With two days until the equinox where there would be no shadows present on the equator line, it seemed like a good time to set off with another newbie traveller to check out the Middle of the World, aka Mitad del Mundo.
The journey itself was a bit of a faff, starting with a twenty minute walk across town from La Mariscal to the Semanorio Mayor station, stopping off along the way for water (I can’t seem to remember to drink enough, others swear by at least 2 litres a day) from a fully barred, secure shop. A really fast, half hour bus ride took us through the vast spread of Quito to the end of the line Estacian Ofellia for $0.25, followed by a quick switch and a final fifty minute bus trip from Ofellia to Mitad del Mundo (clearly signed on the bus and they shout you off), a further $0.25. This final section of the journey took me out of Quito itself and into the surrounding sprawl of scrubland mixed in with modern gated communities, crumbling buildings splattered in graffiti (gotta love the happy Jesus!) and past the military base and police academy, all against a backdrop of mountains whose tips were hidden by low cloud.
On board the bus there was the usual intermittent sales patter and, not having been quick off the mark, I eyed the oranges that the woman next to me had bought. A guy placed a bracelet on each passengers lap to allow everyone to observe the craftsmanship and become a little attached to the handicraft before he returned with a demand for payment. Entrepreneurial touch. My favourite moment – or item – was the t-shirt that the girl selling ice-creams was wearing, which stated ‘Cristos es mi pasion’. It seems that Jesus Christ gets everywhere. I couldn’t help but wonder whether, for a teenage girl, that Christ was in fact a good ‘passion’ or whether it was a temporary distraction before hormones got to her. Or maybe, more realistically, it was just a job, and just a t-shirt.
Arriving at El Mitad del Mundo you have the option to visit the official monument marking the equator, or the more quirky museum Inti ñan, which has now been recognised as having the actual equator line running through it. Finding it was a bit of a mission but we finally got there with half an hour to closing time.
We toured around the gorgeous gardens full of hummingbirds and games and local information with an American couple who, true to Slumdog Millionaire form, tipped the guide heavily (only later did I discover that it is customary to tip the guide). I learnt about the three remaining tribes in Ecuador, about old and new customs. I discovered that Ecuador used to be called Quito but that this was changed after they became independent of Spain in 1822, and that Ecuador means equal time with the sun rising and 6am and setting at 6pm every day. I revisited information about the Acceleration of Coriolis, about the cancelling effect of tornados and hurricanes on the equator, about the doldrums that frustrate the hell out of sailors. I walked the equator line with my eyes shut, I balanced an egg on a nail (successfully! – a certificate proves this fact!) and poured water down a plughole on both the northern and southern hemisphere.
It was touristy, but it was an hour of interactive fun with a good guide who led you through the experience.
On the way back, there was some confusion with buses and we ended up getting off at some random intersection as dark closed in. Not clever. A man in a suit would surely have been a good option to ask for directions, right? Wrong. He rattled something in Spanish before turning away, clearly not wishing to help us out. Thank goodness then for the traffic cops who gave us a pointer and taxi advice. That’s more in the Ecuadorian spirit to which I’ve become accustomed.