Malacca; Getting there is the whole battle

As much as I love travelling, the actual moving-yourself-around part of travelling can be very trying. A lot of travel consists of long, uncomfortable hours getting from one place to another. Case in point - the trip from Cherating to Malacca was no fun at all. We knew that the Transnasional bus left Kuantan at 8:30 in the morning, and the guy working at the guesthouse in Cherating told us that the local bus to Kuantan started running at 6:30. So we were awake and trudging gritty-eyed and cranky through the predawn gloom to the bus stop beside the highway, where we waited, choking on traffic fumes. And waited, and waited. It would have been excruciatingly boring except that we weren’t really quite awake yet. And I had a demented white kitten to keep me entertained, so the time passed. Sometime around 9 it became clear that we weren’t going to make the 8:30 bus from Kuantan. The local bus finally trundled up and got us to Kuantan around 10:30.

There were two buses leaving that afternoon for Malacca. In a dramatic illustration of why it’s a good idea for a traveller to ask all the questions every time, the cheaper bus took eleven hours to make the normally five-hour journey, and would have gotten us to Kuantan in the middle of the night. So it was the 2pm Transnasional, which left us with three hours to kill (I used the time to defuse a crisis which had blown up while we were in Cherating and which threatened to take our websites permanently offline) but finally we were on a nice comfortable bus speeding along the wide highway. That comfort didn’t last, alas. Two hours into the trip the bus stopped for a break at some town’s big bus station. That happens, no big deal. I wandered off to the washroom and came back to find Sheryl struggling with the packs - we had to change buses. I don’t know if that was a last minute change or had always been part of the schedule - we never know these things.

We scrambled onto the second bus - a rattletrap clunker blasting screeching pop music and hung with scrolls of verses from the Koran - and said goodbye to the nice highway. Four hours and 75km of bone-shaking bad pavement and swerving hairpin turns took us down out of Malaysia’s central ridge of mountains. We were thrown from side to side and bounced up and down until I thought my skull and my spine would part company which I might not have minded at that point. The last hour was torment - the headache got worse and worse as the tendons in my neck ratcheted ever tighter. Just when I was ready to throw myself off the bus and spend the night in whatever ditch I could find, we reached a proper highway again. It was still another hour to Malacca, though - the “five-hour” trip had taken nearly eight. I wish I could say this was unusual, but it’s about average for Southeast Asia. Travel times are always a third or half again what the operators claim.

It took ten minutes to spiral into Malacca’s central station through a weird funnel of one-way bus lanes, but at last I got to stop bouncing for a few minutes. I was seriously thinking about a taxi - proof of how bad I was feeling - but common sense won out and we found yet another bus to take us to Chinatown, supposed home of cheap hotels. We had to wait ages for the bus to move, and while we waited our innocent questions about which stop we needed parked a furious bus-wide debate about where Chinatown actually was and where we ought to get off. In the end we just did what the driver quietly told us while the argument raged behind him. For all I know they’re still fighting about it. In the end, though, the ones who said we shouldn’t go to Chinatown turned out to be right. It’s a charming part of the city, with red lanterns strung over the streets and on the historical buildings, but all the gentrification has raised the hotel prices. I began to realize just how spoiled we’d been by the cheap, nice places in Georgetown.

Sheryl left me sitting with the packs and resting my aching head and went in search of a room. Exhaustion and headache left me much less inclined than usual to save money, so we took yet another RM50 room. There was another consideration - by my count it would be the 100th hotel or guesthouse of our world tour (not counting hostels, peoples’ houses, trains, planes, buses, boats, hospitals, stations, tents or anything else) and I thought we deserved a slightly nicer room to mark the occasion.

The day had taken it right out of me. The more of these hectic, long, uncomfortable travel days we have, the less I bounce back, it’s beginning to seem. Every time I start to think we’ve reached the physical and health limitations of long-term travel, though, we rally and our bodies toughen up again. I really hope that’s the case this time too, because Indonesia is coming and by all reports it’s very tough travelling. I don’t mind admitting that the thought of Indonesia is starting to make me a bit nervous.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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