The line of the Equator lies just over 20 kilometres north of the capital, Quito. There’s a whole tourist complex built around this imaginary line which attracts many visitors keen to have their photos taken straddling two hemispheres. Unfortunately, modern GPS calculations show that the line is off by a very small amount. But it would be far too much trouble to move the huge monument. So let’s go with the modern way of thinking – ignore the scientific facts and celebrate the kitsch.
The last time I arrived in Quito in 1999 was in the back of a truck with a volley of stones raining down on me and fellow passengers. I’d arrived in Riobamba to rumours of an imminent national transport strike. There was galloping inflation and the price of fuel was rising, but the government refused to allow an increase in bus and taxi fares, so a strike was indeed called and the country ground to a halt.
I was stuck in Riobamba for four days before finally deciding to risk a ride with some locals in an illegal van. We were effectively strike breakers, but I had a flight in a few days out of Quito which I couldn’t afford to lose, so I had to put my wallet before my principles. Hiding in the back of a van with the doors closed in darkness was quite scary, but we’d only gone about 20 miles when we were stopped at a roadblock by some angry agitators. We spent the whole day getting to the capital either on foot or cadging a lift with some freelance cab drivers.
Luckily, my short bus ride to Quito from Otavalo this trip was uneventful. The last time I wasn’t able to visit the Equator, so I was determined to see it as soon as possible. Inevitably after eighteen years wait, it was bound to be something of a disappointment.
Ecuador only became a separate country after independence from Spain and took its name from the imaginary line which divides our two hemispheres. A quite pricey visitors centre has been built around it and most of it is quite cheesy, but it’s something you have to see. In Ecuador it’s known as La Mitad del Mundo.
The rest of my time in Quito I simply spent wandering the streets admiring the buildings and waiting for the rain to stop. There are three big squares, the Plaza Grande, the Plaza Santo Domingo and the most impressive, the Plaza San Francisco. Or rather, it would be more impressive if half of it wasn’t blocked off for metro building works. The church museum and cloisters are really fasinating though. The Palm Sunday celebrations lent the city a festive air and on Monday the outgoing President was in town, so there was some typical Latin American pomp and circumstance.
I wanted to spend more time in the highlands, but April is not the best time to be there. In fact, both Colombia and Ecuador have had up to five tines the seasonal average of rain. So, I decided to catch a bus down to the coastal lowlands and Guayaquil. Eighteen years ago when I was there it was one of the most dangerous cities in Ecuador. But apparently it’s undergone a huge transformation, so I was intrigued to visit it again.