There are no prizes for knowing that the equator rips through Ecuador, however you will be the group smarty pants if you know that the monolith at Mitad del Mundo – literally “middle of the world” – just outside Quito is a red herring of gigantic proportions. The real 00º00’00” is a three-minute walk from Mitad del Mundo, a fact I was alerted to by Twitter acquaintance EasyLeesie, who did a long trip through among other places South America about eight years prior.
Museo Solar Inti Ñan is smaller, friendlier and way more interesting than the glorified shopping mall that is Mitad del Mundo. It’s also actually legitimately for real the middle of the earth.
Museo Solar Inti Ñan has friendly English- and Spanish speaking guides, lots of quirky installations featuring skeletons and musical instruments and live guinea pigs (not sure) and experiments like clockwise and anticlockwise flowing water, egg balancing and dancing with a costumed man.
Getting to Mitad del Mundo is not simple. It took us … ages. I have forgotten how we eventually did it – there was a Metrobus to the end of town, ages walking around and asking for help, then another bus. Ask your hostel owner or google it like we did. Don’t take a taxi, seriously, the struggle was half the fun and a tenth of the price. Couldn’t have been more than $1.50 pp round-trip.
The Mitad itself doesn’t warrant a very long stay, and is memorable for only a small handful of reasons:
This dude with his rabbit, posing for photos and chatting to tourists
There was also a really spectacular photographic exhibition by a climber doing dozens of summits around the world, including Cotopaxi in Ecuador, which Mark suggested we climb. I laughed out loud.
From Puerto Lopez, we arrived in Quito at a stupid hour – 4 or 5am – and took a taxi to Hostel Marsella. Blearily we knew we’d probably have to wait until 7 or 8am for opening time, but the owner was letting out some guests at the very moment that we arrived. He shepherded us into a room and said, ‘Hast manana, buenas noches.’. And slept we did.
When we eventually awoke I found out the hard way that my bank card had been blocked. For those travelling with Nedbank, know that your abroad notice period only lasts for six months – to the day – and they will block your card if it’s used overseas once the six-month period has expired. You have to make a painful and expensive phonecall home to re-notify them. No, you can’t ask for an advance notice period – I called from Santiago before I left but they then just adjusted my notice period from six months from that day.
My palarva was minuscule compared to Mark’s, whose bank blocked his card pretty much every time he entered a new country, sometimes a second time within the same country, even though he called numerous times before and during his trip. I could have avoided my drama by taking heed of the date, but it never seemed to matter what Mark did.
Banks: quick to take your money, not so quick to give it back.
The key to Quito
Quito has two sides: Old Town and New Town. We hit Old Town first, staring up at El Panecillo on the hill.
Lonely Planet says “don’t walk, take a taxi up the hill” citing “safety issues”. We ignored this warning, of course, and on our way passed homes, a police station and schools. Not so ghetto at all. Maybe we were just lucky that day – a local also on his way up warned us too – but the best way to appreciate any place is to walk it and the hike was no more strenuous than scary – ie, not at all so much really. Dilly dally yes, fuddy duddy no.
And the view from up there.
Then we walked back towards Basílica del Voto Nacional. Life in Quito bustles along narrow streets, the familiar mom-and-pop food stalls and antique stores wedged inbewteen furniture stores and hardware stores.
New Town is, well, newer than Old Town, and less interesting. It contrasts with Old Town in the width of its roads and the western feel of its eateries and shops. Mark and I kept walking through New Town until we hit a big park, where we went on a kiddies’ trolley ride and ogled snakes at an insectarium.
The street art in Quito was notable for the larger pieces – massive murals on the sides of highway embankments, visible from very far away, or covering entire double-storey walls.
I love this picture of Mark.
Little did I know that that was the look of a man preparing to navigate the jet streams of a Quito city fountain.