Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Latitude 00°00′00″

If you're ever in Quito, one of the things that you will eventually and inevitably do is make your way to La Mitad del Mundo (if you need to work on your Spanish, that means 'middle of the world'). You can't visit a country whose name literally means 'equator' and not visit the equator (of course, there is a reason the equatorial line is called "La Mitad del Mundo" in Ecuador - if both the country and the line were called 'ecuador', there would be so much confusion that anarchy would be the only logical result).

The earth is a big place however, and the equator wraps around it entirely. The equator passes through 13 different countries (trust me, we googled it). What makes Ecuador so special? What gave them the right to name their country 'Ecuador'? Blame it on the French.

00°00′00″, the equatorial line. As your most excellent powers of observation might suggest , Ecuador is clearly not the only country the equator passes through. 
It all goes back to the French Geodesic Missions of 1736-1739. In the 18th century, there was a lot of debate in the French Academy of Sciences as to whether the circumference of the earth was greater around the equator or around the poles. Louis XV, the King of France, sent two expeditions to find the answer once and for all: one was sent to Lapland (close to the north pole), and the other was sent to Ecuador, which at the time was known as 'The Viceroyalty of Peru". The leader of the Ecuadorian expedition, in his reports back to France, apparently grew le tired of writing "Viceroyalty of Peru", and started referring to the land as Ecuador. The name stuck, and when Ecuador won its independence from Spain in 1822, it officially became known as 'The Republic of Ecuador'.

So that's how Ecuador got its name. And if you're ever in Ecuador, you HAVE to visit La Mitad del Mundo, the site where the French team performed their survey and obtained their measurements. Nowadays, you can find a huge monument there in commemoration of their expedition. How do you get there? Well, obviously, the site is located at the equator. Or is it? 

Actually, no. The French screwed up. They measured in the wrong place; their site is located 240m south of the actual equatorial line.
"MERDE, 240 METRES D'ERRUER. C'EST DE CONNERIES"  (also, this is what you get if you google 'angry french man')

What does this mean for us? Well, it means that there are now two different 'Mitad del Mundo' exhibits: one is Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the government sponsored touristy site, where the monument honoring the french expedition is located (or as our group affectionally called it, the 'fake' Mitad del Mundo). The other is the "Museo Inti-Ñan", a site that claims to be located on the 'actual' equatorial line, as measured by GPS (we called it the 'real' Mitad del Mundo).

Over the span of two weekends, I visited both (coincidentally, there was a fight between Ecuadorian men on the bus on both trips, one of which involved an argument over a 25 cent bus fare and a bad-ass Zinedine Zidane headbutt).

The 'Fake' Mitad del Mundo. (Photo cred to random nice lady and Anna's camera)

The 'Real' Mitad del Mundo

Museo Inti-Ñan is by far the better deal. We got a cool tour guide that took us around different exhibits and related the history of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador.

"This is a penis" -Tour Guide

Cuí (AKA, Guinea Pigs). They are native to South America, and are a delicacy.

They also brought out a a traditional dancer in Curiquinge costume (Curiquinge is an Andean bird of prey, but it's also a dance), and a few of us got pulled in to dance.

Dance party. No one in the Andes got swagga like us.

And of course, we got to straddle the equatorial line (one of the few times in my life where I can say I was in two hemispheres at once). They also performed various 'scientific' experiments  showing the effects of being on the equator (more like parlor tricks, but they were kind of cutesy).

No trip is complete without a group picture. 

It's apparently harder to balance yourself on the Equator, but I think I just had too much Canelazo. 

Yup. Definitely too much Canelazo (Yes, I realize it's no longer 2010 and planking is out. But #HatazGonHate)

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