underwater case when it arrives. We figured this would be worthwhile for our scuba adventures. The pictures below demonstrates that the camera can capture the subjects true form. Hehehehehe.

Some funky creative image manipulation on the camera. 

Hopefully tonight we will catch up for a feed with Ronnie and later in the week maybe Ian if he hasn't trail blazed his way to Laos yet!

Very sorry for the lack of posts. Hopefully you haven't fallen asleep reading this big catch up!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Crazy place...

Just a quick post unfortunately this time. A big one soon!

We are in the Genting Highlands. A bit of a monstrosity built ontop of a 2000m mountain range near Kuala Lumpur. The reason we came is too experience something that probably can't be repeated around the world on our current trip. I'm sure there is other crazy places similar but did they knock down perfectly good jungle to build it? On a mountain?

Either way were here, its bloody expensive and also what a wild place. Its almost a bit scary just riding around as it seems like the whole lot may just roll down the mountain at any second!!!

Take care everyone and we send our love from Homer Simpson's Olympus.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Finding the gold (well tin, actually...)

We happily left Mersing after our 'awareness modifications' were complete. Including reflectors/upgraded brake lights. North to Kuantan on the eastern coast we road. Everybody had said the ride was nice and it certainly was. Even the highway sections were pleasant. As our cruising speed is generally no faster than 90km/h its great when the highway scenery is more than just palm-oil/rubber plantation. Cruising at 90km/h allows us to see the most but also get there in some fashionable time. Most Malay drivers do between 90-150km/h on the freeway so it also allows us to ride a slower groove and concentrate on staying well out of the way of crazy 'flash' car drivers. Most of the jerks drive Mercedes it seems. In a strange way it's comforting to know that most of the high priced Merc's are assembled here in Malaysia though. We actually passed the place where they are assembled and also became friends with a technician in the paint department later on.

Tiara guesthouse, lovely.

The story of meeting our Mercedes painting friend occurred through a bit of a chain of events though. Firstly we had stayed a lovely two nights at the Tiara guesthouse in Sungai Lembing. Clarissa got to relax and rest in a really flash air-conditioned room and my calling was to do some local off-road exploring of the jungle town that has a very rich tin mining history. On the weirder side of things at the guesthouse we noticed that ever night a number of local chickens would climb up and sleep in the tree in the front yard. Bizarre.

Chicken tree...

During our evening stroll down the street for dinner, Clarissa's keen eyes spotted Satay. Her favourite Malay delicacy so far, hands down. Which is basically a small BBQ style cooker with different meats on sticks for dipping in a magical sauce blessed by Zeus himself on Olympus.
Certainly myself too, completely concur that its wickedly awesome. To top it off, the rice is cooked into cubes, somehow through some evil dark arts of cooking systems. With a little bit of cucumber to balance the meat'o'meter scales away from the carnivorous. What sets this satay away from the rest we have tried is that the amazing family preparing and cooking it.

We were invited the second night we ate at 'Satay Warisan' by Rizal to go along to his nieces engagement party in Pekan, Pahang. 'We'd be bloody honoured' I replied.

They put a feed on for almost the whole street, literally.

Feast at the engagement party

Really can't say how eye opening it was to experience a traditional Malay engagement ceremony. The culture was a bit overwhelming when compared to the normal 'BBQ and beers' ceremony we have in Australia. Magical spread of food and drinks. Including the infamous, and soon to be released 'Poker dot' muffin which we did some promotional photos of with the bikes. The men wore traditional dress including the wonderfully painted Malay sarong. The women were all dressed up for the occasion also. The bride/husband to be were in their finest obviously to boot. Just to sit down and watch on as all manner of details were discussed/decided between the two fathers was intriguing and interesting. Excited and also exhausted after a big day of eating/chatting we ended up staying in a local budget hotel (expensive, but fast wifi). The next day we even got in on their family re-union. Kicked arse too! At a bloody monster waterfall.

Our Malaysian family re-unuion.
Couldn't cut this mushroom up with laser beams!

A little on the towns history:

Sungai Lembing had been a mining town way back into the 1800's. A Cambodian chap who's name escapes me had come to the area to search for minerals and goodies. He certainly found rich deposits of tin that was quickly surface mined by the way of panning and attracted a gaggle of Chinese and Malay miners to the area. Before/after the great war the Pom's got in on it too when they started to hang around in Malaysia. The formed the Pahang Consolidated Company Ltd. They dominated the hell out of the underground mining systems making it the largest underground tin mine in the world including some 300KM of odd tunnels. The geological maps certainly show the town area to be full of old mines which are mostly in disrepair after floods and landslides.

 Oh tin tin!

As all good things come to an end though, only recently, in the 1980's did the tin price plummet and the company went under. Unfortunate though for Sg. Lembing, as it had provided free housing/duty free shopping/regular sports and clubs for the workers and staff. That was happening back in the 1920's too! Shazbot!

'Ruins' of the mining buildings.

The town went quiet after that with most people pressing on for better work with logging and other activities in the state and country. What's left behind is a quiet and beautiful little village nestled in the seemingly endless mountainous jungle. We arrived in the midst of school holidays, when huge numbers flock here for its great museum, suspension bridges, panorama sunset views and waterfalls, including the rainbow variety. The museum was a great insight into the mines (which I would love to go underground and explore) and really shows how amazing the conditions were here until the 1980's (baring the Japanese occupation during WW2). Not much is left of any of the mining infrastructure. 

Whilst discussing where we would go next it was obvious that both Clarissa and I had to return to Sungai Lembing to see what we had missed. Alas being school holidays all accommodation in Sg. Lembing was booked out still. Luckily and very generously, Rizal offered to accommodate us in the top floor of his house. The place is over 100 years old, very basic in construction but is filled with nothing but a loving and happy family. Rizal has taken over the family satay business to keep the legacy going. He has an amazing wife, two boys and a young adorable girl. With Grandma too! Secretly in charge of the whole operation to be honest. We spent many a night honing our Malay language skills, talking about each others countries, watching the UEFA Euro football making fun of the karaoke people over the road and generally being a normal family. Proud to say that I most likely may be the first Aussie/RTW biker to pick a kid up from the local primary school. Also we were lucky to get a personal tour of the town. Some of the many things that kept us busy included lazing around on the river having a cool dip, seeing the old Family home in the jungle, floating down the river on a queen air-mattress for an hour and refereeing many a game of football for the local kids. Rizal had told virtually the whole town (we being the only white man around) that we were his Australian relatives. Many people came to eat satay and chat but later we found out they were too shy with their limited english. This prompted me to try my best to learn as much of the Malay language as I can. Clarissa and I then became known to most of the family and other local kids as Aunty and Uncle. Even just the thought of leaving this beautiful place was too hard to comprehend.

Chilling out on the river, swimming and eating deep-fried banana!

You know your garden needs attention when you need a machete to get to the front door.

Sunrise 'Panorama' in Sg. Lembing. I climbed the hill three times for a clear morning... This is as good as it got :)

Also after a little investigation, managed to find the main mine shaft but its being renovated for tourism in the future (maybe ready next time we're back in Malaysia). Also did road some nice dirt (Clarissa was a bit ill, luckily though, as it was tricky) to the famous Rainbow waterfall, unfortunately didn't see the waterfall as I forgot my shorts and sandals so the last 45mins of hiking would have been hell in my riding gear. The ride was satisfying enough showing the tourists that the might Rooney special was not afraid of the thick muddy tracks that the diff-locked 4WD's struggled to ascend! All the while with all my worldly possessions loaded onboard.

Bike and rider cooling off on the way to the Rainbow Waterfall
Chilling in the Satay Warisan restaurant. Notice our newly reflective top boxes!

An extremely friendly bunch of Singaporean chaps and ladies rocked up on airheads one day too (air-cooled BMW boxer motorcycles, same as our own). I was stoked and quickly we began chatting away about where to go in south east asia and our love of our beemers. I spent a little time showing and telling about the Rooney specials on how to make our beloved old bikes more refined and more reliable. As much as our own bikes are rare in this part of the world so were their machines. We had some really tasty Chinese tea across the road. They showed us an interesting feat where the tea would taste slightly different depending on the tea cup age and type!

Realistically, the most BMW boxer's in the country were here today (note: a BMW R80 missing from this photo)
Our Malay family. Missing is Aimen, one of Rizals boys,
also Ijah is hiding behind her brother, Aidid.
The overwhelming part of the puzzle of this journey is always about the people you meet. The motorcycle is just a tool to get us safely overland to our destinations along the way. Having an off-road capable bike is just more of a lever to get access to the people who are living life to their full. Whether that's with or without need of the latest mobile phone/ipad/flatscreen. My biggest hope is to enjoy the local company, soak up the good nature and beautiful ways of life. All the while hopefully rubbing off to make myself a better person. Luckily for my siblings and I, my mother and father brought us up in a faultless and beautiful way. We were very lucky children and still are!

Alas trying to be as open minded as possible is something I strive for not only in my mechanical thinking but in all aspects of my life. Something I've most certainly subscribed to is yoga on this front. Flexible and open body = flexible and open mind. I could fill the blog easily on talking a about yoga though...
Bloody jelly blubbers...

Well its certainly sad sitting here now in Cherating, 'the backpackers village'. Not because the beach is filled with jellyfish and quiet choppy and 'not looking particually inviting'. Alas its due to the fact that for the last 10 days we allowed ourselves to forget about the RTW trip and felt like we were at home again!

Without a doubt we miss and certainly hope to see all our great Malaysian friends/family again soon. As difficult as it was leaving our Malaysian family in Sungai Lembing, we have to keep riding to see the rest of Malaysia and this big old planet.

Wish there was decent surf and less rips! Can't complain though :)