The Road to Butterworth and the Georgetown Break

Teluk Batik to Pantai Remis 47 km
Pantai Remis to Simpang 50 km
Simpang to Sungai Jawi 56 km
Sungai Jawi to Butterworth 38 km
(Butterworth is the city on the mainland where ferry to Penang is caught)

It is the last day of our five day ‘rest’ in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia and the end of our Malaysia ride.

We head to Langkawi (Malaysia) by ferry tomorrow morning and probably directly to Satun, Thailand the same day if we can manage it.

We’re not sure we would do the whole Malaysia ride again or recommend it but we don’t regret it either. These kind of epic cycling trips are really pilgrimages for cyclists…there’s some sense of accomplishment in seeing a whole country or a whole stretch of country and the only way you can really do that is to hike it or bike it. And we do see things no other tourists see…We talk to locals, we talk to their children, we see how they make a living running little side of the road businesses in front of their houses. They talk to us because they study English in school and they are happy to practise and happy to see us. They don’t see a lot of foreigners in the places we stop…in fact we didn’t see any tourists or westerners for days at a time. We make it a point to be friendly and smile…we are ambassadors from the west…

It is also a kind of meditation. Both Ian and I feel the need to leave where we live on a regular basis as it provides perspective. It is also a way of forcing a certain level of physical activity I find hard to achieve at home. Once you are out there on the road you have to keep going…that becomes the focus of the day, everything else disappears.

I think about all kinds of things as I cycle along, changes to the book I am writing; how I think one of the resorts we stayed at would make an amazing yoga retreat. I spent a whole 50 kms thinking about how that might work from a business perspective.

And of course I reflect on where I am. Malaysia has become very developed since I was last here and because we stick to major roads (it is very difficult to navigate side roads and manage any real distances) we see the worst of the western lifestyle being adopted by Malaysians and see how it is destroying the environment. There’s a lot of plastic garbage, ugly architecture and traffic fumes. But given the west has created the consumer lifestyle that creates all this stuff, and some of that stuff can make you very comfortable, and some of that stuff gives you status, we can’t criticize because we all indulge in the same things. We can only recognize that it is not sustainable…

Of course if you cherry pick your destinations and only go to five star resorts you will catch glimpses of the old Malaysia from the comfort of your teak verandah where you will probably drink alcohol, watch the sunset, and perhaps see a monkey or two. But if you are riding your bike you will pick whatever hotel or homestay is handy when your legs start giving up for the day. That might mean a Chinese-run side-of–the-highway motel in a strip mall or it may be a whole house that is rented out by a Malaysian family. We stayed in both in the last days leading up to Georgetown. Sometimes there is a restaurant nearby…sometimes there isn’t. We stock up on granola bars, bags of peanuts and yogurt at the 7/11 when we find them and we are always able to make due if we need to.

As I ride along I am never that far from the jungle. I see it in the mountains behind the strip mall developments. I hear it – birds and cicadas and monkeys on the quieter stretches. I also see dead turtles, dead monitor lizards and dead snakes as I cycle the highway…

On other trips like this I have appreciated the generosity of the people (and for the most part have experienced that again here) and I have held out hope that as the more developed countries learn about climate change we will set examples and help other countries to recognize the issue and work together to create strategies, including economic policy that helps us all create a global economy that is sustainable.

Of course that was very optimistic even before Donald Trump was elected.

These last two weeks his insane behavior has overshadowed that hope and left me melancholy at times as I cycle along…

So here we are in Georgetown, Panang. Georgetown is an old British port (Panang is an island). It has been a wonderful place to take a rest and I would put it on my list of possible longish-term expat winter escapes for future.

It is wonderfully multicultural and as a UNESCO heritage site the old houses in the old town are being refurbished or have been restored. We have visited Chinese temples, and walked by the beautiful main mosque everyday and enjoyed the Indian temples and street life in the neighborhood known as Little India. There are a lot of tourists but it is still a functioning town with great food and easy to walk around. We visited the old British fort, a mansion that was owned by a Chinese family and which has been restored and furbished with antiques and art from the period.

And so off we go to Thailand where we expect to ride between beaches to a certain extent as we head north for Bangkok.

I am doing my best to try and not think too hard about what’s going on in America or the upcoming French elections but it is a challenge. Even from here…Fingers crossed that the Marine Le Pen propaganda machine is not as successful as Trump’s and the Brexit machines were and that every intelligent, global-thinking French person gets out there and votes so that the populist protest vote doesn’t destroy Europe.

I don’t know what to say about America. Let’s hope he’s impeached before he does an further damage?

How about let’s hope he doesn’t start a war.

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