(written by Dave)
Great day for a bicycle ride. It certainly doesn’t hurt the fun level to have 45k of downhill in a 91k ride. I should point out however, it was not all easy-peasy. We started before 8AM after oatmeal in the room. The first 7k were uphill to just beyond the town of Brinchang. And it was not easy uphill with both of us in our granny gears most of the climb. At least it was cool. This was followed by 8k of downhill and me thinking we’d coast all the way to Ipoh.
Not so fast – as I should have guessed. The Cameron Highlands are mountains and there are lots of up and down. We had another 10k granny gear climb before we reached the official downhill back into the valley. I have to say that it was worth the wait, it was a great downhill. Top to bottom, it was about 40k with a pretty even grade. There were a few places where we had to actually climb again, when the road couldn’t follow the steep grade created by the canyon we were following, but these were short and not so difficult. Before long we were cruising at 35-40 kph again.
I didn’t get too many photos on the descent. It was very scenic but we couldn’t bring ourselves to stop. We were having too much fun just riding. At the top the road was lined with beautiful wild orchids. From a distance they looked like foxglove that we have at our cabin in Oregon. I stopped just before the descent to inspect them closer and they were indeed orchids – we are still in the tropics after all. We also passed by numerous greenhouses – I think this is the primary growing area for veggies for some distance. It was interesting to see cultivation on any available space, no matter how steep. We only stopped one more time, at the state border, where they had a sign for a change.
We passed a number of groups hauling bamboo logs from the forest. Best we could tell, they were just cutting the wild bamboo and dragging it to the roadside. There were no “fields of bamboo”. While it didn’t appear to be highly professional, the piles of bamboo they accumulated on the side of the road were quite impressive. Too bad I didn’t get a photo!
Nancy had another reptile close encounter today. I was riding behind as we approached fastest part of a dip, before a short uphill – not where you want to brake if you don’t have to. I spotted some debris on the road ahead but this time processed it fast enough to figure out that it was a 4 foot long monitor lizard sunning on the shoulder. I yelled up “lizard ahead” (not a typical pace-line safety call – but that’s all I could come up with). We both had to brake a bit to give the lizard a chance to see us. Once we were spotted, he bolted – as fast as a 4 foot lizard can move. We were both able to pass it on the road side, as it dove off the gutter side. You’d rather not lose all your speed this way, but it was better than having a giant lizard caught in our spokes.
As we descended it got noticeably warmer. Near the bottom we started to see the famous Ipoh limestone cliffs and rocky outcrops. The less famous ones were being quarried with great haste, meaning quite a few rock trucks for us share the road and lots of rock and sand on the side of the road. Luckily we turned off north on Highway 1 before long, leaving the trucks and dust behind. The downhill was now properly over, but it was only 10k left to the city. Traffic into town was pretty heavy and we didn’t have a hotel formally picked out, nor the route in detail. We had to stop a few times but made it to the Ipoh City Hotel without too much trouble. The room is not too bad, at least they have a shower curtain in the bath!
After cleaning up, we headed over to the oldtown part of Ipoh and to the original Oldtown White Coffee shop. We haven’t seem an Oldtown in a while and this was a welcome treat. I think we got a little overconfident on today’s ride with respect to eating. I was convinced we would be going downhill all day and no food would be needed. I should have known better – I wouldn’t say that we bonked, but we were both quite hungry by the time our food arrived as it was after 2pm.
Being in oldtown, we stopped at the oldtown information centre and picked up some maps. There was a nice walking tour map of the oldtown, highlighting many of the older colonial buildings. Many of them are in need of fresh paint job but at least they have not been torn down. Great urban revival opportunity for some entrepreneurial Malaysian perhaps. We are planning a day off here tomorrow. At the information centre we learned more about the limestone hills and some unique caves built into the hills. There are a couple that were turned into monasteries, with the temples built right into the rock. We’ll have to check them out.
For dinner we went just next door to the hotel and a very interesting vegetarian restaurant. The menu included beef, pork, shrimp, fish, abalone and my favourite, piglets. Ok, not sounding too vegetarian. When the waitress came to take our order she assured us the everything was 100% vegetarian and that they had a pretty clever chef. We still weren’t sure but we ordered fish, plus some tofu and veggies. Sure enough, the fish that they served was tofu, 100%. Best of all, they figured out a way to make it seem to have skin as well. Of course, no true vegetarian would know what fish skin tasted like – all the same. It was a nice effort. Dinner was complemented by Chinese tea in Guinness beer glasses – perfect.
Heading to bed now. Check back tomorrow for a report on the caves.