Mitad del Mundo
No-one disputes that the equator runs through Ecuador. But pinpointing it has proved a bit more difficult. If you take a GPS unit around the country you notice discrepancies between your readings and the sitings of signs and markers. The main monument, known as la Mitad del Mundo is located just north of Quito, not quite on the middle of the world but there or thereabouts. Unless you are a mathematician or you can climb Cayambe volcano it’s probably still the best place to mark your visit to the equator.
It costs $2 to enter the site. The main attraction is the stone monument; its stone walls slope up to a huge globe at the top. You can take a lift up to a viewing platform or just put each foot and arm on either side of the bright red line and ask someone to take a photo.
When you’re done with that you can visit the ethnographic museum, a planetarium, the Fundación Quito colonial model and the French museum. The equator was first marked here by a French expedition in the 19th Century. The busts on the path up to the monument commemorate these scrupulous and persevering men who would probably be horrified to find out their calculations were slightly out. If you’ve got more time there are some gift shops and “traditional” restaurants.
Next door, up the road to the north is the Museo de Sitio Inti-Ñan (path of the Sun in Quechua). It is owned by a family and is very entertaining. For a tiny fee a guide will show and explain something about local plants, animals and culture. Apparently the equator runs right through the middle and you can do all sorts of tests which the guide makes look convincing but somehow don’t always work out for everyone else.
To get there, head out of the city on the Panamericana. Don’t take the road to Calderón, continue due north to the village of Pomasqui. The monument is just beyond, on the left. Buses run up here but they are quite slow. Take the Ecovía along Avenida América to a junction near Cotocallo street. From here get a blue bus that says Mitad del Mundo heading north. You can also get a taxi or a private tour.
Five kilometres north of the equator is this steep sided crater. It is long extinct and some people live and farm the land on the crater floor. It is also a geobotanical reserve. A dirt track leads up to the crater edge from the main road (take a bus heading for Calacalí and jump off). There’s a restaurant called El Crater up here and an amazing view, which unfortunately we only enjoyed for two minutes before we were completely enveloped by cloud.
You can walk around the rim and also hike to the bottom and camp or stay in a refuge. You need to take your own food. Once you descend you must pay $5 but there’s no extra charge to stay. It’s possible to do a horse riding trip in the crater. You don’t have to return the same way – a dirt track leads north-west up the rim and down to the Calacalí road again.
Every time we get anywhere near Quito my wife starts waxing lyrical about the fritada in Sangoloqui. It is a Sunday tradition for many Quiteños, at least those who live in the Valle de los Chillos, south-east of the centre to go to eat in one of the large open plan restaurants opposite the military base. This is what we did the day after we first met so I guess it helped cement our relationship.
There’s a corn on the cob statue on a roundabout (making an itinerary to visit all the monuments to corn in Ecuador would probably make a nice week long trip). If you’re here at the end of June you can join the celebrations of the end of the harvest. It lasts four days and includes bullfighting/ running on the last day.