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Our train leaves Kula Lumpur on time at 8.30am. We pass through a small tunnel and emerge into the light. I am drawn to the doors of the carriage eager to see something of the city but mostly I think just from habit. The tracks are surrounded by motorways and non-descript buildings but my patience is eventually rewarded by a fleeting glance of the Petronas towers. I feel at last like I am in Kuala Lumpur and not in some rushed dream. The infrastructure closes back in and I never see them again.

Leaving Kuala Lumpur the final day of travel

Leaving Kuala Lumpur the final day of travel

Our train picks up speed and thirty minutes later we are flanked by palm plantations on both sides. They appear attractive and somewhat representative of where we are but then I am reminded by what has been destroyed in order that they should grow. Old growth rainforest now only appears in patches on the surrounding mountains. The scenery is by no means the best we have encountered on our journey but I find myself wanting to stare at it. To take in everything I possibly can, every blade of grass, every bird in the sky and every child that waves as we pass by.

Passing through palm plantations

Passing through palm plantations

We reach the straits of Malacca by lunch and I note our position on a map. It can’t be long now. Just a few more hours to go. A smile creeps across my face…we are going to make it. I think we knew this after getting our Tibet permits 8 weeks ago in Nepal, but now finally it begins to really mean something. With the end so close my mind drifts back to the start. Back to the Cape of Good Hope. I can see us sitting on a rock with our feet dangling in the Atlantic Ocean with the world in front of us. Is it really possible we have come this whole way without flying? That we have crawled across the globe like two small ants for one and a half years to reach this point.

Back to  where it all started

Back to where it all started

The train rocks and rattles and the palm trees begin to blur. I lose focus on where I am and the memories start to flow. First the big memories the obvious ones, the significant moments in time. I can see the bus station in Cape Town and us waiting to be called, feeling apprehensive and so excited. Being stuck on a crippled train in Mlimba Tanzania for 24 hours with Imogen and Flynn.

The train breakdown in Tanzania

The train breakdown in Tanzania

The setbacks, disappointments and relief at finally receiving the Ethiopia visa. The dreamlike Serengeti sunsets and the twenty magical minutes we spent alone with the cheetah while a storm approached. I think about crossing the equator back in Kenya and I look down at the copper bracelet I was talked into buying at the time. I’m so glad I have it now. I think about the morning we finally left Africa on the Aqua Hercules after four days of Industrial action in Port Said.

Crossing the equator

Crossing the equator

Adrian on the Aqua Hercules

Adrian on the Aqua Hercules

Then some smaller thoughts that I have not considered for some time start to return. They feel in some ways even more precious. I think about being on a beach in Zanzibar talking to some small children.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar

Spending time with Adolfo on the boat from Sudan to Egypt and watching the sunset on Abu Simbel. The debacle of going through Egyptian customs and then eating a Big Mac in Aswan. The bus conductor in Sudan who had the smile of an idiot and was more interested in spraying the bus with air-freshener rather than helping me get a jumper out of my bag.

The road to Ethiopia

The road to Ethiopia

The crossing of the border between India and Pakistan and standing with one leg in each country. Of Rehan who came to see us in the morning and brought a walnut cake for us to share before we left.

Pakistan India border

Pakistan India border

Of being stuck on the Karakorum highway for ten hours. Feeling like it didn’t really matter and being entertained by the Pakistani passenger’s. Pakistan a country among so many other wonderful nations continues to stand out. I think about long lazy days in the Hunza Valley and my afternoon walks along the water channels. The local villagers inviting me in to their homes for apples, grapes and chai. I think about Mr Yaqoob a special man in the world who has touched many people hearts. Of Amin the loveable Balti cook and of course Nasir and Habib. Nasir and Habib who helped us so much and have become such wonderful friends. Of Irfan who went out of his way to return our passports from Islamabad.

Bus travel in Pakistan

Bus travel in Pakistan

I think of our days in India. Without doubt the most vibrant country in the world. I think about the wedding in Mumbai and the days spent with Dan and Sophie on the houseboat in Kerala. The beer we had together at Varkala beach just because we could. There are so many characters who popped into our life sometimes for just a few moments and sometimes for a few months.

Sita from Jaisalmer

Sita from Jaisalmer

I think about our months spent in the Himalayas, with Sue, Phil, Liam and little Jaylan who had the heart of a lion and kept pushing over the pass when so many others turned back. Of the day we crossed the Kongma la and met Chris who was so sick but stuck it out for 8 hours and made it. Of August who was reading “The Climb” in Gokyo and fell of a plastic chair when one of the legs broke.

Jaylan in Nepal

Jaylan in Nepal

I think about how when you travel just a glance or hello can lead to having lunch and spending the day with someone like Matt who we met in Madurai. I think about sitting with him in the great temple and hearing his story about a bus driving off with his bag still on board. I think about Peter who met in Kashgar and then again in Hong Kong almost a year later.

Adolfo in Egypt

Adolfo in Egypt

I think about Kathmandu and having pizzas in “fire and ice” and being surprised by Matt who flew out from the UK to see us and the girl who worked behind the desk of our hotel. I don’t even know her name but I can see her face clearly.

And then I think about Rick. Who spent almost six months travelling with us through Africa and Nepal. I miss him very much and miss his humour, his kindness and support he always showed us. I miss all the memories we have shared with him. All the border crossings and all the cramped mini bus rides. All the times we were called Muzungu in Africa. I miss our breakfasts at Olive in Pokhara and studying the dinner menus in the tea-houses searching for price weaknesses together. Of saying it’s okay to buy a Snickers bar. I can’t imagine a journey without him to be honest.

Coffee with Rick one of many

Coffee with Rick one of many

The memories speed up and they become a blur like the scenery outside. We get an announcement that we shall be arriving into Woodlands station in ten minutes. Up ahead I can see the bridge that spans the channel between the mainland of Malaysia and the island of Singapore. We cross into the bridge. The wheels on the track roar… we have left Malaysia behind. We are now in Singapore but I guess we still have to go through Immigration before its official.

This sign back in Zambia seemed appropriate at the time

This sign back in Zambia seemed appropriate at the time

The train squeals to a halt and I look across at Emma. She doesn’t say anything we just pick up our bags after the other passengers leave. Before stepping off the carriage I quickly film the moment. Emma remarks that this is it. After 70,000km and almost 18 months we are here. This is where it ends. I keep looking for some grand entrance something momentous to mark the occasion. I glance back to the empty carriage one last time and step onto the platform.

I watch the most important person on this journey walk towards immigration. She is without doubt my best friend and I could not imagine ever doing something like this without her. She struggles slightly with the heavy pack.

I can see her sitting on her backpack on dirty street corners sometimes in the dark while I go looking for hotels never complaining. She has endured heat rashes, broken toes, robbery, sickness, dirt, filthy toilets, military coups, and more recently deadly caterpillars and always managed a smile. I know she has touched the hearts of everyone she met and at this moment I am bursting with pride. That along with all the memories suddenly becomes overwhelming.

The immigration officer calls me up. I hand over my passport. She asks what my purpose for coming to Singapore is. I can feel a smile trickle across my face. I want to tell her why I am here. I feel an urge to tell her everything but keep it inside and say… I’m just here for a holiday.

We exit immigration hoping to see a sign that says welcome to Singapore. But all I can see is one that reads Photos are prohibited and cameras will be confiscated. It’s funny how sometimes scripts don’t go quite according to plan. For so long it was about reaching Singapore. I want to find a place to take a photo… a fixed point to call the end but there just doesn’t seem to be anything significant. I think I always knew it was not about the destination but more about the journey. Standing here in Woodlands station that cliché is resonating loudly.

I feel so lucky, I feel so fortunate to have experienced something like this. To have seen such amazing landscapes. To feel what it is like to cross continents, watching jungles merge into forests and deserts. To cross the world’s great rivers and mountains and to see the sun set on new horizons almost every day. But what shall stand out most in my mind are the people we have met.

We have both been greatly inspired to make this journey by a man some of you will be familiar with and some of you will not, and so I find it fitting and necessary to end with a quote that perfectly sums up our most valued lesson while travelling.

“The enjoyment of the world is immeasurably enhanced not just by meeting people who think, look, talk and dress differently from yourself, but by having to depend on them.”

Michael Palin

Lastly thank you to all of you back home and around the world. Thank you for staying with us on this journey. Your words of encouragement meant so much and after all the best experiences are those shared.

So for now this is the end of the peel, but I guess there are always other apples in life.

Till the next time love Greg and Emma…

We did it...

We did it…

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I think when we set out on this journey I described this style of travel as knowing where you want to go but having little idea of what lies ahead. So our disappointment at missing the last bus to Krabi for the day is short lived. We go looking for a hotel and spot along the way a Pizza Hut. Make a mental note of its location before discovering the My Place Hotel. Inspect a decent room for 550 THB with air-conditioning, no need to look elsewhere this is indeed my place. Return to the Pizza Hut passing a night market along the way with no desires to sample local cuisine… at least not tonight anyway. I suppose upon returning home I will ignore fast food offerings and opt for Thai cuisine just to complete the irony.

The next morning and we are trying to purchase tickets to Krabi with mixed results. Prices vary from 150-300 THB. One gentlemen after asking where we are from informs me his son is studying in Monash University. A prestigious college, he must be very proud I say. Yes but the fees are very expensive he replies. He sells us two tickets for 150 THB each and we board a fairly decent looking bus across the road. The journey time to Krabi is as varied as the prices offered so I expect the lower priced tickets to produce a longer journey time. Four and half hours later I am proven correct.

We stop at the main station where all the locals on the bus depart. We go to get off but the driver with limited English motions for us to wait as he will let us off at another stop. Ao Nang, I ask now breaking the rule of travel that… thou shall never ask a question where yes can be provided…Yes he says. Ten minutes later we pull up at a deserted station where conveniently a lone truck sits waiting. We are not at Ao Nang. With us is Ryan a young man from South Africa who is teaching English in Surat Thani. The truck driver asleep in the front seat stirs like a crocodile on the river bank and gets out of the truck. He agrees to take us to Ao Nang about ten minutes away for 100 THB each. A very steep price for such a short journey but there is nowhere else to go and we accept the offer.

Arrive at Ao Nang hoping to see calm blue and inviting waters but are greeted instead by brown waves and dangerous rips. I had hoped that the rainy season was restricted to occasional heavy downpours but it seems the prevailing winds and currents make the ocean almost un-swimmable regardless of whether it’s raining or not.

We stay for a few nights around a cove at Railay beach which can only be accessed by boat. On this occasion a frightening experience of rolling waves and soaked luggage. Our entrance onto the beach must be timed to perfection should we be tipped over in the surf. The driver executes a precision landing with steely expression and years of experience. Hop over the side with pants rolled up and manage to cut my foot on a rock wedged in the sand. Ryan sporting massive biceps helps with our luggage and runs up the beach before the next wave comes crashing down. He hops back on the boat and makes for the next cove about five minutes away. Yet another act of kindness on a very long list.

Railay Beach

Despite poor weather Railay is still a paradise

I gaze around and despite the inclement conditions the splendour of Railay prevails. Soaring cliffs and jagged islands erupt from the ocean. The palm trees bending over in stiff winds. It’s not ideal but still very beautiful. Later that night after finding cheap lodgings we spend our savings on several expensive but incredibly well located cocktails. The grotto bar at the Rayavadee offers an experience of Robinson Crusoe meets martinis and mood music. Cast away chic with inebriation.

The grotto bar at the Ryavadee

The grotto bar at the Ryavadee

Three days later and the driving wind and rain have literally dampened our resolve and there are only so many lychee martinis one can consume. Well actually budget is governing that figure more than constitution. With some regret we abandon ship and head back to Surat Thani. While weather is at its worst on the west coast of the Thai peninsula, reports indicate that Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand on the east coast are currently ideal.

Krabi

Krabi

We book a prepaid ticket from Railay to Koh Samui for 750 THB or around $26.00 USD. This includes a boat back to Ao Nang, a transfer to Krabi, followed by a bus to Surat Thani and finally a high speed ferry to Koh Samui. I try to price it up separately but it adds up to be more and that’s provided we don’t run into any problems, which of course one must expect. The journey across the peninsula goes smoothly and with no real issues we reach the island of Koh Samui in about 6 hours.

Minivan from west to east coast of Thai peninsula

Minivan from west to east coast of Thai peninsula

Koh Samui is not nearly as beautiful as Railay but under blue skies and washed by calm waters is certainly more appealing at this time of year. The choice of locations and accommodations are almost endless as are the bars and restaurants along Chaweng beach. I can’t say I would ever deliberately come here on a holiday but it makes for an excellent place to eat, drink and reflect before we make our final push to Singapore.

Chaweng beach Koh Samui

Chaweng beach Koh Samui

We hire a small motorbike for a few days and explore the rest of the island. Disappointingly most of the views along the road are blocked by buildings and resorts. It also appears to be a very dangerous place to ride a bike as we witness three very bad accidents involving foreigners in as many days. It’s a sobering experience to ride carefully and to assume every vehicle around you is a potential killer. The third accident is particularly nasty involving a young Russian tourist. His head has been badly cut and the front of the van he collided with looks like it has been hit by a wrecking ball. After so many months on the road I really don’t want this to be our fate so we return the bike to its owner.

Bike accidents in Koh Samui

Bike accidents in Koh Samui

At best it’s supposed to take one and a half days to reach Singapore from Koh Samui so we allow three days just to be safe. It seems a reasonable margin for error while allowing some degree of risk and adventure. What remains uncertain is will we be able to get train tickets from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur later in the day. The first ferry departs at 8.00am and transfers to a Mini Van that will take us five hours south to Hat Yai. The expected arrival time is 3pm. The overnight train to KL departs at 4pm so there isn’t much in it.

The day starts poorly and we are not picked up until 7.30am. Now with slight panic we head to the pier wondering if we have failed to make the ferry let alone the train in Hat Yai. Arrive at the pier late but the ferry has not arrived yet and ends up departing not until 9.15am. Will this mean getting into Hat Yai too late for the train? The driver of the van must be telepathic and responds accordingly. His speed is a little unnerving but not frightening and I am just grateful that based on distance and glances to the speedometer we seem to be back on track. Arrive into Hat Yai at 2.30pm but the driver does not want to stop at the train station and instead drops a young lady outside the university before continuing to the bus station.

The race to Hat Yai

The race to Hat Yai

Feeling a little frantic we go in search of a taxi, tuk-tuk or tout but none to be found. Punishment no doubt for all my cursing’s along the way. Make some form of mumbled penance and get rewarded by a tout who leads us onto the street. A man with a beige car will drive us to the train station for 150 THB. Seems a good offer considering our surrounds and imminent departure of train for which we have no tickets and it smells new inside. Not a fragrance I can remember for some time.

Lift for 150 Thai Baht

Lift for 150 Thai Baht

When we get out at the station I thank the driver and watch the beige car disappear into the traffic. That was certainly never scripted. My anxiety regarding space on the train is somewhat justified. There are no sleeping berths available for tonight’s service nor are there any seats available in 1st class. She can provide two 2nd class seats for the 14 hour trip down to Kuala Lumpur. We engage in a quick meeting and decide that 2nd class train is still better than the bus although others might disagree as the bus is quicker by three hours but I don’t see the point of arriving at 3.30am.

Platform four is underutilised by a short train of just two carriages. The rains have cleared and the afternoon sun has dipped low enough in the sky that the roof of the platform no longer provides ample shade. The doors are still locked despite a planned departure in thirty minutes. I look longingly into the carriage, streams of air-conditioned condensation running down the window. Decide to pass the time by looking for a money exchanger. Swap Thai baht for Malaysian Ringgit, my penultimate currency. If all goes to plan I shall require it for only 20 hours and I begin to wonder why I am bothering but it’s such a hard habit to break. Return to the train to find the doors have been opened and take my place in the soothing air-conditioned comfort with a plastic bag filled with mangoes and cut pineapple.

Hat Yai station

Hat Yai station

The train departs on time and we head for the border at a slow and considered speed. Nothing remarkable outside to look at we arrive about an hour later at a very modern station. We exit Thai Immigration and notice a sign that warns that aliens of a Hippy nature will not be allowed to enter. The board then explains in great detail what exactly constitutes said Hippy Alien. Long scruffy hair, wearing ragged clothes and the unnecessary use of sandals are all deemed valid reasons for rejection. I can’t say based on our experiences that this policy is ever greatly enforced but hippies beware. Or are they trying to prevent some E.T looking character with dreadlocks entering.

Hippies Beware!

Hippies Beware!

The ladies at the Malaysian counter are wearing head scarfs. It’s been so long since we were in an Islamic country I had almost forgotten about Malaysia. We are given an entry stamp and allowed back on the train which I notice is considerably longer in length. I go to the ticket counter and ask if I can upgrade our tickets to sleeper class. Seems now we are in Malaysia with added carriages this is not an issue. Bit of a relief as I was not looking forward to a bad night’s sleep in a chair. The train pulls out of the station as the sun sets. This seems to be a common theme of late. If it runs on time we will arrive at 6.30am and hopefully be able to secure seats on the 8.30am to Singapore.

Leaving the Thailand and Malaysia border

Leaving the Thailand and Malaysia border

I go to sleep on a train crawling its way south during the night to Kuala Lumpur. I wake the next morning but it’s still dark outside. The conductor tells us we will arrive into KL central in 10 minutes. He tells me the time is 6.30am. This is good news we are still on schedule. We arrive into an underground station which is a little bleak and disorientating. Upstairs resembles more the inside of an airport terminal perhaps an early preparation. The ticket office is yet to open so we sit on some steel chairs looking and feeling a little discarded in the huge empty hall. I go out onto the streets of KL. Dawn is coming and some of the street lights begin to turn off. There is nothing to suggest where I am. I could be anywhere really.

Waiting in KL central for the train to Singapore

Waiting in KL central for the train to Singapore

The ticket window opens at 7.00am and we manage to secure two tickets on the 8.30am train to Singapore. I hand over some cash. The significance of the moment does not go unnoticed. I have just purchased our last two tickets. I hold them in my hand and examine them like precious documents. Sunlight is beginning to stream into the terminal a new day has begun, the final day of our journey has arrived…

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