If you’re passing through Quito – and let’s face it, pretty much everyone who goes to Ecuador does at least once – a day trip to the Mitad del Mundo is pretty much obligatory.
Ok, so it doesn’t have the mystery of Machu Picchu or the incredible scenery of Patagonia, but the Mitad del Mundo is damn good fun.
MITAD DEL MUNDO MUSEUM
Once you’ve queued in line to get your photo taken as you straddle the line that marks the centre of the world, you have the option of tucking into some roasted guinea pig for lunch. Although, at $20 a pop, I’d recommend saving this delicacy for somewhere less pricey.
Next, you should head to the Museo Inti Nan, where you can learn a lot about the history of the indigenous Amazonian tribes of Ecuador as well as playing about with the effect the equator has on your balance and strength.
BALANCE AN EGG ON A NAIL
Check out the concentration on my friends’ faces. You can go head to head in a contest to be crowned the ‘eggspurt’ egg balancer. They even give you a signed and stamped certificate if you manage it.
WATCH WATER GO DOWN A PLUGHOLE
I actually still remember learning about this in primary school. I must have been 6 or 7 and I was fascinated by the fact that water could spiral one way down the plughole in the northern hemisphere and the other way in the south. But seeing is believing. Despite having had the surprise ruined by Mrs Newbie in year 2, I was still impressed to see the enormous difference a few feet made.
WALK IN A STRAIGHT LINE
I don’t have good balance at the best of times, but this was plain ridiculous. As soon as I closed my eyes, my body had no idea which way was up and down, let alone left and right. This photo makes it look like I’m coping rather well, but I almost fell flat on my face 2 seconds later.
A TEST OF STRENGTH
I was too busy flexing my biceps to get a photo of this one, but if you hold your arms out straight and push up as your friend pushes down on them, this is way more difficult on the equator. Even a few metres away, you have more chance of lifting your arms – although I was pretty weak no matter where we tried!
Another test is to hold your thumb and index finger together as someone else tries to separate them. Your muscles simply starve of oxygen immediately on the equator. Very odd indeed.
LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ECUADOR
This is the shrunken head of a 12-year-old boy. Nice eh? The native tribes of the Ecuadorian Amazon used to decapitate their victims as well as loved ones who had died, then empty out the insides, throw a few pebbles into the remaining bag of skin and skull – to keep the shape – and boil them. The result is a rather unique necklace pendant, either worn out of respect or as a war trophy. For the record, I’ll settle for cremation.
GETTING TO THE MITAD DEL MUNDO
You can easily catch a bus from wherever you’re staying in Quito. Just make sure you’re back in the city before dark and take care of your belongings on public transport, as Quito’s safety record isn’t the best. If you stay a while in Quito and visit some of the other highlights like Mindo and Otavalo Market, you’ll soon get the hang of the transport system, although it is frustrating that there are so many different bus terminals to get your head around!