Today, I’m about to indulge in ‘stealth breakfast’. It’s a first for me.
Ramadhan is in full swing, and on this remote Muslim-majority island, all food establishments are required to close, including non-Muslim ones. No service whatsoever. Which means, no breakfast for us hungry tourers on this fine morning.
But we’re a resourceful lot, and we’re not about to embark on a long ride to the other side of the island without some solid food in our stomachs. So we saunter across the hotel and make some casual enquiries with some Chinese shop owners, one of whom tells us that the furniture shop a few doors away is actually a coffee shop. We can’t quite get the door to open after some knocking so shopkeeper goes one step further and calls furniture/coffee shop owner to allow us in.
Finally, the doors open and we troop in, past some new furniture and into…the kitchen. We are greeted by the friendly owner and proceed to order our breakfast. The menu isn’t very extensive so we end up with half-boiled free-range eggs, coffee and simple fried noodles. Soon, we are joined by a couple of other stealth breakfasters. They’re Malays but in this part of the world, unlike Malaysia, a Malay is not necessarily a Muslim. They’re likely Christians.
Stealth breakfast done, we hang around the street a bit. Al decides to chat up a couple of girls. His pickup line? “Were you here when the Japanese landed on this island during the war?”. Naturally, one being a septuaginarian and the other an octogenarian, they have some vague memories to share with our avid historian.
Mdm Quek Swee Tiang is only 70 while Mdm Chng Neng Eng is 83. They’ve stayed here almost all their lives, and will probably live out the rest of their stress-free days on this slowly-slowly island.
After the interesting chat with the ladies, we head out for Kg Pinang, located on the south-eastern end of Lingga. We ride across the bridge just behind the row of shops and make our way out of town.
The road is still the same flat, beautifully paved one that we rode into town on…for about 10 kms, after which, it deteriorates into rough laterite. A little further on and it gets worse. The road is interspersed with endless climbs and decents, some of which are brutal (when going up) and fun (when speeding down).
Locals passing by on motorcycles cannot understand why anyone would want to cycle from Daik to Sg Pinang for the fun of it. It’s bad enough they have to endure this red, dusty, potholed road just to get to Daik and back, some probably on a daily basis.
After a while, we reach a small village, Bukit Langkap, and take a breather. General morale is not that great, and Ravi is not having the time of his life riding a Speed Pro with skinny tyres on such a rough road, and the scenery is monotonously boring, so we decide to cut short the ride and head back to town for (stealth) lunch. Sir KC doesn’t seem to mind though, and could probably ride on to the very end of the island, boring road or otherwise. But it’s a democracy, so…
Up and down and up and down …and before we know it, we’re at Hotel Sun Ling, the very same one we cast aside yesterday because she was an aging beauty. There is, however, a little shop in front of the hotel, half shuttered in observance of the no-food-served ruling.
The dark-skinned chef/boss (turns out to be Chinese, incidentally), and his equally dark-skinned family of 4 are having their lunch in the sweltering confiness of the kitchen.
“Sure, sure, I can cook something for you, no problem”, he assures us.
We proceed to tick off items from the menu and, more importantly, he tells us we can have our meal inside the aging beauty’s empty hall on the ground floor. A big round table is readied for us and we wait for our illegal lunch to be served.
It’s a good lunch. Well worth the wait, inspite of the cigarette smoke spewing non-stop from Al’s new friend who deserts his friends from the next table, first to chat with us, and then to join us for lunch when our food arrives. Nice friendly guy, though…he’s some sort of lay pastor – somebody after Al’s own heart.
Lingga does not offer very many attractions. It’s not a tourist haunt after all. But we don’t mind. The road less travelled, remember? So we settle for the promise a cool dip in a waterfall, some 13kms out of town.
Panniers packed and ready to go, we check out of the hotel and head for Resun waterfall. It’s mostly gentle climbing, until we hit the last few kilometres.
How steep? Well, Al and Ravi get off to push, I get off to push but KC? Iron-legs also cannot la… he pushes his bike too.
We reach the waterfall soon after and it’s almost deserted save for a family who are just about to leave (but not before asking to be photographed with the legends from Singapore). We have the whole waterfall to ourselves. Nobody seems inclined to dive into the clear pool under the fall, though. So we just goof off, pose for a few photos and since dark clouds are rolling in fast, we hurry back on the the road towards the jetty where our chartered speedboat is waiting.
The clouds have burst their seams. The sky is dark and raindrops begin to grow in size and intensity. I’m dreading the stretch of road that’s still under construction, and hope we can clear it before it turns into a river of red gooey mush.
We reach the said stretch of road … it’s a river of red gooey mush. Riders, bikes and panniers are splattered with the red stuff. By now, the rain is coming down in torrents. We take shelter in front of a shop that’s closed for day. We’ve also missed the agreed pick-up time with our speedboat.
As soon as the rain eases, we’re back on the road, hurrying to the jetty. Along the way, a motorcyclist stops us and ask if we’re the tardy cycling group going to Singkep by boat. We said yes, and he told us to “Step on it, the boatman has been waiting for the whole afternoon”.
Well, we step on it and arrive none too soon, just as the weather clears and the dusky glow of the evening sun paints the sky a golden hue over the horizon.
Quickly, we load the bikes and just as quickly, we’re off, speeding across the sea towards Singkep.
We reach the jetty in Singkep as the evening light begins to fade. As we make our way from the jetty to the main road, azan magrib blares out from the nearby mosque’s loudspeakers. Break fast.
According to Al, Dabo, the main town of Singkep is about 24kms away. In the daytime, this would have been a nice leisurely ride. The road snakes its way along the mostly deserted coast, save for some houses scattered along the way.
Ravi is struggling. Little wonder; he’s carrying quite a heavy backpack … on his back, a telling sign of a newbie tourer. There’s nothing more energy-sapping than a pack on your back when pedalling, and worse if you’re not an experienced rider.
By now it’s dark and we’re only about halfway to Dabo, but Ravi seems to have reached the end of his line. We make a much-needed pitstop for drinks at Harry’s, a grocery store along the road to Dabo. Al has made his acquiantance before on his last trip here and he’s pleased to see a familiar face.
As we hit the road again, it’s obvious Ravi is knackered. He rides on gallantly, in silence and in obvious pain. To alleviate his suffering, I offer to carry his backpack for him but he is reluctant at first. He gives in after Al insists on it. With the load off his shoulders, he makes better time on the road.
The bright lights of Dabo is a welcome sight as we finally roll into town. The brightly lit facade of Armanda hotel is an even more welcome sight as we finally end our long day, pushing our mud-covered bikes in. The rooms are surprisingly nice, as are the toilets.
Clean, refreshed and ready for a huge meal, we make our way out and foot and since we’re hungry and can’t seem to locate anything else, we settle for an Ikan Panggang (barbecue fish) shop. The seafood is fresh and very tasty.
As chance would have it, a couple dining inside the shop remembers Al from his last visit. Hardiono and Devi. Hardiono’s family owns the Honda dealership in these islands and Hardiono complements the family business with his other passion – bicycles. He runs a Polygon outlet, located just next door to the Honda showroom. We make a date to visit his shop the next day.
The meal of BBQ fish doesn’t seem to have made any impression on our stomachs so we when we chance upon a Char Koay Teow stall a little down the road, we attack without hesitation. The joys of cycle-touring. Eat, eat eat…