Equator Trip Part 1: Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador – Journey To The Middle Of The World
It’s a funny feeling when you stand in the middle of the world. Apparently you even weigh less on the Equator. Something to do with forces. But it had been well over a year since I was last in the Northern Hemisphere – that was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in October 2009 (in fact it’s hard to believe that KL is actually in the Northern Hemisphere – for a Northern Irish boy it just seems so far south!). So by December 2010 I was ready to step back into the north…
Rather than get a bus, train or aeroplane back across the Equator, the obvious thing would be to simply walk across by foot. There are a few countries that you can do this in – South America boasts a hat-trick of them – Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
Ecuador itself, by its’ very name, “Ecuador” meaning “Equator” in Spanish sees itself as the country in the middle of the world. So much so that it’s a bit of a tourist thing to cross the Equator there. So I had to do it.
I had arrived in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. A rather sombre, untouristy and unusual capital if I may say so. Quito should be pronounced “Keeto” and is not even the largest city in Ecuador, however it’s proximity to the Equator may be a deciding factor in it’s allocation as country capital. Quito sits at an altitude of 2,800 metres above sea level. This means it is the second highest capital city in the world. In fact it is the highest legal capital city in the world, because Bolivia’s Sucre is their legal capital, rather than the mammoth and daunting La Paz.
Quito is also conveniently a good place to stay while deciding to cross the Equator on foot. It is just 25 kilometres south of the Equator. I had researched this a bit and decided I should head to Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo to cross the Equator by foot.
Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo – by it’s very name is a false “city” – almost a custom built museum where you can get your photographs on both sides of the world. Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo which translates as “City In The Middle Of The World” is the only city on the planet that spans both hemispheres. Though it must be said that its definition as a “city” is rather dubious. All that doesn’t matter a single bit though as you are in awe of the place, it’s meaning, it’s centrality and the general happy buzz that accompanies your journey there.
Morning had broken early in Quito’s old fashioned Colonial House Hostel. Breakfast was in 2 parts and was quite a stunning meal. For around $3 US dollars, it was well worth it. Orange juice, tea, muesli with yoghurt and a lot of fruit for starters.
The main of breakfast was eggs with a wide selection of bread. An Ecuadorian feast for my last meal in the Southern Hemisphere for now. Over breakfast I chatted to the three US ladies, friends of Erin from the hostel. They had already been to Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo and helped out with my route, though it seemed quite straight forward to me.
Straight forward it was but edgy it also was. That’s the bus station in the Old City there. Less than 5 minutes walk through raw Ecuadorian neighbourhoods. I got the bus to Ofelia from La Marin Central station. The bus took around an hour to get me to the final stop at Ofelia. It was so handy that I got off at the final stop to change buses. Main reason is I was travelling alone and it’s often hard to know when to get off the bus when you’re on your own. At least with 2 or 3 people if you make the wrong stop, you have others with you.
The first bus was packed and full of city workers on route to work so naturally I stood in the aisle. They wore a mix of smart suits, dirty old clothes, sports wear and your next to nothing “hot girls” too flashing a bit of tit. The buses are long and snake like in Quito and are renowned for pick pockets. It’s normally quite obvious that you’re the only foreigner in places like this. If they have picked my pockets I’d probably have called them “big gay Ecuadorians” thinking they were gays hoping for a grip of my willy. On this trip I didn’t have much to steal, but still had to be constantly aware of them.
I arrived safely at Ofelia station on the edge of Quito where I was told it should be easy to find a Mitad Del Mundo Bus.
It was a happy and funny feeling knowing I was waiting for a bus to “the middle of the world”. The queue for the bus was big, but there were 2 routes.
When I got on the bus was actually quite empty and they didn’t ask for any money. Getting used to foreign bus routines and ways is one of the joys of travelling. The bus filled up as we veered closer to the middle of the world, but surprisingly I remained the only tourist on board. It was full of normal Ecuadorians going about their daily lives.
On board my bus to the Middle of the World! I have no idea why the bus looks empty – perhaps I took this towards the start or end of the bus trip – as the bus was packed most of the way.
The view from the bus window as we left behind Quito. On board the bus as usual, and similarly to in Paraguay, countless tramps and locals got on trying to sell us stuff. I was sat at the window and the lady next to me was a hard looking woman, saying no to every tramp. I found some solace and laughter in that. Eventually someone asked us to pay for our bus ticket as well. In total it was less than a pound to get all the way from Old Town Quito to the Equator City.
The route was picturesque as we left Quito behind. The countryside was pretty and the air stuffy. On a quiet roundabout in the middle of nowhere (yet the middle of the world) the driver tells me to get out – he knows better than me of course. Here I was dumped out of a bus, right by the entrance for “Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo.” I was stood in the southern hemisphere staring at the northern.
This sign tells us the name of the “city” Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo.
I was struggling to recall the last time I paid to “get into a city.” And still my mind baffles. Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay had an entrance gate but no charge. Here it was 2 dollars (and well worth it I may add) simply to get into the city known as Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo.
My ticket to the Northern Hemisphere! Funny that it only cost me 2 dollars to get back, yet my flight Malaysia – Australia when leaving the Northern Hemisphere 14 months earlier was extortionately dearer!
There’s no doubting and denial that this is a totally fake city. It’s custom built and I contrasted it with a city from my previous week – Machu Picchu in Peru. Both very different “cities” but yet both left a memory so vivid and incredible that I would cherish these moments forever.
Some astonishing facts, myths and figures will undoubtedly follow your journey back up to the Northern Hemisphere. Here I took great amusement at the world’s ONLY Church which spans both hemispheres. It may be custom built for that reason and has a blatant dividing line in it’s aisle, but what a nice Church. It was nice to say a wee prayer in there to both sides of the world.
Inside the Church in both hemispheres. You can see the Equator marked by a line in the middle of the Church. Breathtaking.
Restaurants and even recycling bins in the tidy pretty Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo.
Typical Ecuadorian stalls. Countries in South America could teach others a few lessons in national pride. Yes, this may be commercialism, but hey why not? We buy souvenirs. You just don’t walk around Northern Ireland and see souvenir stalls like this. Then the moment of truth came…
I had done it!! I then nonchalantly stepped back across the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere. A yellow line runs through the city and I had resisted to cross it in the church, waiting for the appropriate moment to head back to my own half of the hemisphere.
As a hot sun pierced my skin, it was time to reflect on a journey almost Michael Palin style with much less of a budget. From Northern Ireland to Taiwan to Australia to Antarctica and now back in the north at Ecuador, it was a pleasing moment in life for me. It felt like a self achievement. Dreams can come true you know, dream them up and make them happen.
Stood proudly on the Equator in both continents flying my own country’s flag. A few Spaniards and Canadians alike asked “what country is it?” Irlanda Del Norte came the response. Northern Ireland.
As Crowded House wrote “either side of the world, safe from harm. pay the maximum rate to feel so lonesome.”
One amusing thing is that the actual equator line drawn in Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo may not be the TRUE Equator. That doesn’t really matter though, as one of the museums claim they have the true Equator, just a few hundred metres further south, meaning most of the city in the middle of the world is actually in the Northern Hemisphere. Either way I had been in both hemispheres!
I could post about 100 more photos from the actual trip itself, but will split them into three parts otherwise it just gets cumbersome. This the first part was getting there and finally going into the Northern Hemisphere again. I then visited 2 museums, both of which will merit a separate report in future. There was joy after a lengthy absence and one hell of a journey that I was now safely back in the Northern Hemisphere.
Transport Used – Quito local bus from La Marin Central to Ofelia, Quito outer city bus from Ofelia to Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo
Cities Visited – Quito, Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo
Hemispheres Visited – Northern and Southern
Nationalities Met – Ecuadorian, Spanish, English, Canadian, American
CROWDED HOUSE – EITHER SIDE OF THE WORLD:
AT OFELIA BUS STATION, WAITING FOR MY BUS TO MITAD DEL MUNDO: