November 2011
November 2011
6 min

Thursday 10th November 2011

6 min

La Mitad del Mundo – The Centre of the World! Today has been another wonderful day, and one which has been a nostalgic, and in some ways almost shocking, opportunity for me to retrace my own footsteps of 28 years ago. The day started with me finding my way on Quito’s excellent, and new since my previous visits, North – South public transport systems, in this case the Ecovia, which have replaced the scores of fume-belching ex-U.S. school buses that used to clog the streets (and the air), and which now run in their own lanes, to the old centre of the city – I seem to be spending far more time in this wonderful area than I ever did when I lived here!

Calle Venezuela, Quito

Calle Venezuela, with first view of the Basilica

After a quick breakfast just off the Plaza Grande, I headed along the Calle Venezuela, with its beautifully painted colonial buildings, and climbed up towards the Neo-Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional, an imposing structure that was apparently inspired by Bourges Cathedral, and which was started in 1883 and was only consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The building has not been completely finished (although I could not see any evidence of this) because local tradition states that if it ever is completed, the World will come to an end!

La Basilica del Voto Nacional

La Basilica from the side

As I remember this building as definitely NOT being finished in 1983/84, and I had not been able to enter it then, I was curious to see inside it, and I must say it was well worth seeing – especially the sun shining in through the stained glass windows left wonderful colour patterns on the pillars and floor.

Interior of the Basilica

From here I walked a short distance to the hostel where my two new Dutch friends Marleen and Myra, whom I met yesterday in the TeleferiQo, were staying. From there we headed out, again first on one of the new public transport routes, this time known as the Metrobus, which took us right out past the airport along the Avenida de la Prensa, and past the very point where I always used to get off the old ex-U.S. school buses, to walk the short distance to the home where I lived in Quito Norte. We finally arrived at the Terminal Terrestre La Ofelia, where we transferred to a “real” bus, bound for the Mitad del Mundo, where a large monument stands on what is supposedly the exact line of the equator (more on that later). Here was where the shocking part of the day occurred to me – when I lived here, Quito only extended a short distance beyond where I lived, and after one had passed the suburb of Cotocollao, the built-up area pretty much ended, and one passed through dry scrubland and eucalyptus woods, and eventually arrived at the monument, where there were just a few souvenir stalls and a couple of small, simple restaurants. Now the urban sprawl reaches not only as far as the monument, but far beyond, and vast new housing estates are springing up everywhere. As soon as we got off the bus and approached the entrance to the monument complex, a local indigenous guide approached us and proposed a tour to the crater, or be more correct, caldera of Pululahua, which I remembered well from my previous visits. Although most tourists who visit the Mitad del Mundo do not even know that this natural wonder exists, it is well worth a visit, and after depositing Marleen and Myra’s rucksacks in our guide’s family’s restaurant nearby, we were driven up the snaking road, which in my day was devoid of any housing along it but now is flanked by scrappy buildings, until we finally arrived at the lip of the crater, where clouds were already billowing around. Luckily, despite these clouds, we were able to look down into this amazing crater, the result of two eruptions, one about 20,000 and the other 2,500 years ago. The floor of the crater is inhabited by around thirty families, and our guide, Daniel, explained to us how the young people are leaving this isolated spot to search for a “better” life elsewhere, and how he and a number of other members of the community are now working as tour guides to try to bring in some extra funds in the hope of stemming this depopulation.

Pululahua crater

From here we began our walk, which involved a steep descent down a switchback mule-trail, with Daniel stopping at intervals to point out medicinal plants and mushrooms to us, and me stopping at other intervals to try to observe the numerous birds that were calling in the bushes, but which remained hidden from view! Finally, we reached the bottom, and IMMEDIATELY turned around and started the distinctly steep ascent back up to the top! Sweating profusely, I thought to myself what excellent training this was for my forthcoming two weeks of intensive volcano-climbing in Guatemala with my hyper-fit guide Luisa!! Amusingly, Daniel (unaware that Marleen and Myra were from the Netherlands) told us that Dutch tourists can never manage this trip as they cannot handle the altitude – he was amazed that they powered their way up this track with no trouble at all. Even non-Dutch people find it hard – the crater has the nickname of “Salir si puedes”, or “Get out if you can”!

Marleen, Daniel and Myra in front of Pululahua

Having got out of the crater alive, we returned to Daniel’s restaurant, where we absolutely filled ourselves up with local delicacies before heading across the road to the equator monument, which I had first visited with my friend Czech Conroy on the first full day of our South American year in 1983. Here my Dutch friends really excelled themselves gymnastically, as they have a tradition of doing handstands in front of all interesting places they visit, and being photographed “in the act”! Here we were also interviewed by a class of teenagers from a local school…all in all, a very enjoyable visit.

Marleen in an inelegant position, on the equator!

Myra in pain, on the equator!

Self in flight, above the equator!"

Self attempting to balance an egg on a nail, apparently only possible on the equator!

Marleen and Myra managed it!

Finally, we returned to Daniel’s restaurant to pick up Myra and Marleen’s bags, and we took a taxi back to Quito – the taxi driver was scandalised as the Dutch girls were going to stay as guests in the house of a male friend of Marleen’s sister, but whom neither Marleen nor Myra had ever met! Let’s hope they survive the experience!

A wonderful view that greeted me when I arrived back in Quito this evening