Riding in a Cattle Truck

The reason I’ve been quiet over the weekend is that I had to go on a long journey down south. Finding no time to get an express bus ticket from my usual, more reliable express coach service, I got to the bus terminus in Sungai Nibong, Penang and was cormered by a ‘tout’. When you’re in a hurry, you usually don’t take too much time asking questions that you should ask or think very clearly, one of my weaknesses, when my mind is actually somewhere else. A journey from Penang Island to the capital Kuala Lumpur in the south, usually takes about a minimum of around 4 hours and maximum 5 hours by road travel  of about 402.25 kilometers, if all goes as usual, without any hitches or major traffic jams.

Thinking that this was a routine journey, like in the old days, when one could simply jump on any bus going south to KL,  I paid the RM35 fare, and got onto the double decker coach. It wasn’t too bad for starters, but became increasingly annoying on the way.

The driver made two stops when he reached the mainland, just over the 13km Penang bridge. First at a petrol station, then near the toll plaza for no apparent reason. On the North-South Highway running down the peninsular, there are many toll plazas where fees are collected by a private company called PLUS, for use of the highway. All this public money is supposed to pay for building the highway. But, how much of it actually services that debt is unknown to most of the public who have no alternative but to use the highway. The public are suspicious but, so far, have no choice or say in the matter, as most of us who use public transport are amongst the financially and politically powerless.

We continued on our journey for nearly 3 hours, without a toilet stop, with our early morning breakfasts burning up quickly in our bellies and only a few snacks to hand, to fill the gap before a lunch stop. Instead of  stopping at the usual services where one could sit at a table to rest and re-fill properly, this little napoleon of a bus driver, stopped at a short stop facility, telling all his passengers to bring their food, bought at the mobile foodstall, onto the bus for lunch. OK, this was a toilet stop too, but he neglected to tell us that this was the first and last of its kind until we hit Puduraya in KL. He seemed to think he was delivering a load of cattle from one state to another.

The temperature was raised when all of us got on the bus keen to finish this journey, and he ‘ordered’ people heading for KL Sentral ( the main public transport hub in Kuala Lumpur) to get off with all their luggage, and get onto another bus going the same way. I don’t think this was within the company’s legal route as the other bus was under a different company name. There was an exchange of passengers going to specific destinations, ours being supposedly, Puduraya, another public transport hub in the same city. All right, that was that, although a number of passengers on ‘my’ bus actually wanted to go to KL Sentral, but were refused by this little napoleon.

So, we went on our way again. Many of us, were now travel weary and dying to get off and go to our respective end destinations. As we thought we were nearing KL, moving off from the Sungai Buloh toll plaza, the usual penultimate toll plaza on the NS Highway before getting into KL  proper which is also dotted with toll booths, the journey seemed to continue for another 3 hours or so.

On long coach trips, many people tend to fall into dozing and waking mode, so when I opened my eyes to see if we’d reached our destination, the passing road signs indicated, Shah Alam and Bukit Jelutong that were further south in Selangor state, way past KL!

We were also on an unfamiliar bit of highway where we had to stop at several toll plazas every few km. In fact, if the bus had stopped at the township of Subang Jaya, on the way, it would have cut my journey by a lot, as that was where I was heading, but had missed the express coach going there, in the morning.

We were already about 5 hours into our journey to Kuala Lumpur, but were still on our journey there. It was like being in a continuing nightmare, wide awake, finding yourself trapped on an eternal journey, but never reaching your destination!

The torture continued when this tyrant made another stop some where in Shah Alam and refused to let anyone alight to stretch their legs, use the facilities or go to the petrol station shop. Subsequently, this little napolean went on several twists and turns on the road and stopped at a local bus terminus, shouting for passengers going to Klang to get off at this point. Some of those passengers weren’t even aware that this was the drop off point.

At last, we made the epic journey back towards Kuala Lumpur and the half-way station of Puduraya, passing my actual destination where I wanted to, but could not get off. I’ve learned patience the hard way, and it has stood me in good stead in situations like this.

Puduraya, that has been newly refurbished by the Federal authorities and much trumpeted, was another absolute let down. It was all grandly set up, but had virtually no food except a big 1Malaysia shop, which I won’t promote because it’s a monopoly in the abscence of healthy competion with other private food outlets. The story of Puduraya is for another post.

Having dragged myself up the stairs on one side, I dragged myself down on the other side to a KFC outlet over the road. With all its recent bad publicity, KFC was like an oasis in the desert! Well, when you’re desperate, political correctness goes to the winds. After, refreshing myself with so-called ‘junk food’ that I haven’t touched for a long time, my journey started again, on a different mode of transport and much walking in-between. Thank goodness for the high sugar soft drink I had at KFC. So, onto the LRT at Masjid Jamek, then a commuter train ride to KTM Subang Jaya station, then onto a mini bus for USJ Subang Jaya and finally, with flagging steps down the road, across the small drain, and stop at the gate of my sister’s house to throw off my load of bags, and rest in the heaven of bath and bed.

I left home in Penang at 9.30am and reached my sister’s place in Subang Jaya at 9.30pm, a neat 12 hours on the road.  Well, I think I know what hell could be like for that little napolean who drove the ‘cattle truck’ to KL. He’ll be on a never-ending -journey without any stops whatsoever… nice thought…

This is posted for the special benefit of first time, occassional travellers, and tourists unfamiliar with the pitfalls of public transport, long distance travel in Malaysia. Welcome to Bolehland, as the locals call it!

Author: jasminetea2

A free lance writer interested in people and ways of living. An adventurer in reality and explorer of fiction. A solitary animal by nature.

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