The middle of the earth

On Sunday, we went to “la mitad del mundo” – the middle of the earth.  Ciudad La Mitad del Mundo is a tourist complex set up on the site where, in 1736, French explorer and scientist Charles-Marie de la Condamine made his final calculations to determine the precise equatorial line. With modern GPS technology, apparently he was off the mark by some 180m (600 ft.).

We knew this was going to be a tourist trap, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to do what every other tourist does – get a picture with one foot in the northern hemisphere, and one foot in the southern hemisphere.  Ecuadorians flock to “la mitad del mundo” on Sunday because of the lively entertainment offered all afternoon long.

We had the option to take a tour for $30.00 per person or we could go on our own for a mere .45 cent bus fare and $2.00 entrance fee.  As you may have guessed, we chose the latter option.  We needed to get to La Ofelia bus station in order to catch the bus to “la mitad del mundo”.  Coincidentally, this was the bus station we had gone to last week by mistake when we were trying to get to Otalavo.  At least we knew where we were going this time.

The buses are always crowded which unfortunately makes them a fertile ground for thieves.  One must be extremely cautious as pick pockets run rampant.  Luckily, we haven’t had any trouble thus far.  A fellow student at our school was pick pocketed just last Friday on a crowded bus – she lost both her cell phone and her wallet.

Our bus travelled through gritty, run-down neighbourhoods towards the north end of town.    Along the way, a little girl and boy, no more than five or six, jumped on the bus and broke out in loud song.  They belted that song out at the top of their lungs.  Now that they had everybody’s attention, they got to work selling their candies and marshmallows to amused travellers.  They charmed and harassed and pushed their products on their captive audience with much success.  Imagine our surprise when we returned at the end of the day to find this duo still hard at work – almost eight hours later.  In fact, they spotted us in the line waiting for the bus (we kinda stood out as we were the only gringos around) and I succumbed to their charms and bought some candy from both of them.  I then asked if I could take their picture, and the little girl very seriously and firmly said no.  Gotta respect a kid who knows how to set limits and not be exploited, at least not by tourists.

What can I say about “la mitad del mundo”?  We expected it to be tacky and it was.  There is a large monument where the middle of the earth is supposed to be, in front of which is a walkway with a line running down the middle that represents the middle of the earth.  This is where tourists take their picture with one foot on each side of the line, representing the north and south hemispheres.  Of course we had our picture taken too.



A fake village built in a mock colonial style houses souvenir shops and restaurants.  We followed the sound of music to a central plaza where many locals were congregating in anticipation of the afternoon’s entertainment.  Everybody was eating a big bowl of food that was being served by a few women off to the side of the stage.  Chris and I went for a closer look – lunch was comprised of boiled potatoes, cooked carrots and onion, pork and a dish we couldn’t figure out – Chris thought it was lima beans, and I thought it was oysters.I think Chris may have been right.

We opted for a simpler lunch – coffee, grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and homita – an Ecuadorian dish that tastes a little like corn bread – that is cooked in the husk of corn.  Afterall, Chris was just now feeling himself again – we really didn’t want to take a chance of getting sick again.


We hung around the plaza for a while watching the entertainment and then headed off to a museum that was outside of the official site (according to our research).  Of course there were no signs around so we asked someone for directions and blindly followed the direction they pointed in.



This time the directions were correct and we found a very charming little museum tucked away behind the official site.  The $3 entrance fee included a guided tour in English….it was worth every penny.  Our guide explained the outdoor exhibits which focused on representing various aspects of the lives of indigenous people.


For example, when an important man in the village dies, his wife is buried with him – alive.  She is given a potent drink made from a special plant that will put her into a deep sleep.  The indigenous people believe in life after death so the wife considers it an honor to be buried with her husband – she gets a head start on the afterlife!  I wonder what she thinks when she wakes up in the burial tomb next to her dead husband!


Dinner anyone?  Seriously, this is dinner.  Cuy, or guinea pig, is an Ecuadorian speciality.  That’s right – they eat guinea pigs.  We have not yet had the opportunity to try cuy, but a fellow student described her experience. Apparently the cuy was presented on her plate fully in tact – head, legs, arms – and she had to poke around to find the meat.  Hmm, hmm.

There were also some experiments that demonstrated the uniqueness of being at the middle of the earth.  Oh yes, they too had a line that they claimed was the real middle of the earth.

Here’s the highlights:

Balancing an egg on a nail.  No idea if this is possible anywhere else, but several people, including Chris, were able to balance the egg on the nail.

Water draining from a basin – on the line, the water went straight down, north of the line, the water circled the drain in a counter-clockwise direction, and south of the line, the water circled the drain in a clockwise direction.  We’re not sure what to think about this one.
Check out the video on YouTube:
Upon our return to Quito, we learned that the city had been deluged with such a fierce storm that the airport was closed for several hours in the afternoon.  We were glad we had spent the afternoon out of the city where we only felt a few drops of rain.

With regards to the weather in Quito in general, it is predictably unpredictable.  Every day is the same – a little sun, a little cloud, hot when the sun is out, cooler when its behind the clouds, and maybe a rain shower in the afternoon for about a half an hour.  Temperatures during the day are usually around 20C and it dips to around 10-12C at night.  There are two seasons in Ecudaor – winter and summer.  But in the sierra, the mountainous regions where Quito is located, the weather is constant throughout the year.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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