Ecuador Day 3 – Quito and the Centre of the World

It was a warm start to the day, but I was still sweating more than normal. Not from my fevers from the days before, but because I was strolling, grim-faced and with purpose, towards Old Quito with around $1500 in cash I’d just taken out from the cashpoint in 3 separate withdrawals, most of it to pay for my Galapagos trip, as I couldn’t sort out an internet transfer the day before. I was sure the chap in tatty clothes whose eyes lit up as he caught a glimpse of the thickness of my wallet after the third withdrawal was following me. I hailed a cab at this first sign of trouble – and sped off towards CarpDm travel agents to pay for my trip. I knew they’d be sweating too, as they’d booked me a berth on the Floreana boat already and paid for it themselves, hoping I’d pay it back. Fortunately, trust still exists here – perhaps the traveller’s code of honesty, trust, friendship and getting drunk on life, love, culture and cheap drinks hadn’t been broken here yet. It has in many other places. I don’t trust other travellers generally – that’s why I don’t stay in hostels. If anything gets stolen – it’s more often than not by another traveller. Perhaps I’m just jaded. This means I miss out on the community spirit of the hostels, hanging out with other travellers, sharing stories. It’s nice, but, through my excellent experiences travelling alone through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, I’ve realised I don’t travel half way around the world to hang out in packs with other foreigners. I’m there to do my own thing and mingle with the locals more. It makes travel harder at times though. Perhaps I’m just a loner. Anyway, CarpDm, situated at the Secret Garden Hostel, had obviously never experienced anything negative with travellers, and so they trusted me, and, thank god, I was able to give them the fee in cash and in time.

As I handed my hard-earned cash over to Paul, the boss at Carpdm, visions of a cockroach-infested boat with a motley crew and a load of absolute cunts for travel companions for a whole week at sea flashed through my mind. Well, fuck it. Being able to see the nature I was hoping to see, in a place I’d dreamed of for years would counter any situation I experienced with or on the boat, no matter how atrocious. I got my receipt. That was it. All booked on the Floreana. Hopefully it would exceed my expectations. It was going to be an adventure, that was for sure, on a holiday so far full of them. I couldn’t wait.

I had an afternoon to kill, and a man in a taxi outside was handily carrying some of his suggested itineraries. I was keen on visiting La Mita del Munda – The middle of the world – a place just outside Quito, bang on the equator. I’d come all this way, so I thought I really should give it a try.
So I arranged a fee for the journey there and back, with a scenic stop or two along the way. We set off on the 22km journey, and were soon out of the busy city and off in the mountains along the well-maintained highway. Our first stop was the extinct volcano of Pululahua, with a crater some 400m deep and 5km across. The taxi driver parked up and he came along with me to the crater’s edge. As the rolling mists cleared the views below of cottages and farmed lands were impressive. A little community living inside the crater! The ‘crater people’ were going about their business, safe within the steep walls and blessed by the microclimates and rich vegetation on the fertile lands. I wanted to descend into the crater to speak with them, for I imagined tales of wizards and witches, goblins and fairies and the like, but time was short if I was to make it to the centre of the earth and back again.

I arrived at an interesting spot a short distance from a huge monument erected to show the point of the middle of the earth. Indeed, the Museo Solar Inti Nan was well worth a visit. I joined a guided tour that took in all sorts of things related to Equador history and importance of geographical location. To begin with, we visited two typical indigenous huts to experience the Indian home life, and I saw interesting examples of vernacular architecture of the Andean equatorial region and a variety of flora and fauna of the regions of Ecuador, such as live guinea pigs, llamas , insects, snakes and tortoises. The guinea pigs, of course, are a delicacy now in Equador. They won’t be ‘live’ for long. I also learnt about the process of shrinking heads, a practice performed in the Amazon region of Ecuador by the Quichua-speaking people. The process of creating a shrunken head begins with removing the skull from the head. An incision is made on the back of the neck and all the skin and flesh is removed from the cranium. Red seeds are placed underneath the eyelids and the eyelids are sewn shut then the mouth is held together with palm pins. Fat from the flesh of the head is removed and a wooden ball is placed in order to keep form. The flesh is then boiled in water with a number of herbs containing tannins, then dried with hot rocks and sand, while molding it to retain its human features. The skin is then rubbed down with charcoal ash. Decorative beads are added to the head. Wow. I remembered learning about the process of mummification when in the interesting mummy museum in Luxor, Egypt. Such a painstaking process! It must have taken a lot of trial and error to have created mummies, as it must have done to have created shrunken heads. A lot of heads must have been tossed in the bin. Perhaps used in a morbid game of ‘fetch’ with pet dogs. Or maybe pet Llamas.

The group moved on to look at some totems, then to the sundial. It was a blazing hot day, not a cloud in the sky. We learned about this unique sundial, on both sides of the equator. This agricultural calendar stone index of the 4 seasons indicates the summer solstice on June 21st as the longest day in the planet’s north and the winter solstice on 21st of December as the longest in the South and the equinox is March 21 and September 23 when the sun is perpendicular and has no shadow.

I then learnt about another important thing: The Coriolis effect, caused by the rotation of the Earth and the inertia of the mass experiencing the effect. Because the Earth completes only one rotation per day, I learned, the Coriolis force is quite small, and its effects generally become noticeable only for motions occurring over large distances and long periods of time, such as large-scale movement of air in the atmosphere or water in the ocean. Such motions are constrained by the 2-dimensional surface of the earth, so only the horizontal component of the Coriolis force is generally important. This force causes moving objects on the surface of the Earth to veer to the right (with respect to the direction of travel) in the northern hemisphere, and to the left in the southern. Interesting stuff.

Then came photo opportunities to put on facebook to show you’re in the middle of the earth, followed by a series of interesting experiments. One was where the guide balanced an egg on a nail head, claiming that, because we were in the middle of the earth, it balanced perfectly. He managed it first time. Nobody else could do it. Then the water experiment. Water goes down the plughole counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern. The guide filled a sink with water in the northern hemisphere, then pulled the plug and dropped in a few leaves so we could witness the direction of the water. It did indeed flow counter clockwise. He then did the same with a sink in the southern hemisphere, and the water flowed clockwise. Amazing! Although, of course, this apparently isn’t really true, but it does no harm believing in the magic. I really enjoyed it, and got a special stamp in my passport saying I’d visited the middle of the earth. That’s a good stamp to have and a rare one indeed.

From here, I went to the equator monument, a 30m high stone one topped by a brass globe. I walked around it, enjoying being bathed in Andean sunshine, mountains all around. Many tourists were having pictures straddling the equatorial line….good for the albums for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and even bought a Panama hat, the misnamed Equador fashion statement. I grabbed a coke, sat for a while, then went back to the taxi, but the driver had gone, looking for me around the monument, as I’d gone way over our agreed time. He came back 15 minutes later, looking relieved. I hadn’t paid him yet.

I asked the driver to drop me off at a shopping mall in Quito, as I needed to buy some good walking shoes, as I realised I hadn’t packed mine. Equador, being a nature-lover’s paradise, has no shortage of adventure shops. I strolled around the mall, like any mall, anywhere in the world, and bought a few things. I took a taxi from here to the Mariscal, and sat down for a proper meal and a couple of beers. I felt good, and had nearly completely recovered from my food poisoning. I had an early start the next day to Galapagos, so I turned in early, having enjoyed an incredibly interesting day in the middle of the earth.

Author: Neil

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