Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Malaysian MotoGP 2011

We had never really planned on going to the GP. It was not until we were halfway through Indo that we realised that there was a good chance that we could make it in time. We were beginning to doubt it though after the trouble we were having finding a boat to leave Indonesia for Malaysia.
Luckily we did make it in time, arriving on Thursday to pick up the tickets. What we didn't think about though was trying to find a hotel. This proved a little difficult but after a few hotels we managed to find a place not far from the track. We spent the next few days heading to and from the track watching the warm up and practice sessions of the 125, Moto 2 and the Moto GP. It was clear they were right on the gas from the moment they hit the track. Friday afternoon we had the chance to walk the pit lane hoping to catch a glimpse of the riders, especially Stoner who we were hoping to get to sign our helmets. After much waiting around we realised it was not to be. Saturday afternoon was qualifying and the GP boys were going hard with the Repsol Honda boys all coming in on the front row. Rounding out second row was Edwards, Simoncelli and Hayden. This was going to make for a great race. I was excited like a little kid come Sunday morning, waking early and hitting the road not long after to secure good seats. We were early and nailed some seats right on the start/finish line. Now we just had to wait 8 hours for the main race. Plenty of races in between to keep us entertained though. We took it in shifts to buy food and drinks as we were not going to let these seats go. It was packed in the grandstands and it was hard enough just to get out to go to the toilet let alone find a new vantage point to watch the race. Every race went like clock work and it was not long until the main race was finally upon us. After all the commotion that surrounds the start line before the race it was great to see the teams finally clear the start for the warm up. Within minutes the race was under way and Stoner had nailed the start taking first postion into the 1st corner from Pedrosa. 1 lap down and Stoner was already pulling a gap from the rest of the field. This race could be a run away again for him. Before the end of the 2nd lap however was the big accident involving Simoncelli, Edwards and Rossi who was unbelievably lucky not to come unstuck. The race was immediately red flagged. On the big screens they only played back the accident once and nobody knew what was the full extent of what had just happened. It took well over half an hour before the officials declared that the race will not continue due to the accident. Though they were still not letting on what had happened. It was not until we returned to our hotel later that evening that we would learn that Simoncelli had lost his life in that horrible accident.

We were ecstatic to make it to the MotoGP

Looking toward the tower at the end/start finish line

This one is for you Scott, will never replicate the photos we lost that day back at Eastern Creek!

Stoners 2 red hot bikes prepped and ready to win

Anyone for 2 up?

Starting with a wheelie, finish with an endo.

Rossi showing off for his fans.

Stoner was red hot on race day warm up with the fastest lap time!

Nicky was having a good weekend on the Ducati

R.I.P Marco Simoncelli.

"The Doctor"

Front row on race day.

2nd row.

 The full line up ready to go

Monday, 24 October 2011

'Onion Boat' from Indonesia to Malaysia

We arrived in Port Klang to some miserable weather but were delighted to see our bikes in the same condition as we had left them the afternoon before back in Dumai. After some quick negotiating the bikes were unloaded in a jiffy so we could rush off to get our bikes cleared at customs. Another country and another easy entry.

The Mississippi

Our pride and joys waiting for lift off

Our bikes safe and back on land where they should be.

Dumai International School

Mr Muchsin brought us to a meeting at the Department of Education one day where he introduced us to the principal of the local international school. International doesn't really mean there are many different nationalities here, it just means that certain subjects like maths and science is taught in English. The principal was very excited to meet us and asked if we would like to visit her school and meet the students. We said yes and next thing we knew we were following Mr Muchsin's scooter to the school. There we were greeted by a young woman who was an English teacher at the school (her name escapes me). She was very happy to have us there as the school doesn't get many (if any) international visitors. She first took us to a class room of 12-13 year old kids and we quickly found ourselves in a most familiar situation - being bombarded with questions. They asked pretty much the same as the kids from Muchsin's classes. Like, how old are you, what's your hobbies, that kind of stuff. They obviously found it difficult to understand that 1. we don't have a religion and 2. that we're not married and not planning to. For them it just seems inconceivable as both of those things are very important in their culture. Many of them were also impressed that as a woman I was riding my own bike on this trip, with one girl exclaiming: "I think you are like wonder woman"!
After we had spent a bit of time in that class the teacher took us to the cafeteria for tea break. By this stage the news that we were there had spread like wildfire, and kids were streaming out of the class rooms to take a peek at 'The Foreigners'. While sitting chatting with the teachers at the cafeteria loads of kids came over to say hi to us and ask us questions and take photos and to beg the teacher that we please come to their class next. After the break they split us up so we could cover more classes as everyone from the teachers to the kids were wanting a piece of us!
We talked so much that day, had so many photos taken of us and even signed autographs (!) that by the time we left 4 hours later we were absolutely knackered. It was a really good experience though, one we'll remember for a long time.

Us with our young audience

Us with two of the teachers

 Another class...

A sweet little thing who latched on to us and followed us around throughout the day
(until we were about to leave and she started hitting Mark!)

Mark and his ever-increasing fanclub of teenage girls!

And just one more group photo because you can never have enough!

Saturday, 22 October 2011


From reports from other motorbike travellers we already knew that getting a bike across the Melaka Strait from Sumatra to Malaysia would be difficult. Possible but difficult. There is a passenger ferry that runs from Dumai to either Melaka or Port Klang but it does not take vehicles and there are no other vehicle ferries operating. Apparently what we had to do was to find a so-called "onion boat", negotiate a price with the captain and then wave goodbye to our bikes and pick them up again on the other side in Malaysia. We considered ourselves up for a challenge so we embarked upon Dumai with high spirits, thinking "how hard can it be?". Well, the answer is: Very.

After booking into a reasonably-priced hotel we went to the ferry office of the passenger ferry to see if there was any way they would consider after all to take our bikes. The answer was as we expected - No. We did have a no for an agent who apparently had helped some other people in the past and a guy from the ferry office tried to call him for us, however he couldn't get hold of him. Instead he called another guy who he said could help us. 10 mins later a short stocky man walked in and presented himself as Mr Muchsin. He told us that he had helped many travellers in the past getting their bikes or cars on boats to Malaysia and that he would like to help us too in exchange for us visiting and being part in some of his English classes at his language school. He said we could even stay at his home with his family until we left for Malaysia. As a traveller you learn not to take everything people tell you at face value, so at first we didn't know whether he was being genuine or not, but when he invited us round to his house to see his photo albums of all the people who had stayed with him we thought why not and followed him to his house. He runs a small English School for kids and young people and regularly invites travellers to visit and join in the classes to talk with the students. We met his wife and family and were showed countless photos of other travellers who had stayed with him including other motorbike riders. We also joined one of his classes while there and after that felt a little more assured and bid our goodbyes promising to return the next morning.

And so the next day we arrived on his doorstep luggage in tow and moved into a spare room in his house. He then took us down to the port to find out about getting our bikes on a boat. Now, I have seen a few dodgy old boats in my life but these ones definitely take the top prize. They were just old timber boats that looked like they could sink any minute. They were all being unloaded at the time so Mr Muchsin suggested we come back in the afternoon. We went back and joined another class with 12-13 year old kids who asked us all sorts of questions, like: "What's your favourite food", What's your mum's and dad's names", "What's your religion" (and see their shocked expressions when we told them we had no religion!) It was a fun experience but after the class was over unfortunately it was too late to go back to the port so we had to wait till the following day. We were pretty tired but Mr Muchsin wanted us to join another class that evening, this time with kids in their late teens. Again it was a Q & A session and the kids even wanted to know how we fell in love with each other which resulted in lots of oohs and aahs!
The next morning we went back to the port. Mr Muchsin approached some crew members on one of the boats but they just gave us the run-around demanding ridiculous sums of money for taking the bikes and refused to put us in contact with the captain or the owner of the boat. We went on a couple of other boats only to be shut down with lame excuses, telling us the captain was asleep. We even went to the harbour master's office who made a bunch of phone calls which resulted in nothing. Mr Muchsin kept on saying: "This is Indonesia!", explaining to us that corruption is still very much alive and kicking in the country and that nothing comes easy here as everything is running on what is called Indonesian Rubber Time (for the way it stretches). Even turning on the charm and telling the harbour master officials that our visas are about to expire produces to signs of emotion from them, they clearly could not care less if we were to be stuck in Indonesia for the rest of our days. I am sure that if we at this point had offered them some cold cash certainly a boat would have appeared but we weren't about to do that. As a side note, all government offices in Indonesia have large posters displayed with anti-corruption messages, but we are told that this is nothing more than words and that the reality is very different. The harbour officials did say they would call us if anything came up but we put as much hope in that as if hell was about to freeze over. The next couple of days were spent going to different ports around town, jumping onto various derelict boats to speak with people but always being met with the same blank expressions and getting nowhere. 
We were really starting to tire of this process and wondering if we would ever get out of Indonesia when we met Mr Rudi, the father of one of Muchsin's students. He invited us out to dinner and paid for everything. He drove us all over town in his air conditioned car (which was a big luxury for us in this raging humidity) and even stopped at a bakery to buy us breakfast for the following day! We had been talking about this weird snake-skin fruit we had seen around and this other delicacy we had tasted elsewhere in Sumatra and he promptly had his son go and buy both for us! He dropped us back at the house and said he wanted to take us out for lunch the next day and that he might have a friend with a boat we could put our bikes on. The next day we went for lunch with Mr Rudi and he took our bikes to get washed completely free of charge! That evening he picked us up again to go out for dinner with his family. Although we consistently insisted that we pay, he was always a step ahead of us and always paid for everything. He was so unbelievably generous and we felt incredibly pampered! As for the onion boat situation Mr Rudi was still awaiting the schedule for the boat of his friend. On the Monday we went to the customs house to sort out some paperwork and mentioned our boat issues to the people working there. The customs officer made a phone call and told us that it would be possible to get the bikes on another express ferry that apparently had taken bikes across in the past. We wanted to go straight to their office to make the arrangements but we were told we couldn't meet with them until the next morning but that it was as good as sorted and that they had agreed to take the bikes, the ferry would leave at 12pm the following day. With this new gained information we were very hopeful but we didn't allow ourselves to become too excited as, to use Mr Muchsin's words: This is Indonesia.
Good thing we didn't. Tuesday morning we find ourselves sitting in the ferry office. The chief officer is asking us for a ridiculous amount of money to take the bikes across, it is meant to be open for negotiation but when we try there is no change. The currency being haggled in has now changed from Ringgit to Rupiah and the price has actually gone up a bit! He then disappears for about 20 mins and when he returns he announces that he can not take the bikes after all. He claims it is out of his hands and that the harbour master will not allow it as the bikes are considered 'dangerous goods'. At this point we just want to strangle someone, anyone and wonder why the harbour master was not consulted yesterday! In the mean time Mr Rudi gets hold off his friend's boat schedule, today 5pm it says. But first the price needs to be agreed on. Initially they want $400 but with a bit of bargaining we manage to get them down to $150. Then it's back to the customs office to get our carnets signed off, however the person responsible for the carnets is out - great! When he finally returns after an our or so I think Mark has gained a few more gray hairs! After the carnets are signed off it's off to the port to find the actual boat, the unlikely named The Mississippi. We find it and of course it is as derelict looking as they come but at this point we would pretty much agree to put them on anything that floats just to get the hell out of here! To get the bikes onto the boat was interesting. We had to push them up a see saw gang plank onto one vessel then use a crane to hoist them onto our boat. With the bikes safely on board Mississippi we bid them farewell and nervously left the port hoping we would receive them in one whole piece in Malaysia.
The passenger ferry would not leave until the next morning so we stayed with Mr Rudi and his family that night. Him and his wife went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and brought us plate after plate of food until we were bursting. After breakfast the next morning we bid a quick farewell and thanks to Mr Muchsin before Mr Rudi took us to the ferry terminal where we thanked him for everything. His generosity was like nothing we had ever experienced before, we will never forget his kindness and we hope to stay in contact with him.
As the ferry sailed out of the port we both breathed a big sigh of relief. We had spent almost a week in Dumai trying to organise a boat. We always knew it was going to be hard, but not THAT hard!

Mr Rudi and his lovely family

Mr Muchsin with some of his students

Pretending to be an English teacher :)

Some more lovely students and one feral looking dude
Mark with Mr Muchsin and students
A bunch of girls from the local mosque stop by to say hi

First a ramp needs to be built

Then it's up the ramp

Tying straps onto the bike

Then it's time for the crane to do its work

 And...onto the boat safely!


After the chaos of the Javanese roads we were hoping for some respite in Sumatra and we were gladly granted this. In total we were in Sumatra for about 10 days and most days on the road were pretty good covering easy distances most days. That was until we were halfway to Dumai and what seemed like we were driving through the middle of the jungle on some OK black top until out of no where the roads just deteriorated and the rain began to fall, just to add to the mix there was also trucks everywhere to slow us down a little more. The scenery was spectacular with a mix of jungle/forest and massive plantations of palm oil which could not have done too much justice for all the wildlife that would have one day dominated the landscape. Some of the victims from this we saw by the side of the road: monkeys crammed into small cages, seemingly for sale, as pets or food we don't know, but it wasn't nice to see.
We were originally told it would take up to 3 days to get to Dumai but in total it took us 5 staying in some pretty ordinary places along the way. We passed through many poor areas of Sumatra with not too much on offer with some cities not faring too much better. One city we stayed in, we had the usual problem of finding a cheap hotel, after riding around for over an hour we ended back at the first we had gone to. Thought it was OK but there was also a night club there, massage parlour, and restaurant - I wouldn't be surprised if there was also a brothel. I did learn later there was one just across the road when I was off to get dinner and was asked if I wanted to come inside, I declined the offer! Another morning not far into our journey we were just cruising along like we usually do when we saw cars and trucks weaving around on the top of a crest and were wondering what was going on. We didn't know until we almost ran over a tiny cute little puppy cowering in the middle of the road. Nobody really cared and kept on going as if there was nothing wrong. We quickly stopped and I picked the little fella up off the road, he was yelping like mad and when he saw his mum he still didn't stop. The owners came out of the house to see what was going on. Not fussed at all after telling them what had happened they went on to ask us if we actually wanted to take the little guy. We sorely had to say no. What's one more dog to them when they had over 7! We ended up being invited inside for a cuppa which we accepted but we didn't stay long not knowing how many miles we had to go to get to Dumai. We did make it easy enough amongst the humidity and even more crappy roads too Dumai and were a little thrown by the size of the town. We expected something smaller but even more put off by the shabbiness of the port where we were to ship the bikes from. The plan was now to find a boat for the bikes and a ferry for us. This turned out to be no easy task at all...

We weren't always making too many good impressions with the kiddies.
This kid was terrified.

But did cause a stir with the ladies!

A really lovely older lady who was just as curious as everyone else there

The local transport

New scooter anyone?

 Was only a matter of time before we came across this. 
We ended up seeing 3 trucks rolled over in 2 days!

What a bike, oh yeah the river is not too bad either

Ready to blast past another truck. They are never ending on this island.

Taking a break in one of the many palm oil plantations

The little pup we saved

And the lovely family who invited us for a cup of tea afterwards

 Some town we stopped over in, not even the guy at the hotel could point it out on our map.

 A few locals doing their washing.

 Yet another stop to take in the scenery, and to give our sore arses a break

 Been lucky to have only had a couple of wet days on the road in 7 months