Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #8 - New Gringo in Cuenca

Its been a sport in the USA for years to beatup McDonald's. Their sin?, offering food which generates repeat business. No enterprise can do otherwise and survive. Ronald's employer thrives with 33,000 stores
around the world. Blamed for the millions of excess pounds on gringo frames in North America, McD began offering fruit and salad. Critics continued to hammer the chain, so it offered detailed nutritional information.
Critics remained unhappy. But the criticism is misdirected. Its the public, the heavy and thin, who buy the burgers. Behavior and lifestyle are the cause, not the availability of addictive and fattening fare. Ron can sit
out in front of the store (see location on map) but its up to me to resist.

I can walk several miles a day. I can choose a route that takes me past a market or two. When I get home again I've got that evening's dinner and breakfast for the following day. Somehow Cuenca makes this easy
and normal. Well, it is for the locals and has been since Inca times.  Here it just happens, unless one forces the old lifestyle into the new environment. If an expat takes a cab instead of walking, they are passing
up a great opportunity, one built into their new lives. What and where we eat and how we get to our source of food is a personal decision. So lets give Ron a break, it is not his fault.

-Glen Birbeck www.glensketch.me

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ecuador Travel Tales - Glen Bruno and the Other Side of Cotopaxi

Ecuador Travel Tales - Bruno's search for the Toucan and the other side of Cotopaxi.

Meet Bruno, Ecuador's latest adventurer taken on a guided tour of Ecuador, around the Northern Sierra by us.

Bruno is a Canadian based in Newfoundland, and has been to Ecuador a few times.  This time he came with a specific mission and he came prepared.  He came fully equipped with a Canon 6D, with an 17-40mm, f4.0L, IS, USM, and a 24-70mm, f2.8L, Mark ii, IS, USM. The big lens is 70-200mm, f2,8L, Mark ii, IS, USM with a 2x Mark iii multiplier. Main filter used was Hoya circular polarizer. 

Am I speaking Jibberish to you?  Well, in camera tech talk that is a pretty good set up.  

THE MISSION:  He wanted to shoot the Cotopaxi volcano, which can be quite tricky to accomplish.  The Cotopaxi volcano is often covered in clouds so you have to time your trip perfectly.  Being that an organized group itinerary would significantly lower his chances of being able to spontaneously wake up and go in the morning when the Cotopaxi is not covered in clouds, Glen elected to use Middle of the World to support his mission.

This way, Glen was not bonded to any specific itinerary and simply contracted us on an hourly basis to be at his service whenever the timing seemed right.  Of course we helped him create a last minute itinerary to help in his other needs (visiting Cotocachi, Birdwatching in Mindo etc), but Cotopaxi needed to be done on the right day for best results.

And while he was here, that day came.  He shot me an email and I was off to pick him up at his hotel in the Centro Historico.  (he shot some amazing night shots of the Centro Historico Quito that I must share).

Beautiful Quito Skyline
I got there about 9:00 AM (normally you want to leave for Cotopaxi a lot earlier but hey it is his call right?  While we headed south and we could see Cotopaxi's massive glacier peaking above the Quito skyline teasing us.  We could also see small clouds forming over her head, warning us to hurry up.  I knew in my mind we were already too late BUT Glen with his positive mental attitude and meteorologic knowledge recommended I push on south.

We didn't make it to the Cotopaxi National Park until about 11:00 AM and boy was it packed with tourists from all over the world!  I don't think I have ever seen it so "lleno de turistas".  However, there was not a peep of sun peaking through the clouds at this point so I already warned Glen we could have missed the shot he wanted to get.  Our only chance was to go to the other side of the Cotopaxi and see if we could find a break in the clouds that the glaciers were creating.

I shoved on up the paved road that turns into a dirt road, that turns into an uphill gravel mixed with pulverized sand road.  Now this mission was just as much my mission as it was his.  My adrenaline was pumping and I kept hoping for a break in the clouds.  After about 25 minutes going up and around her she finally showed herself!  Boy was it worth the journey~

Glen Bruno snapped this awesome picture of "the other side of Cotopaxi". 

Glen hopped out of the car in a hurry to make the most of his opportunity, and the results impressed me.

I took this pic of Glen but he taught me how to do it.

Cotopaxi's glaciers

great close up of Cotopaxi

Victory could not be celebrated for long because the rain came quick.  Timing is everything when it comes to taking amazing shots.  Great job Glen Bruno!

Mike Bruner

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #7 -Street Car for Cuenca - Glen Birbeck

SOC #7 Street Car for Cuenca

One hundred twenty years ago they were called street cars or trolleys. As the innovation was introduced throughout the developed world it evolved. It was elevated in places (the "L" in Chicago) and depressed in other places, (the subway), where the streets were too crowded. It served the needs of cities experiencing explosive growth.  The automobile didn't kill the street car but it put a serious dent in its expansion.

Today there is a new reason for adding this century old mode of travel to a city. In a word, pollution. The train, the LRV (light rail vehicle) is clean. With hydroelectric as its energy source its pollution footprint is zero. In Cuenca it is a partial solution to a major problem - bus diesel engine exhaust.

Nothing in life is totally good or bad. As the cartoon suggests, the Cuenca bus system is good, on balance, Not perfect. The fly in the ointment is sooty, unburned hydrocarbon in black or grey cough inducing clouds. I do not exaggerate.

Note to folks new to Cuenca: Do NOT rent (or dios forbid, buy) a property at a corner where a bus line turns or stops. The nasty clouds of exhaust, even several stories up, will prove unacceptable. This is the voice of experience.

The solution, or beginnings of a solution, is called Tranvia.

Light rail street cars for Cuenca. The first line, from just past the airport to Control Sur, is two years out. Control Sur is the southern gateway to Cuenca. But, this line will only displace a small percentage of the bus traffic in the city. A few percent reduction in pollution. But, it's a start and a serious attempt to address the problem.

Technically the diesel engine is very difficult to match for power, endurance and cost of operation. Keeping these engines tuned up would reduce the pollution greatly but the operators can not, or will not do this consistently. As in many areas, the authorities lay down the law, things improve some, then when the spotlight moves, things degrade back to where they were. But, all things considered, Tranvia is a major step in the right direction.

Glen Birbeck -www.Glensketch.me

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #6 Bill and Learning Spanish

A great deal of the apprehension and mystery potential expats face is that of a new language. There is no single point as important as speaking the language. 

No, I did NOT say you must speak Spanish to live here. An Ecuadorian doesn't need to speak English to live in the USA, but think about their isolation if they don't. They can't communicate with 99% of the people around them. They can't 
easily deal with the various bureaucracies, everything from immigration to the cable company. They live in barrios, large or small, for economic and cultural (language) reasons. Some move out, some never do. As I see it, this analogy is unbalanced because the gringo here in Ecuador has money. The Ecuadorian in NJ is working and sleeping and not much more.  He is sending money home. 

The money advantage gringos have when they move south only goes so far.  Money doesn't buy the ability to communicate with the people around you.  IT DOES!, you say, you pay for lessons and learn Spanish. Not quite that simple. 

The teacher teaches and the student learns but the linkage between those two things is tenuous. I know many people who have been in classes here for years.  Often the cost benefit ratio is not very good. The key is surprisingly simple....have conversations in Spanish. Buying onions in the market is not enough 
conversation, but it is a start. Buying veggies takes a few seconds. 

Sitting at the kitchen table with your Cuencana neighbor talking about your kids you might pass an hour every day. Being a regular at a Cuenca cafe or bar will get you hours of practice. From my own experience, the topics can range from history to pop music to motorcycles, anything and everything. But as you are learning about your new friends, and they about you, you are learning verb forms, vocabulary and slang. 

Have one rule, NEVER give up, never hang up the towel.  If you learn one word a day, only that, in three years you've learned nearly a thousand. 

So who is this Bill? He is a gringo and my new teacher. Everyone has their own best way of learning and "one on one" is best for me. A native of California, Bill has lived in LA for many years and taught both English and Spanish. At my ability level we do the class 85% in Spanish, only dropping into English to fix a fine distinction in Spanish grammar. It is up to me to hit the books and exercise the new knowledge. The hour with Bill needs many hours of reinforcement...that's learning - that's my part of the process. If you are in 
Cuenca and want to try receiving instruction this way, email me. I'll put you in touch with Bill.

Glen Birbeck - www.glensketch.me