Friday, March 16, 2012

Malaysia, Singapore. Graves and surprise surprise, a new engine.

 I left the Perhentian Islands having had a few more dives and a increasingly social time, as more people came onto the islands. An important link in all the social life was a delightful man called Egbert, who lives in Spain but originates from Germany. He is one of these magnets and gathered a group of unknowns around a table for dinner every night. A great gift and a catalyst for much fun. Certainly the morning of my departure, which required a 7 o'clock rise to get the boat at 8, was an ordeal not tackled for many a long time, having gone to bed at 3 o'clock with more whiskey on board than memory recalls.

The next stop was the Cameron Highlands, about 200 miles away. I had been tipped by my cousin  Giles that it wasn't really worth the excitement that its publicity suggested. Although stunning countryside in some ways, it is being decimated by deforestation and tens of thousands of acres of plastic tarpaulin covering the vegetables and fruits that are grown there. Of course people need to be employed and commerce undertaken, it's just a shame that an undoubtedly beautiful area is being chopped and covered by man's insatiable appetite.


 I went for a walk with my hostel friends and dined with them, very good company and my regard for our French neighbours only rises to new heights as my journey continues. This was re-enforced all the more when I was crossing into Singapore without any local currency, a French chap lent me a few dollars,  or I should say gave me a few dollars to cover the bus ride into the city.
Hideki, Laura, Crystal and Ted
 A couple of nights in Malacca was fascinating in terms of learning how the Malaysian peninsula was occupied by the European powers over many centuries. This may sound stupid, and something really rather obvious, but I'd never really thought that these countries that the Europeans colonized minded too much! And in fact welcomed the trading, political and infrastructures that were bought in. But of course that's not true and the long fight for independence started in these lands as soon as we arrived. A terrible bit of history that has been documented in the West as great achievements. There will be a limit to how loud we can squeal when the tide turns, as it seems to be doing.
 A replica of a Spanish Galley

 delicious skate dinner on the street

 I had been grappling to try and find a reasonable cargo price to ship Batty to New Zealand and in the end Singapore proved to be the place, it was still more than I had hoped, but it is a 10 hour flight  and I guess not a lot of cargo goes out by comparison to other places. What I didn't realise was that just to cross the Singapore border with a vehicle involved quite a procedure. Apparently many people turn around  when they get their because of this I was told by the border chap with an encouraging 'push off' sort of look, but my die was cast and the hoops I had to jump through included having to leave the bike in Malaysia, take a bus into Singapore, get a sort of road tax document, insurance and was given a very strict time table to export the bike - 48 hours to get it too the airport. It was a day of hanging around in the automobile Association building and long bouts of paperwork at the Border.

I had been lucky enough to meet Glenn, a fellow rider, at Rider's Corner in Chiang Mia. He lives in Singapore and is a shipping agent. Although he has not shipped bikes (normally it is Formula One teams, rock bands and newsprint) before he and his team made a first-class job of seeing Batty on her way. Mega-Air is his firm and his email is for those looking for a first class shipping agent in Singapore.

This will be a brief passage of tale about the latest Batty bikemares, as I know it has been more than a preoccupation on recent pages. On the way to the airport the engine gave up again, with the same loss of compression and great clouds fogged the streets behind....4th time in 2500 miles. Glenn was brilliant and quickly set about getting the bike to his warehouse, so that it wasn't on the street after the permitted time frame. I suppose I'd had enough by this stage and just concluded the engine was a dud for whatever reason. With Glenn's help we found an engine supplier (Kheng Moh & Co) who so happened to know some friends of his, and sold me a new Yanmar  engine. The previous 2 had been Chinese clones of this engine, but this was the real McCoy. In it went and fired up immediately. This was all done in Glenn's warehouse to the encouragement and entertainment of his colleagues as they unpacked Duran Duran's equipment that was heading for their concert that night.

Glenn with Batty all packed up
  A great great great (great) uncle of mine died at the age of 45 in Singapore of cholera in 1893. He had been the Lord Chief Justice of Singapore.  His grave has been moved as the city grew and covered with more and more roads and high-rises. So he is with a dozen or so notable colonialists in the shadow of the former governors residence. Glenn help me find it as it had been moved since the last time I saw it with my cousin Giles 12 years ago. Glenn's family  had originated from China and they have been in Singapore for 3 or 4 generations.  This included some terrible war years and the loss of his grandfather and uncle during a massacre. In recent years the Memorial to those massacred had to be moved because of a new road, and Glenn's family had to go through all sorts of bureaucracy to maintain a memorial, hence his know-how in finding my forebears.
Elliot Charles Bovill

Unfortunately the meeting with our agent in Singapore did not materialise, so my plans for  developing that relationship has so far is yet to happen, but I did have a very good lunch with Arvind Agarwalla, who is a leading light in the Entrepreneurs' Organisation here and told enthralling tales of their success. His business, FACT,  have built a software that competes and betters the loved or hated (in my case) Sage software for accounting. He is setting up business in Europe and America and I'm sure will be a very big thorn in Sage's side.
 Auckland airport, and now in the furthest land of the journey.

New Zealand...I am trying to hate as much as I can in the few days I have been here, but will tell you more about this failing effort soon.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Malaysia, beach bum, sunburn and scuba

This is the closest I will probably get to being a beach bum. Were it not for a tiresome propensity for burning I might do it a lot more. When our maker was handing out different skin types, mine was a shortened straw…how I would love to be able to bronze up rather than being the laughing material of the gorgeous apparitions (of the female vary) on the beach. The upsidedown thing is that in all the chemists and shops, the number one product for sale has been for skin whitening…that has been the case in every country since Iran.

Bintang View, my abode for a week

Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil

Perhentian Kecil, Coral Beach

I'm sitting on the veranda of small beach hut on the island of Perhentian Kecil, off the East coast of Malaysia. Batty is tucked up safe and sound in a private car park whilst I've taken myself off for a week of idleness and calm. It may sound like nonsense needing a break when I am on a big break, but the last couple of months have not been plain sailing, what with the new engine stuck in customs, and then it failing on numerous occasions and having to rebuild it 3 times in Thailand.

At the end of my last post I was still bit of a nervous traveler, just expecting there to be more trouble and headaches. Well I am very glad to report that since then she has been a model of reliability. I played around with the settings on the fuel pump/injector and now seem to have got it about right. I did have one near calamity, but that was to do with the rear wheel bearings collapsing. Initially I thought it a flat tyre, but in fact it became very clear what was amiss when ball-bearings started dropping out of the axle. It was blazingly hot, and this turn of events really confounded me. Luckily just as I was about to trudge up the road to find help, it occurred to me that I had some spare bearings and was in the process of digging them out when a local chap screech to a halt on his bike and offered to take me to a mechanic. I tried to explain that I could fix the bike and showed him the new bearings, he immediately grab them and started putting the wheel back together again. So kind, so generous but alas there were a couple of washers he did not put in which caused a few problems later.

The big problem I have now is how to resurrect the veggie oil use. I have written on a couple of bio diesel bulletin boards in America and in Australia and have received a lot of ideas and offers of help, to say nothing of gallons of bio diesel. Overwhelming, and I think it has put me on the right track to resume the use of veg oil.

I only had a few days left of my Thailand visa, so I had to cut short a lovely stay in the town of Hua Hin, where my secret friends in Chiang Mai had very kindly offered the use of their seaside room in this Royal resort, south of Bangkok.

2 long days in the saddle took me to Malaysia which I crossed at the rather pretty, underused western border of Khuan Don. That was a breeze and through in half an hour. There is an extraordinary sense of relaxation when you have 3 months automatic Visa stamped into the passport, it is such a welcome and certainly put me in a very positive mood about this new country I was entering.

It was a bitter sweet feeling leaving Thailand. I guess Thailand is not to be the land of opportunities for me, and I had so want it to be one. There must be a vibe that just does not resonate with me. Twice bitten and all.

Both Susie and Chloe had recommended going to George Town (a World Heritage town ) on the island of Penang. It is on the west of the country and a huge long bridge links it to the mainland. Chloe had been that lots of times suggesting various sites and Susie introduced me to a fellow biking friend called Sam. Sam has his own law practice and is about my age, he immediately flew into action inviting me to join him and friends for lunch followed by dinner and then lunch again the next day. Everyone in his gang were super kind and enthusiastic about making this lonesome traveler very welcome.

I visited the Blue Mansion, a relatively modest but architecturally rich house in the heart of the town,  built by a tycoon a little over 100 years. He had made the mistake of entrusting it for the lifetime of all his children, and bestowed an annual sum of $200 (a great deal then) for its maintenance. Alas it was not indexed linked and the family had to rent it out for the last 50 years and deteriorated badly. Fortunately it has now changed hands and being restored to much of its former glory.

Blue Mansion, where Victorian colonial architecture meet the orient

Going down, passing the counter weighted ascending train
The next day I rode around the island which was about 50 miles, lots of fishing villages, plantations and all connected by some lovely twisting roads. Afterwards I took the train up to the hill station overlooking Georgetown. It was one of the 1st hill stations that the British built in Malaysia. The railway connecting it was an adventure in itself. It climbs up at the incredibly steep angle up the hillside to a stunning position overlooking the island and main land. The 1st attempt to build the railway failed as the engineering wasn't quite right, sensibly the Swiss were then asked to help and they, in the 1920s, set up a very reliable and efficient system.
View from Penang Hill, George Town in fore ground and the connecting bridge crossing to Butterworth.

To get to the Perhentian Islands involves crossing the Malay peninsula and that was nearly a day in the saddle. I wanted to get to the small fishing town of Kuala Besut as early as I could to organise the bike and the trip to the islands. The 7 o'clock start would have ensured it, but for the lack of attention I paid to the route the GPS had mapped out. It was only after about an hour that I realised the lack of logic in our direction. By the time I had got the route properly set and made up for, I was probably 2 hours behind. I don't get angry very often, but I was seething at my stupidity and the poor quality of the maps I have for Malaysia on the GPS. This was quickly forgotten as 150 miles of beautiful and fun road then connected me with the East Coast.

On the backbone of Malaysia, driving west to east through stunning jungle highland
 I will let these pictures do most of the talking, as this is a beautiful island. It is early season, in fact most places are only just opening. I have been in this little resort for 3 nights and it is only now that there are others beginning to drift in. 14 years ago I did a PADI diving course, and apart from one brief dive the next year, it has been a dormant hobby. One can do a refresher course here, which I did and now enjoy the wonders of the deep again.

Fellow divers

In a couple of days time I should have worked out how best to ship to New Zealand. It seems to be quite an expensive leg, which has rather taken me by surprise. I guess there is less freight going to New Zealand. From the island I will head down towards Singapore via the Cameron Highlands which are meant to be lovely.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going nowhere fast. Chiang Mai, Bridge over the River Kwai, next stop New Zealand

Chiang Mai is a lovely city and has many fine people living there, many of whom have been friends to could easily make it a home. However I was stranded here for 6 weeks (off and on) and it was beginning to get to me. Being there of one's own choice would have been great, but not by dint of mechanical failures trapping me, and not knowing how long it would be before I could get away.

We thought we had fixed the problem with the new piston and it all felt very good. Plans for the great drive south were made for the morning. Off I set at 9 am bidding farewell to Rider's Corner, which had been home for much of that time.
12 hours later and 200 km south the engine blew again. Exactly the same as before.
The only thing it can be is this engine, the new 13hp one changed in Nepal, does not work with veg oil, unlike the first one. What to do, fix it again and abandon the vegibike idea and just use Diesel?  I could probably still use a small amount of Veg Oil, say 10%, and claim some use. Or to try and get another 10hp engine like the original. There could be extensive problems with customs again, as in Nepal, and I am not keen to go through that circus again. A bit of a dilemma, and a crisis in the camp.

Re-tracking a bit, over the last few weeks I have been blessed by the support of George and Ann. I met them before the Laos trip when they collected the bike and since then George has worked with me on the bike, whilst Ann, being Thai, has done our translating and cooking fabulous dinners etc.
We tried a couple of mechanics, but in truth, what with telephone help from Henry in the UK, George and I got Batty going again. UPS did not help by taking a week to get the new piston out to us, 4 days in the UK before even getting airborne would you believe it, so much for the promised 3 days.
George and Anne

Our 2 mechanic pals, who helped show us what we already knew and a fair number of wrong diagnoses.
Socially it has been fun, Shelley is a fellow Jupiter's Traveler and in CM before heading home to Canada. She and her fella Patrick sold their BMW machines in Mongolia having ridden there from Germany and traded them for Honda 125cc Dreams that they bought in Malaysia. These bikes are found all around the world. Reliable, economical and can potter along at 50-60mph all day. Funnily enough when I was thinking about this trip and what was the most Eco friendly bike possible, it was one of these machines that I was going to go for, had I not met Batty. No regrets of course.....
We have spent a few evenings together along with Jannick , Patrick's brother and their father, who was out seeing them.

James, Sascha and Kerstin
Jannick's Birthday at RC
At Rider's Corner one keeps one meeting new faces and big journey making bikers; James and Cat on their way to Australia but troubled by Cat's broken collar bone in an accident, and then their KTM breaking down, Sasha and Kirsten who had just been in New Zealand before shipping to Bangkok , giving me lots of GPS maps.
Probably one of the most recognized faces in the world of bike travelers, 5 times around the world, Dr Gregory W Frazier, is a regular there and says he will be featuring Batty in an article he regularly writes for a US bike magazine.
A book I have just finished reading was initiated, researched and edited by Greg. It tells the story of the almost forgotten, first man to ride around the world on a motorcycle 100 years ago exactly. Carl Stearns Clancy was 22 years old, and started in Ireland and ended in his native New York. He did ship quite a lot, as there were simply no roads in much of the world, but he did cross Europe, north Africa, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, Japan and the the most difficult of all, the ride across the US. He was writing for a magazine, so it was well documented. His bike, a Henderson, was one if the top makes in those days and a competitor to Harley Davidson. The irony is that he hardly broke down, what problems he had were from falls or altitude. Not sure what progress that means we have made in 100 years, I know I have had my struggles (largely to do with trying to make a diesel engine run on veg oil, and my lack of experience in such matters) however even the latest BMWs and Hondas etc have caused their owners much angst with breakdowns.
Clancy was never to ride a bike again...

Back to recent times...Batty's tales of woe do not end there alas. By the time we ( a local mechanic and I) had stripped the engine down again to take out the piston ( got it down to 120 mins by this stage) I knew it was going to be the piston rings gummed up with sooty goo. Luckily we found that Isuzu share the same piston rings, so we were able too get going again by nightfall.
Gooey mess of jammed in piston rings that negated any compression

The next morning I set off at 7am and did a long day to Kanchanaburi, 300 miles south. All seemed fine until I pulled up at the end of the day, only to see oil coming from the head gasket area. Blown head gasket I thought. A 2 hour job for the morning...

When the morning came I was to discover that it was much worse as 2 cylinder head studs had been stripped. Fretting and despairing wasn't getting me very far, so I went off to see the Bridge over the River Kwai for which this place is famed. I was thinking that I would find it a very poignant and upsetting place, but in fact the part that I saw was so commercialized and the accounts of what happened masked by a multitude of vendors and a very faded museum, that it did little to move me as I thought it would. Watching the film does a better job.

The rebuilt bridge after the Allies bombed it at the end of the war.

What can I say....this is what the train looks like now. I guess it means a lot of people come here and see the horrors of war, albeit through tourist eyes.

The remains of the original bridge that the POWs built and on which the film is based.

Meanwhile awful thoughts were running through my head. Was this the end of the trip with Batty? Had I had enough of what was now 2 months of engine problems? Could I send Batty back to the UK and get a conventional bike and carry on the trip without the important (to me) angle of doing it in a carbon light way?

On the walk back from the bridge I passed a bike mechanic's shop with Harleys outside and just thought I would see if the chap could help. He said to bring the bike over in fluent sign language, that bettered my own.
I did so and immediately Nam was on to the problem and started re tapping the treads. He seemed very together and kept a very clean workshop and I quickly trusted him. Soon a couple of Auzzy brothers, Jamie and Chris, stopped for a chat. They love all forms of vehicles and do a lot of their own engine work, so they were intrigued by Batty. A couple of hours later they were still keeping us entertained when Nam finished. All it would take was for me to rebuild the rest of the top end again back at the guesthouse and I would be on the way. They said they would come by in the morning to see how I was doing, I warned then that I would start at 7 and it was only an hour or so's work. .
True to his word Janie showed up, as did Nam who I think was a bit nervous. As soon as we started there was an all might bang and the gasket blew again as one of the new stud threads went.
At 7 pm we had finally rebuilt her again, but this time we had to take the engine right down to opening the crank case. Poor Nam on the only time I did not see him block every opening on the engine as he worked, lost a large washer down the push rod tube into the crank.

Nam in his workshop
This was taken by a Danish chap who stopped for a chat. on the right is Max Dupuis who is traveling around, and buying old bikes in countries that he fancies riding in. In this case it was a very old Honda 100, that had seen him around Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. We shared Nam that day as his Honda need a full make over as well.

Off I went the next seemed ok, apart from a small oil leak from the head somewhere, and a top speed of 42mph....I guess it needs more setting up, but I am failing to get that right despite countless instructions from Henry and the purchase of a tachometer to help set the top rev limit. I follow all the instructions, but fail to get the performance that I should.

My plans have needed to change with these delays and after Singapore, I am going to go first to New Zealand for a month or so and then on to Australia. It will mean missing Indonesia, but it is just one of those things sadly.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Laos. A shortened trip, but a fun one.

On the Mekong river is the my writing place, and more precisely on a passenger boat taking me the 170 miles upstream from Luang Prabang to Houei Xai over 2 days, overnighting in Pak Beng, making my way back alone to Chiang Mai. These great river boats carry a mixture of about 60 locals and Farangs (as we foreigners are called) the length of the river. In my case to the Thai border. The Mekong is a huge trade, hydro-electrical power source and irrigation artery for Tibet, China, Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
The stream is strong and the currents eddy all over the place, which the captains have the boats dancing across with deft skill and confidence, riding rapids like canoeist whilst they dodge the sandbanks and rocks that populate the river.
It is a journey of continual natural delight


This is our boat docked for the night at Pak Beng

The river bank is constantly in use with locals going about their day to day tasks

We were going along at about 10mph, according to my sat nav, these speed boats belt along at at least double that speed. Must be fun, but every guide book says not to risk it.

Susana has gone back to Goa a few days earlier than originally planned. We had a great time and she is a fun companion, however what was suppose to be a 2 week bike tour wasn't, and we found that milling around with multitudes of tourists doing the tourist 'thing' without the independence of our own wheels  somewhat depressing, so we just decided that it is best to cut our losses and get back the the places where we needed to be. In her case the girl looking after her boutique had become ill, meaning it was closed for  important parts of the day, which in high season was an understandable worry. In my case having Batty out of action and the trip in a state of limbo was vexing, so an early return to Chiang Mai was a relief.

We had arrived in Vientiene, the capital, in the morning and it felt to us like it was not really the place to spend much time. Although it had it's charms, they did not engage,  so we bought a couple of overnight coach tickets to Luang Probang.
It gave us the afternoon to kill, so we found a sushi bar that appealed after the delicious but consistent South East Asian fayre. By this stage I was getting in tune with Susana's joie de vivre, and numerous bottles of LaoBeer found their way onto the table. A few hours later we glided  back onto the street and found a massage parlour to ease the afternoon away.

The coach trip was fine for lucky me as the sleeping pills did their trick and a near 7 hour sleep took care of much of the 12 hr journey, alas some did not do so well and there were vows never to do it again from certain quarters.

Dormitories on wheels. 45 of us.

It was such a good idea as Luang Probang turned out to be one of the most charming towns I had encountered. Although geared for visitors, there was such a lovely relaxed atmosphere set off by heavenly architecture, unchanged and beautifully maintained from the time of French colonialism that fused mostly local tradition with just a hint of European. The streets were clean, no neon lights, little touting and lots of local smiles. If one was to look for a snap shot of the best of market driven communism, it would be hard to better.

Our Guest House, Sayo.

Susana on a bamboo bridge

View from the central Wat (temple) on the hill that overlooks Luang Probang

Part of the main street

The busy part of the main street

That said we were surprised by the high prices that were demanded there. Hiring a push bike was $5 a day, 5 x the Thai rate, a scooter was $20. This scotched plans to take off into the hills for 4 days, not because we could not afford it, we hated the idea that we were supporting a racket.
We spent 4 days going off on walks, doing an elephant ride (not really what I came on this trip for) and each day enjoying great long lunches.

Doing the tourist thing

The village of Hoify, that we came across after 3 hours walking up a track.

The best dinners was in the food market, where we grazed on devine spring rolls, local sausages and the pinnacle of culinary delight; barbecued Mekong river perch. Twice we went back for a bamboo plate of this, the juiciest, most succulent heaven that mother nature has presented me in a long time.

The Mekong perch
Our last day was to be a ferry ride across the river to explore a temple that we spotted in the distance. As chance would have it we were corralled  on to a boat with a couple from Argentina, Josephina and Pablo, who had hired the boat for a couple of hours to potter up the river. Initially they were going to drop us off on the other side, but we soon were chatting away like old friends and they kindly let us join them for their trip. This evolved into a liquid lunch. I hope to catch up with them next year. Pablo's family are ranchers and a chance to see them again and perhaps witness their way of life would be fabulous.
That evening we celebrated our short holiday with a full body massage, which only scored 4 or 5 out of 10. Just weak and lacked any restorative energy. Then to a good French restaurant that had snails and carpaccio which with a couple of bottles of burgundy prepared us for clubbing LP style. It took a couple of goes but we did find the Doa Fa nightclub. The best bit was watching the sazzy lady DJ, who had everyone going crazy, she was like a high priestess with a sniffle.

Susana on stage with the High Priestess

It was meant to be a photo, but the camera was on film mode...