Friday, March 28, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #5 - Buddy Winston

 Born in Brooklyn NY, Buddy Winston worked in Hollywood for years. He wrote the monologs for Jay Leno. He resides now in Cuenca but is another expat from Santa Barbara, a town that seems to be well represented here.

He is also a comedian, painter, playwright & no doubt more, but lets focus on his art. Several of his paintings are hung in the Artebamba Gallery. When I suggested he was the classic "Renaissance Man", he said no, he has invented his own term, "Reniscience".

His recent novel, "Out of Buddy Experience" is available on Amazon and is getting great reviews. Said Leanna Palermo, "What a rush! What an amazing journey! It’s like Indiana Jones was caught moonlighting as a comedian during an outlandish escapade, and what follows is a sometimes

unbelievable ride through Asia and the jungles of Hollywood, USA".  Santa Barbara's loss is Cuenca's gain. Buddy Winston, a unique addition to the expat community.   Glen Birbeck

Do you NEED Spanish in Ecuador?

Ecuador is a Spanish speaking country, but can you get by if you do not know any Spanish?

Regardless of what you have heard, Ecuador is a Spanish speaking country.  Many locals do not speak English.  It is not expected of them to understand you.  Therefore,  It is essential to learn Spanish in order to experience "del buen vivir" (the good life) you seek.  Learning Spanish will help you communicate with native Ecuadorians and prevent being involved in awkward situations socially.  READ MORE  (links to for the full story)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Love these Avocados.

The Avocados here are delicious! For those who enjoy a quick little snack of Ecuador goodness in between articles here on the blog, like our Facebook page:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #4 - Elya from Amsterdam

Elya is a tall Dutch woman I met one morning in Cuenca.  She was visiting for just a couple of days, taking a break while her boyfriend Climbed Chimborazo. The altitude would have been too much for her she said.  Elya had some trouble in Peru adapting to the thin air.  She described being sick on the bus from Lima to
Cuzco.  She'll rejoin her partner, a gymnast, after he does the volcano.  They will then head
into the jungle, the Oriente of Ecuador.

How long will you be there? I ask, "Until, whenever" Elya replied. They don't have to return to Europe for several months.

Back home in Amsterdam she is a Producer of short videos.  She says her Spanish is not so good
but like most Europeans she speaks several languages.  Her English is fine.  Elya suggests that her German is so-so.  She was born in a little town in southern Holland but now calls Amsterdam home.

I ask her what production she most enjoyed.  "Working on a documentary in India".  The subject was the rights of woman. She enjoys her work but looks forward to settling down to a home and children some day.

What other travel adventures have you had?  I ask, "The burning man festival in NV".  Her eyes lit up describing the event and the wreck of an old truck she and a friend drove to reach the festival.  The truck's existence ended there in the desert.  She spoke nostalgically of the feeling she had when the giant effigy was lit.  Everyone was quiet, tens of thousands of people in the desert staring at a burning giant.

Best of luck in the Oriente Elya.

-Glen Birbeck

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #3 - Amelia and the Artebamba Gallery

I ask Amelia what first brought her to Cuenca. She answered, "Love" OK, What keeps you in Cuenca?, With the smile that never seems to leave her face she again said, "Love". Some guy? I suggested, "I fell in love with Cuenca" she answered and explained why. "From the start I sensed a tranquil easy vibe here" she continued, "the only hard part of living here is missing people in Santa Barbara". That's where she is
"from" when anyone asks. But, she explains, "I've been all over".

Amelia has been in Cuenca since late 2013 and from the beginning the gallery at the corner of Hermano Miguel and Juan Jaramillo had been her base.

She isn't new to running a gallery but as with most things it's a little different in Cuenca. For example, between greeting visitors and organizing the shifting collection of art, she paints. Not unknown in the states but not common either, the combination studio gallery is more the rule in Cuenca. In the states its different . Working in a gallery in Santa Barbara she wouldn't be painting, she wouldn't be wearing an artist's smock and she couldn't let her hair down as she can in the city of four rivers. Its more laid back in Cuenca. The pretentiousness and high prices are missing. Amelia thinks buyers here are more driven by feelings when they select art. Less by cold calculation. Maybe that's the lower prices. Maybe its the mood of the city...maybe both. With so many expats decorating newly acquired houses and apartments the gallery is a success.  Her artists are from everywhere. North Americans, Latin Americans from other parts of the continent, Cuencanos and other Ecuadorianos. From them Amelia selects mostly paintings but also sculptures and decorative items.  She has an experienced eye but is often surprised and delighted too by what people sometimes find irresistible. Its "Love" she says. "They see an artwork and fall in love" Who can fathom love? To find out if Cupid has an arrow (and art) with your name on it, visit Artebamba when you're in town.

-Glen Birbeck

Arasha Resort - Ecuador coastal Rain Forest adventure.

 I Decided it would be a good idea to take my family on a few days vacation.  We went to a place called Arasha in the coastal Rain forest of Ecuador on the road to Puerto Quito (and Tonsupa) from Quito.

We arrived at the resort around 10:00 AM after a quick breakfast in Nanegalito with the hummingbirds entertaining us.  Super peaceful.  Our entertainment was sponsored by Cafe Armadillo restaurant.  

Watch out!  hummingbird attack!:

 Upon arrival we went straight to the pool, which was quite warm and comfortable, then we hit the jacuzzi, for a bit of unwinding and relaxation.  We also enjoyed a session on how to make chocolate and a few hikes into the Jungle including some swimming in the Rio Verde which features two Cascadas (waterfalls).   

I would write about this forever, but since I took a bunch of pics and you can find them on our Facebook  page, I will let the pics do the talking.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #2 - Glen Birbeck - Craig and Lucy of the Wind Horse Cafe

Lucy is from Ohio, Craig from Minnesota. They married in 1974 and after graduating from college bought land in Wisconsin and started farming. They tried different crops but after a while turned their simple homestead into a dairy farm. That activity lasted twenty three years. At that point they sold the older part of the herd and moved to Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua they worked on a co-op dairy farm for a year. Lucy found she loved Spanish and after returning to the States she studied to be a teacher of Spanish. Having regular jobs plus the cows to take care of proved to be too much. A stint in the Peace Corps in Ecuador followed.

Eventually they found themselves in Cuenca with a building at the corner of Hermano Miguel and Calle Larga. They turned this into the Wind Horse Cafe. As followers of the Shambala tradition of Buddhism, Craig and Lucy offer space for meditation upstairs and a welcome to all. Providing a place for travelers to pause and refresh is an ancient Buddhist tradition.

The Wind Horse opens its doors five days a week to a variety of travelers. Expats from North America, European back packers, Cuencanos, all find a welcome and food that is reassuring in its familiarity or slightly exotic. Each visitor has a unique story and reason for being in Cuenca. Operating a restaurant is a lot
of effort anywhere. The paperwork, taxes and local requirements are a challenge, but Craig says they deal with it. Craig believes the work is made easier by the sense of community.

The couple return to the states annually on average .  "We're not getting rich", Craig says, "but we are making a living". In their off time they travel in Azuay province or relax in their beautiful house in the country at the edge of town. They've had the cafe for about 18 months and figure to hold this tack five years before altering
course again.

Their random acts of kindness, hard work and sincere hospitality will make them conspicuous where ever they land in the future.

-Glen Birbeck

About Glen Birbeck: 

Glen Birbeck found his southern home in Cuenca three years ago. Since then he has developed his Spanish and been  active in the Cuenca Writers Group.  Painting and drawing are pastimes.  He also enjoys building electronic gadgets and (kinetic) art.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #1. An Intro- Glen Birbeck

Humans are story tellers. Much of any culture is the collection and retelling of stories. The personal, the group, all have their myths and histories. Stories which tell where we've been and where we're going. In the present context we are emigrants to Ecuador. we come from North America, from Europe, from every part of the globe.  Our paths trace new stories. 

My efforts will be to sketch a few of these tales. My own story is fairly typical. My nationality is Estado Unidense, USA. I grew up as an Air Force brat. As WW2 cooled down & the cold war heated up My family moved from Nebraska, where I was born in 1946, to Japan. Then Arizona to England, Greece to North Africa (Libya). When I was seventeen, not having had enough, I joined the USN, and years later, the Air Force. That added Germany, Iceland and Spain to the list. 

Was all this travel a factor in my expatriation to Ecuador? Maybe, it got me used to moving and to accommodating a new culture. Then in 2010 for the first time, I flew into the Southern Hemisphere. My tourist visa allowed a month in Quito and two months in Cuenca. That was my introduction to Ecuador. I liked it.  Eventually I had all the documents and was granted residency as a pensioner.  

Cuenca has been my home since then. I go north to Maine when the weather there allows.  I keep a studio in Cuenca and a camp in the Maine woods.  Going back and forth, the snow bird life, is more a psychological problem than an expense. It takes a hardy plant to be pulled out of the soil every year and replanted four thousand miles away. But, maybe I am playing out those early years. maybe it's inherent in me and only amplified by experience. 

I have to suspect it's me because my sister and brother stay firmly rooted in the stony soil of the pine tree state. I've long since given up trying to talk anyone into traveling south as I have.  Gets the same reaction as talk of a trip to Mars, another place they don't speak much English. I hope you enjoy these sketches of Cuenca.

-Glen Birbeck

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sometimes you miss home. -Best Burger in Ecuador

It doesn't matter where you travel.  Where you end up.  What kind of adventures and lifetime experiences you encounter or who you meet.  You will sometimes miss home.

What is familiar to you becomes distant as you sink profoundly into your new Expat life and with that distance comes a longing for discovering familiarity in your new home.

My new home is Ecuador and I am no exception.  Sometimes I want a burger.  I want it with cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup.  You know, the works right?  I want it to be authentic, genuine, the real McCoy!  I want it with fries (not rice) and I want a Coke.  Sounds like a simple demand right?  But it is not.

You see, we have that here in Ecuador.  There are great burger places here, like Lucia Pie House, which is one of the best burgers I have ever tasted, and definitely the best in Quito.  The burger comes to your table just how you like it, with all the fixings, fries on the side, ketchup, and a Coke.  But it's not the same.  Oh no.  There is something missing.  Something is just not right about this medium well slab of Carne Molida (ground beef).  It is just not the same.  Why?  Because it is not home.

Lucia Pie House.  The BEST Burger in Quito

Why is it that even though this burger is an exact carbon copy of the American version, it does not FEEL the same?  Because it is not home.

When you make your home far away from home you tend to try to cling on to things you find afar that remind you of home.  For me its burgers.  It could be other types of food, it could be an environment such as the countryside or a lake, it could be just about anything that will remind you of home.  But it is NOT.  Is your search for home like things some sort of coping mechanism for finding comfort in your new home far away?  Is this normal?

I never thought my new found craving for McDonalds, in which I NEVER enjoyed in the states, would get my brain boiling with such thought provoking questions.  Maybe I am just starting to experience that Culture Shock they talk about.  Everyone who reads this blog knows that I have immersed.  Right?

But maybe no matter how deep you immerse in your new culture and your new environment there will always be a corner in your skull full of grey matter whispering to you; "There's no place like home."  At least while I am here I have places like Lucia Pie House to keep my cravings at bay.

Mike Expat Blogger Survey results: Infographic.

A while back, a non profit Social Media platform dedicated to Expats, approached many expat bloggers like myself with quite a few interesting survey questions.  I was one of those "expat bloggers" who filled out and completed the survey.

This morning I was presented with this Info graphic that the Internation staff created based on the answers and feedback from their comprehensive survey.  This feedback is vital information for Expats, Potential Expats to Ecuador and beyond, and Expat service providers so I felt it would be important to get it out in all my available channels.

Anyhow, here is the link to the original post and infographic.