Friday, November 22, 2013

Tour de Bintan aka 'Enter The Dragon'

Group picture before rolling off

If I can count correctly, this was to be my 5th cycling trip to Bintan.  After our 'Ride For Rations 2013' cycling event which took us from Malacca to Singapore, our GP Riders captain, Tomas had been asking me to organise a cycling tour to Bintan for our cycling kakis.  So, the date 16 Nov, Saturday was fixed and we were to stay one night at a resort.  I had all along been staying at the idyllic Ocean Bay Resort at Trikora Beach but this time, I decided to change to another resort just for the experience.  Febry who used to work for Ocean Bay but now she is running her own travel company in Batam will be my contact person.

Some of us donning "Ride For Rations 2013" jerseys on day one

We aimed to get 20 cyclists for this cycling tour and this time, we also extended invitation to another cycling group, Hougang Slow Riders (HSR).  Most of the cyclists are regular and many will be bringing their road bikes.  And for many of them, it was to be their first tackling the much talked about 'dragon back' in Bintan but by my reckoning, they should not have any problem completing the 2-day tour on a high.  In my few previous trips, I had some who were not avid cyclists, did not even have their own bikes and they still managed to flash a smile at the end.  Notwithstanding, during the ride they were really struggling with the undulating terrain ahead and admittedly, the punishing weather, it can "make or break" one.  That said, in all my overseas cycling trips, I have always insisted to have support vehicles and this time, it was no exception.

The riders from HSR and on right, Poon (most senior rider in our group), Denise and Robin 

I invited some from my outdoor meet up group, Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers (SANL) to make up the number but on condition, they are able to keep up with the main group and preferably, have a road bike. This trip was not meant for recreational riders.  In the end, I had 24 signed up for it - 20 guys and 4 ladies. The most senior in our group is a gentleman at 65-year old called Poon and another slightly younger one is Low at 63-year old who was the last minute inclusion but they are certainly tough cookies.      

Me and Patrick on day two ride

On 16 Nov morning, everyone had been advised to arrive at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal by 0730 hrs.  Our ferry departure was at 0910 hrs.  Some drove, some cycled and I cycled from my home.  My GP Riders gang drove their cars to Aranda Country Club, picked up their bikes at the bike room and cycled together to the ferry terminal.  The check-in was swift as all the boarding passes and bike tags were prepared for them one day before.

Everyone brought their sleek light road bikes but I brought my heavy mountain bike.  I had intended to cover the rear and to provide first aid assistance, where needed and therefore, a mountain bike can slow me down considerably.

On our arrival in Bintan, our bikes were picked up after customs clearance and everyone was ushered to the open compound to prepare for the ride.  Febry and their support crew were on hand to give directions.  I made a brief introduction of Febry to all, gave a final briefing to all and we were ready to roll off.  Febry will lead the front with her SUV vehicle and a mini coach will cover the rear.  The weather was hot on day one. Almost immediately everyone rode off on quite a fast pace.  The vast compound within the Bintan restricted zone is quite undulating and covers more than 10 km to the security gate.  Zorom was just ahead of me while the rest had surged ahead and I can see that he had some difficulty climbing up the slopes.  I told him to take it easy and not to over stress himself.  He felt bad to have held up the whole group but I assured him it was alright.  At this early juncture, he felt slight pain on his left leg which had been injured before.  He decided not to cycle after our first break, so as not to aggravate his old injury.  His girlfriend Angella has improved vastly. Just a year ago, she was a novice cyclist but this time, she was able to keep pace with the front cyclists.  She had the music turned on while cycling and this fondly reminded me of my late friend, George who used to do likewise.

Rolling off to Trikora Beach from ferry terminal  

After lunch, I informed the group that the real challenge will come for they will have to face the Bintan dragon's back.  The weather did not seem to relent anytime and the lack of trees on the long stretch of road only made it even hotter.  The road is nicely paved, thanks to the recently concluded 'Tour de Bintan' event and there were not many vehicles which made cycling such a breeze save for the weather.

Low, our second most senior cyclist who is going strong 

The distance from the ferry terminal to Cabana Resort where we were to be accommodated is about 60 km and by 1400 hrs, all of us had arrived.  Tomas, Richard and some wanted to clock more and after our check-in, they continued on.  I did not follow but stayed back to mingle with HSR cyclists who stayed back. Some took to the pool while some just relaxed around.  The resort is nice and the rooms are comfortable.  It was full as there was a big church group from Singapore.  Tomas and the gang finally arrived back from their extended ride and immediately, they jumped to the pool to cool down.  It was quite a funny sight to see a pastor baptizing people who were fully submerged into the water from across the other end of the pool while our people was frolicking around on one end.  I jokingly told them they were all baptized already.

Breakfast on day two before rolling off

Dinner was served at 1930 hrs.  It was an elongated setting with rectangular tables joined to sit 24 of us.  It was seafood meal for us.  The food was alright but I still prefer the home-styled cooking at Ocean Bay Resort though.  After dinner, some adjoined for karaoke session while some including me retired to bed early.    

Group picture at the resort before rolling off on day two

It was still raining quite heavily when we woke up the following morning.  We were to ride off at about 0900 hrs.  The rain turned to light drizzling, probably it heard our call for it to stop or maybe, just maybe, the church group sent a prayer for us.  At about 0900 hrs and after completing our check-out, we were ready to roll off again.  The distance to the ferry terminal is slightly longer but less undulating.  The weather was cool and there was hardly any traffic at that hour.

Denise, Dan and Amy

Due to the faster pace, we reached our usual lunch stop very early, well before 1100 hrs.  Even Zorom was in fine form.  After a short rest, we decided to have our lunch at another stop.  It was still drizzling but the weather was cool throughout and we cannot complain more.  Our lunch stop was just outside the compound of the security gate to the Bintan Resorts compound.  We had our lunch which was already prepared for us by Febry and as usual, some ordered beer and more beer.  As it was still early to our ferry departure which was at 1635 hrs, we decided to stop at Pasar Ole-Ole for more drinks and food.  Only Patrick from HSR had a good one hour massage while the rest waited for him.  We had more than an hour rest at Pasar Ole-Ole.  I went off earlier to the ferry terminal to prepare the boarding passes and bike tags.  When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we bade farewell to Febry and her support crew.  The ferry left as scheduled and by 1730 hrs, we were already in Singapore.

AJ "molested" by Denise in full view of all

It was an enjoyable trip and everyone mixed well with one and another.  There were a lot of laughter and even Angella, Jaq and Zorom who met the rest for the first time in this trip mingled well too.  Three cheers to all...hip, hip, hip, hooray (3x)!          

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Leisure Ride to Kota Tinggi

                                                          Group photo at the resort

This capped another fun-filled weekend cycling event with a group of gregarious outdoor seekers on 9 Nov, Saturday- all 13 of us. We were to meet at Outram MRT station for our coach and prior to that, everyone had been informed to arrive by 0630 hrs.  Only Elaine will meet the rest of us at Woodlands Immigration.  I managed to arrange with my operator, Prima Sierra Holidays to rent bikes for some of us, thus saving the hassle of bringing their own bikes over from Singapore and in the end, only seven brought their own bikes.  We left for Woodlands at little over 0700 hrs.

The familiar faces in the group were Kevin, Jai, Elaine, Richard, Fenny and Karyn.  It was my first time meeting up with Jen who brought her friend, Cara, Sebestian, Vee Lee, Ashish and Liz but very quickly, everyone warmed up to each other.

                                                                  Rented bikes ready

It was still early when we arrived at Woodlands check-point and the causeway was not that packed but it was building up slowly though.  Immigration and customs clearance at both sides were swift and soon we were on the way to Kulai town where we were to commence our ride.  The ride to Kulai was about 45 mins and it was about 0900 hrs when we arrived.  We had our breakfast at a local eatery.

At about 1000 hrs, we stopped at a less busy road to begin our ride.  The rented bikes were transported by the support vehicle.  The bikes are mountain bike type and are completely new.  Five brought their sleek foldies.  As usual, Kevin brought his ever trusted 'Birdy'.  Jai who now sports a fitter and leaner body has his 'Dahon' which he brought online.  I did not bring my bike, preferring to use the rented bike for convenience sake.

                                                           Briefing before rolling off

Before setting off, I made a briefing to the group.  The distance from Kulai to Kota Rainforest Resort in Kota Tinggi where we will be accommodated is about 40 km.  I did tell the group that the route is mostly flat but admittedly, it is not that flat.  It is fairly rolling but definitely not like Bintan or Batam.  It is a two lane straight road on either side and traffic on that Saturday morning was a tad heavier than I would have expected.  I can't stop reiterating to the group to keep to left at all times.  After checking our bikes and we were ready to roll off.  

The weather has been unpredictable of late and I had a hunch that it would rain.  I was wrong.  The sun was looming above us and it was hot.  I was covering the rear while Henry who was in control of the Hi-Lux support vehicle will lead the front.  Sometimes, he would drive back to check on some of us at the rear.

Fenny had some difficulty controlling the bike.  She has the tendency to sway left and right.  Soon, she was lagging far behind from the rest.  I was passing instructions to her when she could not engage her gears properly especially cycling up the slope.  By my reckoning, she cycled for about 20 km before calling it quit.  She then joined Henry on the support vehicle throughout the journey.

                                                                       Along the way

Liz was with me at the rear.  Kevin slowed down to join us too while the rest was ahead.  I spotted a lizard monitor on the side of the road and when I cycled nearer, it did not look to be dead but simply not moving.  The position seemed to suggest this lizard was making a cross to the other side.  Cars would have made a 'pancake' out of this lizard if it did not move out sooner.  I avoided the lizard and moved on.

The weather was getting hot and Liz did not carry water with her.  Her rented bike does not have the holder and so too for me.  I was also thirsty.  I tried to call Henry to drive back so that we can have the cold water but he did not answer his phone.  Fortunately for us, we found a small food stall at a short distance away.  Kevin and Liz happily ordered a bowl of 'kampung-style' ice kachang but knowing too well that I have weak stomach, I chose to drink from the can.  We were not far from Kota Rainforest Resort.  We resumed our ride and arrived at the resort past 1300 hrs.  Liz heaved a big relief as she had wanted to hop on the support vehicle at some point but she preserved on - good for her.

Lunch was ready for us at the resort and after that, we checked-in to our rooms.  Kota Rainforest Resort has a big compound and the setting is very eco-friendly amidst the greenery.  There are some outdoor activities like rock climbing, paint ball and flying fox, among others.  We were the only group but I was told that a corporate group had just checked out before our arrival.  It is an ideal place for team building, given its varied activities within its compound.

                                                                     At the waterfall

I gave three options to the group.  First option was that we will cycle to Kota Tinggi waterfall which is about 3 km away and cycle back.  But it is quite steep and likely to pose a challenge to some not that strong cyclists.  Second option was to take a coach to the waterfall and bike back.  Reason being on the way back it is down slope all the way to our resort but there are some risks if some are not able to handle the bikes well.  Finally, we decided to take the coach and return with the coach.  We had a leisure afternoon at the waterfall.  For Ashish, Sebastien, Karyn and Vee Lee, they continued to swim at the pool at the resort after our return from the waterfall.  There is a man-made waterfall at the resort pool...still a waterfall.

Balancing Act

BBQ dinner was arranged for us and it was good.  It was during dinner Jai mentioned about cycling over a monitor lizard.  He said he was distracted by Richard who was talking to him and before he could react, he realised he had cycled over that poor monitor lizard.  It remained stationary.  Those who were cycling behind Jai saw that lizard and now we learnt Jai was the main culprit.  From that moment on, monitor lizard became the hot topic.  I even teased Jai that the monitor lizard will appear before him in his dream.  It will be his nemesis.

After our dinner, we went to Kota Tinggi town for firefly tour.  This was my third or fourth firefly trip but for many in the group, it was to be their first time.  Coincidentally, the boatman not only showed us the fireflies that lit up like Christmas, he shone his torch on some trees where monitor lizards and monkeys rest.  Yes, the monitor lizard saga continued at the firefly tour and we took jibes at Jai.  This was my first time that this particular boatman showed us the monitor lizards and I thought it was quite funny.  The boat ride last about an hour.  After that, we were combing part of the town and settled for deserts at an eatery before heading back.

                                                       Dinner at Orang Asli Restaurant                                                              
The second day ride was short, just over 10 km to the town from our resort.  Some were doing rock climbing while others explored around the vast compound.  We checked-out at 1100 hrs and ready to roll off to town for lunch at a local restaurant.  After lunch, we loaded up our bikes and proceeded to the shopping mall at Bukit Indah.  Some went for a soothing massage while some went for hair cut, it was our own leisure at the mall.  I chose to hang around.  Before heading home, we had early dinner at Orang Asli Restaurant in Perlin.  There was no heavy jam at the causeway on either side and we soon arrived at Outram MRT station.  It was a fun-filled leisure weekend outing with good company which I truly enjoyed.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Deepavali Gathering

John (in forefront) took this picture when we were taking our lunch

We were classmates at MacPherson Secondary School from 1977 to 1978.  Looking back, it has been more than 30 years and time really flies.  We are now in our early 50s.  Lucian (Tong Hai, always on the plump side and still is) and Don (Teck King aka Johnny Walker) and I used to meet up at Alan's (Mong Kwang) place on every Chinese New Year.  It has become a ritual of sorts to us for good many years after leaving school.  Alan used to live at Haig Road, moved to Bedok and finally Pasir Ris when he settled down.  We were always there on Chinese New Year until the recent years.

I have lost contact with Ragu until we are connected some years ago.  Through Ragu, I managed to get re-connected with our form teacher, Mr Samuel, who unfortunately passed away last year.  John (Joo Chai), our class monitor lives near me and we have always been in touch.

Then, there is Daniel (Wing Keong) whom I met by chance at the hawker centre near my house recently and got his contact.  I have not met Daniel for some 20 years and for the rest like Lucian, Ragu, Teck King and John, at least 30 years or more.  We have all upgraded to 'uncle' level.    

When Ragu invited us for Deepavali on 2 Nov, Saturday at his place in Pasir Ris, I managed to round them up for old time sake especially for Daniel.  Ragu ran a fever and complained of swollen right leg but despite his not so good health that day, he did not cancel the gathering.  Alan is closer to Don as both served the Navy together and he lives in Pasir Ris but he was conspicuously absent.  Don did inform him of the gathering but received no confirmation whether he will be coming - radio silent.  This has been very typical of Alan in recent years for reasons he knows best.  Calls and SMS made to him were mostly not answered.

We had good chat at Ragu's place and his lovely wife is a good cook.  I really enjoyed her mutton dish.  We talked about the good old days at school, family, the sorry state of Mr Samuel in his later years and his abrupt demise and for Lucian, his favourite topic...bashing of PAP policies, among other things.  Don brought along his young PRC wife and perhaps of the generation gap with us, she kept mostly to herself.

We ended our gathering with a visit to the late Mr Samuel's place which is next block to Ragu.  It has been vacant since his passing and it is just a matter of time before HDB take over the house.  Mr Samuel has left behind hundreds of books and we are still exploring how best to dispose all his books for a better cause.

It has been a good gathering with old classmates and we are hoping to get re-connected with more of our long lost classmates in our next get-together and with their grandchildren in tow perhaps.