Quito: Straddling the Equator … or Not

Saturday, 7 July (Part III)

Following lunch, our Celebrity tour headed north of Quito to Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World City), home of the monument that supposedly marks the equator.  I say supposedly, because modern GPS devices have proven that’s not the case.  The true equator runs about 980 feet (300 m) north.  At least that’s the distance my Fodor’s Guidebook uses; other sources quote slightly different measurements.

On arrival, Rodrigo kept us together as a group just inside the entrance to Mitad del Mundo to give his commentary.  I recollect he mentioned that although the Equator runs across the world, what is now Ecuador is one of the easier to get to areas to do studies.  Hence the reason why the French Geodesic Mission of 1736 came here to measure the roundness of the earth and also the length of a degree of latitude at the equator.

I also remember Rodrigo mentioning something about us weighing slightly less at the equator :-)  The rest, unfortunately, is a blur.  The sun was particularly brutal, and it was just boiling hot standing there with no breeze or shade, so I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have.  After what seemed like forever, but was likely no more than 15 minutes, Rodrigo ‘freed’ us for 45 minutes to explore the site at our own pace.

The monument is a 98-foot (30 m) tall obelisk
topped by a metal globe that weighs 2½ tons.

tightline walking on the equator;
not an easy feat!

Tip for visitors arriving in the afternoon — the sun is behind the monument as you approach it.  People like to have their photos taken here because there is a 0 latitude sign on the line.  If you go around to the other side of the monument, however, you’ll get better pictures; and it’s not nearly as crowded.  Just look for the big “O” (for oeste [west]) on both the monument and the ground to get your bearings.

Another tip, for anyone visiting the Mitad del Mundo, if you want a ‘real’ claim to the equator, go to the Intiñan Museum, a short distance from the monument; it sits on the line.  Since we’d already enjoyed the privilege of straddling the equator at Quitsato on Thursday (post here), we skipped this.

The line and monument are supposed to straddle the spot that in 1736 the French Geodesic
Mission determined was the latitudinal center of the earth.  Close but no cigar in this case.

Aside from the monument, the ‘city’ is home to an ethnographic museum, which is located inside the obelisk.  It was crowded inside, so we skipped it even though Rodrigo had given us entrance tickets for it.  Other buildings contain a planetarium, where there’s a Spanish-only show if there are at least 15 people; and an insectarium, where you can have the world’s biggest beetle crawl on you (or so we were told; I wasn’t about to find out for myself).  There’s also a small village constructed to look like a colonial city — the buildings mostly house souvenir shops, but I saw a few cafés too.  We opted to wander around with no specific goal in mind.  I found murals painted on the sides of some of the buildings, so I was a happy camper.

Can’t resist the murals.

On the way back to the hotel, Rodrigo gave us the details for tonight’s dinner, and luggage tips and the like for tomorrow’s charter flight to the islands.

A few things I’ll add as sort of a p.s. from our drive up to the Mitad del Mundo.  In response to a question from someone, Rodrigo briefly discussed the main sources of income for the country.  They are — #1: oil exports; #2: bank taxes on money that comes in from abroad (from Ecuadorian expats living around the world, but especially in Spain); #3: banana exports; #4: flowers — especially roses (Ecuador is numero uno in the quality of the roses it grows; 500 shades of red alone); and #5: tourism — especially the Galápagos Islands … this is where we’re doing our share to help the Ecuadorian economy!

Of interest to birders, Ecuador claims 1,650 species as compared to 700 species for all of North America.

And finally, Rodrigo recommended the book (movie) titled The Mapmaker’s Wife, which relates the story of the French Geodesic Mission; none of them apparently made it back from South America.

Back at the Marriott, we spent our free time packing the bag we’d be leaving behind in Quito and rearranging the rest of our luggage for the after-dinner luggage drop-off our instructions requested.  Then, around 6:15p, all spiffed up after our day of sightseeing, we headed off to dinner at Ristorante Carmine.

The restaurant was founded by Chef Carmine in a lovely house in the suburbs (the residence of a former president, we were told).  Though Rodrigo had said that the restaurant was booked exclusively by Celebrity for this evening, I did see a few other clients in another part of the restaurant.  Not that it was a problem.

The residential setting makes for a lovely, intimate dining experience.

The food was good, but it was the setting that made it such a delightful evening.  We managed to snag one of the two-tops in the garden for an al fresco meal, which increased our enjoyment, of course.  Yes, the evenings in Quito can get quite cool, but there were gas heaters burning to keep us cozy.

Good food with tree tomato juice to start out, and an al fresco setting for our meal.
What more could we want.

I started out with the Bocconcini di Mozzarella Fior di Latte (roule of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto) and continued on with the penne pasta with zucchini, broccoli, sweet peas, and carrots.  Mui ordered the grilled portobello mushrooms served in a balsamic reduction as his starter and had the sea bass prepared with lemon, olive oil, parsley, basil and garlic, and served with a side of pasta.  (I would have been happier with the fish; thanks, Mui, for sharing your plate).  We ordered separate desserts to share — Frozen Capuccino (tiramisu really) and Profiteroles, those wonderful pastry puffs filled with creamy custard.  Both desserts were delicious, though the taste of coffee in the frozen capuccino was a bit too strong for my liking; Mui thought it was great.

Mui enjoying his after-dinner sambuca.
Penne and the Sea Bass (bottom left); portobello mushrooms and the mozzarella
and prosciutto (center); and profiteroles and frozen capuccino (right).

Chef Carmine and his young daughter made the rounds constantly, stopping to chat with guests at each table.  He and Mui hit it off immediately, and they were off and chatting for a while in Italian.  Before we left, he sent over a glass of Sambuca for Mui to enjoy as an after-dinner liquor.  I was offered some too, but I don’t care for the taste of this liqueur, so I abstained.

It was getting on towards 9:00p when we returned to the Marriott.  We’d been requested to take our checked bags (unlocked) down to the library by 10:00p, so we spent the next little while finishing up our packing, making sure we left out the things we would need the next morning.  (No restrictions for carrying on liquids, by the way; the beauty of being on a charter flight.)

We were each allowed 44 pounds (20 kg) checked; our handheld travel scale showed that we were well below that number.  (The hotel has a scale for those who need to weigh their bags.)  Don’t know that we needed to worry about the weight; no one weighed our bags.  Per Rodrigo, the weight restrictions are in place because the charter flight, in addition to taking us to the islands, carries the provisions for the next sailing (ours) from Quito.

Although we were told the bags would be inspected for agricultural products and then locked, we didn’t see an inspection either; not that we had anything to worry about in that respect.  In fact, the two women accepting the bags simply asked our name and our room number, checked us off the list, and tagged and locked the bags with red zip-ties while we were there.  If there was a random inspection done after we left, our bags weren’t selected.

That bit of work done, we returned to the room for a good night’s rest.  Yes, the Galápagos portion of our trip is finally at hand.

6 comments:

  1. Wish the Quitsato sundial had been there when we visited, such a great astronomical study place.
    You didn’t climb the tower for a beauty shot from on high? Motivation for me to finally dig up my pictures. There is a shot of me doing the exact same tight-rope walk on the “sorta” line ;)) Irresistible, wasn’t it?
    Fantastic dinner spot, so glad you had opportunity to enjoy your evening.
    Sambuca. YUM.

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  2. Really enjoying your trip - can't wait for the Galapagos too!

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  3. [re-posted fm CC]
    Thanks for including so much detail in your review. Love the photos, especially your beloved murals. I guess you've been to Valparaiso, Chile, right? The town is filled with murals.

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  4. [re-posted from Fodor's]
    Thanks for the report--and your pics are beautiful. I am planning a December trip and found your report on activities around Quito informative!

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  5. Those murals are great, but I wouldn't have been able to pass up an opportunity to go inside the insectarium. I wrote down The Mapmaker's Wife so I can look into it. I love a good historical story!

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  6. I think we sat at the same 2-top!

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