At the tip of Asia
It was barely 6am when we pulled up to an Indian restaurant for breakfast in the seaside town of Pontian, 60km from the causeway to Singapore.
All four waiters just stared at these strange foreigners who’d rolled up unexpectedly on their doorstep. One man’s gaze was particularly persistent. “Good morning!” we said, trying to break him out of his sleepy state. There was no reaction. “Salamat Pagi!” we said in our cheeriest and loudest voice.
That did it. They snapped to attention and soon we were sitting with steaming mugs of teh tarik – a spicy, milky tea – and two roti canai, a fresh bread grilled up to order. It’s the only way to start the day in Malaysia, as far as we’re concerned.
A few minutes later we emerged back onto the road and started off under still dark skies. The cool temperature was so refreshing but it lasted all of 10km. By 7:15am there was sweat dripping off our chins. “Just get us to Australia,” we thought. Five months of intense humidity hasn’t sat well with us. Our faces are breaking out all over. Heat rash seems normal, as do daily rounds of laundry to wash out our sweaty clothes. It’s just not good cycling.
Aside from a brief photo stop to capture Andrew posing beside a giant pineapple – the area is famous for them – we breezed towards the Singapore border. With 60km on the clock by 11am, it was one of our best days yet.
A few minutes were spent inhaling motorbike fumes in the queue at the border and then we were through. There was no “welcome to Singapore” sign. Just a note on our immigration form that said in bold, red lettering: Death to Drug Traffickers.
There was also to be no jaywalking, no littering and no spitting but oddly enough in this land of rules, no one raised an eyebrow when we rode our bicycles on the sidewalks. Pedestrians politely let us pass and all the curbs were beautifully graded so we didn’t even need to dismount at crossings. The longer we spent in the city, the more we realised that the number of cyclists on the roads was far fewer than those using the sidewalks and incredibly no one seemed bothered. Everyone just got along. We’ve never seen such harmony between those on foot and those on two wheels.
Even better were Singapore’s road signs – so clear that we navigated our way to the city centre and back out again without a hitch, even though we had a highly inadequate map, showing only the biggest roads. Now, if they’d just fix up that humidity maybe we could live here!
Our last stop of the day was home for the next few nights, with Patrizia and Bro, two fellow cyclists who are taking a break to work in Singapore. What a welcome they gave us! We had a BBQ feast down by the pool and talked into the wee hours before our eyes were all drooping and we returned to their flat high on the 17th floor for some much needed rest.
Now it’s time for some hard work. Our bikes, tent and bags all need to be cleaned until they’re sparkling for Australian customs. Then there’s a box to get, packing to be done and a laptop to fix (ours died two days ago). Not to mention another BBQ planned for tonight and maybe, just maybe, a little sightseeing in Singapore. We can always sleep on the plane…