Jerry sent me towards another Warm Showers host, a cycling club in Pontian. I looked em up and found that they had a clubhouse where I could stay, and figured I may as well! It was not lost on me that I was finally experiencing the hospitality of Warm Showers so close to the end of a long journey.
I got a late start. Jerry left me with keys, so I waited for him in the morning and had a cup of coffee and some breakfast across the street in an antique and very local restaurant. I said my goodbye and off I went, in a strange mood. I made my leisurely way into Pontian, a coastal town full of wooden ships and shanties as well as very modern blocks of shops. I got fried, the sun was mighty equatorial and all the moisture was effectively sucked out of me. I saw a McDonald’s and popped in to use the wifi. I hadn’t heard from the cycling club, and I couldn’t find a hostel in town. I decided to give up on the club and try my luck at the hotel. I sat in the shade where I parked my bike, and as I sat there, a man rolled up in a nice SUV. He addressed me, asking,
“Are you American?”
Surprised, I affirmed.
“My name is Michael, I am from the Pontian Cycling Club, you follow me!”
I was very surprised- I must have missed a message, and our paths just happened to cross! I quickly packed up and followed him down towards the coast. We rolled up to a block of shops, and from a balcony on the top floor, a very portly man waved at me. Well, here I was! I had to carry my bike up four flights of stairs, but this was nothing new to me. A door opened, and there was this very portly fellow and another cycle tourist! Cool, I had company!
The clubhouse was a long, narrow room with three bunks in an enclosed area, a table loaded with snacks, a small dining table, and a fridge. A little bathroom was inconspicuously hidden by a small door just inside double sliders that opened out onto a spacious balcony. The walls were plastered with pictures, letters, and flags. Behind the dining table was a stack of various emptied bottles of liquor. The two men, Michael and Tom or some such- they all had Anglicised nicknames for our convenience- invited me in, helped get my bike situated, then offered me a beer. This was going very well. I introduced myself to the other cyclist, a wild haired middle aged man from Argentina, who I immediately took to. We sat around drinking beer and talking about our respective trips. I accepted a second beer despite my significant dehydration, but soon our hosts were bidding us goodbye and encouraging us to rest. I talked with the Argentinian man, but my Spanish and his English were unfortunately quite on par, by which I mean, relatively poor.
They returned a few hours later and took us to dinner. We went down to a restaurant on the waterfront, where our hosts seemed to be on very familiar terms- and we were accommodated with special seating outside so that some of the members could smoke.
Magic soon happened: things were ordered, more members showed up, one man began to pull chilled bottles of coconut liquor out of an ice chest. We were served glasses of this liquor with a splash of Guinness, and it was delicious. I would say it was between ten and thirteen percent alcohol content, not too dangerous, but we drank a lot of it. I can’t remember what we ate, but there was a lot of shrimp, noodles, fish and coconut soup.
We drank, and people smoked, we took pictures, and listened passively as these evidently old acquaintances chatted amongst themselves. Many of them were very fat. The fattest of the three had matching bike chain bracelets, I noticed. I learned that many members of the club sometimes went on rides on the weekends, others not at all, but that most of them went on a ten-day tour once a year. These were well documented, and I greatly enjoyed the pictures- it would be fun to go on tour with them sometime! At last someone suggested we go back to the clubhouse and we were dropped off. We slept well.
I intended to leave the next morning, but it was insisted on that we have some breakfast first, to which I readily assented, never one to refuse a meal and eager not to insult their hospitality. We were picked up around 10 am, taken to a very local spot where we were served tea and noodles. Then we were back in the car, but not en route to the clubhouse. We went to another place and were served a type of sticky rice dumpling, which filled me to the brim. I saw a bike shop around the corner and enquired after chain lube, but just like every other bike shop in Asia, they didn’t stock any. We waited in the air-conditioned lobby of a hair-dresser’s for another member of the Pontian cycle club to arrive, and I couldn’t help but notice how late the morning was getting. We piled into the car again, but did not return to the clubhouse.
I was sort of kidnapped and taken on a tour of the countryside- we saw a pineapple plantation, where myself and the Argentinian were gifted fresh pineapples, and a pepper farm, which I found very interesting- they’d planted trees which the pepper vines used as poles to climb. There was also a massive concrete structure in the middle of a field, which our hosts explained was housing for birds, although the type of bird could not be ascertained, nor the purpose of building such a massive accommodation for them.
We returned to town in the early afternoon, and were brought to lunch across town. We were still stuffed from our double breakfast, but more food was ordered anyways. More of the coconut liquor appeared, and the drinking began. We were all quite tired by this point, and drank in relative silence. One fellow would leave the table from time to time. Once, I saw him cutting pork in the kitchen, and learned that this was his aunt’s restaurant and it was his wont to help out on weekends- and it was simply his wont, Iwarrant, for he was the best dressed and the wealthiest in appearance, and the contrast was interesting. From the kitchen he returned to the table, only to leave again. He returned from a back room with what appeared to be bags full of paper, which he topped off from receptacles around the restaurant. Our enquiring looks prompted an explanation, and we were told that each piece of paper was a prayer, and at the end of each month they were ceremonially burned. We were invited to participate. We went through the kitchen and out to the back, where the fellow had a massive mound of decorative paper, to which he was adding more prayers, vibrant red and magenta paper in intricate folds.
The fire was lit, and we were each given ADDITIONAL prayers to throw on the bonfire. We did, many of which caught the air, and then we ran around gathering the prayers so they didn’t escape the pathway to the gods. It was quite an experience.
Needless to say, I spent one more night at the Pontian club. In the morning I awoke early, to an absolute downpour. I debated whether I should leave, but I feared being seduced into another night of coconut liquor. The rain broke, and I made a break for it myself. It only broke long enough for me to get loaded and mount up, however, before it returned with a vengeance. I tried to wait it out under an awning, although I was already soaked, and after a moment, took off anyways. I couldn’t tarry so close to Singapore.