Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Pengerang, Sg Rengit, Batu Layar, or Riding, Roti and Sunburn.

Time to catch up on some old tasks namely writing about trips done some time ago. This one was a bicycle ride much like the one Mei, Wei Yen, Jeff and I did in July, but this time it was 4 guys and the ride was to Batu Layar, about double the distance of the previous ride.

Johann had of course cycled halfway around the world and was now my business partner. Joe is an old friend who had introduced me to Johann when I was planning Celebrate Malaysia! and who had also once cycled around Malaysia in his teenage years then accompanied Johann from Cambodia down to Singapore when Johann did that leg. Brian is a friend of both and was also their housemate until recently.

The idea was to cycle to Batu Layar, stay one night then make the trip back the next day. It’s about 50 70km both ways and is doable as a day trip except for one thing - the bumboats that ferry you and your bikes from Changi to Pengerang don’t operate at night so you have until evening to get to the ferry terminal and it thus becomes less enjoyable an experience. Unless all you want to do is to ride of course. But we had other ideas…

We were at Changi Ferry Terminal bright and early and got on one of the first few bumboats out. The sun was still low on the horizon and cast a beautiful warm glow on the sea around us. It didn’t last that long though and by the time we rounded Pulau Tekong was beginning to sizzle us just that little bit. We saw again the land reclamation works going on around Tekong and the amount of effort going into increasing Singapore’s land mass is still astonishing.

The morning sun looking quite pretty.
Johann looking much less so. Even in the morning light.

Land reclamation going on around Pulau Tekong.
We got to Pengerang, disembarked, set up the bikes outside the ferry terminal then got on and rode off on our guys’ riding weekend! We’d ridden 40 metres, 35 of which were in the carpark, and had just cleared the gateposts of the ferry terminal when we looked right, spied a gerai selling Roti and Kopi, shouted almost in unison ‘Roti!’ and screeched to a halt, jumped off our bikes and sat right down to a breakfast of Roti Chanai (we’re in Malaysia now, so it’s no longer called ‘Prata’) and Kopi or Teh-O for me.

This turned out to be our ‘other ideas’ and was repeated another 4 times during the 40km ride to Batu Layar. I’m not complaining, mind. In fact I rather think this is the way rides should go. Hey, I’ve always said enjoy the journey, right? What better way to do this than to breathe in fresh air, drink in Teh O and munch on good Roti Chanai? Or Ais Kacang as it turned out…

We sat around chatting, and marvelling at a little cat that hung around the stall and which impersonated a monkey by doing the most astonishing acts of acrobatics climbing up the mangosteen trunk pillar like its simian counterpart in its pursuit of bird prey. Finally we figured we really needed to be getting on, got back on our bikes and set off once again. It was a beautiful day turning a little hot but still great cycling weather.

Yes we did stop again not too long after for lunch and Ais Kacang… Now I just noticed I’ve spelt it this way here but have previously spelt it Ice Kacang. Same same… In all I think we stopped 4 or 5 times though only once for a rest. OK I guess having stopped for breakfast, tea, lunch and dessert we probably weren’t much in need of a rest halt for errr resting…

The place we stayed at was quite empty and we got a double-storey chalet with one squat toilet-equipped bathroom with cold water - no shower, just a tap with a bucket. The whole place was in a state of some neglect and if your needs are modest would do the job of providing shelter and a place to clean up. A walk along the short beach revealed that if you were expecting any more than that you’d probably be a trifle disappointed. The beach was filthy and I saw discarded drink and food containers and even disposable nappies. Not a place you’d walk barefoot about.

The place did have a small restaurant which served, if I remember correctly, a grand total of two types of fried noodles. So I had that for afternoon tea, then again at night for dinner. The guys fished out a pack of Monopoly Deal or something and I joined in for one game then proceeded to play the role of anti-social bastard by choosing to write instead. It was a great cathartic weekend as far as writing was concerned as there were many things going through my mind at that time, but which were seemingly locked in by writer’s block. A friend’s suggestion to use a journal unpicked the lock and in the space of an evening I filled 15 pages of my little notebook with thoughts and scribblings.

Later that night a bunch of young people moved in next door and one joined in for a game of cards. I’ve found most Malaysians are approachable and friendly and so it proved again. We stayed up a bit then decided to share the place Johann with Brian upstairs and Joe and me in the downstairs bedroom. Joe’s snoring is legendary but I was bothered by it at all. What did wake me up was the sound of rustling.

I stayed in bed but kept my eyes trained on the little bit of hall I could see through the open bedroom door. The windows were all shut though and I could hardly see anything in the near-total darkness. There was a bit more rustling and a light thump which I eventually worked out wasn’t human in origin so I clicked on my bike lamp which I’d kept by the bed. The sounds stopped for a moment then were followed by a light scratchy scurrying noise.

Rats. I got up, looked around the hall where we’d parked our bikes for the night and kept our stuff and that was when I discovered a roll of Oreos on the floor. A rat - with a sweet-tooth apparently - had tried to drag this unopened packet away but the packet had proven to be too unwieldy and my light had scared it away whilst in the midst of its exertions. I placed the packet back on the chair and went back to bed.

Only to be awakened a few minutes later by the same darned rat trying the same darned thing again. This time he didn’t return which meant that in the morning we did have Oreos for breakfast…

The steel wall which is part of the reclamation works.

On the way back we passed a number of other chalets and places to stay at that looked quite a bit more presentable than the one we had just shared the night with rats with. Maybe next time… We had Roti at Sg Rengit and when we finally reached the ferry terminal again I realised we also had sunburn. Well, I did anyhow. I’ll never learn…

We haven’t been to Batu Layar again though have talked about it a few times. Johann is expecting kid #2 soon so I’m not sure when we’ll get to go again. One things for certain: I will suggest a different place to stay the next time.

View Pengerang & Batu Layar in a larger map

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