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Friday 20 Dec 2013
Quito, Ecuador

The Equator Effect

Ecuador sits on the equator.  It seems really obvious when you think about it, but prior to this trip, I'd had relatively little awareness of South America.  Quito gets its name from ‘qui’ meaning centre and ‘tor’ meaning land – the middle of the earth.  The indigenous people knew where the equator line was, based on the position of the sun at the equinox and solstices.  However, the Frenchman Charles Marie de la Condamine made a series of measurements in 1736 to calculate the exact location of the equator line and prove that the world is not spherical, but actually bulges at the equator.  There is now a collection of museums, sideshows and shops to mark La Mitad del Mundo.  A 30m-high monument marks the spot, although modern GPS-assisted calculations show Condamine was off by a few hundred meters.  The actual equator line lies in the middle of the highway! 

After taking our photos, we stopped for lunch.  Ailsa and I like to try local cuisine when we travel (though Ailsa is usually braver than me) so we got right into the swing of it with prawn ceviche and roast Guinea Pig.  It arrived with legs splayed and teeth bared, ready to do battle with us.  The thick skin was leathery and tough to get through and we resorted to bare hands and teeth to get the meat off the bones.  Despite the challenge, the meat was delicious – a rich game-like flavor, reminiscent of pheasant or wild boar – and we picked the carcass as clean as possible.  Ailsa even bit through the skull to get at the brain (I said she was braver than me!).

After lunch, we carried on up the road to the Solar Inti Ñan museum, which claims to have the ‘true’ equator and conducts a series of experiments to demonstrate the power of the equator – increased gravity causing an egg to stand on a nail head, the difficulty of walking in a straight line with your eyes shut (which had nothing to do with it being on a slope) and the classic ‘water swirling down a plughole’ demonstration.  They started with a basin of water standing on the equator line, pulled the plug and showed us the water pouring straight down.  Then they moved the basin to the ‘southern hemisphere’ by a few metres and refilled it.  This time the water miraculously swirled anticlockwise as it went down the plughole.  They repeated this in the ‘northern hemisphere’ and - would you believe your eyes? - the water swirled in the other direction! Amazing! It must have been the equator effect! It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with the direction the water was poured out of the bucket and the fact it was already swirling around the basin in that direction before the plug was pulled out…  (We soon worked out Andreas blamed everything on the equator with his tongue firmly in his cheek.)

We were also shown around a number of exhibits of indigenous costumes, homes and even a couple of shrunken heads.  I had never been quite sure if tribes shrinking heads was a myth, but here was a clear explanation of how it happens.  The skin is actually peeled off the skull and boiled in a solution of herbs to shrink it, before it is wrapped around a stone to maintain the shape.  The mouth is stitched closed to prevent the spirit of the dead escaping to cause havoc.  Those of enemies would be mounted on spears as a deterrent, but those of loved ones would be decorated with feathers and worn on a thong as a pendant.  I took a photo of my nephew’s Thomas the Tank Engine with the head for scale, but this is one photo I won’t show him until he’s a lot older!

We had a long drive back across Quito to the Cotapaxi region south of the capital.  We knew our accommodation would be in hotels, but this was one area that Peregrine had really undersold the trip.  We were staying at the beautiful Hacienda Verde, an old farmstead that was a cross between a ranch and a medieval castle.  We were the only guests that night and were served in a dining room overlooking the main entrance hall with its enormous stone hearth and brightly decorated Christmas tree.  The Ecuadorian highlands have many varieties of corn and potatoes, which make up the staple of their diet.  Almost every meal we had started with popcorn, roasted corn and plantain chips.  Tonight we were served a delicious tomato soup with a bowl of popcorn to add in.  It seemed strange at first, but it had worked with the ceviche at lunchtime, so we tried it again.  I think this is one tradition I will take home with me...

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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