part 1 ... part 2 ... life intrudes ... part 3:
our next big outing in ecuador was to mitad del mundo ... the center of the world ... the equator.
there are two centers of the earth, apparently ... the first was determined in the 1730s by a french explorer, and the official second site was gps-verified and developed in recent years. the new one is only 250 meters from the old one ... those early explorers did a pretty good job!
we started at the newest one.
there is a replica village, complete with history of the area and some of the indian tribes. included in that history is a legit shrunken head and instructional seminar on how one makes a shrunken head. (allegedly, tribes no longer shrink heads. but still ... they have the know-how.) the most interesting thing about the process is that after cutting off the enemy's head, pulling out the skull, and filling the skin with a rock, they then sew up the mouth because they don't want the enemy's "evil spirits" to escape. (they couldn't escape through, say, the nostrils or ears or, like, the neck? and the spirits somehow live not in the brain or the heart but in the head skin? okay.)
we continued through huts and kitchens and where they kept the cuy, or guinea pigs. (more about the guinea pigs in a bit.) our guide explained the way the indians lived, different activities and rituals (did you know if your husband died, you got to be buried with him - alive but drugged - so that you could care for him in the afterlife? thank god for feminism.), what it's like to live in the amazon. (the 10' python model was super encouraging ... encouraging me to not go to the amazon.)
then we reached the line marking the equator.
while at the equator, the guide did various experiments - how water flows down a drain in different directions, depending on what side of the equator she places the basin; how your balance is better right on the equator, how you have better leverage and strength on the equator, and so on.
then we got to try the famous "balancing an egg on its end because its on the equator" trick.
while standing at the egg balancing station, we could see a monument off in the distance. i asked what that was, and was told that it is the original site. remember how i said they are so close to each other?
after egg balance had been achieved, we got our passports stamped with "center of the earth" ...
then drove 10 minutes down the road to middle earth number two. this was the equator marc remembered going to when he was a kid, though much had been changed and built up since the last time he was there. he said it was all very impressive ... and it was. this was our favorite equator.
our first order of business was lunch, and there were shops and places to eat all around the grounds. steve & hannah had a favorite restaurant, and there was a porch with tables and a lovely breeze.
marc ordered yet another ceviche, henry started with a big plate of sausage and eggs and plantains, harp had another choclo and some chicken soup, and i had a plate of corvina ... an ecuadorean white fish that is so yummy.
however, before our meal arrived, we tried an ecuadorean specialty: cuy. remember what cuy is? yes ... guinea pig.
it was interesting. i wouldn't say it was terrible, but i wouldn't say it was all that great, either. definitely a check mark on the list of exotic things to eat, though.
when we had finished lunch, henry actually decided to keep eating ... a cheeseburger, and then something else. i don't know what, because the girls decided to head to some of the surrounding shops while the guys (*guy) ate. half an hour later, we were all ready to walk off our lunches and check out the area.
we headed straight for the monument and climbed to the top. there was a great view of the surrounding area. as we stood there, we watched clouds envelop a nearby hill, and a small dust tornado swirl around a little neighborhood. the view was pretty amazing.
back on the ground floor, we checked out the non-equator, and then wandered through some of the small museums scattered throughout the park.
before we left, steve & hannah took us to their favorite shop, run by an ecuadorean woman named elvira, and her son, whom steve & hannah have befriended and always visit when they take guests to the monument. elvira was just the sweetest lady, and couldn't get over how tall marc and the kids are. she has granddaughters harper's age, and didn't believe us when we said harper is 11. i tried to tell her that i, too, am "muy alta," but elvira just laughed at me.
she talked to marc for quite awhile about the last time he visited quito, his time there for school, all the while she and her son were helping our kids find the perfect souvenirs. harper got a stuffed llama; henry got whatever this is:
(which, he says, will be worn at high school meets this winter. so stay tuned for that.)
it was so good to hear marc using his spanish. he's been more than reluctant to pull out that particular skill over the years, even though i have repeatedly begged him to be conversational with the kids so they will pick up some. he did a much better job that he thinks he can do. henry also did a really good job understanding what he was hearing and responding to the best of his ability, having four years of spanish under his belt. i had four years in school as well, but that was a long time ago. still, i could understand more than i thought i would, and could offer very rudimentary replies. just enough to feel like i wasn't totally in the dark.
amazingly enough, for the first week or so after we got home, i found myself expecting to hear spanish, and thinking of spanish responses. it's very weird to try and switch brain gears. but it motivates me to try to learn another language. spanish would make the most sense, but i've always wanted to take french or italian ... who knows.
anyway, after the shop, we walked toward the entrance of the park to find the car and call it a day. along the way, there were about a dozen identical hummingbird sculptures and leaf seats, and all had been painted by different artists. harper loved these, and had me take a photo of her sitting in each one, with her camera. and i had to get a picture or two for myself.
one last stop before we called it a day: there was a very cool modern building just outside the park, and it was surrounded by all these different flags. we were very curious about what it was, and discovered it's actually the united nations building for south american countries - unasur.
and that was that. we drove home, cleaned up, and went to marc's favorite steak place for dinner to celebrate steve's belated birthday ... and marc had yet another ceviche. (count: four days, five ceviches.) it was a day full of information and sun and walking and food and spanish. we were all exhausted, but it was a really wonderful experience.
next experience on the docket: the otovalo market. and that will be part 4.