|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia
By Steven Abrams
Wednesday 29th January 1969.
He examined Louis' passport very carefully and was probably disappointed
to find that it was genuine. Next he was quizzed for a good five minutes
as to where he had come from and where he was going and why. His occupation
shown on his passport as a Chartered Accountant, which was true, but at
first they refused to believe that he was. They eventually agreed that
The immigration officer was obviously disappointed for not having found any valid reason for refusing him entry (the bathing costume was obviously not enough on its own), so he reluctantly stamped his passport after having spent almost a quarter of an hour dealing with him. When I looked at the stamp they had allowed him to stay for four weeks, so I complained that I also wanted 4 weeks and after a bit of a fuss, they extended my stay to match Louis'.
By now it was after 3 o-clock. Because of the accumulated delays, it had taken us three and a half hours since we first arrived at the Thailand side of the border to get through the frontier formalities. Even though Louis' brush with the immigration had only taken about fifteen minutes, as far as Doug was concerned it was just the last straw. We were all hoping to get to Penang before nightfall and we still had the best part of 200 kilometres to go and Doug was now getting angry, mainly with Louis. During the first part of the drive through Malaysia nobody spoke at all. The Malaysian roads were good and Doug was able to put his foot down to catch up on some lost time.
Just before we reached Alor Setar there was a sudden loud bang that came from underneath the van. Not only did we hear it, but we all felt it too. Doug immediately brought the van to a stop and we all piled out. Doug and I both crawled underneath to inspect the damage, expecting to find all sorts of expensive things wrong, but everything looked normal. Nothing was broken, dented or bent and nothing was leaking. We crawled all over the vehicle to check it out but it all appeared normal. I suggested that we had run over a large rock, but Doug was adamant that he had see nothing in the road and when we walked back along the road to check, there wasn't anything around that could have caused such a bang. We eventually continued the journey none the wiser as to the cause of the noise, but Doug did take it easy after that.
We eventually reached Butterworth just as it was getting dark and went straight to the port to catch the ferry to Penang. We joined a long queue of cars and Doug got out to find out when the next ferry was leaving. While Doug was away, Louis got out to have a look around and no sooner had he disappeared than the queue started to move. Doug was standing at the front of the queue and signalled to us to drive forward, so I jumped in the driver's seat and drove the van as the queue moved along. Louis had still not returned by the time we reached the front of the queue and when Doug found that he was missing he went mad. He was all for getting the
The Youth Hostel was easy to find as it was situated in the grounds of the E & O hotel. This was one of the best hotels in Georgetown and we were beginning to think it would be a wonderful hostel, but the building that the housed the YH was an old wooden building over to one end of the grounds. It had its own entrance onto the street and it consisted of two large dormitories, one for men and one for women. We all checked into the hostel except Doug and Yvonne, who parked their van in the grounds outside and came inside to use the shower and toilet facilities. The warden was never around except to collect his money and he thought it was our van and never really noticed that somebody was sleeping in it.
After a quick shower and a change of clothes we all went out for dinner to celebrate our arrival in Penang. We all felt that we had achieved something having travelled down from Bangkok together and to all intents and purposes this could well have been a farewell dinner. None of us had very much Malaysian money, so before we went to eat, Don, Doug and I went out to find somewhere to change money, but wherever we went the rate was really lousy, so I ended up changing just ten shillings, for which I received only M$3.25. This was sufficient because the meal we had cost just 50 cents each.
For dessert I bought a slice of pineapple from a hawker's cart for just 10 cents. A slice is a quarter of a pineapple cut lengthways. The hawker cuts off all the skin then removes all the pits by cutting grooves around the pineapple, leaving it with an interesting pattern. At home the only pineapple I had eaten was tinned pineapple and I had never been too keen on it, but I was persuaded to try this pineapple by Yvonne who assured me that it was not at all like the pineapple we got in Europe. The hawker told me that this was Sarawak pineapple and it was the best pineapple in the world. I was sceptical about his claim, but decided to try it anyway, and wow! He was right, this pineapple was absolutely delicious, so delicious in fact that I had another piece, then another. And then it got its own back on me as my mouth swelled up very painfully. Sarawak pineapple may be delicious, but it contains a greater amount of acid (could this be citric acid?) than most other pineapple and it is not good to eat too much at a time, as I had now found out. For the next half-hour I walked around with my tongue hanging out and my mouth open waiting for the effects to wear off again. After that experience I would in future limit myself to just one slice at a time, even if I that "time" was at least 10 times a day.
It was almost 1 am before we went to bed that night and Lou and I slept through until almost 10 o-clock then next morning. When we woke up we found that Don had gone out and the van was not in its parking place. We presumed that they had decided to go off without us, so we went back to bed and slept for another hour, but John got up and went out on his own. When we eventually got up and out, our first stop was to a bank to change money. At last we could use some of our Sterling Area traveller's cheques. There was no black market in Malaysia so we thought a bank would be the best place to change money and we went to the first one we found. We had noticed the night before that they all displayed their exchange rates and all of them were the same so we thought that it didn't matter which bank we used. We had already completed all the paperwork and it was only when we were handed the slip with the calculation to take to the cashier we noticed that there was a deduction of M$2 per cheque. We went back to the exchange desk for an explanation and were told that this was the bank's commission charge. Both Louis and I handed the clerk his paperwork back, took back our traveller's cheques and left the bank quickly before he caused a fuss. We tried a few more banks and they all had swingeing commission charges, until we went into the First National and City Bank, who only charged 10 cents per transaction, regardless of how many cheques we cashed. We each changed a £10 traveller's cheque, and needless to say, this was going to be the bank we would use to change money in Malaysia from now on.
Next we went to the tourist office to get some information. Before she gave us any information, the lady behind the counter asked us to fill in the visitor's book. We noticed that we had only just missed John by about 10 minutes, and Don, Doug and Yvonne (DD+Y) by less than half-an-hour.
From there we went to the post office to send some letters home and to check post restante, even though we didn't expect to receive anything there. Louis managed to get a completes set of stamps on a small packet he sent home, claiming that it was apparently quite valuable to have a complete set of stamps on one item. I also sent a letter home and managed to fill all the available space on the envelope with a lot of different low value stamps, even though it still wasn't a
We then bought some Chinese New Year cards for 10 cents each at a most beautiful Chinese Temple. Nearby there was a sort of Chinese Punch & Judy type of puppet show, with sound
In the evening we went back to the hostel and found a note on Louis' bed from DD+Y saying that they had come back at 12.30 to pick us up, but we were out. They would be back in the evening and would see us then. Very soon after that they arrived, having spent the afternoon driving around the Island. They had had a most enjoyable time and as they told us about where they had been we became more and more sorry that we had missed them. Because they hadn't left until lunchtime they felt that they had rushed the tour and had decided to do it again the next day and we were invited to join in for an early departure, to which we readily agreed. Apparently during the day Doug and Don had been discussing Louis and I and had decided to give us the nickname "The Bopsy Twins", named after an American comic strip that neither of us had ever seen. We didn't know whether to be complimented or offended.
John had bought things in the market and was going to try to cook his own evening meal in the hostel kitchen. The rest of us went out together to look for somewhere to eat our meal. I told everybody about the fantastic beef noodle soup that could be bought from hawkers and we all decided to try to find somewhere to get some. It was not too difficult to find because there are hawkers all over the place, each one making a different dish. We found one selling beef noodle soup and had a bowl each, which we ate sitting at a table in a nearby restaurant. The hawkers and the nearby restaurants didn't seem to mind each other and often permitted the hawker's customers to sit at their tables to eat their food.
Before long we found ourselves in an area that seemed to be the fruit and vegetable market, with stalls everywhere selling all sorts of fruits and vegetable I had never seen before. The smell from all the fruit was beautiful until we came to an area were there were a number of stalls selling a spiky looking object the size of a football. This was my first introduction to the durian, which smells awful, like nothing I can describe. These durian fruits are extremely popular throughout Malaysia and Indonesia, although most westerners tend to dislike them and I can understand why. From a distance it smells as though there is a gas leak, and I must admit that during the day I had thought that there were a lot of gas leaks in Penang, that is until I found out the real cause of the smell. It is the only fruit I know that actually smells the same whether it is not yet ready to eat, or ripe or mouldy. Durians are quite heavy and have a hard shell that is covered with sharp spikes. They can be deadly if one falls from its tree while somebody is standing underneath. You can't pick one up with your bare hands and it us usual to see them being carried by means of a string wrapped around them in such a way as to form a cradle. The spikes stop the string from sliding off. A weapon and a repellent all rolled into one.
We found a funfair and paid 10 cents to go in. The rides were really quite tame so we didn't bother to go on any of them, but it was interesting to see. There was an outdoor film being shown and I think the language was Japanese with subtitles in Malaysian, but it was really ham acting. It was obviously some sort of weepy film and Yvonne started watching it and sat there enthralled, despite not understanding a word of the dialogue. She insisted on sitting through to the end, so the rest of us went and sat in a café and had a drink and a chat while we waited for Yvonne. Don had not yet been to the bank and was still short of money so I exchanged US$10 for him, warned him about the bank charges and pointed him in the direction of the First National and City Bank.
Eventually the film finished. Yvonne had enjoyed a good cry and came over to join us in the cafe. Then we all walked back to the hostel, buying yet another slice of pineapple on the way. At the hostel Doug and Yvonne came in with us and we sat and chatted until after 1am before going to bed.
The next morning Doug came into the dormitory at 8 o'clock to wake us all up. By 9 we were all ready to leave and piled into the van for our day trip. The first stop was the bank so
There was a palm tree growing at a 45 degree angle across the beach and Doug decided to try to climb up to get some coconuts. He made it to the top but was unable to get at the coconuts
Before heading back to Georgetown we went to a large aquarium. DD+Y hadn't been there the day before because by the time they had got this far it had been closed. We all spent about an hour there and it was well worth the visit.
Doug wanted to head back early so he could find a dentist and as we were driving into Georgetown he saw a dentist's surgery and stopped the van. The dentist was able to see Doug straight away and was able to re-fit his cap immediately. Though when he came out again he felt a bit groggy and asked me to drive the van for the rest of the way back to the hostel.
DD+Y decided that they wanted to go to a post restaurant that night. The price they intended to pay was well outside our budget so Louis, John and I went out together for our meal. We had a walk around the town after our meal and stopped at another restaurant to have a drink. On the wall was a sign in many different languages that said, "No spitting". From memory it was in English, Malay, Chinese, Hindi, Thai and Arabic; there may have been one or two others, but that is all I can recall. I offered to buy it to keep as a souvenir, but the owner of the restaurant didn't want to sell it. He said I could get one made for 50 cents, but that wouldn't have been the same. I offered him a dollar and got the screwdriver part of my penknife out ready, but he still wouldn't sell it, so I gave up asking.
Soon after we got back to the hostel, DD+Y came back in. They had had a steak supper in one of the European style restaurants and it had cost them more than M$6 each, almost 10 time the price we had paid, but still a lot cheaper than it would have cost back in Europe or USA. We were all going our different ways the next day, so it was time to settle up. The ferry over from Butterworth was free in that direction, but Doug would have to pay the fare when going back to the mainland. We readily agreed to add half of the fare to the overall expenses, which together with the fuel the costs since leaving Bangkok, converted to Malaysian dollars totalled M$71.40, which divided by six came to M$11.90 each. In sterling that worked out at £1:13:0 (£1.65) for the 1501 kilometres and the trip around the island and I thought that was pretty good value. We sat around and chatted until the early hours when the warden made one of his rare appearances and asked us to be quiet and go to bed.
Saturday 1st February 1969.
Everybody in Malaysia refers to Kuala Lumpur as KL, and from here on, so did we. We soon found that hitching in Malaysia was very good. We got our first lift within 10 minutes from a man with three children in the car. One of the children had a hair lip and couldn't speak, which was a shame because they were lovely kids. The others spoke English to us and asked us questions about where we were from. One thing we had already found in Malaysia was that everybody spoke English. If we asked them "do you speak English" before we started speaking to them, they would reply in an offended tone "of course I speak English". And they usually spoke English very well. I would revisit Malaysia and Singapore 31 years later in 2000 and although a lot of people still spoke excellent English, the ratio was well down on the almost 100% of 1969. It is now more like 75% but I can't complain after all, I am the foreigner.
The first lift took us 29 miles, the next lift came after a wait of just 15 minutes in a petrol tanker that took us to Ipoh. While walking out of Ipoh we were picked up for a lift for 24 miles, then our final lift in a Willyx jeep the rest of the way to KL where the driver dropped us right outside the Youth Hostel.
We decided to cook our own meal that night so we went out to buy some food. While we were in the kitchen cooking our meal we got chatting to a couple from Liverpool who were heading in the opposite direction. They had their own car and were on their way to Penang to catch the ferry to Madras. We were able to give them some advice regarding the route that they had not managed to get up to now. While we were talking to them Yvonne came into the kitchen. When she saw us she shouted out excitedly "it's the Bopsys". She then dragged us out into the common room where Doug and Don where. Doug and Yvonne had decided not to sleep in the van while in KL and had also checked into the Youth Hostel. Doug and Don ended up sharing a room with Louis and I. We spent the rest of the evening chatting to the English couple and Doug was able to give them some more advice about driving to Europe.
From what I could gather by talking to people, the reason for taking part in this event is a way of giving penance or thanks to God for having done something for them during the year. They have
After the early morning we decided to have a shower then go to bed to try to catch up on the sleep we had missed. There was a radio tuned to a local station that playing all the latest pop music. We hadn't heard very much pop music since leaving home and it was good to listen to while lying in bed. Amongst other song I heard for the first time was the new scaffold song "Lilly the Pink", which I thought was great. The radio station must have thought the same because it played it many times that day. It is funny how hearing a song can bring back memories of a certain place, but now whenever I hear Lilly the Pink, I always think of KL youth hostel and that lazy afternoon.
The next day we all decided to go into KL to have a look around. The Youth Hostel was on the Ipoh Road a good few miles out of the centre and Doug had agreed to give us a lift. At first we
No city visit could be considered complete without a visit to the American Express office. The last time I had collected mail was in Bangkok and I had expected there to be quite a few letters, so I was quite disappointed when there was only one letter for me. I also asked about Louis and there was a letter there for him from Michelle that had just been marked up as "return to sender". I told the clerk that Louis was now here and asked him to hold on to it, but he showed me a letter addressed to the manager that Michelle had sent asking for it to be returned. He agreed to hang on to it for another day or two, though Louis called in himself a little later in the day and collected it.
I then caught a bus back to the hostel but on the way it broke down and we all had to get off. I must have looked lost because a group of schoolgirls came over and after asking me where I was going they helped me to get on another bus that was going along the same route.
I arrived back at the hostel just as it started to rain, which was lucky because I had left my washing hanging outside to dry. I was able to get it and re-hang it inside to finish drying. Lou came back shortly after. He had bought some butter and a loaf of bread and proceeded to make a stack of toast. A girl I had previously met in Goa had arrived and she had a jar of coffee. There was also a group of Australians and a Frenchman who had travelled up from Australia who were all on their way to Calcutta to catch the Indiaman bus to London, so we all sat around and enjoyed the toast and coffee together.
That evening we all went out to have supper together and when we returned we found that the Land Rover guys from Bangkok had arrived. We all sat around together and chatted until well after midnight.
On Tuesday 4th February 1969 we messed around for most of the morning and it was almost midday before we set out to head for Malacca. The bus stop was right outside the hostel and while we waited for the bus to come along we tried hitching. A car stopped for us with a Volkswagen badge on it, but it was not of a shape that we recognised. Up to now VW had only made the Beetle and the Combi Van. This was the first of their new models that had only recently come on the market and it was the first time we had seen one. The driver had spent two years studying in Liverpool and was delighted to have met us. He dropped us at the central bus depot in KL where we caught a bus that took us six miles out of the city before we started hitching again. Within minutes a mini stopped for us and we had a bit of a struggle getting to squeeze our bags into it, but as we always had in the past, we managed it in the end. The driver introduced himself to us as the karate teacher, the champion of Malaysia and he was going all the way to Malacca. On the way he stopped at Seremban to show us the park that he though would be of interest to us. Just before we got to Malacca he tried to shut his side window but it had jammed, so he took both hands off the wheel to try to get some leverage. He didn't notice that the car was veering off the road and heading straight for a tree, but fortunately Louis pulled the steering wheel to avoid the accident. He was so grateful to us that when we reached Malacca he took us to a cafe and brought us drinks and some cake, after which he drove us straight to the Youth Hostel, which was situated a few miles to the North along the coast road.
We had to collect the key and leave our YHA cards at a house further up the road and we were the only ones in the hostel that night. We missed the company we had been accustomed to from other travellers or guests. It is the first time we had been on our own since Bulgaria and it felt spooky. Being well out of town there was not really anywhere around to eat except a club about a quarter of a mile along the road. We had a meal there which was a lot more expensive than we were used to paying, not only that but it was not all that good. The only good thing was that we had the opportunity to watch some television in English, but we were also the only ones in the club apart from the staff. We went back to the hostel a little after 9 o'clock and read my book until it was quite late.
It must have been the accumulation of late nights and early mornings coupled with the fact that there was nobody else around to disturb us, but the next day neither of us woke up until after mid-day. Louis went out to find some food and came back with a large bunch of bananas. We
At 6.30 we went to the Rest House/Rotary Club to meet Marcus. He showed us around Malacca again then we returned and he bought us some Satay, which is a typical Malaysian dish made from either beef or chicken kebabs and served with a delicious peanut sauce. He then bought us a meal before taking us back to his home a few miles up the coast past the Youth Hostel. He had a wonderful place and he showed us around every room. He had servants who brought us coffee and real Dundee cake, which we enjoyed immensely. We were supposed to be back in the hostel by10.30, but it was 11.30 before he arranged for one of his servants to drive us back. When we went into the hostel we found that a Swiss boy had checked in and he was still awake. He had spent the last six months working in Australia and was now on his way home again. We chatted for an hour or so before going to bed.
We decided to spend another day in the Malacca youth hostel and just laze around. We didn't get up until lunchtime and went to the small shop that Louis had bought the bananas from the day before, but today the bananas were all green and not ready to eat yet. We did buy a pineapple for just 10 cents and some cakes. We did buy a loaf of bread but when we opened the packet it was all mouldy so we took it back in and the shopkeeper gave us our money back. Around 8 o'clock we went back to the club for our evening meal and after we had eaten we sat and watched a film on television. We went back to the hostel and wrote some letters and at 10.30 the warden came around. He told us it was time for lights out and locked the door. The Swiss guy was still out so when he came back at 11 o'clock we let him in through the window.
In the morning we packed our bags ready for the journey to Singapore. This was the final leg of the journey that we had originally planned before we found we could go through Indonesia and we were feeling rather excited about it.
We started hitching outside the hostel, but there was very little traffic on the coast road so after waiting an hour we started to walk. We eventually came across a small cafe where we stopped and had our lunch. After lunch we started to hitch again, but when the local bus came along we took it into Malacca. The next bus out was not for another half an hour, so we started walking and before long a lemonade truck picked us up. He was going to Yong Peng, about 65 miles away and while we were in the truck the driver kept offering us free drinks of lemonade. It rained for most of the journey, but by the time we got off it had dried up again and the weather was good.
We walked out of the town and were soon picked up by a Volkswagen Beetle that was going all the way to Johore Bahru (JB), the border town with Singapore. The driver was a police officer on his way back from KL and he was very friendly. He had a fantastic stereo system in the car and played the 1812 overture, which sounded just as though the orchestra was in the car with us. I was in the back seat and just put my head back, closed my eyes and listened to the music. At one point I opened my eyes to see where we were, just in time to see the driver flick the ash from his cigarette out of the window and it blew back straight into my eye. I yelled out and he stopped the car to offer me assistance, but none of us had any water to wash out my eye, so he drove on until he found somewhere where he could get some water. It was very painful, but after I had washed it out the pain soon went away. A bit further down the road one of his hub caps flew off and we spent the next ten minutes searching for it. I was not too happy digging around in the undergrowth at the side of the road because I had visions of disturbing a snake or some other local poisonous creature, but eventually I found it and the driver put it back on the wheel. Ten minutes later it flew off again, but search as we might, this time we couldn't find it at all.
When we got to JB it was dark. The driver took us to the police headquarters
and bought us a drink in the mess. We decided to stay in JB that night
and cross into Singapore the next morning rather than trying to find somewhere
to stay at night, and our driver took us to the local youth hostel, but
it was closed. We then decided to cross into Singapore after all, so the
driver dropped us off at the entrance to the causeway. He took some letters
that had Malaysian stamps on them to post for us and we thanked him for
all his trouble.