The Secret ‘Fat House’ of Bali

It was a bold move. The prospect of six-plus hours on the back of a motorbike at any age is a long day. But neither Ketut nor I had explored the northwest quadrant of Bali. We plotted our route and made plans.

The corridor along the coast from Singaraja to Denpasar is a thoroughfare for industrial trucks barreling their goods from Java to Bali through the port of entry at Gilimanuk. Those drivers are notorious for passing motorbikes within a hair’s breadth of contact. But the deserted back roads are potholed and tend to disappear in the most inconvenient places – like at the bank of a river that has no bridge. With corona protocol requiring an expensive test before truckers are admitted to the island, I thought there might be significantly fewer of them on the road. Ketut agreed that now would be a good time to go.

We set out at 8:00 a.m. The weather app showed pure sunshine for our entire route.

“Ayo!” I whooped as we left our narrow gang. And we were off.

By 9:30 we’d reached the western coast of the island. I was ready to stretch my legs and fill my lungs with the humid saltiness of sea breezes. Ketut swerved off the highway at a sign that said Soka Beach. With the exception of two fishermen and a group of men landing a boat, we had the place to ourselves. After a short stroll we bought coffee at a tiny warung and contemplated the next leg of the trip.

My first long outing on the back of Ketut’s motorbike nine years ago took us to Balian Beach. It was a hidden stretch of sand with interesting rock formations and cows grazing in the background. I was eager to revisit that enchanted spot.

“Do you think you can find it again? Remember that old sign and the rocky path to the water?” Ketut remembered and assured me he could find it.

What a difference nine years makes. An entire town had sprung up where none used to be.

“Where’s the beach, Ketut?” I kept asking and he finally spoke my fears.

“No more beach, only hotels.”

I processed for a while, wistfully, as we sped along beside the water. Progress. Growth. Change. I’ve changed, too. The whole world has changed.

With that I let it go.

Everything ahead of us was new territory. The flat land rolling past alternated between groves of stately palms and glistening paddy fields. Mesmerized, I drifted into a meditative trance and was jerked awake when the bike stopped. “Famous statue,” Ketut said.

Towering over us was Patung Makepung depicting the water buffalo races held every year in this area of Bali. Winter surf broiled onto the rocky stretch as far as the eye could see.

“Where are we?” The wind grabbed the name he spoke and blew it away. “What?” I shouted. He pointed to a row of rocks behind me. Red paint spelled out Pantai YEHLEH. Yehleh Beach. I checked Google maps. At 10:30 we were barely one-quarter of the way into our journey. I did the math. What was supposed to take a total of under seven hours, according to Google, by my calculations added up to ten. With no stops.

I sorted through a flurry of thoughts. Could my back, neck and bottom take another 7.5 hours on the motorbike? Would Ketut’s energy hold through the mountains still ahead? With the COVID shutdowns, would we be able to find lodging for the night if that was necessary? Should we alter our route while we still could? By now we were back at the bike, putting on our helmets.

“It’s still far, Ketut. Do you think we can do this?”

“You okay?” he asked, trying to peer through my sunglasses, mask, visor…

“I’m okay. You?”

“Ya. Good. No trucks.”

“That’s great! Okay! Let’s go!”

I have to admit, there was a driving force beyond my insatiable desire for adventure. That morning I’d been reading Indonesian news and up popped an ad for Rumah Gemuk. Translated that means Fat House. But the picture was a piece of enchantment so tantalizing it cancelled out my negative response to the name. Rumah Gemuk, I discovered, was a restaurant on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Beratan. It offered picnics on the grounds or you could dine inside a glass mansion amid the clouds. It had amassed five stars. The reviews were inspiring and the pictures, magical. I was hooked.

And it was directly on our path home.

At Bubunan village we took a sharp right and started climbing. I’d never seen the mountainous area around Munduk, home of one of Bali’s famous waterfalls. Nor had Ketut. Nor had his aging motorbike. We labored up the switchbacks, higher and higher. When we reached a plateau Ketut breathed a sigh. “Already the top,” he said. Around the next curve the road went into a near vertical incline. “Whaaaat?”

Ketut can make that word sound funnier than any joke. As we continued to climb I lost track of the times the scene was repeated. Already the top…Whaaaat?…Now the top…Whaaaaat? I don’t love heights and there were moments, looking over an unprotected edge to the bottomless plunge below, that were gasp-worthy.

I can’t even begin to describe the views. The images I did capture were embarrassingly inadequate. We caught glimpses of Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan as we traveled the northern ridge above them.

I’d been tracking our progress on my phone but service kept dropping out. I wanted to save enough juice for a few more photos. I knew we were getting close.

“My battery’s almost dead, Ketut. If I turn my phone off can you watch for a sign for Rumah Gemuk? It’s before – you know that water temple – Ulun Danu Beratan?”

He knew.

We slowed to a crawl, both of us straining to read the litter of signage lining the street. Suddenly he took a hard right onto a strip of blacktop that wasn’t much more than a path.

“Where are you going?”

“This is it,” he said.

“How do you know?” I couldn’t believe a grand glass mansion would have such an understated approach.

“The sign,” he said. I hadn’t seen a sign. I was primed to argue when right in front of us, towering over a huge parking area, was THE crystal palace.

“It’s there! There it is! Wow Ketut! How did you know?”

“The sign,” he said – again.

Bless Ketut. Bless, bless, bless, Ketut. Every day. Every hour. What a gem.

I took a minute to comb the snarls out of 8 ½ hours of helmet hair, twisted it up in a topknot, and hoped I looked less wildebeest than I felt. “Salon,” Ketut said, and laughed.

After the host introduced us to the dining options available, I snapped his photo and accepted his offer to do the same for us.

I was being silly – so relieved to be off that motorbike!

We proceeded up the outside stairway to the second floor and entered dreamland. Why had I never heard of this place? For the next thirty minutes my mouth hung open and my camera clicked.

There were only a few people there, domestic tourists I guessed, from other parts of Indonesia. “All young,” Ketut observed and I realized that he was probably older at thirty-seven, than any of them, the wait staff included.

I finally calmed down enough to look at the menu. There was something for everyone. Ketut ordered fried rice with chicken and I had the vegan burger and fries. The subtly sweet sauce on the tempe gave extra pizzaz to the mouthwatering meal.

It was one of those exquisite moments that I never wanted to end. But Ketut, the voice of reason, said we had 2 ½ hours of riding to get home and the sun would set long before then. It was time to go.

From Bedugul it was all downhill to Ubud – or so it seemed. Time flew and so did we. Twice Ketut did his, Whaaaat? reversed the bike, and retraced to where he’d made a wrong turn. How anyone can find their way on unmarked roads in the ink-blackness of Bali nighttime, I don’t know. Even with a couple of backtracks, the 2 1/2 hour trip took two hours.

We pulled into the yard. I hauled myself off the bike, thanked Ketut, told him to sleep all day tomorrow because I intended to, and dragged myself upstairs to my cozy nest. I shed the helmet, mask, scarf, and checked the time. 7:08. We’d been gone eleven hours. At least nine of those had been on the motorbike.

In the bathroom I found the hotter-than-sin Kapak oil and massaged it into my body from the base of my skull to the bottom of my butt cheeks. As the hot/cold sting seeped into my muscles I smiled. Even if I can’t walk tomorrow, this day was perfect. It was the last thought before I drifted off to sleep.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shelley Kenigsberg
    Aug 26, 2020 @ 18:38:22

    Thanks! I loved this… and how wonderful to know of this place and your lovely adventure. Trust the oil did its trick and, I’ve noted the name of the place for when I return to my beloved Bali! Se cepatnya mungkin.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Aug 27, 2020 @ 10:58:52

      The application of oil continues and today I got back on the motorbike to run some errands. All’s well! It looks like Bali is being cautious about international travelers. These are difficult times for so many here. The whole world is on reset.

      Like

      Reply

  2. healingpilgrim
    Aug 26, 2020 @ 18:56:52

    Sounds like a magical mystery ride.. and the Crystal Palace, a perfect pit stop! Yay to Ketut; he will never lead you astray 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. ReAnn Scott
    Aug 26, 2020 @ 20:31:32

    A ‘wanderful’ day!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Anonymous
    Aug 27, 2020 @ 03:15:24

    What a wonderful adventure!! Thanks for taking us along❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. Linda Catherine
    Aug 27, 2020 @ 05:44:09

    fabulous journey! thanks for taking us along

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. stevecastley
    Aug 27, 2020 @ 05:45:02

    Rather you than me. But I’m sure you had fun. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  7. shanemac
    Aug 27, 2020 @ 08:01:30

    You write about your Balinese exploits in a way that allows me to feel I’m right there with you. But actually I wasn’t and now I want to visit Rumah Gemuk. I love the way you’re being so adventurous during these quiet times.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. Diane Struble
    Aug 27, 2020 @ 11:05:33

    Loved this. You are braver than I. Thanks for all of the pictures. Ketut is amazing..

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  9. Joseph P Blake
    Aug 29, 2020 @ 01:43:08

    Wow, what an adventure! I’m so envious.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Aug 29, 2020 @ 10:55:32

      I think taken in two parts it would have been perfect – next trip I’ll keep that in mind. You know when you step off a boat and you wobble for a while on your ‘sea’ legs? After nine hours on the motorbike, my whole body vibrated for a very long time afterwards.

      Like

      Reply

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