Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brompton adventures in Riau - Day 1 in Kundur

Pic KC

Being in hectic and 5.2 million overcrowded Singapore for over a week got into me and I really needed to get away for some fresh air, peace and quiet. One of the best kept secrets in this region cycle wise, is Kundur Island, Riau, Indonesia. I first visited there in the mid 1990s with Riau Island Adventures, an Australian eco-travel company run by Evan Jones. My 2nd trip was in 2008 with the late Paul Lim and my regular ride buddy Chris Wee and remembered the wonderful time we had. I rode my Dahon Speed 8 then but for this trip, my choice was my ultra compact 9 year old British Brompton equipped with the excellent Touring Bag, kindly borrowed from TW. KC was on his new formidable Bike Friday Llama.

Historically, these islands were greatly prized by the Dutch and the British some 250 years ago for their spices and strategic location, being the halfway point of the lucrative trade route between India and China. The Anglo Dutch Treaty of 1824 actually ceded these islands south of Singapore to the Dutch and vestiges of their influence can still be seen in run down Dutch buildings and street lamps.

To get to the main town Tanjong Batu in Kundur, there is now really only one way via Sekupang Terminal, Batam Island for the cyclist. Previously, it was possible to go via Tanjong Balai, Karimun but some smart ass decided on a policy that forbade bicycles on the ferry there (but apparently does not apply for the return trip from Indonesia). Meeting KC bright and early at 0740, Harbourfront, we booked our tickets (S$40 return) by faith and arrived at the 5 year new impressive aircon Sekupang terminal some 35 mins later. O yes, did I mentioned the Singapore authorities charges $10 for bikes?

Pic KC

We were very blessed that the connecting 930am ferry (S$10) to Tg Batu was just 45 mins away and we had time to indulge in a very hearty breakfast of sambal fish, fried egg, veggies and rice plus noodles too at the very run down domestic ferry terminal.

There were at least 10 outlets all selling tickets to various destinations in Riau and one particular man with the loudest and rudest voice was vying for our business. Obviously, he failed. That chap aside, the reception we received was very warm with bright smiles from curious children, food vendors to friendly uniformed  authorities.

True to Indonesian time, the ferry came a bit late. We took our time to board it, carefully placing our bikes on the roof with the other luggage of bags, spare parts, durians and rice. Just as we were about to board the sardined packed ferry, our bikes were unexpectedly unloaded and due to over-booking, we had to wait for the next ferry, an hour later. KC and I just smiled and shrugged our shoulders. Welcome to Indonesia!

It was interesting to be stranded with the other passengers on the jetty who literally missed the boat and our common misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise when the heavens unloaded buckets 20 mins later. We felt the full force of the Sumatran squalls and got drenched even under shelter with strong 60km/h winds. 

Those out in the open sea would have had it much worse! Our boat finally came when the weather eased and it was an easy 1 hr boat ride to Tg Batu through many beautiful surrounding islands. The township of Tg Batu soon appeared and I immediately recognised the prominent light blue facade of Hotel Gembira (Happiness).

I was surprised I still could remember my way around Batu but then again, this has only a few main streets. It was as though we were transported to Singapore in the 1950s with old shophouses featuring Raffles trademark designed 5 foot way.

Pic KC

At 141,000 rupiahs or S$19 for a room in the best pad in town plus breakfast for 2, with air-conditioning, clean sheets and a glorious view of the sea, we could not complain. Well actually, there was one complain. The blaring Karoke session we found out later ended only at 2am.

A quick scoot for lunch after a wash up found us in a Chinese coffee shop selling piping hot fish ball, minced meat noodles which was absolutely delicious. We actually wanted the famed Wanton Mee but as hungry wolves, we just attacked whichever came in sight first.

It took us all of 10 mins to explore Tanjong Batu - its shops, main jetty, bike shops, city square & old jetty. There was a boat all stocked up with goods for delivery and it was interesting to see new local made foldies for sale too.

What was supposed to be a ride around town ended up 50km at Selat Belia, the most northern tip of Kundur island. The journey there was somehow effortless as we were truly blessed with a most ideal weather with cool breezes and constant cloud cover and that just kept us going and going. We covered the Western route there. The flattish terrain also made cycling a breeze and we must have been in cycling heaven.

We arrived at 5pm just in time to catch a most beautiful sunset. At Selet Belia, we discovered a newly built jetty complex. This is where ferries took off to Tg Balai on a 20 min ride for $2.50. 

It was wonderful to see the local folks going about their daily lives in farming, retailing, going to school, etc and I cannot help but noticed how happy and nice people are in the country as compared to stressed out city folks. There were drink stops aplenty and that was very convenient and refreshing to have ice cold drinks available so cheaply.

We decided to charter a van to take us back to Sawang so that we did not have to ride too long in the darkness. There was no shortage of drivers wanting some extra business and we settled on 100,000 rupiahs or S$13.50 for the 30km ride. Our van had the largest bass speaker ever and we were glad our driver was not in the mood for some heavy metal music.

It was the best decision ever as the nightfall descended quickly and our 19km ride back to Tg Batu in the dark was harrowing at times. Although we had fairly good lights, it was not sufficient to see the pitch dark pot-holes and it taught me the value of investing in good lights for night touring. I did get into some deep ruts that nearly threw me and that set my heart pounding.

Our stomachs were starting to rumble and we realized in soaking in all the great scenery, we somehow forgot to eat. Our late dinner at Hocky was a lovely 4 dish affair of tofu soup, veggies, chicken and egg which cost us a reasonable S$14 with drinks. We booked a massage at Italia (S$7 per hr only) and our muscles appreciated the deep tissue strokes performed by the elderly masseurs. That was followed by a supper of satay and hot milk tea.

Sleep was too easy and I fell into a deep trance, oblivious to the all night karaoke croaking...

1 comment:

bananamatronix said...

Oh, the mangosteen!