Mitad del Mundo: “Middle Earth”

Ecuador was named after the equator. In fact Quito is located pretty close to the equator, so  someone had the bright idea to build a monument to it in the 1930’s, which  has now become  a commercialized tourist attraction. Just like the Four Corners in Southwest US, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, (and I think) New Mexico, where you can pay an entrance fee and have a photo taken of yourself in four states all at once., and then buy some beadwork earrings and horsehair painted vases from the souvenir stands.

However, the Four Corners is the result of surveyor (or political) lines drawn, whereas, the equator is really an intrinsic feature of the planet.  I didn’t realize this until I got here; a French scientific geodesic expedition in the 1730’s to measure the size of the earth, came specifically to this area, then a Spanish colony,  to take the measurements, in the Avenue of the Volcanoes, the valley in the Andes that stretches north and south of Quito. The surveying was done in a series of triangular points that lined up in a rhomboid.

This led to the development of the metric system, since they decided that the distance from the equator to the pole should be designated a nice, round number of 10,000 kilometres.

This was a pretty significant scientific development, so the locals were quite proud that it took place here, and thus took on the equator as the country’s name once they kicked out the Spanish and separated themselves from Peru/Colombia.

I had imagined that the name for this country had been selected rather randomly, perhaps a bunch of guys sitting around drinking too much canelazo (a warm drink with sugar, cinnamon, naranjilla fruit juice, rum or aguardient which is really good for the chilly weather in Quito) trying to decide what to call the new country,

“How about Maizenia?”

“No, too corny”

“How about Sucre (Antonio de Jose Sucre – military liberator of Quito from Spain)?”

“No, it should be named after Juan Jose Flores (first president of Ecuador who was actually Venezuelan)”

“No, Sucre”

“No, Flores”

“You want the country to be named after flowers? People will think we’re sissies.

“You want the country to be named after the French word for sugar? People will think we’re wusses!”

“How about the equator? It’s neutral . . .”


(Actually that’s how Mountain View, my town, got named, apparently. The town’s founding fathers couldn’t agree on a name, and figured Mountain View would work, since there was indisputably a view of the mountains to the south that had been there long before any of them showed up.)

(The unit of currency in Ecuador was named the sucre, until Ecuador took on a controversial program to use the US dollar as their official currency  in 2000. Panama also uses the US dollar as its official currency. Ecuador mints is own dollars, as well as uses US ones, so you see Sacajewa dollars, Lincoln pennies, Jackson twenties, etc.)

Getting from Quito  to Mitad del Mundo cost us less than a $1 on bus (with one transfer) over an hour north of town. Admission was another $3, where you can go take photos of the monument, built in the 1930’s, and features a giant globe on a stone building block and four shorter columns for north, south, east and west. Everyone takes pictures in front in goofy poses, but it’s not quite the same gimmick as taking photos of pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


There is an ethnographic museum in the main building under the globe, which cost another $3 to get in, so we skipped it. I guess they had to make some use of the space.  (It reminded me of the Campanile at Cal campus: until recently, it was used to store the remains of Native Americans for the Anthropology Department, although they weren’t accessible to the public.)

The surrounding grounds host a series of souvenir and snack stands (and a post office, so you can send a postcard to someone from the equator, as we did, to Joe’s parents.) There’s also a planetarium; an insectarium where you can see displays of beautiful butterflies and giant black beetles, pinned to the wall in their everlasting hereafter. Or for a fee, you can take a photo with one of their live brethren. One man was posing with a giant beetle the size of an iPhone AND a furry tarantula. His smile was more tight than relaxed.

The ones on top are the size of an iPhone, the ones below only the size of a iPod Nano

The ones on top are the size of an iPhone, the ones below only the size of a iPod Nano

There was an informative France Pavilion (which was where I learned most of what I know about the expedition – it was done very well in Spanish French and English), and a Spain Pavilion, which had become a display space for some of Oswaldo Guayasamin’s works.

I don’t know if any other countries have monuments or attractions focusing on the equator. When I was growing up in Thailand, the closest point on the equator to us was/is Singapore, which is 1 degree from the equator.  Mt Kilimanjaro is about 3 degrees from the equator, and there is/was snow on top (Snows of Kilimanjaro, the book by Hemingway?).  I used to think that any place on the equator was warm, but now, travelling in the Andes I realize that the temperature/climate is also impacted by the altitude. It can get quite cold in Quito, rather like San Francisco, with clouds rolling in like fog, except they’re not marine in origin.  What they do have in common is that the sunsets around 6 PM and rises around 6 AM year round, none of the longer summer days and winter nights like in areas further away from the equator.


4 thoughts on “Mitad del Mundo: “Middle Earth”

  1. Thank goodness there were mathematicians back then who understood triangulation! Math is good, and it has served humanity in countless ways. It’s shameful that the general public doesn’t have an appreciation for it. I blame poor curriculum writers.

    And there is so much to learn and understand about the planet. Bet you aren’t the first one to realize equator doesn’t necessarily mean warm. Did you notice how fast the sun sets?

    The teacher in me will never die. Keep snapping those synapses.

    Auntie Moi

    • Oddly enough, I did know that the sun sets (and rises) at roughly the same clock-time year round near the equator. But that’s because when I was growing up in Bangkok, the sun set at about 6:15 PM everyday, a bit after the National Anthem was played on every TV and radio station at 6 PM!

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