Last morning in Melaka and I took it leisurely with breakfast at my now favourite coffee stop, the Calanthe Art Cafe.
One big breakfast and two cups of coffee (Sabah followed by Perak) later and I was taking a last stroll around the old town.
The last two days have been very quiet – restaurants are empty, coffee shops are quiet and shopkeepers have been standing in front of their stores looking up and down the street to see if anyone is likely to pop in.
At times I’ve found myself to be the only person wandering down the streets. With five others in sight, I’ve started considering this to be a crowd.
There hasn’t been any hard selling or touting for trade. People politely ask if you’re looking for dinner, drinks, a foot massage or a guided tour. A polite “no thank you” has resulted in a smile and a “thank you, miss.”
Jerome’s hostel has only been half full.
He told me he opened up this hostel when he retired. His wife, who still has a few years to work, felt he needed something to occupy his time.
He loves it.
He gets to meet and talk to people from all over the world. For someone interested in life in different countries, he says it’s a great job, especially when his wife says he can’t go travelling longterm until she can go to.
In the meantime, he gets ideas for places he wants to visit. It’s quite a long list.
Ironically, catching a bus back to Sentral Bus Station wasn’t going to be straightforward. Because of the one way system, I needed to walk almost a mile in the opposite direction to find a bus stop where there would be no guarantees that a bus was running.
‘Intermittent timetabling’ was the phrase used.
It felt too hot to walk with a rucksack so I conceded to circumstances and found a taxi.
A taxi would cost 20MYR, possibly an outrage in the face of a Grab (Cab) at 8MYR but it’s just under £4 and the driver told me that Coronavirus (Covid-19) is badly affecting business.
I’d already had a few clues feom the quiet of the streets, but he told me that he arrives at the taxi rank at 7.30am to wait for passengers. The day before, when he went to pick his kids up from school at 2.30pm, he’d had no customers.
If he hadn’t had my custom today, he’d be asking his wife for money to pay for petrol.
The situation has been stark for the last month.
For businesses that rely on tourism and travel to survive – taxi drivers, restaurants, bus companies (not only the expected tour companies) – concerns about Coronavirus and the resulting lack of travel is hitting them hard.
How do you make repayments on your rental car if you haven’t had any passengers?
I’ve posted in the past about my ethical concerns about travel, environmental impact and people’s livelihoods. Where are the alternative jobs and income? What are they? Can countries adapt fast enough to shift the way their economy is supported?
Is there the appetite to do so? Coronavirus (Covid-19) may provide an incentive.
Singapore’s government is subsidising the industries and companies affected by the reduced travel. Malaysia’s government, according to my driver, is not doing the same.
Melaka’s Sentral Bus Station is deceptively large, from the outside. The majority of it is shops and stalls.
Once you pass through these, you reach the actual bus ticketing counters – one for travel within Melaka and one for long distance – they’re actually in a small space.
You can easily buy a ticket on the day of travel and there is a screen showing you the routes, times and available seats. I, as some of us know, have a tendency to prefer to get my seats in advance so I already knew I had a seat.
It looked liked my bus was going to be quiet – there were still 148 seats left. The others all had 40-60.
Was there something wrong with my bus? I’m such a pessimist – straight into assuming the worst.
Could it be that it was a more expensive bus? Another one of those alleged massage coaches?
I would find out.
Where was I going? Kuala Lumpur.