If the header seems to suggest it is a cycling competition, the opposite is true. This is my second cycling trip to Batam, did a similar one last year. For this event, I had originally set at 20 cyclists but I went a little ambitious and after checking with my buddy, Chua of BatamFast on his ferry capacity for bike storage and getting his concurrence, I finally increased to 28.
This is a cycling tour program and it is doable by any leisure cyclists. That said, cyclists need to have a decent level of fitness and stamina. Safety has always been my number one criteria and my constant remainders to those who have registered for this tour that wearing helmet, among others is a must and there will not be ride if one comes without a helmet, period.
The event was to take place on 16 March, Saturday and we will be accommodated at Golden View in Bengkong for one night. A day prior to the departure and again with Chua's help, I managed to get all the boarding passes and bike tags printed in advance. Even the donated items for St Ignatius School from some friends were also checked-in in advance, which will certainly lessen my task on the day of departure.
For the whole package, I charged S$155 nett per person that includes one night accommodation at Golden View, return ferry transfer, meals, land transfer, back-up vehicle with cold drinks, city tour and an assigned tour guide throughout.
While Singaporeans form the majority, there is an American, Belgian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and Turkish each in our group. Among my regular outdoor buddies, I have Kevin, TS, BT, Eileen and Abigail but for the rest, I am meeting them for the first time.
A tight squeeze for all 28 bikes onboard
I left my house at 0515 hrs and cycled to HarbourFront. It took me about half an hour from my house in Aljunied and I was there well before 0600 hrs, which was still dark. Everyone had been informed to arrive at HarbourFront Ferry Terminal before 0645 hrs for check-in. Our ferry was scheduled at 0740 hrs to Batam Centre Ferry Terminal. The ground staff at Singapore Cruise Centre have been very helpful and that really made my job much more easier. Our bikes were tagged and handed over to the ground staff. As everything had been arranged well in advance, the check-in was seamless.
When everyone was accounted for and no one arrived very late (they heeded my message not to be late), we then proceeded for boarding. Though it was still early, about 0700 hrs but the terminal was already getting quite crowded being a weekend outing. I brought extra helmets in case some forget to bring theirs but luckily, no one did.
On our arrival at Batam Centre Ferry Terminal, our guide from Nusajaya, Henry was already waiting for us at the pontoon. He then assisted us through customs, immigration & quarantine (CIQ). Again, everything was handled swiftly. While waiting for some who had to apply for visa-on-arrival (VOA), I asked Alis, a Turkish national whether her visa was done or not and she gave me a grief look before telling me that the immigration officer refused her entry and demanded that she go back. I was taken aback momentarily and my jaws almost dropping when I heard that but quickly, she turned to smile and I knew I had been 'snooked' by her. Okay, since she fired the first salvo, she will be my 'target' throughout the tour.
Most brought their mountain bikes (MTB) to tackle the rolling terrains in Barelang but quite a handful brought their foldie bikes too. As usual, my buddy, Kevin brought his Birdy foldie which has a monocoque frame & double suspension and some female cyclists brought their sleek Brampton foldies. One pink Brampton bike later became a centre of attraction when the children gathered around it, touched it or simply marvelled at it at St Ignatius School which was our lunch point too. I brought my cheap Raleigh MTB, nothing fanciful about it and good enough to get me to places.
Getting ready to roll off
We had to transport our bikes nearer to our start point where traffic is much lesser, safer too. we will be heading to the southern tip of Batam which connects to the rest of the islands by the six bridges. The total distance to be covered was about 70km but it is quite a hilly route. When we thought cycling on Singapore road is a menace, nothing beats Batam. The motorists there do not observe traffic rules, they stop as and when they like and the road is mostly one way up and the other down. There is no double yellow line for cyclists to keep to the side at the very least, it is too much of a risk to cycle on their road within the town centre.
When we were travelling on the coach, I then had an opportunity for everyone to self introduce themselves. Yes, I did not forget our friend from Turkey and almost immediatey I sprung into action and told the audience that I like 'Turkish Delight' and I will be planning to fly to Turkey to see her parents. She did try to hide herself. We had a good time while on the move which was good to break the ice, plenty of jokes thrown in and of course, everyone knew that whatever I had said was not meant to be taken seriously, especially the 'Turkish Delight' thingy. However on a serious note, I did emphasise to all that we have to cycle in one single file, always keep to the left side of the road and not to open too much gap in between. Everyone seemed to get the message.
One for the road
Our guide, Henry brought us near to the first bridge, about a kilometre away and we started to offload our bikes and to prepare for the ride. TS brought four walkies-talkie which I passed one to the guide who will be on the coach following closely behind, one to TS and Kevin each as they will be covering the front and I took the last one as the sweeper.
At the first bridge, our first stop
A daredevil stunt made believed by TS
When we were done, TS led the roll-off. I was at the back playing the sweeper role. The weather was hot and there are not many trees lined along the route, it was a challenging for some cyclists to overcome I must confess. Most of us, especially the Singaporeans did our best to shield ourselves from the glaring sun but two persons were only wearing sleeveless jerseys. One is a young lady from Belgian and her name is Vanja and the other is Brian, an American. It seemed to me that Caucasians take every chance to enjoy the scorching sun than most of us. TS wrapped himself to look like a Taleban.
A scenic sight at one of the bridges
Not long after we rolled off, few decided to give up the ride and hopped on to the coach. The weather was indeed hot. There were few stops along the way. Bananas and isotonic water were running low. Our lunch stop will be at St Ignatius School in Rempang island which is about 30 km from our start point. Many managed to cycle up the rolling terrain but some had to push their bikes up.
The children at St Ignatius with TS and Kevin
When we reached St Ignatius School, some children were seen playing and they helped to offload our donated items from our vehicle. The sister of the school came over to welcome us. The school is managed by a Catholic church and it provides free lodging and meals for the poor children staying in the island. We didn't forget the less fortunate ones and we feel privileged to do our little part for them. Did I say I like 'Turkish Delight'? Alis asked me whether it was alright for her to buy ice cream for the children and of course, she can. There are about 80 children and soon, they lined up to pick up the ice cream from the ice cream man. For her kind gesture, I think I like her even more now.
The route less travelled, fairly hilly though
We noticed some spark seemed to build up too. Tharu, our young Sri Lankan friend whom we ended up calling him, 大路 (same sounding from his name) did get along very well with Vanja, our Belgian friend. Vanja has a quiet character and she is a triathlete, packed a punch, this was certainly an easy ride for her. She told me she cycles to work everyday, 15km each way and her best time for 10km run on track is 34 mins plus...impressed! She can easily outrun many of our male runners in Singapore, me included. 大路 is another bubbly character, a young man who has recently graduated and now that he is working, he wants to enjoy some outdoor events which he didn't have the chance when he was studying in Singapore. A fine young man, good future ahead of him.
We brought some donated items for the school
The children saying their prayer before lunch
Sisters enjoying the ice cream, courtesy of Alis
Children enjoying the ice cream and again, courtesy of Alis
After our lunch and biding farewell to the sisters and children at St Ignatius, we resumed our cycling. Henry managed to replenish the water supply which was certainly helpful. The second part of the journey proved tougher for some. BT complained he was not feeling well and he decided to skip the whole ride. There are more rolling to manoeuvre and the weather was taking a toll on some. More stops were made and cold drinks were certainly helpful. Brian, our American was looking burnt. Red patches can be seen on face, his hands, shoulder and neck. It must be painful for him.
Another magnificient sight along the way
We reached the end of the last island, Galang and distance covered, 70km. We rested for while, took many pictures and after that, loaded up our bikes. We were soon on the way to our hotel for a much needed rest and a good dinner awaits. It will take another two hours to reach our hotel in Batam. I took a nap on the coach but were interrupted by calls on some tour arrangement elsewhere.
Florence outside her chalet
Rooms were already made ready, rooming list had already been prepared prior and all I needed to do was to pass the keys accordingly. I was to be roomed with Kevin but there was an extra room, so both Kevin and I ended up having one room each. Guess, this is the privilege for organiser. We were given the chalets and confined close to each other.
After a thorough wash up, sumptuous BBQ dinner was ready to be served at 1900 hrs. I was really hungry, was among the earliest to arrive at the poolside where the BBQ dinner was prepared for us. It was Abigal's birthday (one day later, to be exact) and I thought Vanja too (I thought I saw it was on 22 Mar but it was not when I checked her details after the trip, blur man). I had the hotel to prepared a birthday cake to be presented immediately after our dinner to surprise the two ladies. We sang the birthday song to the two ladies and Vanja gamely joined in despite insisting that it was not her birthday in March.
After dinner, some hit town to have their massage while Kevin and I decided to relax at the hotel's lounge. Ya, my 'Turkish Delight' friend, Alis and her buddy, Lyn joined us too. A while later, 大路 and Vanja also joined in for nice chat with us till we retired to bed.
Flying fox for the bravehearts
The second day ride was much easier. We were to cycle around the vicinity of hotel and to the reclaimed land site where some 200 hectare of land has been reclaimed for future development by the owner. We had arranged to meet at the hotel entrance by 0900 hrs to begin our second day ride. Some opted not to cycle, preferring to laze around or to enjoy the hotel amenities. Henry, our guide will lead the way. Most part of the road on the reclaimed land was sandy path. We cycled to the end of the reclaimed land that fronts the open sea. We can see Singapore's shoreline from that point. More pictures were taken. We then headed to the activity centre. First, we stopped at the paintball/flying fox centre. Some tried their hands on the paintball guns shooting still targets. After that, some took to the flying fox which will take them 200 metres to the landing point. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.
The Angry Bird team taking to take me on in go-kart
The go-kart circuit, vroom vroom...
Me ready to tackle the mountain trail
After that, we cycled a short distance to the go-kart circuit. I was among the first to be in the queue. After a short briefing by the instructors, we were ready to 'vroom' off. It was an exhilarating 10-mins drive around the circuit. After the go-kart, some of us tried the specially built mountain trail on our bikes. Kevin cycled through the obstacles on his foldie too.
Enjoying the seafood lunch after checking out
It was a half day cycling tour with hordes of our exciting activities for our enjoyment and truly, we really enjoyed all. When we returned to our rooms, we washed up and packed up and ready to check out. By 1230 hrs, our bikes were loaded and we were ready to move off. First, we will have our seafood lunch at 933 Restaurant. Kevin ordered a bowl of bird's nest which cost him just S$15 a bowl. He ended up having two and he paid one for me too. On seeing this, some also ordered the bird's nest too. Lunch was served and we tucked in merrily.
We still have some time left before our ferry departure scheduled at 1710 hrs (1810 hrs SIN time) and we then proceeded to BCS, a popular shopping mall to while away our time.
When we arrived at Sekupang Ferry Terminal and once again, everything was handled smoothly. All thanks to Henry and his team for the excellent co-ordination job. The last time I was at Sekupang Ferry Terminal was some 10 years ago but the terminal has since been transformed. It looks so modern now and I heard one of our members who said this terminal looks like our famed Changi Airport. I couldn't disagree. I am impressed too.
On the way back by ferry which took an hour, we continued to chat happily oblivious to the other passengers around us. It was a good trip, good company and new friends are made too. It is by far the best organised trip I had made where everything worked to a fault. If any, the only blemish is one member who realised too late that she had misplaced her latest i-phone 5 somewhere after we had boarded the ferry. Calls made to Henry to check the coach and elsewhere did not yield positive result either, what a pity. There will be more such trips in the near future, Bintan will be next.