After the plush comfy ice box in BSB it was a stark contrast to endure mosquitos, a lumpy bed and air-con which made no discernible difference, and so it was surprising that I managed the Stupid O'Clock early rise necessary for the bus up to Beaufort at 7am. More rolling forested hills were punctuated only by first the radical concept of an internal border check at Merokok between Sarawak and Sabah, and then the grungy little town of Sipitang redeemed only by its beachside setting. It was still only a little after 9am by the time I arrived in primary destination Beaufort, an unremarkable little town from what little I saw of it apart from the fact that some of the shops were still ancient wooden shacks and even the modern ones were all unusually mounted on stilts in view of the local river's propensity to flood.
By the time I'd battled with another disorientating map I realised that if my onward connection was to be today then it would have to be immediate, I was left perplexed as to whether I had ben lucky to just make the 10am departure or short changed again in not being able to afford Beaufort so much as a passing glance. I deemed it prudent to bag a ticket and jump aboard though, it was the service itself which lay as the attraction. This had been one of the major instigations for my side trip back south in realising a superb colonial quirk, the North Borneo Railway. In characteristic opposition to reality, the supposedly recently renovated service was actually just undergoing the initial throes of modernisation, with the main service from Beaufort back to the Tanjung Aru suburb of KK being presently suspended. The remaining stretch of narrow wobbly line still running to Tenom was the main drawcard in any case, and upon belatedly trundling out of Beaufort the dilapidated dinky wooden carriages commenced to bounce and rock relentlessly so that occasionally you might consider derailment a distinct possibility. There had been no sign of the Vulcan steam engine allegedly used occasionally on the service either in KK or in Beaufort, though I did spy an assortment of Toytown-esque railcars, one of which still operated as a single carriage daily service. My original plan had been to catch the "Relkar" in at least one direction just for the hell of it, but the schedule was as ever not conducive to comfortable living. It mattered not though, as I still enjoyed a delight in following the Ratas River up its hill shrouded valley, a scenic delight improved upon even further when I realised that a panorama was much better afforded by steleing out onto a flatbed wagon positioned between the loco and the snake of the carriages. You got plastered in muck, oil, soot, and eventually torrential rain but also gained a great view of spectacular lofty rolling countryside and the turbulent river adjacent. That was another pertinence in as much as the entire gaggle of other tourists aboard promptly decamped at a small village station known as Pangi, from where they were about to brave the rapids we had just disconcertingly witnessed in a rafting trip. And you had to sit cross legged lest the interminable shonkiness of the narow gauge tumble you right off the train, I could not even abandon the rain for fear that I might fall in between the cars. In the process it was perhaps revealed that the service's persistence was qualified by being the only practical link to the outside world for many scattered rural communities, with many "stations" being simply a shelter of corrugated iron sheeting elevated upon 4 poles. At a tangent the one thing I had had time to appreciate in Beaufort was the front page of the Sabah Times which related Beaufort of all places, from whence sadly a 6 year old girl had gone missing presumed taken by a crocodile in that very river. The 2 hour cliff and river hugging shoogle ended with the negotiation of the line's sole tunnel upon entering Tenom, a likeable enough spot surrounded by wooded hills, and the typically spartan station was excellently placed very central by the Padang.
It hadnt been assured or even intended to reach Tenom that day and though I should have been appreciative of my good progress for once, it left me the realisation that I had arrived just in time for local attraction the Sabah Agricultural Park to close stupidly early at 2pm. I had learned of a museum in this nick of the woods too and in spite of it failing to get a mention in the guidebook I stumbled across it pretty quickly. At least I had to presume it to be the anticipated museum, allegedly portraying local indiginous Murut culture, the plinth mounted warrior statue outside was signed only in Malay as the Antonom Memorial. This offering was a lesson in itself, a bronze plaque revealed an unexpected history in a Murut uprising against the British in 1915 during which rebel leader Antonom and many others were killed. It was just as well I had attained this unusual insight as compensation since I was to be further perplexed by finding the museum open yet closed, a completely bare shell of a building left with doors gaping after an evidently recent renovation. That rather got that one out of the way succinctly then and I was left with an hour to contemplate whether it would be worth overnighting in Tenom just for the sake of visiting an Orchid House and Crop Museum the next morning.
In the end I had been so frustrated at suffering numerous petty misfortunes that the impending return train ride and bus connection all the way back "home" to KK proved too appealling to resist. Now supremely sweaty, soggy and smelly after 4 days of living out of my pockets, returning to KK would sort that out and actually curtail any chance of further disappointment, even if it did mean that I wouldnt be able to ride the "Relkar" on the return leg. As it turned out the single daily dawn departure would have meant 2 overlengthy nights in Tenom anyway, a nonsense which rather summed up the whole sad sorry loop south I had just tackled. The final insult was for the bus which operated in lieu of the train service from Beaufort to KK dumping everyone on the busy isolated highway opposite the train station, whereas it would have plainly been more convenient to all concerned to run the extra few Ks to the central bus station. My problematic 4 day sojourn south had me finally back thankfully at the familiar North Borneo Cabin in more need of a shower, feed and beer than after climbing Kinabalu. It had filled in a few gaps but still had felt sometimes like a game of hopscotch I was always destined to lose. Phew!