Lushious Landscapes & Tour De Langkawi
14 Feb 2001
Written by Lowanna
Subject: Singapore - Malaysia

"It was the beginning of another steamy day in Italy. We had already been cycling for a couple of hours when we arrived hungry in the southern town of Altamura. We could smell the foccacia before we even spotted the shop. We dived inside for our mid-morning tomato and basil pizza. The owner excitedly told us that any minute now the Giro D'Italia would be passing through their town. Sure enough after a few hours waiting in the scorching heat, the lycra-clad cycle pack shot past us as one solid mass as the crowd held their breath."

It's hard to believe that ten months and 10,000kms has gone by since I wrote that passage in my journal. Even harder to believe, is that yesterday we found ourselves again surrounded by an anxious crowd craning their necks, eagerly glancing down the road. However this time we found ourselves standing in the rain munching on banana fritters along with the Chinese, Indian and Malays spectators.

The minutes dragged by and then suddenly we heard distant clapping. As they raced past, completely drenched, we cheered them on and wondered if any of those cyclists were whizzing past us for the second time on this journey. But unfortunately we will never know because our mate Alex from Birmingham (also touring the world by bike) wasn't with us to name every single competitor as he did during the Tour De France at the youth hostel in Istanbul.

A week earlier, in a desperate attempt to escape the stifling humidity, we left our bikes down in Penang and zigzagged our way up to the Cameron Highlands on a local bus. It is actually so cold and rainy up here, at 1500 metres, that we wish we didn't send our fleeces home. But the weather is perfect for walking. Each morning is spent following the many jungle treks; sometimes so steep we have to climb the tree roots as though they are ladders.

The bikes aren't the only thing we are have left behind. Having recorded every moment of our lives for the last year on the road we decided to have a break from the cameras. Although it was hard to leave them in Singapore it also feels really healthy to enjoy our lives for a while rather than trying to capture every moment.

Before we came up into the hills we spent a magical few weeks cycling almost 1000kms up the west coast of Malaysia. On the first night as we were pitching our tent on a spare patch of grass, frantically fighting off the mosquitoes, three different families appeared and started fighting over whose house we were going to have a shower in!

The next day we stopped to go to the toilet behind what we thought was a disused garden shed. A man came out of the house opposite with his young daughter and invited us to breakfast. After taking off our shoes we went inside to find about a dozen 'aunties' cooking up a storm for a wedding the following day. Much to our amazement they invited us to come along too! So the next day we found ourselves as the only westerners amongst over 1000 Malays.

When we heard the drums we looked out onto the street to see the wedding march approaching - and were horrified to see the groom and all his family coming out of the driveway opposite - the house where we'd gone to the loo!!!

Despite the intense humidity, Malaysia has been a real treat. The never ending palm trees, orchards full of papaya, bananas, lychee and durian, the people with their incredible warmth, the excellent roads, careful drivers (even the trucks!) and best of all the food at the simple road-side cafes. In seconds they fry up fresh tofu, veggies, noodles and soy sauce, washed down with an icy-cold can of soya bean milk.

From here we jump on another bus (the novelty of being a backpacker for a while) and head into Thailand for a couple of family reunions. First we meet up with my sister Bryony (we haven't seen each other for two years) who is simultaneously having a reunion with her long lost English boyfriend Harry. Then it's over to Phuket to meet up with Kevin's brother Lee and his girlfriend Gemma - escaping the wet winter in England and hoping to steal a little sun. So Malaysia and Thailand are a bit of a gentle time for us before the next challenge - the Australian Outback! But first we have to find another cargo ship that will take us to Darwin...