Because Ecuador translates to “The Republic of the Equator,” a trip to the beautiful country would be incomplete without seeing the Middle of the World. Each year, about half a million visitors trek their way over for the chance to straddle the famous equator line and stand in two hemispheres at once.
This phenomenon was discovered in 1736, when a French expedition team led by Charles-Marie de La Comdamine set out to see whether the earth was bigger at the equator or the north and south poles. According to “Measure of the Earth,” a book about this trip by Larrie D. Ferreiro, the findings from the expedition helped prove that the earth bulges at the equator. However, although the group was known to work in the nearby Andean mountains, there is no official indication that they really did visit the place where the current monument stands.
This iconic mission was commemorated 200 years after its conclusion when the Government of Ecuador produced a beautiful monument to recognize the anniversary of this expedition. Then in 1979, it was replaced by a 30-foot tall tower capped with a globe, which is what travelers flock to see today. The massive tower has letters on each side to mark north, south, east, and west. Everyone took pictures on each side of the massive tower and zoomed in on the intricate details of the giant globe.
But in spite of the giant monument, the excitement of all the visitors, and the line of shops selling souvenirs, we discovered that the actual equator, the one that is truly at a latitude of zero degrees, is actually about 200 feet north of the painted line next to the tower.
This disrepency occured because the original monument was built with measuring techniques that were not as accurate as the ones we use today. A park official told the New York Times a few years earlier that because the real equator inconveniently crosses a ravine outside of Quito, builders were unable to construct a new monument in the correct location. But even though there is no other large monument, there is another área that people visit that is considered the “real” middle of the world, which was discovered with the help of modern the GPS instruments. Because of this discrepancy, we were able to stand on the middle of the world…twice.
After we visited the monument in the “wrong” place (and had fun pretending to stand in two hemispheres at once), we headed over to the next location. There, we were able to see a line that also represents the “middle of the world.” Instead of a 30-foot monument and globe, this line is accompanied by a small yellow and red sign that reads "Ecuador en la mitad del mundo. Latitud: 00 degrees 00'00"" calculada con GPS" to confirm that this was indeed, the middle of the world.
This line is also located inside a quaint museum called Museo de Sitio Intinan: Camino del Sol. The museum turned out to be so much more than a place that houses the equator line; the staff provided so much information about Quito’s history and indigenous cultures that the visit would have been worth it even if the equator wasn’t there.
One of the most interesting parts of the museum included the presence of two large cabins. These large cabins actually represented ancestral cultures from Ecuador. The museum signed an agreement that allowed them to build these original structures in 2007.
One cabin represented the dwellings of the Waorani, who are well known for their amazing hunting skills. Our knowledgeable guide showed us replicas of their sharp and deadly-looking hunting tools. Generally, they limit their hunting to birds, monkeys, and wild peccaries (wild mammals that resemble boars). The Waorani are also particularly adamant about not hunting anacondas-they believe that these large snakes stand in the way of the path to the afterlife, making it taboo to kill them. The guide emphasized this belief by showing us a large replica of an anaconda that lived on the wall of the reproduced cabin, which leered it sharp teeth at the group. The Waorani also have a deep connection with the jaguar. They believe that they were a result of the mating between a jaguar and an eagle. Those who became "jaguar shamans" were said to be able to telepathically communicate with other Waorani.
The other reproduced cabin represented Quichuan culture. Years ago, this group of people migrated from both the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest. But although they accomplished this amazing feat, they were actually among the earliest groups of people that were captured by the Inca empire. After the Spanish conquered the Inca emperor, the Quichuan population received a drastic blow. Many of them inter-married with the Spanish afterwards, making it very difficult to find anyone of pure Quichua descent.
Our guide explained that the presence of these huts are so much more than just showing a visual display of Ecuador’s cultural significance. She told us that these are important because the equator interconnects the four regions of the country: the Galapagos, the jungle, the coast, and of course, the Andes Mountains. By displaying these huts, the museum is able to show archaeological representations of people who lived in all these different regions.
After we wandered through these cabins and examined their collection of hunting tools, the group reached the ever-famous equator line. Our guide told us that because the gravity is different at the equator, everyone there weighed less than they did before. To show us the interesting effects that can only be found at the equator, she showed us a variety of fun experiments to prove that we had finally come to the right place.
First she demonstrated the Coriolis effect using a basin of water and a drain. The Coriolis effect is based on the idea that, because of the curvature and motion of the earth, free-moving things in the Southern Hemisphere have a tendency to turn to the left, and those in the Northern Hemisphere turn to the right. To prove this, she dropped some leaves into the basin of water and pulled the drain to show us that, on different sides of the equator line, the water does swirl in different directions. And when she placed the basin directly on the equator line, the water drained straight out without swirling in any direction at all.
She further demonstrated this effect by allowing us to try balancing an egg on the head of a nail. Supposedly, this was supposed to be easier to do on the equator because of the lack of Coriolis effect. Everyone lined up in groups of two to step on the stone slabs and try their hand at this trick. Although I wasn’t able to accomplish this interesting feat, many people in our group were. Each person who managed to do it was presented with a cute card at the end of the tour to commemorate the event. Afterwards, she also had us try to push each other’s hands down while on the northern side of the line, the southern side of the line, and on the line itself. As people did this in each different place, they discovered that their strength was much weaker while standing directly on the equator line.
The last experiment that we did was walk on the equator line with our eyes closed. Our guide instructed us to put one foot in front of the other and splay our arms out like an airplane to help us try to keep our balance. This is supposedly more difficult to do while on the equator because of the difference in gravity. One by one, each person took a turn stumbling and wobbling along the line with their eyes closed. None of us were particularly adept at this trick, although I probably would have trouble with this even if I weren’t on the equator!
The need to take two trips to see the real equator might sound like a hassle to some, but it actually proved to be a really great feature of our trip. Although the large monument isn’t in the correct place, it is still something worth visiting and seeing while on your trip to Ecuador. And while some people may only choose to see one place or the other, I truly recommend that you take the time to see both! You can even get your passport stamped with an original Middle of the World stamp, which is something that you can’t get anywhere else. The misplacement of the tower and the need to build a museum only means that you have more exciting things to see! Without the misplacement, we wouldn’t have had the chance to stand on the equator while also receiving a tour on fascinating Ecuadorian culture and the significance of the line. Don’t miss out on your only chance to do these cool tricks and learn about the different indigenous cultures that make Ecuador’s equator line so special and unique.
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