Quito is a remarkable city with many things to do and see; and after a week there (March, 2012), I knew it was time to visit the equator. I went with my new friends, Jacco and Tamara, whom I had met the previous day in Quito. They were from Holland (Netherlands) and they were quite cool. However, I hate it when foreigners speak better English than I do. Grin.
So, we all took a cab to La Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world), which is a small village administered by the prefecture of the province of Pichincha, 22 miles north of Quito. The Mitad del Mundo memorial commemorates the achievement of French scientists in the early 1700s. They used measurements to pinpoint the equator and prove that the Earth is not a perfect sphere, but slightly flattened at the poles. The site contains a grand pyramid-shaped monument (picture above) and beautiful grounds.
It has since been determined, with the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, that the actual equator is some 240 metres (790 ft) north of the monument area. If you’ve come all this way to stand on the Equator, it’s a bit of a shock to hear that the Mitad del Mundo complex was built in the wrong place by a few hundred meters. Of course this is kept quiet by the museum, and you could easily miss the excellent Museo de Sitio Intiñan (Intinan Solar Museum). Its name means “Museum of the Path of the Sun” in Kichwa, and the family that owns and operates it has done a great job with the collection, which includes displays on local plants and indigenous cultures. I found this place to be much more fascinating, if only because it’s the “real deal” insofar as being able to demonstrate some weird phenomena, which even today I am not certain was due to being exactly on the equator or parlor tricks.
Regardless, the Intinan Solar Museum is more fun then the “middle of the world” museum, if only because of the science experiments I observed there. Visitors get to participate in science experiments showing how to balance an egg on its end at the tip of a nail on the equator line. Although I couldn’t balance the egg on the nail after several tries, other tourists – whom probably weren’t fueled with coffee – were able to do it. Ha. Click on the video below . . .
Similarly, you can do the sink test. If the little sink is exactly on the equator, the water goes straight down. If it is moved north of the equator, the water swirls counter-clockwise, just like water in your toilet at home. If the sink is moved south of the equator, the water swirls clockwise. The difference? The rotation of the earth and its magnetic pull, the guide says. Here is a video demonstrating all 3 phenomena . . .
I know what I saw and I believed the demonstration with my own eyes. However, I did some research online and according to scientists, “. . . the Coriolis force that causes cyclones to spin in different directions in the northern and southern hemispheres does not affect such tiny bodies of water, so the sink test is a trick. One online discussion of the phenomenon prompted one anxious person to write: “I am very worried. My upstairs bathroom clearly sits in a different hemisphere than my downstairs cloakroom, as the (water) spins in different directions to each other!” Grin.
Apparently, you are also weaker on the equator. This was really weird! Our guide had us clasp our hands over our heads and try to pull each others arms down and it was significantly harder to keep your arms up over the equator. Just a few feet to either side and you are noticeably stronger. Weird, but true. I’m guessing this has something to do with gravity and what I said above about the “. . . Earth not being a perfect sphere, but slightly flattened at the poles.” Who knows?
In conclusion, I enjoyed both museums, but the real reason to come are the experiments that you are invited to participate at the Intinan Solar Museum, which unequivocally prove this really is the site of the Equator – flushing water in opposite directions on either side of the equator line, walking along the line and feeling the strong gravitational pull on either side, and the nearly impossible task of balancing an egg on the Equator (you get a certificate if you can do it). If you ever get a chance to visit Quito, Ecuador, both museums are must see destinations!