Tuesday, May 15, 2001. Cloudy 65°
We thought we were going to have the opportunity to stay in bed a little longer this day because our plane to Quito didn't leave until 11:00 AM. Wrong. Milagros insisted that we be to the airport three hours before departure. So once again we were up before 7:00 AM. When we arrived at the airport at 8:00, we discovered that TACA Air's counters didn't open until 9:00 AM. Eventually, we got checked in and once again Linda, Chris, and Randy did some shopping. We were amazed at how TACA Air insisted on only one carry on. Yet after shopping in the departure lounge, many passengers had more than one carry on. Don found another Internet café to check his e-mail messages. We laughed at a sign in the women's bathroom, suggesting now was the last time to get rid of illegal drugs, but wondered why there was no such sign in the men's bathroom. Toilet paper was rationed in both, however.
Quito, EucadorWhen we arrived in Quito, our guide, Ekaterina Morales, met us. She is a Ukrainian immigrant married to an Ecuadorian, so both English and Spanish are second languages to her. Sometimes we had to strain to understand her, but at least she could speak three languages. We were amazed by Quito. It is 9,300 feet high surrounded by lush green mountains of terraces. Nice city. The nearby volcano, Pululahua, has not erupted in the last two years. The street vendors are very colorful. While waiting for Don to cash some travelers checks (and failing), we saw a women with a bright pink socks, purple skirt, gold sweater, gold beads, and dark green fedora. What a sight!
Hotel Sierra Madre in Quito, EcuadorEcuador has had its share of recent bad luck. First, El Niño wiped out the fishing industry and then the oil pipeline from the Amazon broke down. To add insult to injury, they have had something like five Presidents in the last six years. They use the US dollar as their currency that has stabilized the economy somewhat, but prices are still rising and unemployment is high.
Our hotel was the Sierra Madre, owned by a Danish woman and run by a Peruvian woman. Itwas restored Spanish villa in the heart of town that had a labyrinth of 21 rooms. As Glenn found out the hard way, it was better to find the room first and then move the luggage.
Some of us decided to go to the equator, about 15 miles north of the city. In Ecuador it's called La Mitad del Mundo (or ”Center of the Earth”) . Like every other tourist, we took pictures of us straddling the equator - one foot in the Northern Hemisphere the other in the Southern. We just hadn't expected to need a warm coat at the equator.
Shaking Hands across the Equator near Quito, EucadorThings You Want to Know After Visiting the Center of the Earth:
Why do toilets flush clockwise in South America and counter-clockwise in North America? What do toilets do that are directly on the Equator?
Why is the big dipper upside down south of the Equator?
Why are a rainbow's colors reversed south of the Equator?
Why are the days and nights the same length?
And like all tourists, we took the elevator to the top of the monument. We then walked down to see the museum that depicted the various tribes throughout Ecuador. Most of the descriptions were in Spanish, but few were in English. We should have hired a guide.
Chimborazo near Quito, EcuadorWhile there we also visited a small museum outside the monument and run by a knowledgeable young man who described why it's called the Center of the Earth. In fact, up until a recent NASA analysis, the center was believed to be where the monument is. However, NASA said it was about 300 meters away on top a nearby mountain. There, the researchers found an ancient site, only three meters off the center with other stones indicating the precise solar solstice. Seems the Mochica knew the world was round in 800 AD, while the Europeans didn't believe it until six centuries later. Modern day researchers have used this new knowledge and geometric triangulation to accurately predict where other ancient ruins might be. The Curator said that they are only just beginning to understand that tapestries were the Mochica's “written” language. Unfortunately the Ecuadorian government isn't spending any money on more research. Too bad Yale or Harvard don't put some of their large endowments into this research. Interestingly, if you measure from the center of the world, nearby Chimborazo is the highest peak in the world, not Everest, because the earth bulges out at the equator.
That night we had an early dinner in the hotel's restaurant. The service was slow, but the food was excellent. We met a very nice woman named Nancy from Ft. Lauderdale who had been to the Galapagos several times (her boyfriend was a naturalist there) and she loved Quito.
Still gasoline is only $1.00 a gallon and the service stations have attendants who wash windows.
Buenos Aires is called the “Navel of the Earth.” Joe is anxious to visit the other body parts of the Earth./li>