Friday, May 30, 2008

The Middle of the World

Today we're off to the middle of the world. That is, not the center of the Earth (not the novel, not the movie, or the upcoming remake). Quito, the capital of Ecuador, sits just south of the equator, also known as "Mitad del Mundo." It's about a half-hour cab ride from Quito, and since some of our group wants to do some other sightseeing first, we get kind of a late start.

We've been advised ahead of time that there are two destinations that purport to be the equator. One is a monument erected by some French engineers around 1980, and it contains an ethnographic museum. There is a pathway leading up to it decorated with mounted busts of individuals I presume were the founding fathers of Ecuador (yet another instance where a little knowledge of Spanish would likely have enhanced the experience). And of course, the obligatory souvenir and t-shirt shops. The whole thing is known as Ciudad Mitad del Mundo.

And then there is what is locally known as the real equator, about 200 meters north of the official monument. Here, some of the indigenous people have put up their own museum called Intiñan Solar Museum, where they not only have some educational material about their culture, but also some demonstrations that purport to prove that they straddle the real equator.

I will leave it to others to debunk the demonstrations of things such as Coriolis force swirling water down the drain in opposite directions on either side of the line or balancing a raw egg on a nail. I find it somewhat more convincing that they say GPS devices indicate that it's really the equator. In any case, it was interesting. I've always wanted to know how they make shrunken heads or use blowguns, for example. The sundials and solar calendars were cool, too.

This was not our first flirtation with the equator, of course. Several days earlier, back in the Galapagos, we did a couple of dives at a location known as Cape Marshall on Isla Isabela, which is right about at the equator. Sitting at breakfast on the boat that morning, one of the other divers on the boat had his GPS-enabled cell phone out, and we watched as the boat swung on its anchor that the GPS indicated we were swinging across the equator.

The last adventure of our trip involved getting back to Quito to pick up our luggage and catch our flight home. Leaving Intiñan, we flagged down two cabs, but neither driver seemed very clear on how to get back to our hotel. And just as we got in the cabs, it started to rain. So we're driving back to Quito in the rain, trying to explain to the driver in halting Spanish where our hotel was. It seemed like our map should be helpful, but it turned out our cabbie didn't have his reading glasses. And apparently, the cab didn't have a defogger, either (other than the handy red rag he used periodically to wipe the windshield).

Needless to say, we were a bit concerned about making it back in time to catch our van to the airport. As luck would have it, the other driver stumbled onto a street we recognized, and we were only about 15 minutes late (and the van driver had waited for us!).

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