Tuesday, March 8, 2005 - The Equator
Quito, "Center of the Earth," the capital of Ecuador, is situated on a plateau at 9,800 feet (2,800 meters), in a corridor of volcanoes. In spite of the altitude, my only problem came from the air pollution. My allergies were killing me. I was sniffling, sneezing, and stuffy. It had better clear up. I'm going snorkeling in a couple of days!
Got a late start this morning, 10:30 or so, and missed the free continental breakfast. We had quite a bit to do today before starting our cruise tomorrow. Enchanted Expeditions had told us to call when we got to Quito, so we called from the hotel. Also, we wanted to email home to let everyone know we were alive and well and wouldn't be emailing again until we returned from the Galapagos. We had snacks to buy and pharmacies to visit and camera batteries to charge. And even more importantly, we needed to visit the equator.
It took a long walk and two buses, and a whopping 40 cents, to get us almost to the equator. The first bus was nice. We initially took the Ecovia line, which was fast, efficient, relatively clean, and has its own lane of travel. But then we had to make a transfer. The second bus was from hell. The floor was slippery and dirty, and the place absolutely wreaked of diesel. And somebody should have called Guinness, because I think we had a world record going on for the number of people crammed in there. Instead of a regular seat, the driver was sitting in a lawn chair.
The equator... almost
But anyway, just 12 miles north of Quito is Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle-of-the-World City), a tourist-trap complex and monument ALLEGEDLY located on the equator. This is supposedly Ecuador's most visited tourist attraction. So we paid our $1.50 each, took our mandatory photo of the monument, walked around a little, and left. It turns out the monument is 200 yards south of the actual equator. Way to misplace a monument. If you go, save your buck and a half - if not for the actual $1.50, at least for the principle of the thing! If you must have the monument pic, you can take it from outside the complex. They even have a yellow line painted on the ground supposedly representing the equator. Lies! All lies!
Best of both hemispheres
The genuine equator and a terrific museum lie just outside Mitad del Mundo, northeast of the monument. Facing the complex, walk past the fence to your right and make a left. There you will find the privately-owned outdoor museum Museo de Sitio Inti-Nan, which means "Path of the Sun" in Quechua. Here you will find the actual, GPS-calculated, experiment-proven 00 degrees, 00 minutes, 00 seconds latitude.
For $2 a guide (Spanish or English, probably Quechua as well) will show you around the museum and perform weird equatorial demonstrations. Here, due to a lack of centrifugal force at the equator, you can balance an egg on the head of a nail. We watched with fascination as our guide demonstrated the Coriolis Effect, where water goes straight down the drain on the equator and swirls in opposite directions in each hemisphere. Tom and I had our own hypothesis that a person standing directly on the equator would immediately burst into flames. Luckily, we were proven wrong.
Don't try this in your hemisphere!
The grounds of the museum are very pretty, lots of weird cacti and other flora. They also had a real shrunken head, shrunk by the Shyri people. The head is 150 years old, but the practice stopped only 50 years ago. According to our guide, the Shyri still keep the traditional skill alive by shrinking monkey heads, but it's just not the same. There was also a dart-blowing demonstration, and Tom hit the target on his first attempt. I was too congested from the smog to try.
Tom, the Mighty Hunter
We caught a bus back to Quito - much less smelly this time, but they left us way further from our hotel than we expected. No biggie, just a longer walk. The good thing was that we spotted a Mexican restaurant, Bulloos, on our walk back. Hooray! When people are speaking Spanish, I automatically crave Mexican food. I got fajitas and Tom had a beef burrito - delicious! At the end of the meal, they gave me a white rose! I can't import it to the Galapagos, though. I'll have to leave it at the hotel.
Back at Cayman, we made reservations to stay there again when we get back from our cruise. It's a nice place, and that way we can leave a bag of clothes and such we don't need to take with us to the islands.