On Monday and Tuesday we got the paperwork through customs but unsurprisingly quarantine section reckoned the car was too dirty (despite us spending 4 days cleaning it in KL before it got on the boat) and had to be cleaned by them. Us having to pay them for the privledge obviously had no weight in the decision. Not only that but they stated we’d have to put it on a flatbed truck to take it to their cleaning facilities a whole 1/2 mile away in case any mud dropped of it. The flaws in this theory are obvious. A) There was no mud on it, B) How is mud dropping onto a flatbed any better than it dropping onto the road? and C) even then they weren’t going to bother looking at it until next week. Another bonus was that the car wouldn’t start. We went down and had a look and it was clear the ignition module had burned out. I got another one and installed it on Thursday. In the mean time we had a look at the ANZAC day parade on the 25th. There was a big turn out and lots of flag waving and memorial banners. (even including Vietnam which was surprising given that the other countries that supported that war are fairly shy about advertising the fact.)
On Friday we went to Caversham wildlife park and surveyed the strange and varied creatures of australia - wombats, wallabys, roos, tasmanian devils, emus etc. These beasties are one of the main reason that quarantine is such a hassle. Because Australia has been isolated from the other continents for at least 45 million years and has poor soil quality due to the lack of glacial movement and volcanic activity, life here has evolved in a manner suited to this dry and arid environment and therefore, vastly different from life elsewhere in the world. This leaves it very susceptible to ecological damage from introduced species which native species have never evolved any defence against. European settlers from 1788 onwards have introduced many species of animals and plants which have devastated large areas and populations of native wildlife (e.g. goats, camels, foxes, rabbits, cane toads, cats, rubber vine & mimosa). To try to avoid further problems, everything that enters Australia has to be checked for contamination by foreign species. This is a worthy cause. Doing it by washing it into the nearest drain is probably not the best way of doing it though and delaying items for weeks because you don’t have enough staff is no doubt costing Australian business a large amount of money and problems.
During the days, we lolled around the hostel and in the evenings we altered between Perth and Fremantle but we were becoming increasingly anxious to get moving. Unfortunately we were at the whim of quarantine.
We gave the landy a final clean, made some final tweaks, said goodbye to everyone in KL and had a final dinner with Albert Kon (who has been a great friend and help to us while there) before heading off towards Singapore. We arrived on Tuesday morning with all our documents in order and feeling pretty confident. After all, it was just another border. But no. Despite the fact that the AA of Singapore had told us to buy insurance in Malaysia and despite the fact that the insurance document said it covered Singapore, apparently it doesn’t if you are in the Singapore Land Transport Authority and so we had to buy insurance on arrival for 50 dollars. This is to cover you for the 30 minute drive to the port. What a bunch of tubes. Oh, and you have to buy a 10 dollar autopass, which is a little card for paying tolls even though you are supposed to get a 5 day exemption and you won’t actually go through any tolls on your way to the port. It suddenly becomes clear why Singapore has the reputation of being a bureaucratic bottomless pit that it does. Still, we got in, drove to the port and handed the beastie over to the stevedores possibly never to be seen again.
The next day we sorted out the carnet down at the port, took a few promotional shots of the landy at the ship and booked a flight to Perth for Thursday. Well, I did. Richard decided to go back into Mayalsia for some crazy reason.
So on the 12th of April, I finally arrived in the big O Z. Perth is an amazingly clean city and has a nice relaxed charm. People are genuinely friendly and they speak passable English aswell. However, the shock of the prices nearly had me back on the plane to Malaysia. 8 dollars a pint! 3 dollars for a canned drink in a 7/11! 5 dollars for a sandwich! 20 dollars for a hostel bed isn’t bad though. Soon after arrival I got the train out to Cottesloe beach where I met up with my old friend Richard Clayton who has been out here for about a week.
On Friday and Saturday we wandered around the small port town of Fremantle (quaint - nowhere near as exciting as everyone says) and explored the streets of Perth. Friday night revealed the Aussie drinking culture which is very much of the Liverpool variety. Drink too much, stumble between a few pubs then at closing time spill out onto the streets and start a fight. This would explain the heavy police presence around the nightlife areas.
A visit to Kings park in Perth revealed great views over the city and confirmed the impression that I’d initially had when coming from the airport. There are only suburbs. Everyone lives in the suburbs. There’s the city centre, then suburbs, all of which are very nice and well laid out. Everyone has a garden and a car and a bbq out the back. There doesn’t seem to be a big difference between areas like in other cities. Maybe this will be different in Sydney and Melbourne.
The Landy won’t be arriving until next weekend so we decided to hire a car on Sunday and head down the South West coast. The first stop was the Ngilgi caves which were very impressive with stunning shawls, mites and tites. Afterwards, we hit the small town of Magaret River for some local wine and cheese. By the time we reached Nannup we were knackered so settled down for a rum nights sleep in the car. Tomorrow we were going to see the famous “Tall Trees” of South Australia.
Following a sweaty 13-hour bus journey, Kuching arrived. It’s a small but picturesque town and has a nice atmosphere. The highlight though was the Sarawak Cultural Village. This offered the chance to the lucky ticket holder (anyone who rocks up at the entrance) to see a cultural dance symbolic of the seven tribes that inhabit the village and a chance to chat to them too. It sounds wanky, but was actually quite good and I had the chance to dress up in native dress (I look ridiculous!) and use a blowpipe, which I was quite adept at. Naturally the villagers were impressed and offered me a place as their new leader, the old one accidentally getting in the way of a stray poison dart that may or may not have come from my pipe. I gladly accepted the title along with the several vestal virgins betrothed to me, but had to quit the village as the football was on and they hadn’t any cold beer. Heathens.
Back to KL, back to the Land Rover and normality, back to the mechanics. Before we went back to our favourite mechanic though we joined the fabulous Land Rover Malaysia Group up in the Cameron Highlands for a big get together. Hey had a small off-road course there which of course we didn’t bother doing (at 3 tonnes we were going nowhere!) and we met fellow overlanders from the UK as well. A weird coincidence, but nice to chat to others and talk about the problems they’ve never had with their landy. Bastards.
Dave and Rose are on an extended vacation and have a 110 hard top I believe and you check out their site at http://www.nessiesadventures.com whilst Dan had gone one step further and bought some 3.2 tonne Wolf that was bound for a Sir Ralph Fiennes that never happened. A truly remarkable machine, but fat as hell! www.lonewolftransglobal.com. We also met up with Mohd Azhar Ibrahim who’s started up a 4 Wheel Driver magazine in Malaysia and will do a feature on the three of us I think. He rocked up in a great Toyota Troop Carrier and was kind enough to let me have a good snoop around – absolutely huge! None of the vehicles had as much room and comfort as our landy we have to say, but then again they can probably go over 60 mph without batting down the hatches and gripping the vibrating wheel for dear life!
Unfortunately my lasting memory of Brunei will be happening across a man clad in Islamic dress mass-debating (lets be civil) out of the window in the stairwell of the hostel. Nice image eh? Well now you’ve got it burned into your memory too, it’s nice to share isn’t it?
As we arrived at the Shell Oil rich country, the sign at Customs announced mater-of-factly something akin to “Drug trafficking is a serious offence and the punishment is death”. It doesn’t get much more serious than death! The weird thing about Brunei, especially compared to the hard lined Iran, is that here you can actually bring in a small quantity of alcohol into the country and drink it in your home. In addition, Chinese restaurants can serve pork - this only dawned on me after I’d ordered pork noodle soup mind you. I’m not the fastest knife in the forest.
As it was the Prophet Muhammed’s (p.b.u.h.) birthday on the 31st of March - which of course you remembered - the Sultan took a walk around the city centre with his entourage and with very little security visible. I was a stone’s throw away, but the man walks quickly so could only get a few snaps. All quite exciting though. It says something of the state of the country that the head can stroll about the place without fear of getting shot. But then again, anyone with any radical political views is probably in prison anyway.
I popped into a few museums whilst residing the squeaky clean capital city of Bandar, rarely spying any other tourists at all. I had the grand Raffalesia Museum all to myself for an hour or so, and I had more of the same medicine when wandering around the well-kept mausoleums and the manicured lush green parks. Empty. The best thing in the museum was the upright right arm made of pure gold that held the Sultans chin when he was crowned. And why not? Must be hard work holding your head upright and stuff…
However, there were no photos of the wonderful character Prince Jefri, the Sultans brother and ex-finance minister that attempted to ruin the country by financing his own fun – as a taster, he has, or had, a large yacht called Tits and two smaller vessels named Nipple 1 and Nipple 2. He also bought the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Empire Hotel and coveted Asprey’s. The man is a genius and, unsurprisingly, also in exile.
I met up with some friends and took the last bus out to the ex-royal theme park. It was apparntly created for the Sultan’s 48th birthday, but after a hundred and fifty six goes on every ride going, he bored of it and opened it up for the country. Naturally, being a country where the citizens receive free health and dental care, free sports and leisure facilities, free schooling and pensions for all, the theme park was free. The populace flocked to the park like Royal Navy Marines to Iran (topical) and many went there every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Eventually, after about 5 years apparently, they whacked the hefty charge of five Brunei-an dollars onto the entrance (£2.60) which even in oil rich Brunei, is a mere trifle. Strangely though, the citizens took umbrage and refused to go, so when we went we had every ride to ourselves – the log flume proved good fun even at the third time of asking.
On the way back from a day trip to the Brunei Museum, I hitched a ride from an ex-Lahorite now living in Brunei, but obviously thinking of leaving (he’s been here 20 years!) as it’s too damn boring. I met Malik after hitching back from the fantastic Brunei Musem, with an incredible collection of Islamic art and gold illustrated Quaran’s, and he was kind enough to buy me lunch and show me around a little. He took me to the opulent Jame’asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque that the security guard denied me entry to as I was an infidel – fortunately he only spotted me on my way out of the mosque, so I praised his vigilance and left with a spring in my step.
Getting out of the country was easy enough, or was supposed to be, but as the buses knock off early on every day ending with ‘y’, by 4pm I was stranded in the middle of some poor excuse for a town. A few taxi rides later and I was at the shite-hawk town of Miri in Sarawak, a real prostitute laden dung hole full of queers and beers. I ended up staying at the aptly named Fairyland Inn for a single night and left early next morning as fast as I could.
I popped into the fabulous Niah Caves on the way down to Kuching, desperately hoping to see the bats swarm out at sundown as they were too lazy in Sabah. I spent a good eleven hours wandering around pitch black caves, eventually finding the ancient drawings of the sun-lit Painted Cave. However, getting photos wasn’t easy as the paintings were behind some barbed wire, which in turn were a good thirty feet and a metal fence away from where I stood balancing on a stalagmite. The bats eventually came out, but the sods were tiny and hugged the roof of the cave as they flocked out straight into the trees. Bastards, the lot of them.