Reflections 2015
Series 17
September 5
Ecuador IV: Quito – Equator & Prime Meridian, with Monuments


Quito   "Quito" rhymes with "mosquito". I don't like that imagery either, but it is a good example. I only point that out, since I heard someone on a YouTube video pronounce it * No, no, no.


I suppose different people have different reasons for coming to Quito, but I really see only one that stands out head and shoulders over the rest. Quito has the largest, least-altered and best-preserved colonial historic center in Latin America. The historic centers of Quito and Kraków (Poland) were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. The Centro Histórico spreads out from the Plaza Grande in the middle. Plaza Grande is the old colonial name, still usually used, despite the name being officially changed since independence to Plaza de la Independencia. The Centro Histórico has a colonial street grid, colonial architecture, historic colonial churches (the oldest from 1535) and colonial secular buildings, and is eminently walkable. Frommer lists it among its "best historical sights" in South America. It's my kind o' place, good for urban walking.


It spreads out over 320 hectares (790 acres), and includes about 130 monumental buildings and 5,000 properties registered in the municipal inventory of heritage properties. During the mid-20C it had gone into a serious decline, with crime everywhere and street peddlers having taken over the plazas. It took 20 years of planning and over $250 million to reclaim this part of Quito and to restore it, which has been an amazing feat. Today there's a strong police presence everywhere. In contrast, the New Town, known as the Mariscal, lies just to the northeast. It's grown outward from the Old City since the early 20C. Before then, Quito WAS just what is now the Centro Histórico.


In 2008, the 12 countries of South America decided to establish an intergovernmental regional organization called the Union of South American Nations (USAN), also known by its Spanish acronym UNASUR. Quito was designated as its headquarters, and a Secretariat has been built here. The South American Parliament will be in Cochabamba, Bolivia and its bank will be in Caracas. The entity is modeling itself after the European Union, including a common currency, parliament, and passport. They're hoping for everything to be in place by 2019. All continental countries are included except French Guiana, which is an overseas department of France, part of the EU and uses the euro.


This regional map shows how narrow Quito is, lying in its valley. You see the rail line we just came in on from the south—where it bends right is Chimbacalle Station, and then the (currently disused) line continues north. the Centro Histórico is NW of that, under the O in Quito, and the New Town is at and just above the asterisk.


Immediately to the west of this central areas we see Pichincha, that we've been hearing about for quite some time. We said La Condamine successfully climbed it. We said Humboldt did the same. We said in the last posting Frederic Edwin Church painted Pichincha, and we saw the picture. You'll have to take the two palm trees he included with a grain of salt—we're up in the Andes—but now we have Pichincha on the map, and it also gives its name to Pichincha Province. Look north of Quito and you'll see San Antonio de Pichincha, named after the province, which has an equator monument called Mitad del Mundo. Also note Calacalí to the west, which we'll discuss as part of that topic.


But now back to Pichincha, much closer to Quito than the currently erupting Cotopaxi to the south. It has several summits, the two highest being Wawa Pichincha at 4,784 m (15,696 ft) and Ruku Pichincha at 4,698 m (15,413 ft). The Kichwa word wawa means "baby" and is hispanicized to the awkward spelling "Guagua", as you see on the map; ruku means "old person", and is hispanicized more simply to Rucu.


If you notice that the "baby" is a little taller than the "old guy", it's because Wawa Pichincha is an active volcano, and the "baby" continues to grow. Quito is the only capital city in the world directly menaced by an active volcano—and you see how close it is. You may want to visualize Pompeii on the slopes of Vesuvius. Fortunately, the active caldera is on the far side of Wawa. The largest eruption was in 1666 when over 25 cm (10 in) of ash fell on Quito. After three minor 19C eruptions, the latest one occurred on 5 October 1999 (Photo by Paginario), showing a lot of smoke and ash. Both peaks are visible from Quito (Photo by Ljuba brank) (click), and are popular climbs for acclimatization, as we saw with La Condamine and Humboldt, who went here first before climbing the others. This, I expect, is the panoramic view they saw from the top (Photo by Jaime del Castillo). You can see in mid-view how Quito lies narrowly in its valley. The caption to this picture mentions ten peaks seen in this view. For our purposes, you can't miss Cotopaxi, nowadays erupting, is just right of center. Just think of Quito, with one active volcano to its side, and another not that far away.


The purple map will orient you quite well, and the yellow map is best for detail. The upper left of the purple map shows again how close Pichincha is. To find where we entered, look to the bottom and click. The Chimbacalle neighborhood with its rail station is not shown, but is directly below the La Loma neighborhood. To the left of that, note the hill called El Panecillo, with its park and statue, which we'll visit later. This hill defines the street grid of the Centro Histórico, which lines up with it. For that reason, the streets do not run N-S and E-W, they run SW-NE and SE-NW. They do not intersect as plus signs (+), they intersect as Xs. All the blocks are diamonds, including the green Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia) in the center. Note the concentration of important, landmarked buildings in this area.


The X-based layout continues beyond, and as usual to the NE, all because of El Panecillo. Abruptly to the NE of the Old Town is the New Town, including several parks, most notably El Ejido. Again to its NE is the modern neighborhood named after Mariscal (Marshall) Sucre, usually shortened to La Mariscal. While there is a concentration of hotels and restaurants in this entertainment area, they were of no interest to me. I find this type of newer neighborhood the same from one place to another, and I didn't want to extend my stay to get involved with an area I wasn't interested in.


Now look at he yellow map. Unfortunately, it's turned on its side, and our arrival from the south is to the left. But the previous map should have oriented you correctly. I like this because the streets in the areas we're discussing are colored blue. Click on La Mariscal, the New Town, and you'll see something that delights me and that proves my point. The nickname for this tourist area is Gringolandia, which is of course, Gringoland. I have no wish to be associated with any neighborhood with this lack of authenticity, visited so heavily by outsiders.

 The Germanic word "-land", used here as a suffix, appears in Spanish as "-landia". Thus we have Finlandia, Tailandia, and, yes, even Disneylandia, and here, Gringolandia.

As we glide south, past the parks, we come to the Old Town, which was all of Quito up to the 20C. You see La Loma, and Chimbacalle is still off the map to the left. El Panecillo stands out, as does the street grid it engenders, here shown in blue. None of the streets seem more important in the grid, but my experience that García Moreno, running SW-NE right down the middle and past the Plaza Grande. Venezuela and Chile were also important streets, and they, too, border the Plaza Grande.


Quito Arrival    Wednesday, Train Day 4, was ¾ of a day, followed by ¼ day that served as a short Wednesday, Quito Day 1. I'd also planned two additional full days here before the departure day. My pickup at the station was a young guy driving his own car, and we were in the Centro Histórico in no time.


The Quito hotel was the only real hotel decision had to make for this trip, since everything else was rather cut-and-dry, and, as usual, I went searching on my own. There was no doubt I wanted a well-located one in the Centro Histórico, even though most of the listings were in Gringolandia. I'd heard of the Casa Gangotena during my research, which sounded historic, well-located, and very nice, but then found that the price was more than through the roof. I did go look at it later as part of my tour. It is very nice, but, despite its benefits, was much too lush-and-plush for the authenticity I want. I found a few others I was trying to decide between, but hadn't found the perfection I want, so I did what I rarely do, consulted someone else, specifically Jim McDaniel at Amazon Adventures, who was doing my trip bookings. He suggested the Patio Andaluz, which looked exactly like what I wanted. Take a look if you like:


I liked right away, and found two quite reasonable prices online. I told Jim, and he got me a rate that was half of one price I found, including breakfast and free WiFi, so I had him include it with my package. Beyond a good price, note this: There are records of its ownership starting in the late 16C; it kept changing hands over the centuries and was eventually owned by the Centro Histórico de Quito itself (!!!), who turned it over to a commercial hotel chain in 2003 to become a boutique hotel. Only later did I find out that this chain also owns the Roka Plaza Boutique Hotel in Ambato, where we'd stopped for lunch in that large stone courtyard the previous day! Based on its location just a block and a half from the Plaza Grande and on the main axis of García Moreno, it's part of the UNESCO Cultural Patrimony of Humanity and decorated in colonial style to match its history. It's also an official Ecuadorean National Treasure. What's not to like?


The name needs explaining. Since we stayed earlier at the Hostería La Andaluza, we saw there the Andalusian reference in the grammatically feminine form to match "hostería" turn into the grammatically masculine form to match "patio", andaluz (an.da.LUS, rhymes with "loose"). But it's the meaning of "patio" that's the problem. the Spanish word "patio" is used in English, but almost always with a reversal of meaning. A patio in Mediterranean countries, common in attached urban buildings, is an internal courtyard or atrium, which reflects inward. It may be paved, or planted, or have a fountain. It's usually open to the sky, and has open, arched ambulatory passageways on all sides. On the other hand, in English-speaking countries, people are just as likely to call a patio as well an outward-facing terrace, open to public view. Best known is the Andalusian patio (hence the name of the hotel), such as this beautiful one in Seville (Photo by Rafael Ortega Díaz). Beverly and I became eminently aware of Andalusian patios when we lived for two months in Málaga in the summer of 1990, studying Spanish. At that time we also saw what is probably the most famous patio in the world, located in the Alhambra in Granada, the Patio de los Leones (Photo by Bernard bill5) the Patio of the Lions, based on the fountain figures. While this patio is particularly large, it still has the requisite ambulatory around it.


When we pulled up to the hotel, we had this view. García Moreno is typically narrow, so it's one-way towards the SW, toward Plaza Grande and El Panecillo. Note how it approaches us downhill from the side opposite. Though it was a well-to-do colonial residence, it fits into the streetscape like any other building. It has a curb cut that we pulled into, at the attractive doorway. The windows to the left are the lobby and to the right are an upscale gift shop.


After I checked in, I found that the building had not one, but two patios. When I found the same thing in another building on the street, now a museum, I learned that the first one you come to is the patio principal, or main patio, seen here in both pictures as you enter. In this hotel, it was used as a restaurant, with the breakfast buffet in the left ambulatory and lounge areas in the others. Since my room was on the main floor, I never did go upstairs to the area shown above. The second picture shows that the roof, probably once open, has been glassed over, so that no one has to scurry into the ambulatories in bad weather. Beyond the back ambulatory is a small sitting room, and beyond that is the second patio. Based on the quaint word tras, "behind", I've now learned that the term used is a traspatio, or "back patio". I like that word.


But the traspatio in this building offers a major surprise. Its bottom surface is down on the cellar level—think "wine cellar" in an upscale mansion, known as a cava. The first picture is taken partially down a staircase, so the railing is still the main level, and the cava has this tropical motif. There are offices on the right, and the hotel bar is to the left—it's called a cava nevertheless--where I had my complimentary welcome drink on the second day, since I was too tired to have enjoyed it on this travel day. So I had no reason to go downstairs, and continued around the upper railing as far as I could go. This is because the window to my room is on the upper left, with its single, rather large window looking out to this charming internal view. The second picture looks back to where we were just standing on the graceful staircase. We see the lower level of the traspatio, the main level that I'm on in the middle, and this upper level, which, again, I never visited.


It was by now late in the afternoon, and the sun was starting to weaken. It was l'heure bleue, the "blue hour", the beginning of the twilight period so favored by artists because of its diffused bluish light. Just as I'd done in Dallas and elsewhere in this time period in the late afternoon, I went out before dinner for a quick look. On this aerial view, see if you can make out the two patios on the hotel, which are partially blocked by the writing. Let's walk together down narrow García Moreno a half block to Mejía, then a block to Chile at the corner of Plaza Grande (#1 on the view). The iconic buildings around the square are at their best. We assay them and the Independence Monument in the center, then sit on a bench for a while to people-watch. We'll come back more extensively on the 2nd and 3rd days and see pictures, but for now we just enjoy the growing twilight.


Earth Circles    The Equator, which we'll visit tomorrow, runs just north of Quito, giving Ecuador its name. Based on that proximity, we'll look at the greater picture of circles and hemispheres of the Earth.


Slice an orange in half. If you do it horizontally, you have pole at each end, and you've cut it along its middle, the equator line. There is only one way to do this. If you slice it vertically, cutting through the poles, you can do it anywhere, at an infinite number of locations. A horizontal slice is more specific than a vertical one.


Projecting this to the Earth, it's equally true that the Equator, an imaginary horizontal cut made right in the middle between the poles, is very specific. (An equator, lower case, is any middle cut. The Equator, upper case, is more precisely the equator of the Earth.) If you picture "equate" as meaning to make two things equal, you'll see that "equator" means "equalizer". The word developed in the late 14C from Medieval Latin aequator diei et noctis, "equalizer of day and night". Twice a year on the equinoxes, the sun is on the celestial equator (the projection out into space of the Earth's Equator), and day and night are of equal length. Equinox means "equal night [and day]". That's the Latinate term. To move into the Germanic world, the Old English term was the charming efenniht, literally "even night", with the same two elements as "equinox". Measurements north and south of the Equator are given in degrees of latitude.


The imaginary vertical cut remains a conundrum. Any line drawn between the poles is a meridian. It's by definition a half-circle. It has a twin meridian exactly on the other side. Such a matched pair is called a great circle, but it's the meridian that's significant. A meridian that runs through Paris is a Paris meridian, similarly with a Chicago meridian, Tokyo meridian or any other. All meridians are equal, but the problem that arises is wanting to measure east and west around the earth, in other words, establishing degrees of longitude. A sea captain sailing west out of Lisbon wants to know how far he's gone. On this basis, by the 19C, some starting point had to be determined. Should the sea captain measure distance from the Lisbon meridian? The Paris meridian? Where's a good starting point to measure from? What's a good Point Zero, which can call the Zero Meridian, or the Prime Meridian?


Note that, unlike the Equator, deciding on a Prime Meridian is totally arbitrary—a man-made decision of convenience made to appear geographic. It has no geographic basis like an equator does. It's the equivalent of setting up milestones on highway, just so you know how far you've gone. The decision is also rife with politics. What city's meridian do we want to measure all distances from and give consummate prestige to? In addition, if we choose Paris, is it a meridian that goes through the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, or somewhere else? Thus the conundrum.


No major city was chosen. Greenwich, a small town southeast of London, was the home of the Royal Observatory. Rather than making a political decision (although London is just up the Thames and visible from Greenwich), a scientific decision was made. It wouldn't be a meridian cutting through the Tower of London or Trafalgar Square, it would be the meridian cutting through the Royal Observatory. This line was established in 1851. In October 1884, the Greenwich Meridian was selected by 41 delegates representing 25 nations at the International Meridian Conference held in Washington DC (a location that surprised me) to be the Prime Meridian, that is 0° longitude, from which all east-west measurements would be made. Less precise, though, were the subsequent time zones that were established, only very roughly approximating degrees of longitude, with political decisions zigzagging the time zones back and forth. This also happened on the other end of the great circle going through Greenwich, at 180°, since the International Date Line also zigzags wildly around that point.

 Two comments about language. It's unfortunate that, when the pronunciation of Greenwich made two changes, the spelling remained static and therefore archaic. "Green-" long ago changed to "Gren-", and all British place names ending in "-wich" lost their W (Woolwich, Dulwich). It would be nice if it were spelled Grenich (Woolich, Dulich). Even though the New York neighborhood of Greenwich Village was named in Dutch Groenwijck ("Green District"), it has the same Germanic roots and was long ago anglicized to Greenwich (Village), so it carries that same spelling baggage.

In historical linguistics, dissimilation is the curious situation where a word has the same sound twice, at a distance from each other, and so one gets changed, usually the first, to be dissimilar from the other. "February" has two Rs. In the speech of many people, this becomes "Febyuary", with the first R dissimulating to a Y. Similarly, "library" has two Rs, and the first one can disappear entirely through dissimulation in the pronunciation "libary". Historically, the dissimulation can become standard.

The Latin phrase medio-dies meant "mid-day", hence "noon". It has two Ds at some distance from each other. The first one changed to an R through dissimilation and then became standard, resulting in meridies. It went to Old French meridien and the English "meridian". If the dissimilation had not taken place, the word could have been "*medidian" keeping the two Ds. In that situation, it would have resembled "mid-day" and its meaning might have been more obvious.

So let's take a look at our circle and semicircle, the Equator and Prime Meridian (Map by Kmf164). Logically, the left and right arcs would be the other side of the Prime Meridian's great circle at 180°. The Equator remains specific, the Prime Meridian, though legally established, remains an arbitrary decision.


Hemispheres    On that map, consider the northern and southern hemispheres, then the eastern and western hemispheres. Any thoughts about the validity of either pair?


Since the Equator is a valid divider based on the Earth's geography, it would seem to follow that both the Northern Hemisphere (Map by Chen-Pan Liao) and Southern Hemisphere (Map by Sean Baker) are a valid pair of twins. Not only are there fundamental changes of temperature from center to edge in both (changes in latitude), the mere fact that they enjoy opposite seasons sets them apart as being a unique pair.


On the other hand, since the Prime Meridian (and its great circle) has been arbitrarily placed on the globe just for purposes of measuring of distances, it would equally seem that the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere (Both maps by Sean Baker) are just accidental in nature. Disregarding Antarctica, look again at the continents in the so-called Eastern Hemisphere. They're incomplete, with the western edges of Europe and Asia sheared off. Worse is the so-called Western Hemisphere. It consists of the Americas, and some crumbs that were sheared off Europe and Africa.


What good are either of these two latter designations? They exist on a technicality, as a merely academic distinction, and are usually just used in atlases. They might have had some validity if the Prime Meridian had been drawn off into the Atlantic somewhere, say through Madeira. In that case, great circle would have been a little further west in the Pacific, and the land masses of the Earth would have been sensibly divided.


So on a practical, de facto basis, how do we divide the Earth east and west? "The East" and "The West" are already taken, since they refer culturally to the two ends of Eurasia. We do two things in practice. One is to refer to the so-called Western Hemisphere by the term we've been using, The Americas (Map by Martin23230). It refers more or less to the region we want, avoiding Antarctica and slices of Europe and Africa. When we say Humboldt traveled to the Americas, we're very neatly avoiding using the term Western Hemisphere. Since he sailed from La Coruña, Spain—well into the Western Hemisphere—and returned to Bordeaux, France—barely into the Western Hemisphere by just over half a degree—it would be odd to say he visited the Western Hemisphere, when his whole voyage was technically within it. Unfortunately, there's no opposite to the term "the Americas"; the assumption just remains that the opposite is the largest land masses on Earth, lying beyond the Americas in either direction.


The other useful designations are that hoary, but still very useable old pair, New World & Old World, even better since there ARE two of them. The term Mundus Novus, or New World, was coined by none other than the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci—there's irony here, since America was named after him, too. He first used it in a letter to his friend and former patron Lorenzo de' Medici in 1503, then published the phrase shortly afterward. When that caught on, the term Old World naturally developed as a retronym, a name previously unnecessary, but formed to reflect a new development, such as this. What surprised me, though, is what Vespucci meant by the term. I'd always thought that in this phrase, "New" meant "not Europe/Africa", but in reality, he was using "New" to mean "not Asia", since the assumption had been that the Atlantic coast of the Americas was in actuality the east coast of Asia. However, that's a technicality, since the phrase is seemingly understood today to mean "New[ly Discovered] World".


There is just one defect in using this pair of terms. "Old World' refers to those places already known to Europeans, in other words, Eurasia and Africa. It does not include Australia/New Zealand, which were just as newly discovered as the Americas were. What would complete the word grouping is something new for Australia/NZ like "New World Down Under". No?


I cannot leave this topic without making a reference to the work known popularly, but slightly inaccurately, as the "New World Symphony", a name that continues to evoke Vespucci's term. Antonín Dvořák came to New York to be the director, between 1892 and 1895, of the National Conservatory of Music of America (founded 1885, now defunct). While at the Conservatory in 1893, he was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to compose what is now known as his Symphony No 9 in E minor, which premiered to great success at Carnegie Hall in December of that year. Since he had come to New York from Czechoslovakia, he was urged by a colleague to subtitle the work Z nového světa in Czech, in English "From the New World". Accurate use of the preposition in the title shows, subtly, that he wasn't naming it so much after the New World as telling the Old World that he was sending it something from afar.


Best known is the Largo, the 2nd Movement, which you can listen to on this YouTube video (4:38): Largo, New World Symphony. Almost at the beginning (0:37) you hear the famous theme, and will be convinced Dvořák took an American folk song and wove it into the Largo. But he'd explained that, while Native American music had had an influence here, all the music is original. What did happen, though, is that a pupil of his, William Arms Fisher, in 1922 adapted the theme, with Fisher's own original lyrics, into the spiritual-like song "Goin' Home". That's the correct sequencing of this chicken-or-egg situation.


The purpose of the above discussion is to now denote some of the places where the Prime Meridian and Equator are marked, and can be visited. The first obvious location is ● Greenwich, and then we'll indicate some ● other markers along the Prime Meridian. We'll also indicate ● some markers along the Equator, ending up with the obvious, the present visit to ● Ecuador.


Visiting Greenwich    To summarize quickly again a story I've told before, the above-mentioned two-month stay in Málaga in 1990 was our last trip abroad for a decade, literally, until 2000. After Spain, more or less simultaneously in the early '90's, Beverly's illness manifested itself, we both retired from teaching, sold the house we'd built in Westchester County to move to Manhattan. For the entire decade of the 1990s the most travel we did was domestic US travel, and not too much of that. Finally in 2000 we made it back to Germany, and in 2001 to Britain. On a busy day in London, driving throughout, because of the wheelchair--my travel diary says it was 21 July 2001--we finally made it to Greenwich late in the afternoon. Greenwich lies on the Thames downstream from (east of) central London. We stopped at a park on the north bank, with a view south to Greenwich, and to the Royal Observatory at the top of its hill. Without as good a map as I'd have liked, we crossed over and went up the hill to the back of Greenwich Park, where we walked along an allée of chestnut trees to get to the Observatory.


The Greenwich Observatory story is one of my favorite travel stories. It's posted in a brief paragraph in 2001/6, Ctrl-F "A Loin in the Pivement", but I'll copy here the paragraph in question so I can elaborate on it: The Observatory was just about to close, but we didn't want to tour it anyway, just see where they had indicated the Zero Meridian (Photo by Maksym Kozlenko) on the ground, where you could straddle it (Photo by InSapphoWeTrust). We assumed the line would be accessible outside the building, but were surprised to find that the marking is just behind a fence and a short distance away. They'd already closed the gate, so everyone who hadn't gotten in yet was looking at it through the fence. Still, I spoke to a guard, who spoke the thickest Cockney I’d ever heard, more pronounced than any theatrical Cockney accent I'd heard. He was very nice and said that "since your lidy is in the chair" he'd like to let us in, but then everyone else would want to get in. But he told me where, back down in the town, next to the Feathers Pub, the "loin is mawked roight in the pivement". And when we got there, mawked it was, roight in the pivement and at an angle to the street. I walked Beverly from the car over to the loin and we both stood with one foot on either side, one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western. Nonsense, but fun nonsense.


I always enjoy reliving this story, but now I have more resources available than I did in 2001, so I can learn more about what happened then, and can start with a proper map. I can see now where, on the left, we were driving around the center of town, seeing the Old Royal Naval College designed by Christopher Wren. I can see where we drove up the hill and to the back of Greenwich Park, and entered via the allée to the Royal Observatory, where the red line on the map indicates the Prime Meridian, or Zero Meridian. I now have a picture of the crowd waiting at the entrance gate to the Observatory and of the view beyond the gate of people straddling the line (Both photos by Daniel Case).


I had pictured that the town location "next to the Feathers pub" was off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and that the pub was some local dive. Not at all, which becomes clearer having an accurate map. Note what would have been our very simple route counterclockwise around Greenwich Park, and along its edge, to the southern end where the street is Park Vista, which crosses the Meridian. A cross street right afterward—not as far as Park Row—is actually a dead end called Feathers Place (Google maps clarifies this). And believe it or not, since you can find everything online, I've found this view, looking north across Park Vista up Feathers Place (Photo by Richard Croft). I see that, what my mind's eye remembers as a solid line marking the Meridian is actually a series of circular plugs on Park Vista doing so. This is where the two of us straddled the Prime Meridian.


And on the far side of the street, to the right beyond the photo's edge, at 19 Park Vista, is what is actually called the Plume of feathers Pub, a venerable institution founded in 1691. While we did not stop there, below is a picture, and this is their website:


Prime Meridian Markers & Monuments    This is a world map we'll look at twice, first to see what land areas the Prime Meridian crosses (Map by NuclearVacuum), in blue. They are, in Europe, the UK, France, Spain; in Africa, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana; in Antarctica, Queen Maud Land. (Do not be confused by the blue area in South America. This is French Guiana, which we just said is considered an overseas department of France; it's blue because France is blue.)


Based on pictures I've found online in Wikimedia Commons (I haven't visited any of these places), there are many locations in the UK with markers and monuments, including signs, stone monuments, occasionally pavement markings. In the north of England, I liked this simple roadside sign in Rimswell, East Riding of Yorkshire (Photo by Andy Beecroft). Checking it out on Google Maps, I find that, by pure chance, Rimswell is possibly the northernmost point in England crossed by the Meridian before it continues north into the North Sea. I was surprised at that, because the other marker I chose for England happened to be this stone monument in Peacehaven, East Sussex (Photo by Simon Carey), right on the south coast of England, with the English Channel in sight.


Right across the Channel we come across the first discrepancy we'll find, and definitely not the last (see below). This is (click) Villiers-sur-Mer (Photo by Хрюша), in Calvados, France, the northernmost location of the Prime Meridian on the continent. It looks nice, but in actuality, the Meridian runs about 32 meters/yards east of the marker. Quite impressive in Spain is this Arco del Meridiano, or Meridian Arch (Photo by Muro de Aguas), which soars across the Autopista del Nordeste at km 82 east of Zaragoza. Finally, we cross over to Africa, where this roadside marker in Stidia, Algeria (Photo by Yelles), seems to also indicate a line marked below it along the shoulder of the highway.


Equator Markers & Monuments    I have to start by confessing a childhood obsession, one which I don't understand any more today any more than you will. I was probably in about the fifth grade, making me about ten. The class was studying South America. Ho-hum. Then Ecuador, and Quito. OK. Then I read in the textbook that, not only did the Equator cross Ecuador a short distance north of Quito, there was an Equator Monument there. I was fascinated, even obsessed by it, and today, I can't say why. It just stayed with me. Only now, in retrospect, do I realize I maintained two childhood images of South America with me, this, and Aconcagua from age 3 (2015/14).


It was not on my bucket list, just in the back of my mind. When the Caronia stopped at Manta, I thought about it up in the mountains. Even when planning this trip, which was based on the Galápagos, then followed by the mainland connection in Guayaquil, I wondered if I really wanted to go all the way up into the Andes. Only when I found out they'd started the rail line up again did I readily decide I wanted to see Quito—and the Monument.


But now I find out there are others. Look at this map a second time to see what land areas the Equator crosses (Map by NuclearVacuum), in red. They are, in Asia, Indonesia; in Africa, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Sâo Tomé and Principe; in South America, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (including Isabela in the Galápagos). Beyond signs and modest markers on the Equator in Africa, Brazil, and elsewhere in Ecuador, I have found the following more significant monuments.


This Equator Monument is in Pontianak, Borneo, Indonesia (Photo by Achmad Rabin Taim). This curious Double Equator Monument is on opposite sides of a road near Masaka, Uganda (Photo by Iwoelbern). Click to see the line in the foreground. I really think this Equator Monument in Sâo Tomé (Photo by Joao Maximo) off the west coast of Africa is one of the prettiest, in an attractive setting. And finally, this is one in Macapá, Brazil (Photo by Jorge Andrade), on the northern channel of the Amazon near its mouth. I know that, when the Regatta sailed into the Amazon at night, it had to register in Macapá, but we didn't see anything, least of all this Monument.


Visiting Mitad del Mundo    This story involves some significant bumps in the road, and it's certainly nothing like the fun in Greenwich. Still, I must say things worked out quite well all things considered, and furthermore—I beat the system!!! Beyond that, I've since found out some very pleasing additional information that brings things round full circle [equator pun].


NAME Let's start with the name, the unusual "Mitad del Mundo". To understand this we need to refer back to what we said in 2015/14 about the fact that "ecuador" is the Spanish word for "equator" as well as being the name of the country. Therefore, República del Ecuador is understood by Spanish speakers, at least tacitly, to mean both "Republic of the Equator" and "Republic of Ecuador". That double meaning doesn't exist in English—as you see—or in most languages. Now the same problem would exist when you want to say "Equator Monument". It would logically be "Monumento al Ecuador", but the same double meaning would appear—it looks like it means "Ecuador Monument", perhaps some patriotic monument to the country. The upshot is, you can't say "Equator Monument" in Spanish, at least not that way.


What's been chosen as an alternative is to say "Mitad del Mundo", which actually means "Half the World". I think it's a ridiculous substitute. There must be a better circumlocution, if for no other reason that the Equator divides the Earth into two halves, not one. If you bend the meaning a little, you could say it means "Middle of the Earth", perhaps a little better, but doesn't that really imply the central core of the earth, not the surface? But this name is what we're stuck with in Spanish. When we were driving there, Carlos, my very bright English-speaking young guide, wanted to say we were going to the Half-the-World Monument. I had to explain to him, with him a native speaker of Spanish, why English doesn't need to say it that way, although Spanish does.


LOCATION I had been hearing about the huddled masses of tourists (do you have a clue there?) going to a place called Mitad del Mundo, as though it had a life of its own. This was compounded by the fact that the park it's in is called Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, or Mitad del Mundo City. Even when I was there, I was under the impression that it was a legal municipality. Only long afterwards do I find out otherwise. Just as Disneyland is a theme park in Anaheim, California, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is—believe it or not—a theme park that doesn't use that designation, physically located in the town of San Antonio de Pichincha. I feel foolish that I didn't know where I really was at the time, but—check out again the regional map above-- I didn't have a map like this to help me then.


CHANGES When I started checking out Mitad del Mundo during the pre-trip, the first bump in the road I came across involved a change. The 1936 monument, which we said in the past was placed by the government of Ecuador to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Geodesic Mission in 1736, was evidently the one I'd read about in the fifth grade. It turns out it was 10 m (33 ft) tall. It had been replaced, and moved to Calacalí (, the next town to the west, 7 km (4 mi) away (see regional map). Then, between 1979 and 1982, the local government built a much bigger monument to replace it, three times as high, at 30 m (98 ft). Bigger is better, right?


The bigger monument has each side facing a cardinal direction and is topped by a globe 4.5 meters/yards wide weighing 5 tons. The monument has a line on the ground running through it representing the Equator. Inside the monument building is an ethnographic museum. (What does that have to do with the Equator?) Facing the monument within the (theme) park are a sideshow of handicraft shops and restaurants. Perhaps this hokey "village" is why they call the park a "City". It's the Frommer guide that used the word "hokey" and gave the place no stars whatsoever. The most honest evaluation is that the entire complex is a sprawling tourist trap.


A MONUMENTAL GOOF Oh, but it gets worse. The 1936 monument, in its original location, was placed there under the direction of the geographer Luis Tufiño. Based on data he had obtained, it was believed the Equator ran through the original monument, and, after it had been moved, through the new monument. But we're in the 21C, and we have access to GPS technology. Based on the new readings, the Equator actually lies about 240 m (787 ft) north of the line marked in the ground at the monument. While well intended, this was a monumental goof—pun intended. So for the decades since 1936, at both monuments at this site, people have straddled a line that was a lie; an unintended lie, but a lie nevertheless. And now, the unaware continue to do it, since there's no on-site indication to the contrary. Why should there be? This isn't a monument, it's a business proposition run by the local authorities. In this location, a line on the ground is just a come-on to the tourist trap.

 In fairness, though, it must be said that the situation in Greenwich is the opposite from the one here. In Greenwich, the building defines the line. Here, the line has to located correctly so the building can be built on it.

And there's a related travesty. Adjoining the park on its north side and 200 m to the northeast of the new monument (but not 270 m, where the real Equator is!) is another local attraction, a private one, called the Intiñan Solar Museum. I understand that it, too has a line traced on the ground that's just as much of a lie. This place is apparently even more of a side show that attracts the most gullible of the gullible. It seems to be like a magic show, where demonstrations are given of things that "can only happen on the Equator", like balancing an egg on its end or water going down a drain both clockwise and counterclockwise, depending on which side of the "Equator" the drain is located. It would seem to be a parasite on the side of the larger barnacle adjoining the real Equator.


Could this get worse? If you doubt it, you underestimate the local authorities. While never acknowledging on the site that the new monument isn't on the Equator (They'd lose business! The park has an entrance fee!), they're going to "fix it"! In the apparent ongoing belief that bigger is better, they want to really go all the way. They want to build a newer structure still, right on the Equator—I hope they triple-check their GPS measurements before breaking ground. They've hired the famous Uruguayan architect, based in New York, Rafael Viñoly to build a "Tower of the Sun" that would be about a mile high. As we said, bigger is better, right? It would be roughly twice as high as Dubai's Burj Khalifa (2010/24) currently the tallest building in the world, and would cost $250 million. Now Dubai is one thing, since it's at sea level, but this is the Andes, so the top of this building would be about three miles above sea level. Therefore, it would have to be pressurized, including a pressurized elevator to take visitors to the top. Now this was announced in 2012, with an anticipated ground-breaking in early 2014. To my knowledge, nothing has happened. With luck, it'll stay that way.


I also find it very unfortunate that the above-mentioned secretariat building (Photo by Pedro M. Martínez Corada), built by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and just inaugurated on 5 December 2014, has been located, believe it or not, just south of the entrance gate to the park of Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. I did not know at the time to look for it, but I do not think that was a wise location.


CATACALÍ The first thing I want to do is to pay homage to the past, to my "fifth grade monument". I've found a picture of the original 1936 equator monument (Photo by Jan Pešula [Sapfan]) located in the main square of Catacalí. I have not seen it personally. It isn't exactly on the Equator here, just like it wasn't in Mitad del Mundo. But that wasn't the point. It was meant to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Mission, just as the monument outside Hacienda La Ciénega commemorated the 250th. Attempting to place it on the Equator was an extra touch, one that didn't work out. In any case, if La Condamine and the Mission visited the actual Equator at all, there's no indication it was in either of these villages.


MITAD DEL MUNDO--BEATING THE SYSTEM! Before leaving home, I was wondering what I should do about all this. Despite the messy situation with Mitad del Mundo, I did want to get to the Equator—on land.

 A fuss has always been made about crossing the Equator at sea. First-time sailors were hazed after it had been crossed, and to this day, cruise ships issue a certificate to all passengers who've crossed the Equator, whether it's their first time or not. (They also do a nonsensical Neptune ceremony for passengers in the swimming pool who volunteer, which I avoid like the plague.) In an upstairs closet somewhere I must have three certificates; one from when the Caronia crossed it in the Manta area, and one again, after circling South America and having taken on some new passengers, when crossing it on the Brazil side. Also one from when the Regatta crossed it in the mouth of the Amazon.

Given that tradition, it's odd that absolutely no fuss whatsoever is made in the air when overflying the Equator. It's not even mentioned. As I reflect, I've overflown it ten times: to and from New Zealand; to Australia and on to Dubai; to and from South Africa; to and from Santiago de Chile on the Antarctica trip; and even to and from Ecuador on this trip, since Guayaquil, like most of Ecuador, is south of the line. And that's just the point. While I've crossed, and straddled, the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, I never crossed the Equator on land, on terra firma. I wanted to do it now and cross over to the much smaller part of Ecuador north of the line. If I could straddle it as well, so much the better. (But I couldn't.)

Before leaving home, I devised a strategy to beat the sorry system presented at Mitad del Mundo. I couldn't have even started to do this pre-internet. On Google Maps, I found the Monument presently at Mitad del Mundo. I checked its coordinates, and sure enough, its latitude is 0° 00' 07" South. It's those seven seconds that's the killer. I moved to Satellite View, and printed it out for my use when there. Then, to my great pleasure, an online search showed that I wasn't the first person interested in this, because I found the following:


Click to enlarge just slightly. It's not exactly Google Satellite View from above, but an aerial picture of the area from an angle, but it works just as well. You are looking at the monument at Mitad del Mundo, not from above, but from an angle allowing you to see what it looks like. You see how big it is, with the globe on top, and facing the four cardinal points. You can see they got that much right by checking the upper right of the picture to see where North is. The large circular area around it has paths in the four directions. The supposed Equator line runs along the west and east paths, and through the building. Before it reaches another, smaller plaza, "N" and "S" are proudly indicated. (Ha! Only "S" is correct!) The buildings on the right are the craft shops and restaurants, that is, the "side show". When you follow the SE side of the monument, you see the approach route, the wide esplanade to it up from the entrance. In reality, this is an impressive walk. We see only about half its length here. My copy, printed directly from Google, showed more on the right, the other half down to the entrance. It's right to the south of that entrance that the UNASUR building has unfortunately been built.


But our interest is to the upper part of the picture, since we're looking for where the Equator really crosses this area. Across that nearby, closer road and on the right is that Intiñan Solar Museum, which I'd like to rename "Gullible City". But our primary area of interest is the major highway running at an angle across the top, beyond which is the center of what I now know is San Antonio de Pichincha. This is Highway 28. The route from Quito comes north past the front of the complex, off the map to the right, then swings left around this area to become Highway 28, which continues on to Catacalí. (If I'd known these additional details at the time, I'd have considered going there.)


By trial and error on Google Maps and Satellite View, I found the Equator at 0° 0' 0" and drew a line across the map I'd printed out to take with me. This is what I found. Follow on the aerial view. There are two buildings on the far side of Highway 28. Oddly, their roofs seem to form the figures 11 and 9. Between them is Calle Moraspungo. The south side of where Calle Moraspungo meets highway 28 in an upside-down T intersection. The NE corner is at 0.000181 North. The south side of the highway opposite that is at 0.000091 North—closer. That means the Equator runs just a hair south of that T-intersection and—draw a mental line—crosses Highway 28 at an extremely acute angle just south of the building with the 9 on the roof, between it and the Intiñan. If you didn't think I was really serious about this matter, you do now.


The first of two full days in Quito was Thursday, Quito Day 2. I knew I could see the Old Town on my own. I was wondering about taking a taxi to go up on El Panecillo. But despite all its problems, I'd never make it to Mitad del Mundo, so I'd booked an "Old Town & Mitad del Mundo" tour (touristy as it sounds) way in advance as part of my package. I was told it would be a group tour, which would be at a lower rate. I was concerned about how things would go, remembering the woman on the group tour climbing into a tortoise shell and me having to wait out their time in the café.


Things could not have turned out better. After breakfast, again with mate de coca, I stepped outside to the curb cut onto García Moreno. But in place of some van filled with tourists, there was twenty-something Carlos with his private car. He was personable, well-educated, spoke excellent English (I also alternated with Spanish when appropriate) and we bonded quickly. I asked him if we'd be picking up others for the group tour, and he said no, I was the only one. Nice. A private tour, at group rates, and I could now make it as flexible as I wished, as with the private Guayaquil tour.


Even before I got into the car, it got better. His suggestion was that we go to Mitad del Mundo first, then he wanted to take me up to show me El Panecillo (!!!), then we'd walk through the Old Town. Perfect! In retrospect, he must have sequenced it in that order because of parking, since the first two stops had no parking problems.


Driving north to Mitad del Mundo, I told him of my concerns, that I knew it was all a sham, and that I wanted to see the road north of the complex. No problem. When we got there, we drove north right past the entrance to where the road bent left. I was looking hard for the side street and the buildings marking my location, but things look different from street level. I'm rather sure that where we stopped for a traffic light was at the T-intersection with that side street, Calle Morasprungo, but it was unmarked. We continued a distance up the road, so I'm SURE we passed that intersection and entered the Northern Hemisphere and northern Ecuador. Obviously, there was no line on the ground to straddle, so there was no reason to get out of the car. But nevertheless, mission accomplished!


Of course, despite it all, I couldn't leave without visiting the fraud, Mitad del Mundo itself, so Carlos parked and I paid my admission fee of $3.50, actually pricey for Ecuador, while he got in free. We walked up the esplanade, where you see the south and east façades (click) of the monument. Only now that I look at the picture closely do I see a quirk at the top, so here's a closeup of the globe (Both Photos by Mr. Tickle). Click to inspect the fact that the globe is on its side, with Antarctica to the right, and is resting on the Equator, which surrounds the globe like a railing.


I told Carlos I just wanted to walk up to and around the monument. I didn't need to go to the top via the museum, but here's a view from the top (Photo by Maros) looking along the east path to the "village". The painted line is obvious. I felt I had to straddle some line, so I straddled the fake one (Photo by David A. Acosta S.), then turned around again to face west to see the whole thing (Photo by Mr. Tickle). Click to enlarge this view to see on the lower left of the monument the altitude, but also the reference to the distance west of Greenwich, which I think ties the two concepts together nicely. Then read the back side of the yellow sign. What does it say?


I hope you didn't fall into that old trap. It doesn't name the country, it's claiming to be on the "Equator". That's that word problem in Spanish again. And talking about claims, it brings a favorite story to mind. When doing undergraduate study at Queens College, I took a Spanish course about Don Quijote (Don Quixote). We didn't read the whole thing, just selected bits and pieces. It was published in Spanish in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. When the first part came out, it was a wild success, a best seller. And that caused problems for Cervantes. This was long before copyright laws, and the popularity of the book caused numerous unauthorized sequels to be written by others. There was nothing Cervantes could do about it, but he had some small revenge. Ten years later, when his authentic Part II came out, we were told in class about a scene where Don Quijote becomes incensed, and dashes off to find the impostor, el falso Don Quijote, to do battle with him for pretending to be him. Clever idea. Similarly, when I straddled the line here, I felt I was right there with Don Quijote, the real Equator line off to one side and now meeting up with the impostor, la falsa línea.


CATEQUILLA I said at the beginning that, despite the negativity, there was some good news at the end. In Ecuador there are indeed two monuments located exactly on the Equator. I didn't see either of them, but we can all enjoy them vicariously.


We said way back that the Quitu people were the founders of Quito, which is named after them. Their culture is pre-Inca. They existed from 2000 BCE to the Spanish conquest of the city in 1524. I now find it very interesting that the area where the Quitus lived (see purple Quito map) stretched from El Panecillo in the SW to the Plaza de San Blas in the NE, which precisely encompasses the Old Town today. While I knew the Spaniards founded Mexico City on the Aztecs' Tenochtitlán, I'd never realized something similar had happened here. But in time, the Quitu people were conquered by the Cara culture. I have only recently learned of a pre-Spanish Equator monument, apparently actually more of an astronomical observatory, established by the combined Quitu-Cara culture. As I've searched for its location, I find it's right next door to where we've just been.


This is the view from San Antonio de Pichincha eastward along the equator. We are looking at Monte Catequilla (ka.te.KI.ya). At its top is the Catequilla Archaeological Site, presumably difficult to reach. This is the view of the top of the mountain (Photo by Cristóbal Cobo), apparently from the other direction, toward town, and this is a closeup of the site (Photo by Gatoparlante), showing it to be in the form of a disk. It's exactly on the Equator. It dates to circa 800 CE. If they were able to find the Equator 1200 years ago, what's the problem today? Apparently their precision had to do with measuring where the sun's rays fell on the equinoxes., which makes me think of Stonehenge, which has nothing to do with the Equator, but does have to do with the suns rays on the solstices.


THE QUITSATO SUNDIAL While the last monument was a happy historical find, this final one is the best news coming out of the entire area. Lying further east of San Antonio is the town of Cayambe, and a bit further still, is the Cayambe Volcano (last eruption in 1786), the third highest mountain in Ecuador. Google maps tells me that the town of Cayambe is a drive of 1.5 hours over a zigzag mountain route, so, even if I'd known about this special place when I was there, it wouldn't have worked out to have seen it. Still, it has to be considered the best of show.


The town of Cayambe, also roughly on the Equator, is another place that has a misplaced Equator monument, some 120 m (394 ft) south of the line. But in 2006, it was decided to scientifically erect a sundial precisely on the Equator, a sundial being more appropriate anyway than just a monument, tying together the Equator and the sun. It's an independent, non-profit project carried out by community members to be self-sustaining, and managed by volunteers, and is called the Quitsato Sundial.


The sundial consists of a circular platform (Photo by Cristocobo) 54 m (178 ft) in diameter, with a design in the form of a mosaic of light and dark pebbles. The lines indicate the four cardinal directions, the solstices, and the equinoxes, so all bases are covered here. I have now learned a new word I doubt I'll ever use again—but who knows. The projecting piece in the middle of a sundial that casts the necessary shadow is called a gnomon (NO.mon). Click to see the two curious little doors in the gnomon through which the Equator passes. Really.


The gnomon (Photo by Cayambe) is 1.3 m (4.3 ft) wide. It would appear (click) that the space between those doors in the gnomon serves as the office for the volunteer on duty. You can now see better that the equator is the narrow dark line that runs through the gnomon. The caption to this picture says that the northern hemisphere is at the left side, the southern one at the right. That indicates that we're looking due east, proven by our seeing the Cayambe Volcano, not too clear in the background.


The gnomon is 10 m (33 ft) high, which, wistfully, was the height of the original monument. However, that ten-meter height is meant to be strongly symbolic, since it represents the metric system. As we reminded earlier, the metric system was originally based on a meter being one ten-millionth of the Earth's quadrant, that is, from this very point to either pole. In retrospect, the ten-meter height of the original monument must have been symbolic of the same thing, especially since it was commemorating the Mission, which worked on that.


With all the Equatorial nonsense we've seen, one has to be skeptical. Is this one right? Well, first, the Ecuadorian Military Geographic Institute, using GPS technology, has placed this geodetic survey marker at the site. It has an error margin of one millimeter, so you don't even need to straddle the line. If you stand on it even with just one foot, that foot alone will be in both hemispheres, guaranteed. Second, we have this GPS monitor (click) on the line. I would guess we're facing west here since we don't see the volcano. And third, we have this magnificent picture taken on a day of an equinox (All Three Photos by Cristocobo). It was taken at 7:21 AM on 23 September 2011, and we see perfectly how the sun is casting a linear shadow precisely on the equatorial line. This must be how the Quitus did it, too, over on Catequilla.


But there's a bit more. We know this view is to the east because it's a sunrise, but also because we have a beautiful view of Cayambe Volcano (another mountain first climbed by Edward Whymper). Note the peak, which is at 5,790 m (almost 19,000 ft), and note where the gnomon is telling us the Equator crosses the mountain, down on its south slope at 4,690 m (15,387 ft). You are here looking over to (1a) the highest point of the Equator in the world, or, conversely, (1b) the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator, (2) the only point on the Equator with snow cover, and (3) the only place where the Equator passes through a glacier. Here's a closer look at Cayambe's summit (Photo by Natalia Cartolini).

For the rest of this posting, use the yellow town map above, remembering that it's on its side, with north—where we're now coming from--to the right.


El Panecillo    After Mitad del Mundo, Carlos and I drove south around the Centro Histórico and up the winding road to the top of El Panecillo. While pan means "bread", the name of the hill is a diminutive meaning "little piece of bread", for reasons unknown to me. Note again how the Old Town street grid lines itself up with the hill so that there are good views from above up along major central streets like García Moreno and Venezuela, with the Plaza Grande in between them. Being up here is like being on a balcony. That being the case, the hill and its statue are, conversely, visible from all over the Old Town.


While El Panecillo, of volcanic origin, has an altitude of 3,016 m (9,895 ft), once you subtract the altitude of Quito you find that the difference is only 192 m (628 ft). It had been called Yavirac by the natives, who had a temple there for sun worship, so the prominence of the hill always gave it importance. In 1976 a 41 m (135 ft)-tall aluminum madonna statue was erected atop a high pedestal.


Carlos and I walked around the park at the top over to the south side, where I looked to see if I could find Cotopaxi, but it was too overcast. In any case, the best views were over the Old Town. In this panorama, notice the width of the valley that Quito's in, and again, how close Pichincha is on the left (click). The panorama is good for a general view, but it's easier to follow details in this regular view of the center of Old Town (Both Photos by Diego Delso). If you'd rather have a copy of this in another window as we discuss, it, here's a link to the same picture:


From our "balcony" view here, let's see where we'll be walking later in the Old Town—we'll name the places we'll go to. Take in the overall view, but click when necessary for closeups. We just saw on the map how Venezuela and García Moreno are well located for viewing from here, so let's find them. ● Venezuela is the most visible street emanating from under us, with heavy traffic. It passes to the right of Plaza Grande, and continues up a rise opposite. ● García Moreno is the next street to the left, here seen obliquely. Follow it up to where a white arch crosses it. This is Arco de la Reina ("Queen's Arch") at Vicente Rocafuerte (see map). Continue up one more block to Bolívar, where the red-domed building is. The lower orange roofs just beyond are several mid-block houses, one of which is the Urrutia House Museum. At the corner is Sucre, and on the left, the white complex with the gray stone entrance is the Compañía de Jesús. Opposite it, is the top of a similar stone entryway with an orange roof behind. this is El Sagrario, and at the corner, you can't miss the tall white tower of the Cathedral, with its green domes. The Cathedral is at Espejo, and the Plaza Grande (trees visible) lies between it and Chile, running over to Venezuela. On Chile we see the beautiful Hotel Plaza Grande, with the Archbishop's Palace to its right. Facing Plaza Grande, to the left of the Cathedral tower, is the Presidential Palace. The Hotel Patio Andaluz would be behind the Hotel Plaza Grande and up García Moreno, across Mejía, and just before that green-domed church, somewhere in that complex of orange roofs. García Moreno, like Venezuela, now goes up that rise across town.


Click to shrink the picture so you can go to the left center to find some bright gold building façades. Then enlarge the picture again to inspect the huge and historic ● Plaza de San Francisco. To its left are the green cones on the twin white towers of the Iglesia de (Church of) San Francisco and its large complex. The large closer building with two palm trees in its garden is the Casa Gangotena, the pricey hotel I spoke about.


Carlos and I then drove into the Old Town, and he surprised me. He pulled into a building on a side street a half-block from my hotel that turned out to be a parking garage disguised as a Colonial-style building and we went down to a couple of sub-basements. I'd have never imagined it was there. When we got to García Moreno to begin our walking tour, a middle-aged woman crossed the street, ignored me, and gave him a big hug. He explained afterward that she was his aunt, and he hadn't seen her in a while. We walked another half block, and a young woman Carlos's age walked up to us, shook my hand, and spoke to me in English. This turned out to be his wife, who, unlike his aunt, knew he was working. It was a pleasant family interlude to have experienced.


We walked into the Plaza Grande for my second time. Carlos pointed things out, then we proceeded down García Moreno past the Cathedral. I asked him how far he planned to walk, and he said to San Francisco. At this point, as much as I enjoyed his company, I decided to call it a day. My forte is urban walking; I was fully familiar with the area from previous study, both the sights and street layout; I was getting tired after the half-day (so far) of touring at this altitude; I had a full day the next day to do my own thing, from my well-located hotel. So he walked me back to the hotel, I thanked him, and we said good-bye. It was totally irrelevant if I'd prepaid for a longer day, since I'd already done and seen exactly what I'd wanted.


And so we come to Friday, Quito Day 3, the last full day of the trip and the day of my urban walk, the first time I'd be able to go for a stroll on my own since those evenings in Puerto Ayora. A full day was more than I needed, so I didn't rush getting up and having breakfast—with mate de coca, of course.


We can start our stroll together, going to the places we've just talked about. We mentioned them so they sound familiar to all as we hear them this second time around. (Follow on the yellow town map.) Let's start by strolling down García Moreno (Photo by Cayambe). If you've been following the discussion, you have to know this view is opposite what we just saw from the hill. El Panecillo and its statue (click) are where we were, so we're on the rise on this opposite side of town. You can see how El Panecillo dominates the Old Town. I never did come this far up the rise, so let's start where I did start, at the hotel, which in this direction would be beyond the green-domed church. We can find the hotel on the left of the street by finding the curb cut, where there's a black car and white van parked. It's then a half-block to where Mejía crosses, and one block further to the Plaza Grande. The only thing we see there is the white cathedral, with its tower and green domes. If you look further down García Moreno, you'll see the Arco de la Reina crossing it.


But when we walk that block and a half we enter the Plaza Grande, with the Hotel Plaza Grande (below) on our left, and this view (Photo by Cayambe) on our right, and ahead. Here, García Moreno forms a part of the square, and the building along its length is the Palacio de Carandolet / Carandolet Palace, the seat of the government and the official residence of the President. The building at the next corner of the square is of course the Cathedral, and if you click, you'll see the optical illusion of the statue on top of El Panecillo apparently standing on the roof of the Cathedral! Now find that roof railing along the Carandolet. We're going to bend it in half.


Although I wasn't in the Carandolet, this is a view from its roof. You see, the panoramic view has made a V out of the railing, but does clearly show the other three sides of the square. On the left is where we just entered on García Moreno, and the Hotel Plaza Grande that we passed. That side is completed by the Archbishop's Palace. In the middle is the Independence Monument (which is why the official name is Plaza de la Independencia), and behind it, the City Hall. On the right is the Cathedral, in its full length. This has been the main square of Quito since the 16C.


Let's turn back left and get a better look (click for details) at the Hotel Plaza Grande (Photo by nic0704). The building is on the site of a Spanish colonial mansion which once belonged to one of the earliest colonial inhabitants of Quito, Juan Diaz de Hidalgo. The present building was built in 1930, and was the first building in Quito to be over two stories—it's five. It was one of the first formal hotels in Quito, and became the Majestic Hotel in 1943, then closed, became a bank, then housed city offices. In 2005 hotel investors returned it to being a major hotel, with its new name. In my opinion, it's the most attractive building on the square.


We can now enjoy the square and walk over to the other side. As we recall, the street on that side of the square is Venezuela. When we reach it and turn right, we'll see El Panecillo again (Photo by Cayambe). We saw from above that Venezuela was lined up for the best views, and it's true in this direction, too. Again, this is the typical width for all streets in the Old Town.


Construction on the Cathedral of Quito (Photo by Ángel M. Felicísimo) began in 1562 and finished in 1572. Its nave runs along the square, rather than its front, as is customary, since, in the 16C, a deep gorge on its far side limited the space available. It therefore has two main entrances. The original main entrance is on García Moreno next to the bell tower, not on the Plaza. Now note the attractive domes glazed in green ceramic tiles, particularly the lowest one, behind the trees.


In the early 19C, it was decided to add a Plaza entrance after all, which had to be at mid-nave. This elaborate entrance is known as the Carandolet Arch (Photo by Byron.calisto), located under that lowest dome and atop a semi-circular staircase. The result is that this is the main interface between Cathedral and square.


For an alternate perspective of the square, we have this view from atop the Cathedral (Photo by Diego Delso). To the lower left (click) you can see the round steps of the Carandolet Arch, then the Carandolet Palace with a bit of Pichincha above it in the distance. Across is the Hotel Plaza Grande with the Archbishop's Palace, then the rather more modern City Hall. When you look at the Independence Monument in the center, be sure to note how pleasant it is to sit here and people-watch. It's also nice to rest from the effects of the altitude.


OK, let's move on. We turn left around the Cathedral tower and we're back on García Moreno. Here's where we find out what happened to that open ravine that had been behind the Cathedral and had limited its construction in the 16C. It was finally overtopped in 1617 by a series of arches, above which was built a building, that was completed in 1715. The building is attached to the Cathedral and is a little hard to define. Technically, it's a large chapel of the Cathedral, and part of its complex. In practice, it's looked upon as a church in its own right, both because of its large size and its importance, since it's been considered an Italian Renaissance architectural marvel since Colonial times. It's called the Iglesia de El Sagrario, or Church of the Sanctuary. It's also accessed separately, but has an interior connection to the Cathedral. [Full disclosure: I enjoyed the beautiful white Cathedral from outside, including the Carandolet Arch. But the Arch entrance to the Cathedral was closed, I couldn't figure out which was the entrance from García Moreno, or even from Venezuela, and I couldn't find the connection leading to it from El Sagrario. I didn't see the interior--and don't miss it at all--but it wasn't for lack of trying.]


We're on García Moreno, looking back towards the Plaza. We see the Cathedral tower, but I'm still not sure where the entrance on this side is. El Sagrario is the stone building next to it; this is a closeup of its façade (Photo by Valerius Tygart); and this is an interior view (Photo by Diego Delso). In addition, Marshal Sucre had requested to be buried in Quito, and it's in El Sagrario that his mausoleum (Photo by Valerius Tygart) is located, surrounded by those flags of the Latin American countries he helped liberate.


Down the same block, but diagonally across from El Sagrario, is the Jesuit Church called the Compañía de Jesús (Photo by [WT-shared] Shoestring). It took 160 years to build, 1605-1765, and is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in Latin America, particularly noted for its very detailed façade (Photo by Alfredo Chaves) and its highly decorated interior (Photo by Diego Delso), profusely colored with gold leaf, gilded plaster, and wood carvings. Although it's Quito's most ornate church, I didn't get to see the interior, although I did get to see the ornate interiors of El Sagrario and San Francisco.


Speaking of which, San Francisco is our next stop, and, as noted from above on El Panecillo, the only one not on García Moreno. But at the corner of La Compañía we just turn right on Sucre, go one block, and come to the vast Plaza de San Francisco (Photo by David Adam Kess). Click to expand this panoramic view of this extensive square. Starting at the left, aside from an indication of what typical local buildings look like, the first thing that stands out is El Panecillo and its statue, so we now have the reverse view of what we'd had there. The next thing we note is the white Casa Gangotena, the posh hotel. Also note the change in elevation, since the entire square, church complex, even Casa Gangotena, stand on what had once been a hilltop grouping of Inca temples and an open market, making the church higher than others. We then come to the imposing twin towers of San Francisco, which is both a church and a monastery, highly recommended by Frommer (3 stars).


Construction started in 1535, right after the Spanish arrived, and lasted over 150 years. The entire San Francisco complex is the largest of the existing architectural ensembles in the historic centers of Latin American cities. While the façade of the San Francisco (St Francis) Church (Photo by Diego Delso) is severely Renaissance, this contrasts with the (click) inner Baroque gold decoration (Photo by FIELES CATÓLICOS), including the (click) Baroque coffered ceiling from 1770 (Photo by Diego Delso). San Francisco is considered a very important Baroque church like La Compañía, but larger, which is why I didn't mind so much not having seen that other interior. I read that, to lure indigenous people into the church early on, they included images of the sun at the entry, and also angels in the shape of the sun, but I didn't manage to actually find any.


I was still interested in the Casa Gangotena (Photo by Diego Delso), so after the church I crossed over to visit it. It's a newly-restored historic mansion, now a 31-room boutique hotel. The original building had itself been built on the site of an Incan temple. It was built on the square since over the centuries, various wealthy families built their homes around Plaza San Francisco. The mansion had been the residence of several presidents, but in 1914, the building suffered a calamitous fire. It as completely rebuilt in 1926 by the Gangotenas, a local leading family, and is included in Quito's cultural heritage inventory. There are many Art Nouveau and Art Deco elements in the building.


I walked past the reception desk like I belonged there. The lobby was quiet, and I went into the above elegant courtyard attached to the lobby and sat for a while to rest and absorb the atmosphere. It has a glass roof, but it's a courtyard and not a patio. There's no ambulatory, and one side is, rather nicely, completely open to the adjacent garden.


We can take one last look at the buildings around Plaza San Francisco in this Ecuador 360 revolving panorama. It's then only a block back down Bolívar to García Moreno, where a right turn for a block shows us the 18C Arco de la Reina, below.


But a left turn for a half-block takes us to the Urrutia House Museum, officially known as the Casa-Museo [House-Museum] María Augusta Urrutia. I was drawn to it because it was recommended by Frommer with two stars, and because it's a pleasant change from the type of thing on various must-see lists. It's a 19C town-house mansion here in the Historic Center that was in use through most of the 20C. Since it illustrates an aristocratic urban lifestyle from the past, it's part of Quito's cultural heritage and is described as one of the more important Ecuadorian museums of decorative arts, illustrating a variety of styles, heavily Art Nouveau.


María Augusta Urrutia was born with the century, in 1901, and this was her home until her death in 1987. She became a patron of the arts, and a notable philanthropist. She was descended from estate (hacienda) owners of great wealth, and when she was orphaned at age three, she inherited a number of estates. When she married at age 20, she and her husband, whom she'd met in Paris, received this house from his family as a wedding gift. But her husband died in 1931—she would have been 30—and, as they were childless, she dedicated her life to charitable works.


She was apparently an ultra-religious woman, and explained everything she did in those terms. At first she took in street kids, and provided right in the mansion eating facilities and recreational space for them. To expand her efforts, in 1939 she created, in line with her strong religious beliefs, the Fundación Mariana de Jesús, the Marian Foundation of Jesus, managing to get both Mary and Jesus into the name. She left all her estates for charitable and religious purposes, such as one going to a bank to build houses for the homeless, one to become a seminary, one to become a Jesuit college. But the majority of the revenues of the estates went into her foundation. So did this house, and it's the foundation that administers the museum. The house has been restored as it would have looked at the beginning of the 20C, including kitchen appliances that were modern at the time.


The Urrutia House was fashionable, and I was very pleased to find parallels between it and my hotel, the Patio Andaluz, which had also been a town mansion. They both were mid-block and on the same side of the street, specifically of García Moreno. The hotel 1.5 blocks one side of Plaza Grande and this one two blocks on the other side. More important, I also learned that this house follows which I now learned was the typical layout of a 19C town-house in the Historic Center, two central patios surrounded by rooms on two floors. It was in connection with the Urrutia that I learned the terms patio principal and traspatio. Also, it's obvious from the picture on the street that at least in this building, the upstairs is far more important than the downstairs.


I stepped into the entryway, where there was absolutely no one to be seen, other than a young man at a desk. Actually, I never saw another person, worker or visitor, the whole time I was there. I knew that the admission fee for seniors was a surprisingly low—even for Ecuador--$1 ($2 for others), and paid it to him. I then was surprised to see that he himself would be my tour guide through the house on this solo tour. He seemed quite young, perhaps a college kid. It struck me that he could have possibly been a volunteer, or perhaps a student intern of some sort. Maybe he was an employee, but I never did find out. I spoke to him in English, and he answered in English. We did a little Spanish-and-English back-and-forth, and then, for some reason, I told him I wanted the tour in English. He was quite amenable to that, we bonded quickly, and I think we both enjoyed each other's company—I wish I'd asked him his name. I must have felt at the time that half the people that walk in speak Spanish and half English--right? In retrospect, I now think that, in that Ecuadorian environment, I was an oddity as an English speaker, and my guide was happy at the chance to practice English. Anyway, this language element added to the fun—but language always does.


It was true that the ground floor was the utility floor, meant for employees, storage, the laundry tubs, and the kitchen. You might be able to tell that from the patio pictures. But the patios were pleasant, and genuine—open to the sky, with no namby-pamby glass roof. If it rains, us the ambulatory—that's what it's for. And indeed, there were early 20C kitchen appliances and old trunks and the like on the lower level. It was the upper floor that has the main rooms, including the living quarters and receiving rooms.


Every room upstairs seemed to have a religious shrine, in keeping with her strong beliefs. And it was in the sewing room that my guide pointed out some letters under glass to me, knowing that I knew Spanish. He pointed out one love letter she wrote to her husband-to-be that the guide knew illustrated her ultra-religious stance. I wish I'd written the line down, but I'll have to paraphrase. She wrote him something like she hoped that the Virgin Mary would allow her to love him. He and I both thought that was really quite over-the-top.


I have two pictures that typify the look of the upstairs. Information about both of them is from sources in addition to what my guide told me. The first one shows a salon that was only used on major occasions. In this room she received more than one President of the Republic, also legislators and ambassadors, who supported her in her well-known charitable causes dealing with orphaned street kids. You can also see that this is one of the rooms with the large windows that face the street.


The second picture shows the dining room, which I liked particularly. She dined here daily, while Luis, her permanent butler and confidante, stood at the door while they discussed matters of the house and the estates. The skylight is European and the chandelier bronze. The dining room was also used on grand occasions. When special guests were present, the table was in gala mode, set with European dishes, Austrian crystal, and the fine silverware she'd inherited from her mother's family.


It was in this room that my guide tested his knowledge of English a couple of times, knowing he could rely on me as a sounding board, and I was more than glad to work with him. Two things I remember he said were "and that mirror is made of . . . ¿Cristal de roca?", to which I nodded and said "rock crystal". "And these cups here are part of a . . . ¿Servicio de té?", and I said "tea service". I remember those two because they were so simple. I knew he knew the right answers, but just wanted reassurance. This language repartée was another thing that now makes me think that tours in English at the Urrutia House are not that common. It was fun.


I have a rather good (but longish at 4:43) YouTube video about her and the house. The sound track is just music, but unfortunately, the subtitles are all in Spanish. Still, you know the story, and the pictures—and music—are good. Take another look at the Urrutia House, be carried back a century, and see what you think. This is where I learned the word traspatio. See if you can catch that word, and also Cristal de roca.


Departure Day    Saturday was departure day from Quito and from Ecuador. There had been two possible routes home. I had flown LAN to Guayaquil and TAME round trip to the islands, and each airline had a nonstop flight to New York, TAME from Quito and LAN from Guayaquil. The Quito flight would have been shorter by 35 minutes (6h10), but more expensive than a round trip on LAN from Guayaquil. But the clincher was that the Quito flight was overnight (12:50 AM to 8:00 AM), making it awkward killing a day in Quito, while the Guayaquil flight was a day flight, which I was interested in. Therefore, I had booked via LAN, which meant a connecting flight back to Guayaquil and a mid-morning departure from Quito.


That was preferable, but the limo service I'd ordered in advance set up an early pickup, as usual, which meant getting up before dawn for the third time, after leaving Puerto Ayora for the plane and leaving Guayaquil for the train. I asked for a wakeup call at 5:00 for a pickup at 6:00. It was so early that I remember, when I left my room, the hotel hallways were dark, except for an overnight emergency light. In the lobby, instead of the regular receptionist to whom I'd prepaid my bill the night before, there was a burly night watchman sitting at the desk, so I asked him for my complementary take-out breakfast for later. Near 6:00 I stepped outside, and the car had just pulled up into the curb cut. It was a middle-aged man who just spoke Spanish, which was fine. There was absolutely no one else in the street, and my almost surreal memory of the moment is of golden globes of light.


It was totally dark out, but the lights on the buildings seemed to line up down the street like strings of Christmas tree lights, on the hotel (picture one) and down the street (picture two, but without people). I didn't expect this. But it was just dawn, and the black sky was just yielding to a cobalt-blue sky as we drove a few blocks through the Old Town on the way to modern highways. It was easily the most memorable departure of the trip.


I had the take-out breakfast at the airport, then flew south over the Andes that I'd come north on by train, but with no view of mountains below. Changing planes in Guayaquil was the time I mentioned when I tried on a couple of Panama hats at a gift shop. The day flight to New York was a scheduled 6h45 (1:45 to 9:30), five minutes longer than what was scheduled when coming and had been delayed. (It's in 2014/12 that I've listed Long, Overnight Nonstop Flights, nine flights taken over a minimum threshold of ten hours.) One advantage of a day flight is possible views, and I clearly remember looking down and seeing, very clearly, the distinctive curved north coast of Cuba.


But ethnicity came with me all the way to New York. I've always noticed over the years on international flights that you usually get a very international clientele, but I find the exception is Latin America, where the passengers are far more likely to be local nationals. I've seen this on numerous flights to the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere, and Ecuador flights were no exception. The majority on the flights coming and going were Latinos, mostly either Ecuadorians or Ecuadorian-Americans. Waiting for the delayed flight out of New York earlier, I was talking to an Ecuadorian-American father taking his son to see Ecuador. Waiting on line to board in Guayaquil there were a few non-Latino faces, and most Latino faces were carrying Ecuadorian—or American—passports.


I'm telling this for two reasons. The first reason is to explain a little spontaneous fun I had when being ethnically profiled. I was sitting near the left window in a twosome and a Latina was next to me on the aisle. I couldn't help but ethnically profile her so that I knew to say a pleasantry or two in Spanish. When the Ecuadorian steward came down the aisle the first time to distribute customs forms, he did the same, speaking to her first in Spanish. Then he turned to me, ethnically profiled me, and spoke English explaining the form. I accepted that.


Later he came with beverages, asked the woman in Spanish what she wanted, then asked me in English. I went along with it. Finally, he came with the meal, and when he asked me my choice in English, I answered in Spanish, causing him to raise his eyebrows: ¿Habla español? I couldn't resist, saying conspiratorially: Sí, ¡pero es un secreto! The woman burst out laughing upon hearing that it was a secret, since we'd been chatting off and on in Spanish. The steward managed a mild smile. But of course, ethnic profiling is part of his job. Still, it's a shame it causes him to jump to conclusions.


The other reason I'm talking about Ecuador following me all the way to New York involved the arrival at JFK. Usually, there are a few people waiting to meet passengers, mixed in with a lot of limo drivers with placards. But when I came out of the doors from Customs, there was a HUGE gathering behind the ropes, maybe 5-6 people deep, some carrying babies, others carrying large bouquets of flowers, others holding birthday balloons. This was an ethnic receiving line waiting to greet friends and relatives. Each time someone (except me) came out, a section of the group would whoop and holler. This particularly strong sense of family I'm sure is typical. I just remember one poor limo driver with his sign being jostled back and forth while he was trying to get his job done.

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