It is shown on some maps and on others where it perhaps it should be, it isn’t. It is a section that abuts the immediate Northern border of the Oranjestad Township. It sprawls in an unidentified way and while other areas of the island proudly display their location (Shiribana #1 would be SHI – 1 and Palm Beach would be PB – for example) there are very few homes or buildings in Rancho that display the letters of identification. Here and there a RAN or NCHO will appear but it is the definite minority.
The structures there are interesting. Many of the 2nd generation original homes were made from Pecky Cypress which is a wood so dense as to have been used as a bearing material for the propeller shafts of small inboard motor boats. These old homes still stand and while they may be a bit off-kilter they are insect damage free and impossible to drive a nail into. The easiest and quickest way to see one of these homes is to go down town to the HUGO BOSS location and then look directly behind the store. There along the small street you will see such an example. Prior to these homes being there, the area was mostly very small huts made from tree branches woven into Popsicle board walls and finally plastered with mud. These would have been the first generation homes of this area and were constructed on the flat coral that is still there. Therefore, they did not make foundations that went into the ground. Old photos are indicative of these homes but not especially in that area.
Most of these homes were so small as to barely accommodate one person. The reason being that “Rancho” was populated mostly by sailors and seamen that were, for the most part, without family - but instead, as the saying goes, they had a family in every port they visited. (Conjecture of course)
They worked the sail boats that carried cargo as well as the small sailboats that brought fruits and some items from Venezuela and Colombia. This required special men. These had to be men that were ready to spring into action at any time. Perhaps it is from the “hardy and “rough “character of its original inhabitants that the Rancho area earned its current unwarranted reputation.
To ‘test the waters’ I took a walk through the area at around mid-night. It was not what I expected - whatever that was.
As I walked the streets in that area, I was asked to join a couple of different ‘domino’ games and accepted the last invitation. That led to red-bean soup and fish. Grouper I think. Along with that some green plantains and tons of hot sauce made from onions, Madame Jeanette’s and vinegar. It was a pleasure to sit with 3 other men and do nothing more than play to about 3 am. As I finally called it quits, they pushed a tin cup my way that had assorted coins in it and one of the guys said “Pa Cubri Otro biaha” To cover next time. It made sense so I threw in a five (5) Florin piece and they returned 2 back to me, telling me that I hadn’t eaten that much – which sounded like this “Bon Come Dje Tanto Ey”. It was sarcasm at its down-home finest.
When I walked to my car I found a self appointed security man (homeless) standing by it. As he saw me coming he started to buff the tires and doors with a rag that was dirtier than sin. Anyway, he told me about his guard and washing services – both of which he had already performed – and I gave him a couple of bucks. He was thrilled, so was I until it rained about one ten minutes after paying him. We both laughed. As I started to move on, he came to me and started telling me about me. It seems as if he knew me. It took him all of about 10 minutes to let me know that he used to have a very responsible job and that chemicals (he wouldn’t say drugs) had destroyed that. We did a long handshake and we both knew that his confession would not rid him of his demons. Dominoes and fish made me glad while the reality of one man’s life made me sad.
The following day I went back into “Rancho” to get a closer look in daylight. The dominoes and fish house was closed up and the homeless man wasn’t there. Here and there, men sat on porch railings and said things like “Mi tat traja cura” - I am a gardener. Puedo hacer de todo. (Spanish) “I am willing to do anything”. It is a day-labor market of sorts, comprised of sincere seekers of labor-for-pay.
It is here, “Rancho” that just like so many years ago, that the many new Arubans have landed. They are eager and willing and so much in need of work and of belonging. The work gives them dignity and it was a search for dignity that I saw on their faces. Finally, in the back and hidden “Alley” I saw graciousness. A man, all by himself, was making a fishing dingy. It looked like a beached sea animal that had long ago lost its flesh and was left with only the skeleton as testament of its existence. This craftsman was lost in his craft. Every time he walked from one side to the other – his hands would slide along the work he had done. As if he didn’t want to lose touch with it. And it was there that, for me, the lesson of Rancho and her people was learned.
Do not lose touch with what you do. Be true to who you are and not who you are supposed to be. Be simple thereby the most intricate form of ‘you’. Do not lose touch with what you do.