Something Fun to Do
I had been adventuring on the island for a week before my daughter arrived. I collected a fun list of things to do when she joined me. Sitting in our warm, sunlit studio apartment while snow piled up in my driveway back home, we made a schedule of things to do. We confirmed with the owners of Rancho Washikemba that Tuesday, we’d go to the ranch to ride the horses. Just as promised, Marc and Bregje arrived at our apartment in the morning in their pick-up truck.
We drove out past the seaside town where the moist, windy ocean air gradually changed to a dry, dusty breeze. Foreboding cacti stood shoulder to shoulder silently along the bumpy dirt roads. High up in the hills of this expansive wasteland rests a golden haven. We pulled up to the ranch with the tires slowly crunching along the dirt road to a stop. Marc got out of the truck, his footsteps breaking the silence as he opened the wide gate. After we pulled up to the stalls, we hopped out of the truck with the sun beating down on us; it was very hot even though it wasn’t close to noon yet. I was wondering whether I had brought enough water when my thoughts were interrupted by their friendly dog, Fleck. His warm welcome instantly made my cares dissolve.
The air was dry and dusty, but the place was remarkably clean. The couple’s authentic relationship became more evident as we watched them work together to prepare for our ride. He was quiet, and she, outgoing; very committed to each other, they’re clearly a hard working couple. Bregje introduced us to each horse, sharing details of their individual personalities, each having a unique temperament like Bregje and her husband. As she explained each horse’s story and how they came to the Rancho Washikemba, I marveled at the couple’s resourcefulness and all that they’ve achieved.
Riding through the Landscape
When the horses were ready, my athletic daughter mounted her horse effortlessly, but I had some difficulty getting up on Blondie. With a little help, we were settled and on our way. Clip-clopping down dirt roads, the ranch eventually was out of sight. Bregje’s voice explaining the history of the area punctuated our peaceful ride. Among the desert landscape, we come upon a long drive to a beautifully kept estate on the side of a hill. Once a plantation where the owner mistreated slaves, the current owner took meticulous care of the landscaping, but no one dared live there, or stay on the property after sundown. In the hot breeze, I said a silent prayer for those who perished there.
The sun beating down had me concerned about how much water I had, but it felt a bit cooler as we reached the coast. Descending from the hilly brush, Blondie’s footing took on a faster stride over the vast volcanic rock cliff overlooking the vigorous surf. The riding was easier along the shore and eventually, we turned inland to a protected bay. There was a tall rock where we tied up the horses and changed to go for our swim.
Swimming with Horses
I opted to cool off in the bay while Bregje took my daughter into the water with the horses. They entered the water and instantaneously everyone was having fun! The horses were actually swimming and my daughter was gliding along, Bregje confidently leading the horses with each new direction. Bregje is a beautiful woman, with a body as magnificent as the horses, powerful and strong. She puts you at ease and has the presence of a confident proud animal.
At the end of the swim, we were all smiles, as we headed back to the ranch basking in our new experience. After arriving back at Rancho Washikemba, we had a chance to relax while Marc and Bregje tended to the feeding, so we played with the dog and visited the horses in the stalls. One of the horses had chickens in its stall; they came freely through a small entrance in the back of the stall to visit their favorite friend, Poco. The chickens that were best friends with a horse was just one of the many charms of this magical place that I remember well.
I was curious about how this was possible, it was truly a wonderful gift that it even existed. I asked them about how they managed all this; developing the ranch, sourcing out the ideal horses from different countries and arranging the transportation to this remote location had to have taken careful planning, funding, and confidence. It was impressive how they managed to pull it off, and now it seemed they were quietly enjoying their accomplishment — in control of and content with their lives.
Considering they spent a good part of the day with us, and knowing how much they charged us, I asked whether they were able to make a good living with the riding – providing for the animals alone was surely a big expense. She told me that it didn’t always cover the expenses, and they supplemented their income in other ways, for example, they raised chickens and sold them. Even that wasn’t a lot, but they managed, and they were happy.
My Return to Rancho Washikemba
Two years have passed since then, and a lot has changed since my visit to Rancho Washikemba. My company was closing and I didn’t have a job, so this could very well be my last time visiting Bonaire or seeing the ranch. I wanted to write about it, and Bregje was kind enough to allow me an interview. I was happy to be back on the island and excited about going back to the ranch.
This time, I was driving out to Rancho Washikemba in my rental car, slowly guiding the car through the continuous ruts in the dirt road that went on for miles. I hadn’t remembered the place being so far out of town, but I guess it doesn’t seem as far when you’re not the one driving. I stopped my car at the entrance to the ranch where I could see down the hillside a riding lesson going on. The absence of sound invited my mind into the past, standing on a dirt road among cacti in the hot breeze where the timeless landscape is just the same as it was hundreds of years ago.
I decided to take some pictures of the scenery while waiting for the lesson to end. It was hot and windy in the harsh landscape – way out in the middle of nowhere. As the saguaro cactus stood several stories tall all around me, the birds entertained me while I snapped some pics. Looking West through the brush, in the distance I could see the haunted house on the hill, where time stood still.
A Charming Story
After the riding lesson ended, Bregje welcomed me and I greeted each horse as we walked past the stalls to the tack shop where we sat at a table to talk. She grew up in the Netherlands, and she met Marc in a restaurant where she worked when she was about fifteen. He was much older, and they liked each other, but he was her boss, so nothing happened between them. When she was twenty, she started college, working towards a bachelor’s degree in human resource management, and at the same time, working in a fitness center.
She enjoyed sports; and she was very athletic, and at the time also doing some acting and some modelling. Doing so many things made her happy. At the end of her study she had to write a paper about something she was interested in, and she wrote a business plan for starting a modelling agency. Having some modelling experience, her motivation was to make a difference because of the problems in the industry. She saw things happening in that industry that she didn’t like, and she envisioned something different that was the basis for her paper.
It wasn’t the original plan to start that business, but when she finished college, she had the completed plan, so she started her modeling agency at the age of twenty-three or twenty-four. She was doing great — at the peak, she had 200 models or so, and not just fashion models, but also commercial models. The most interesting part for her was the fashion industry, especially the parties and fashion weeks in Amsterdam.
It was a nice period in her life with good friends, and being a newbie youngster in the business. She gained credibility by behaving as though she had already been doing it for years, and the more established agencies soon took notice of her. She had some very successful models, and others were forced to acknowledge that there was something she was doing right. They took her seriously because she had the skill to find the right models in the right spaces. Even though some of the models she discovered are still working, she’s not involved in that business very much anymore. Among her models, a girl that she discovered when she was fifteen is still working for Victoria’s Secret today.
Now that she’s living on the ranch, she’ll occasionally refer a model to an agency, but she doesn’t do the management of models anymore. Of course she can do it, but for now, it’s more of something from the past. She admits though, she can’t stand it when she sees a perfect, beautiful face because she can tell when there’s potential or not. There’s a girl from this island she discovered and she’s been working for about five years now. Talking about the modeling, she admits she still likes it; it’s nice.
With the modeling agency, she never made that big, big money. She says they were doing OK; she had a nice life, and then there came a point where she and Marc started talking again on facebook. They still liked each other, and he was living on the island of Bonaire. Soon, she wanted to find out if this could be something for her. She had been to the island once before, and decided to come and live with Marc. Together, they would figure out some way to make it happen.
She was twenty-seven and still had the agency, and thought she’d continue it while living there, but it didn’t work out. When it became too hard to keep contact with everybody, she didn’t enjoy it anymore. She was working in Bonaire, and would be in her dirty clothes, and someone was calling from Milan about a model, well… they didn’t know, but it felt strange, and it didn’t feel that right anymore. Between the two worlds, the surroundings of the ranch felt more natural to her. In her life, she’d always had animals, and always two or three horses – even throughout college and while owning the modelling agency. Thinking she was done with horses, she sold the horses, saddles, and everything before coming to Bonaire. She was going to start a new life – just go for it and see how it goes and it will work out.
Within a year she already had a new horse here on the island but not a job. Marc had a construction company at the time, but she didn’t know what she would do. The lifestyle was not that enjoyable or profitable, and they were living in a neighborhood down the road from here. The first horse they had, they boarded with their neighbor. At the time, they had some money but not a plan for the future. She was riding and playing with a friend, and they thought there’d be others who would also enjoy this. They discussed this with a neighbor who had the piece of land from their family, and they thought it would be a good idea. They thought they could make it profitable, and they made a business plan.
Hard Work and Better than Expected Results
I asked her about the business plan for Rancho Washikemba. Did it evolve and did things turn out the way they planned? “Better,” she said. They’ve been in business for six years now. Most of the time it takes up to five years for a new business. They were withing their five year target within three years. “We won’t get rich here. But that’s not the point.” she said. “We don’t need that. We just want an easy life.” She and Marc have been together for nine years, and that’s their story.
They both thought the plan would work, and there were challenges, but still, she never doubted it.
Sourcing out the horses was challenging, it was hard to find the right horses. They bought them one or two at a time. They were very careful; it took a lot of effort and much more money than you would expect. She said they needed good characters, and were not concerned with what they look like. The horses truly are all a part of a great family.
On the island, this is a special place, but not visited as much as other attractions. Most tourists stay in the city or go to the National Park up North. Few people come out this way. They expect that to change now that they’ve established a new nature park in this area. More people will come out, but not too many so far.
I asked her, looking back, what would she tell her younger self? “Just go for it. Just do it. But I didn’t need to hear that. I didn’t have fear for anything. Just trust yourself and go for it.”
I asked her how she managed this monumental task. She answered succinctly, “we made a business plan and then we did it,” as if anyone could do the same. She explained, “you’re going to die anyway, so why not just go for it?”
To me she seemed like such a remarkable person. Perhaps she is not so extraordinary – maybe it’s I who hasn’t yet become extraordinary as I could be. I was forced to examine my own desires. I asked myself why have I not been able to realize my own dreams? There was nothing holding me back more than my own limited thinking.
Note: To visit Rancho Washikemba yourself, click here and you can also follow them on facebook.