Roughly 23km north of Ecuador’s capital Quito lies San Antonio de Pichincha, and within San Antonio lies a complex known as Mitad del Mundo – the middle of the world.
It’s hard to miss, as there is a huge monument with a globe on top of it in the middle of the ground. This monument, visitors are told, marks the line of the equator, latitude 00°00’00S. Oh, and it’s the place where all the tour buses stop, just in case you need to find it by yourself.
There is lots to do and see for visitors, with colourful Arts & Crafts on offer, restaurants serving local cuisine, the Museo Etnográfico which is very insightful and explains the indigenous peoples and cultures of Ecuador and the Andes, and of course the picture stop with one foot in the northern and one foot in the southern hemisphere.
The only problem is that GPS puts the equator 240m further north.
The line of the equator actually runs through the small, private Museo Solar Intiñan, which is something the people who run Ciudad Mitad del Mundo don’t want you to know. They call Intiñan “tacky,” although this very hands-on museum makes for a nice change from the ones set up solely so tourists would spend as much money as possible.
Intiñan focuses on the way of life of local cultures along the Ecuadorian portion of the equator, such as the Quichua, the Waorani and (possibly the most famous of all) the Inca. That this part of the region was inhabited by civilisations of the past is proven by the burial mound (which still holds remains) within the grounds of Intiñan.
There are replica huts that visitors can enter to see what a household would have been like. Some staff even wear traditional dress. Visitors are invited to try their hand at shooting darts from a traditional long blowpipe (and hitting the cactus leave target is harder than you think) and there are all sorts of weird and bizarre objects associated with the region on display.
But the main feature here the line of the equator. Right along the line, visitors can participate in a few experiments that are allegedly only possible on the equator. There is water going straight down a drain without turning clockwise or widdershins first. But the most popular experiment is the Egg Balance.
Visitors are invited to try and balance a raw egg on the head of a small nail. It does take a few tries, but I myself am proof that it’s possible, because I’ve done it! Those who manage even get a small certificate commemorating their achievement, a nice little gimmick and souvenir.
Wherever you turn at Intiñan, you’ll find some experiment or device that has to do with the sun. It’s a very informative museum on the sun and its influence on the ancient local cultures, a great supplement to the colourful shows and crafts at the official Mitad del Mundo monument, and it has the added bonus of straddling the GPS-calculated equator. What more could you want from the Middle of the World?