It is hard to believe. A week ago, we were a couple of neophytes, never having ridden long distances under our own flag, but today, after having ridden nearly four hundred and fifty kilometers from KL, we can quite literally see Singapore from our hotel balcony. We are in Johor Bahru (JB), Singapore’s twin city in Malaysia, just on the other side of the strait. We have another thirty kilometers to go tomorrow, give or take a few, before we reach Partha’s other niece’s flat, but first, there is a border to be negotiated. I have crossed this border before, from JB to Singapore, but on foot, and it wasn’t too bad an experience. But it is reputed to be a nasty crossing if you are in a car, not unlike the crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. Bicycles use a different lane though, the same lane as for motorcycles, and I have heard conflicting reports about how long the wait is for us two-wheeled folk. We’ll just have to see for ourselves tomorrow.
The small corner of Pontian Kechil right on the coast, where we stayed last night, charmed me immensely. The promenade along the coast, the parks alongside, the eateries a discreet distance away, the administration buildings facing the sea, all paint a very pretty picture. I had been in a melancholy mood because of my grandmother’s passing away, and the prettiness of this part of the town soothed me immeasurably. This morning, I took a walk along the promenade, and did my Yoga routines in the grassy stretch alongside, that you see here:
Today’s cycling had some hard stretches, although in the exhilaration of having reached JB, the memory of how hard it was is fading. Malaysia really seems to be pretty hilly wherever you go, and in particular, this southern tip of the country is quite hilly. So, although we went from one coastal town to another coastal town, the path between them had lots of ups and downs. Partha tried to find a route that would involve less climbing, but just like on day two, the path we found also involved some climbs, and it was not clear in the end whether the path we chose was really less hilly than the straight path on highway 5. You can see a hill in the distance on this picture, taken a few kilometers out of Pontian, that was one of the hills we needed to traverse.
But as with all the hilly sections of Malaysia, the ride was just beautiful most of the way. The vegetation was dense and lush as everywhere we have ridden, and the weather was extremely pleasant much of the time. It did rain pretty heavily at one point, but by the time we stopped, unhooked our rain jackets from their designated slots on our bicycles, and put them on, it stopped raining. We saw huge condominium complexes and international business centers being constructed during our ride, and only later learned that we had traveled through the special economic zone called Iskander.
I have to doff my hat to Partha. He worked significantly harder than I did on the climbs, and came through with flying colors. As I have mentioned before, I have some very low gears on my Bike Friday, designed for climbing hills. So, while I certainly need to do some hard pedaling, I feel that my bike does most of the work of hill climbing for me. Partha doesn’t have the advantage of such low gears, his is an off-the-shelf hybrid. It is really a very nice bike, designed to do many things well, but with no special focus on riding up elevations. So kudos to him, he deserves plentiful plaudits for pulling this off!
As we came into JB, I realized that the flavor of the riding has changed. After leaving KL, we had been immersed in the countryside, stopping at small towns along the way only to sleep. These small towns quickly transitioned back into the countryside, and essentially, for six days, we had forgotten what a city was like, and only knew rural Malaysia. And we loved it, of course. But JB is a city, and a huge one at that. It rivals KL in size. And we could see this in the traffic. It was horrendous. And although Partha had tried to steer us through a passage that avoided most of the town, we had an unforgettable ten odd kilometers ride on a crowded highway that ran towards the border crossing. It was a mini repeat of our experience of day one getting out of KL. It is horrible to be riding on a highway with cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles all screaming past you at eighty kilometers per hour. The sound alone is frightening.
I want to give a special shout-out to the people we interacted with all along the way, from KL to JB. In one word: they were gracious. There is a gentleness and caring-ness to the people of Malaysia, we found. Nobody was aggressive to us, and most people were very kind and considerate. I loved all my interactions in this country.
(But we still have a morning to go in JB! I have heard that JB can leave people with nasty experiences, and I have heard this from people who live in this city. On the other hand, this is a border town, and many border towns leave people with nasty experiences, JB can hardly be unique in this respect.)
Tomorrow we cross over.