Pic Bro Loh
Pic Elaine Tai
Pic Elaine Tai
When one of my good buddies learned that I went to the Riaus again, my 3rd time this year, he remarked, "Al, you must miss the Riaus a lot...." I guess I do like the tranquil and unspoiled beauty of these islands, the friendly people and the relatively great food (if you know where to go).
I was very honored when Ejin from the Love Cycling Spore Group asked if I would lead her team through the beautiful islands of Kundur and Karimun in June. Unfortunately, the region suffered from one of the worse haze outbreaks then and the ride was postponed to Aug. I have led big groups before but this one was different as it slowly ballooned in size to 12, and that got me a bit worried. I do love the fold but would this be too big for just me to shepherd?
The team met at Harbourfront at 815am and it was great to see old and new friends. Apparently, everyone here was a KK newbie and that only added to the fun. It was good that I contacted the ever helpful Mr Chua of Batam Fast Ferry company and he kindly arranged for all the admin to be done beforehand + made arrangements for our bicycles to be transported safely. It was quite a sight to see all the millions of Rupiahs spread out on the table as the Team Accountants pooled the funds together and we all felt like multi-millionaires, at least for the moment.
Our ferry to Sekupang, Batam (S$29 +$10 per bike) was an easy hour on calm seas and there we connected on to a domestic ferry (Rp 130,000) to Tg Batu, Kundur Island. It was a good thing most of us were riding foldies and the compact Bromptons came into its element as it was easy to transport on crowded ferries. The Indonesians did not bat an eyelid despite a dozen bicycles but I supposed that they are used to carry all types of goods, including many more dozens of young noisy chicks of the feathered kind.
Pic - Berenda
It was great to be on terra firma after a total of 2 hrs + on the seas and the familiar arch of Tg Batu welcomed us. We were all excited like primary students on a school excursion and this is what touring is all about - the sense of exploring and discovering new exotic places.
We wasted no time to check into the "ritzy" Hotel Gembira, which by far is still the best located hotel in Tg Batu. Just a stone's throw away from the town and facing the beautiful sea. During its hey days when gambling and prostitution were allowed, business was so good that the Gembira chain even had their own ferries. But now, the island is languishing economically and the only birds left in Kundur are those that are "harvested" in noisy & ugly buildings to produce a health delicacy called Bird's Nest. The rooms are in need of maintenance but still clean and spacious. At under $20 per night for an air-conditioned room, the Complaints Department was not too busy save for the occasional clogged toilet.
Lunch was the famous full monty Wanton Mee that won the Chris Wee Culinary Award for the region since 1995. This is a push cart located in an old coffee shop and oozes character. The noodles are al dente and loaded with BBQ pork, minced pork, fish cakes, fish balls, dumplings and fresh green veggies in a spicy sweet sauce topped with hints of pork lard. It certainly satisfied the team's rumbling stomachs.
To work out the lunch so that we can make space for dessert, we took a walk to the nearby Vihara Dharma Shanti Chinese Temple. There are many of these temples around the islands of Riau and their presence can only mean the availability of good food thanks to the illustrious Chinese community. Mr Lim the very nice short temple keeper was not there to show us around but it was still a great learning experience to see the colorful murals depicting religious stories and values.
Because of the beautiful reds, yellows and gold all around us, it was a photographer's nirvana and I had fun capturing my new friends on the Ixus. It also helped that the lighting was very good and all of us were busy clicking away.
Sauntering down the 5 foot way of old shophouses, we stumbled upon a traditional chinese medicine shop that opened since the 1970s. Father and daughter were putting together a special recipe of spices for Bak Kut Teh, a brothy herbal pork soup and some of us could not resist buying them home.
But our real aim was to have some durians, the king of all fruits, for dessert and we spotted several stalls in the town centre. We were so blessed that this happened to be the season and durians were plentiful on the island which meant that prices were amazingly low. George, a durian expert, helped pick the best ones for us and his black art skill meant we got to eat the choicest ones. The feast for all of us was a paltry 120,000 Rupiahs or S$15 and that is certainly very hard to beat.
As the sun was really scorching by now, we took refuge and respite in Gembira's aircon room and regrouped at 330pm for a ride to the beach at the west end of Kundur island. The 11km ride to the beach was a good start for our mortley crew on wheels. To get there, head north for 5.5km and then take the left fork. Travel another 1.2km then turn left at another fork. Follow the road for another 4km to reach the beautiful beach. There will be a bright yellow arch to welcome you.
The last time I came here, I forgot my swimmers but this time, I was prepared and I wasted no time to jump into the inviting warm sea.
It was good to have Roland join me in the water and we had lots of fun splashing and swimming until something bit Roland's leg. Wasn't serious but it was probably a crab and that got us laughing. The rest of the team were enjoying their fresh coconut drinks and the gals were having a ball playing Miss World (Kundur).
Some asked if we could wait out for the beautiful sunset but riding in the dark is not fun and can be dangerous with such a big group so we set off at 530pm. The ride back seemed faster and we arrived into town just as the final lights from heaven were turned off. As we have already made our dinner bookings at the Teochew Chi Char restaurant, we were assured of our tables. The kind Chef recommended us some of his signature dishes. We ordered almost all of them and enjoyed a most sumptuous dinner of 7 dishes!
It was hard to walk out of the restaurant with such a satisfying meal and we all certainly over-ate! "Well, we are on a holiday and tomorrow, the long ride begins... ", I offered some words to ease the guilt but it was not necessary as no one looked guilty. After a quick shower, we walked to the town square where at night, it becomes one big eatery with hawkers selling all sorts of food. Many enjoyed the lovely Avocado shake for dessert but Kevin, our resident doctor/surgeon could not resist trying Teh Telor - a rich strong sweet milky tea with milo, and a raw egg thrown in for good measure. It is one of those local hi-energy/hi-vitality concoction.
So much for the control of cholesterol! I tried it and it tasted really good. I'm sure Kevin would be flying on tomorrow's ride but one possible side effect is that it gives you the shakes... I hope he doesn't drink this before performing his next op!
It has been a long day for us but time really flies when you are having fun. We retired happy and with great anticipation not so much for the big ride up north, but I suspect for many of the foodies in this fold team, the big breakfast we will be having along Teochew Street.
For those of us who want to catch the sunrise, we will meet at 6am. I hope I won't oversleep. Over eating does that to me sometimes...