Follow me! This is the answer we´ve had when we´ve asked for some direction. Here the motorbike is the king and many times we´ve had to follow them to reach the place. Good people once again.
The first days in Malaysia we were in Akmal´s house. He lives near Kuala Lumpur, on a University Campus. He has a bicycle shop and in it we assembled our bicycles after the the fligth from China.
Also we enjoyed walking around, the hindu food and, as always new things happen… we were selling bicycles! The University has decided to bet on mobility in bicycle at the Campus and Akmal has reached an agreement with them to sell them at very low prices. The new student were coming for the new course, and we help Akmal during two days selling them the bicycle. We were the exotic touch… around 500 bicycles sold.
The day to get back on the road came and we headed to Genting Highlands. The last time we took the bikes we were in the Highlands at 3500m at the border between Tibet and China, surrounded by endless fields… no trees, no vegetation. We used the first day to get use to the new landscape, moisture, temperature and noise, but it is good to live these new sensations.
One of the reasons for wanting to be in Tibet and China for another two months, apart to enjoy it, was to reach Northern Laos in November, already passed the monsoon and starting the cold season, perfect for enjoying those places. But as the plans changed, we had to take it with philosophy and we learned to wait for the sky to unload all the water to continue… we were still in the rainy season. You can see in the video that the storms were serious: https://vimeo.com/channels/480420/75690725
Tucked in the mountains, which here it´s translated “in the jungle”, we could enjoy the benefits of this rainy season. Water in abundance, alive vegetation, green everywhere and animals all around. It is easy to see monkeys and rare birds. Sometimes you cannot see the animals, but you can listen them, wondering what that will be. People who work in this area told us that we had to be very careful with the mosquito bites because it is usual to get malaria in these areas. Malaria here is not as dangerous as it may be in Africa or South America, but we take our precautions by covering us the arms and legs at the end of the day and always sleeping with mosquito net.
The tropics! The tropics! The four of us were eager to start enjoying the fruits and the flavors that offers Mother Earth around here. Our wishes were fulfilled and we didn´t stop eating bananas, guavas, langanas, manijas, mongooses, papayas, ranbutanas and refreshing coconut water… how ask for more…
When you get into new lands, always the same question arises: how will be here to find site to sleep? In Malaysia, as usual in all the places that we have visited, it has been very easy. We have slept in churches, mosques, police stations, fire station, guesthouse and other places where it has been very easy to connect with people. Here almost everybody speak English, what helps a lot to explain them that we want to spend the night and in the early morning we´ll go. In a mosque we received one no, but it was interesting to perceive that not all muslims understand in the same way the hospitality.
You can see on the picture the homes of workers who live in the middle of the jungle cutting centenary trees. It was full of Indonesians who did the hard work, the felling of trees. And lots of Chinese and Malays who work with the machines, a little bit more confortable work, although any work is hard in the jungle. Here, as everywhere, exist the cheap labor, and in this case they are Indonesians. Different cultures in the world… but there are rules that are met everywhere.
Liu, a Malay-Chinese who help us a lots and works in the lumber company, was explaining things that made us understand a bit what is happening currently in Malaysia. These lands are very rich in noble woods and it appears that West “needs” these woods, so the Malays are chopping down entire forests and then, instead of replace with the same kind of trees, they are planting palms. When we asked what about the permits, fees, beneficiaries, the answers were not very clear. As always, that it is good for the economy of the country and little else. Many questions and, as occurs in these cases, many empty answers.
On the road that we´ve traveled we´ve seen many palm plantations, but cyclists that have been on the Malaysian island of Borneo said us that what they´ve done in recent years there is amazing. They have destroyed thousands of hectares of forest for planting Palm and make a quick profit. The Palm fruit is used to produce the palm oil, the most widely used in the world. The amount of saturated fat is in the boundaries for some and out of them for others, as edible oil. The thing is that if we want to eat some precooked food or want to use cosmetics and that all are also cheap, apparently the palm oil is the key. That each draw their conclusions.
Reading a little about the history of Malaysia you can understand the amount of different cultures living in these lands, each with their languages and customs, and all feeling Malays. But of course, each sheep with its partner… If it is not for business we haven´t seen them mixing.
Until 1511 Malaysia was dominated by people from the surrounding area, also by the Indians and the Chinese. But from this year the Portuguese were the owners of these lands, then came the Dutch and in 1786 the English, who have had a great influence in Malay culture, and until the 20th century some provinces have maintained direct relationships with them. In 1963 Malaysia achieved independence, and if we put everything that happened in this short space of time in a bag and give a few turns, the result is what you see at all times in Malaysia in the 21st century.
Officially the Malay must be Muslim, but the reality is different. 54% of the population is Sunni Muslim and this is felt at all times on the way they dress and the number of mosque there are everywhere. At least the woman here, although Muslim, we´ve felt more “liberated” compared to other Muslim countries we´ve visited.
On the other hand there are the Malaysian indigenous. They feel 100% Malaysians and constitute the 11% of the population. They mostly are Sabah and Sarawak groups although there are plenty of small tribes that can be only 1200 people. Mostly they practice animist religion, which believe that all the elements of nature have spirit and that leads them to live with a great respect and contact with nature and its around.
The Malaysians with Indian blood are the 7% of the population and their religion is Hinduism. We had a great culinary contact with this community, enjoying many times its tasted, varied, healthy and spicy food.
The Chinese Malaysians are the 23% of the population and they are growing. You can see them in the cities and in the places where the business is. They still maintain their languages and sometime is hard to believe that you are in Malaysia and not in China. They call their religion as Buddhism, although it´s actually a mix of Taoism, Chinese culture and Buddhism.
Finally there are the Catholics in their different ways, influence of Europeans who have lived and still are living here.
In terms of languages, the 100% of the Malays speak Malay, but for many of them it is their second language, Chinese, Hindi, Cantonese, or any indigenous languages are their mother tongue. In addition, the English schools has much weight and the majority of people speak it. It is curious to listen Malay because they mix it with some words or phrases in English.
At the beginning we´ve said that the whole day is painted in green and this translates in closed forest, but rich in trees that want to get to Heaven because they don’t have room to grow on the sides, tea plantations, cared for and pampered as if they were gold in the Cameron Highlands and capricious shape vegetation.
Water buffalos, grasshoppers that become one with the environment, lizards of a meter length and snakes that make you think that it would be nice to find a safe place to sleep. It is clear once more that the tropics is governed with other laws of nature that we don’t know.
The kilometers go forward and the bikes have already begun to notice it. Aitor´s chain was broken and he has been crazy trying to center the wheels that looked like they had a life of its own. Maria broke the reel that goes on the pinions. She had to cycle some kilometers with the fixed gear. Thank goodness that in Malaysia you can find material quite easely.
Aitor and Maria had already experienced the fact to eat good and cheap on the road and forget for a while the stove in Southeast Asia, but Laura and I wanted to feel it. And Yes, it is possible, very easy and cheap. Often is cheaper to eat outside than cook by your own. If you don´t pay for sleep you can travel very, very cheap for these lands.
Our first intention to get the Thailand visa was in Kuala Lumpur, but Joana and Nuno told us that in Penang, place that worth a visit, you could take it in the same day. Penang is a clear example of the previous explanation about the diverse Malaysian society. Here the Chinese are the chiefs but the charm of “Little India” and the colonial buildings create the perfect atmosphere for people to live at another pace, way, on this island. Very interesting to know and live it a little.
Whenever we stop some days there are things to do. Sometimes are bicycles, sometimes material, the blog and there are times that we have to take care of ourselves and each other also. In this case Aitor laughed a lots while cutting his beard and hair.
For the Chinese the eighth full moon of the year is the most important. Besides being the brightest, it has relation with its history and beliefs. It´s custom cook the “Moon Cake” and share them with others. We celebrate it a day later in a church where we were to spend the night.
Since we took the bikes in Malaysia we were seeing this type of buildings full of birds, mostly terns, and a noisy singing of claim which didn´t stop. We noticed that the door had a speaker that issued such claim. Asking we learned that the owners collect the nests made by the birds and made a very appreciated and expensive drink.
We stop to drink water and a car was stopped, coming out a reporter and a cameraman. Here you have the result of the moment: http://nanaunique.blogspot.com/2013/09/berbasikal-dari-sepanyol.html o http://youtu.be/nIs3jy7fsac
We arrived at the Northwest of Malaysia and we find a sea of marshes, not very suitable for bathing but with a magical surroundings, rice plantations and Islands that began to appear on the Andaman Sea. The northern provinces of Malaysia are the most conservative in the country. Women veiled with arms and legs covered, different from what we´ve seen in country till now. Anyway we feel a very natural hospitality.
It came the day of farewell to Malaysia and after spending the night in a fire station, we had to cross a mountain range. Once again a natural border between two countries. Slopes which gave away us Malaysia to dismiss us were those which you cannot forget. You can check out the video: https://vimeo.com/channels/480420/75690724
And now Thailand… Another territory, other people, other customs, other times to live… Ummmm!!!