In Quito, I met up with a new friend I had made in Cartagena and we went on a day trip to see the equator, locally know as la mitad del mundo, the middle of the world. It makes sense that the equator would have a different name here as Ecuador translates as "equator."
I didn't know what to expect from a visit to the equator so I was just looking forward to taking a photo of a line painted on the ground.
It's about a 45 minute drive from Quito to the equator. The landscape noticeably changed from lush green to arid hills pretty quickly. We first checked out Pululahua, a dormant volcano. Today a farming community lives in the shadow of the lava dome from when the volcano last erupted 2,500 years ago. Pululahua is now a cloud forest and to watch the clouds creep in so silently and swiftly was both eerie and beautiful.
Next stop was the equator museum. But it was so much more than just the equator!
Tiny, vibrant hummingbirds darted from one feeder to the next. They must have had a sense of humor because they would always stay still just long enough for you to get excited and pull out your camera, but just as you took the picture, they were gone! I managed to catch a green violetear hummingbird when he wasn't looking.
If you've ever been curious about shrunken heads, this museum will tell you all there is to know. The tribes that used to practice head shrinking did it to their enemies and wore the heads as trophies. Due to advances in human rights, they no longer kill their enemies and wear their decapitated, miniature heads, but they do continue the tradition of head shrinking on animals like sloths and other native species. From start to finish, it's a twelve step process. Your own head, when shrunken, is approximately the size of your fist. Go ahead and make a fist, you know you want to!
As for the equator itself, there was a red line painted on the ground and the obligatory sign with the latitude. But the real fun was experiencing the Coriolis effect! Basically, winds in the northern hemisphere travel in one direction and in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. At the equator, the two cancel each other out. This is why there are no hurricanes along the equator. The Coriolis effect is also responsible for magnetic and gravitational differences from the northern and southern hemispheres (because gravity is reduced at the equator, you actually weigh about two pounds less there!).
Our tour guide did several experiments to show us the equator at work.
He had each of us close our eyes and walk heel to toe along the equator. The two hemispheres pull you in opposing directions, so you end up staggering along like a drunk! I think my yoga balancing poses kept me more balanced than most but it certainly required my concentration and I could feel myself wobble.
Continuing with balance, we learned that these opposing forces that cause neutrality at the equator can also make it easier to balance items that you wouldn't normally be able to balance. This was demonstrated by balancing an egg on a nail! Our guide gave each of us a shot to balance the egg ourselves but even with the supposed help of the equator, none of us could do it. He said only about 10% of visitors are successful. Had we not needed to tour the rest of the museum, my friend and I both later admitted that we would have been quite happy to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to balance the stubborn egg!
Don't let this picture fool you; Mini Bear couldn't do it either.
Water drains clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the northern. At the equator, it drains straight down! Our guide demonstrated this by putting a few small leaves in draining water. It was shocking to see that moving the drain by just a couple of feet could completely alter the way water flows!
Early people living on the equator must have noticed these phenomena. I can only imagine what--or who--they thought was the cause!
As we were about to leave the museum, a group of about a dozen dancers dressed in traditional costumes started to dance. They seemed a little disorganized, but it was fun to watch. I had just assumed the music was also traditional, but after a minute or two it I realized it was a modern remix, complete with a DJ cutting in every so often to promote himself. I guess all traditions get updated eventually!
The last stop was the monument itself. We have the French to thank for determining the equator's position. From the mid 18th to early 20th centuries, they did a great deal of work to pinpoint its precise location. A towering, Soviet-looking monument dedicated to the scientists was built in the late 1970s so that the equator would run through its center...and today we know that the monument is about 300 meters off from the equator! Oops. Today scientists have more accurate tools to determine its location, but they have also used different measurements than the French did hundreds of years ago. I've never been much of a scientist but if it were up to me, I'd just walk around draining buckets of water to find the equator.
All this learning sure can work up an appetite...but not enough for me to eat roasted guinea pig.
In the past year, I've been to the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, el fin del mundo in Ushuaia, and now la mitad del mundo. Looks like I need to go to la cabeza del mundo! Although I don't suppose they'll speak Spanish up there.
In the end, I did get my photo taken with a line painted on the ground, but I left la mitad del mundo with much more than just a photo.
(The fake equator.)