So I’ve left the land of coffee and entered a country where they drink their coffee instant which is a bit of a push for someone who only started drinking coffee because obtaining a decent cup of tea was a mission to rival the search for the Holy Grail. Thanks for the coffee addiction, Colombia. Is there a 12 step program for that? I’m in Ecuador and Quito is the first capital city I’ve been in since I landed in Buenos Aires and I’ve got to say, I’m impressed and not least because of the hostel I stayed at in the New Town, the aptly named Centro Del Mundo, centre of the world. Appropriate for me on account of the fact that the world does revolve around me kept in place by the gravitational pull generated by the sheer size of my ego, and appropriate for Quito because that’s one of the main reasons to come here; To check out the Equatorial line at Mitad Del Mundo, about an hour and a half north of the city.
I say Equatorial line, it’s actually not, it’s the not-the-real Equator line on account of it being 7 seconds of a degree out but who’s counting?
So up you rock, pay your US$2 (dollar americano, they’ve used the American dollar in Ecuador since 2000) entry unless you fancy the Planetarium combo in which case you pay US$3. I wouldn’t bother. It’s the worst dollar I’ve ever spent. You spend half an hour staring at a concave ceiling whilst they project dots that are meant to be stars onto it with a commentary in Spanish. Marion, a chick from the hostel I came here with, slept for the entire half hour. A much more productive way to spend the time methinks.
And then it’s time for the big moment, the line we’ve all been waiting for, the not-the-real Equator line painted onto the floor and the big monument you see in miniature in gringo shops all over the city, the Mitad Del Mundo itself! And the crowd goes wild and fights for a place on the line to take their various photos. Aaaaand that’s it really for that part of the day. There’s heaps of restaurants and shops to keep you entertained though and we booked ourselves onto a tour to go to Pululahua crater, a nearby volcano crater where you can climb to the rim and check out the tiny community living there, actually in the crater itself. But we still had an hour to kill so it was off to the insectarium.
Ok, so aside from this new thing I have for photographing flowers coz they’re pretty and not coz they’re shaped like rude things I’ve also developed more of an interest in bugs and bugs here are fucking cool. The butterflies are so pretty and half the other insects look like they could rip your face off with their big head claws and horns. Spiders are still Satan’s representatives on earth in my book but beetles? They’re wicked. You’re not allowed to photograph the displays of the dead stuff here for some reason but that’s cool because for US$2 they’ll let you cover yourself with real live beetles and take a photo for you. Awesome! Marion and Maria looked on in horror as they put 5 of these huge beetles on me with these little, spiky feet that have to be unhooked from your flesh when they remove them, it’s such a weird feeling. And the one on my right hand was thinking about going for walkies which, again, was a different sensation as it clawed its way slowly further up my hand.
Then it was tour time so we were loaded into a van by a man called Fernando (speaks fabulous English) and driven to the Mirador De Ventanillas which is the main lookout point over the crater and the start of the track into the crater. But that wasn’t for us. Oh no. Fernando had other ideas as he unwound the pre-cut bottom piece of barbed wire from a nearby three-wire fence and lifted the other two wires for us to crawl under. You gotta love South America.
He led us up a small trail, stopping a couple of times to talk to us about the view, the plants around us and the culture that built a monument on a hill 1500 years ago consisting of two stone circles, one being the moon and the other being the Earth. If you stand in the middle of the larger Earth circle with a GPS it will read exactly 0°-0′-0″ latitude. We didn’t, we just have to take his word for that, but basically this means that this ancient culture knew about the middle of the earth way before we did and built this monument as a deeply spiritual place where the shamans go during the Equinox, when the sun will travel across the sky along the Equatorial line and at exactly midday you’ll lose your shadow for a moment whilst the sun is directly above you. Something like that anyway. On the 22nd September the shamans will be going up the hill and they’ll stay there overnight, all night, performing healing rituals involving hallucinogenic plants. Maria, a Russian also staying at the hostel, is in South America specifically for a spiritual healing with the aid of a shaman, and she’ll be going up there with them.
We were pretty lucky with the weather at the crater rim, it usually doesn’t take long for the clouds to roll in and Fernando told us that usually, by 2pm, you can’t see a thing but we had fabulous views. The community that lives in the crater grows pretty much everything they need in the fertile, volcanic soil but they do make the journey to town to sell produce and I don’t envy the walk up there. It’s epic. You can actually walk down into the rim for a day trip or you can stay overnight which would be nice but I don’t think I’d ever get out again. I’d be stuck there forever. Two months later it’d be like,
“Where are you now, Claire?”
“Um, yeah, still in the crater.”
It’s also potentially active, you might even feel tremors if you spend the night there, that’d be one way to get me out of the bloody thing anyway; You have to leave the crater or you’ll die… Ok… would this death be more or less painful than the walk up?
The US$8 that we paid for the Pululahua crater tour got us a free ticket to the Museo Solar Inti Ñan, a couple of hundred metres away from Mitad Del Mundo so that saved us US$3 because we were definitely going to go there anyway. We got there and while we were pulling the obligatory tourist poses on the almost-the-real Equator (2 seconds of a degree out… getting warmer) we were accosted by a man who took our tickets and put us straight onto a tour that we were completely unaware existed. It was pretty interesting though, they have replicas of indigenous highland houses and we were told how they used to live and hunt. The three rules they lived by (and to this day some of them still consider these rules more important than the law of the land) were don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy. I’d be fucked on the last one but as Meat Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad although I doubt there’s much merit in living your life to the gospel according to Meat Loaf.
We were shown a traditional burial chamber, a two preserved pythons and an adult penis fish. I forget its real name now but penis fish should be enough to strike fear into the hearts of the male population. You know if you swim in rivers in certain parts of the jungle and you pee and this little wormy thing travels up your piss and into your knob? It’s one of those, and lads, it might start off small but it doesn’t stay that way for long so if you do notice an unwelcome visitor in the appendage you keep your brain in then get yourself to the doctors as soon as you can. If you let it grow you risk losing your cock. Ouch.
Also on display was a shrunken head, possibly of a boy of high ranking in the tribe. They reckon this because of the small size of it, an adult head will be shrunk to the size of a guy’s fist, and the feathers its been decorated with. The more black feathers in a head dress, the higher up in rank you are. The shrunken head thing is usually done to enemies though, rival tribe leaders etc, the aim being to keep the spirit locked inside hence the mouth and eyes being sewn up. They then wear the head around their neck in order to absorb the knowledge of the spirit within. Under the human rights act they’re not allowed to shrink human heads anymore, spoilsports, but they keep the tradition alive by shrinking animal heads. I find this kind of thing so fascinating ay, I need to find a way to learn more and I would totally love to have my head shrunk after my death so I could make someone hang it from their rear view mirror in their car. Heh heh. I’d put it in my will an all so they’d have to and I’d keep my piercings attached. I’d have, like, the coolest really small head ever and it shouldn’t take much work because my head’s really little anyway.
They also have some of the San Pedro cacti, the source of an epic hallucinogenic called mescaline which you have to take with a shaman or risk brain damage. There’s a process involved to prepare it but I swear one of the cacti we saw looked a bit nibbled on. Then it was back to the main reason we came here, the almost-the-real Equator where you get to try and balance an egg on a nail head (epic fail on my part) and they do the water experiments where they place a basin on the Equator and pull the plug and you watch the water drain straight down. Then they do the same thing a few metres south and north of the line to show you how the water drains clockwise and anti-clockwise but you can tell it’s not entirely genuine. If you look for videos online you’ll notice how the water is already moving in that direction before the plug is pulled, I reckon it must be the way they tip the water in because a guy wanted to see it ON the line again but the guide said that for it to work on the line it had to be allowed to settle.
But one thing that did work which was freaky was the strength tests, you’re weaker on the Equator and you prove this by holding your arms up and getting your mate to try and pull them down whilst you resist with all your strength. North and south of the line, I kept my arms up as Marion tried to pull them down but on the line? No chance. Well that sucks, I’m as feeble as a lamb with a wasting disease as it is without the planet draining my powers. It’s a really fascinating place though, more interesting than Mitad Del Mundo although once you’re here you might as well check that out too, what, with it being the world famous landmark an all that. We managed to spend the whole day mincing around the Equator and once you’ve finished at the museum just flash your ticket at the gate and they’ll let you back into Mitad Del Mundo for a feed and, if it’s Sunday, some live music an all. Can’t fault it for a cheap day out. Just make sure you try and get back to town before the daily torrential downpour kicks in ay.
Stayed at: El Centro Del Mundo