With four nights to kill in Quito waiting for Cass to arrive, it was inevitable that I would end up at some tourist hotspots. For a city that looks more like a rat’s nest, Quito has offered up some interesting attractions. We’ve been in a lot of big cities lately, but this one should be the last for a while. One final stop before the baron wastelands of Peru and Bolivia (where they don’t sell my bike).
I’m ecstatic to announce that I now carry with me a spare clutch and throttle cable for the Suzuki DR650. I’ve been looking for these parts since Mexico. For a while I couldn’t find them. Then they were too expensive. Then it was getting close to Kristi’s arrival. And then the delivery fell through. Ecuador has a 90% import tax on everything motorcycles here, but I didn’t care. One in my pannier is worth two in a warehouse as far as I’m concerned. I sucked it up and paid $110 for the set. That means no more tours of every major Suzuki dealership I come across, and more importantly, no more nagging worries. The bike has (mostly) fresh tires, a tuned engine, a clean air filter, new chain/sprockets, good wheel bearings, and even a full tank of gas. That’s not to say it won’t sputter and die on some forlorn Peruvian dust trail, but at least I’ve done my best. Side note: it’s been running like a dream lately.
Mechanics taken care of, Charlie and I were determined to get out of bed on Thursday and actually go discover something. It’s not character of us to start researching tourist attractions. I’ve tried to explain this to countless backpackers, but they never fully understand. They hop on a bus (often overnight) and mentally checkout for the next half-day while their driver handles the route and runs all the motorcyclists into the shoulder. They arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to set out into a new world and see what Lonely Planet has to offer. We bikers, on the other hand, require two days of total concentration battling loud engines, unsigned roads, brutal weather, and maniac drivers just to show up at the same hostel. We trudge in covered in soot and instantly fall into bed, unwilling to do anything but drink beer and stare at a computer for the next 24 hours. Often times we’ve already seen what these places have to offer. The safety of a nice warm bar stool sounds much more enticing.
Quito was different though. We’d had our big night and then our day of recovery, so Thursday we set off for the gondola leading to the top of Pichincha Mountain overlooking Quito. Charlie and I met Alex and Kristi there and together we ascended 1,500 meters to the viewpoint. From the top we were standing at over 4,000 meters elevation. We hiked a quarter mile further up for a better view of the city and by the top everyone was chilly and exhausted. The thin air was even brisker with the strong breeze coming up the mountain. From our vantage we could see most of Quito, a city that is built long and narrow through a bumpy mountain valley. We took some cool pictures (Charlie’s panoramics will be great) and hiked back down pretty quick with everyone’s ears starting to go numb.
That night Charlie, Andy, and I met up downtown for drinks to preemptively celebrate Cass’s midnight arrival. The conversation was pretty standard: motorcycles we like, motorcycles we don’t like, and things we would like to do to our motorcycles. With that getting a little worn out, we flagged down a lone gringo named Fanny and had her sit down at our table. It turned out that Fanny was here in Ecuador doing research for the Canadian government on the mining practices here. Charlie, a miner for the last decade in Australia, was a wealth of information. I always enjoy seeing my new friends in their element. I get so used to everyone goofing around and cussing and smelling like animals that I forget they’re all professionals back home. It’s an eye-opener to hear them sound like it once in a while.
Not long after Fanny sat down with us, her friend Rodrigo arrived and pulled up a chair. The two had obviously planned a casual meeting, but they decided to order drinks at our table and continue the conversation. Rodrigo was Bolivian and he spoke great English. He seemed to know a fair amount about mining practices as well. He seemed very in tune with everything Charlie was saying. He also seemed to have a lot of insight on socio-political aspects of the discussion. As we later found out, Rodrigo is the second in command at the Bolivian embassy here in Ecuador. Not only was he extremely intelligent and well-educated, he was great fun and genuinely happy to chat about anything with us. At the end of the night Rodrigo gave us his card and told us to contact him if we ever ran into trouble in Bolivia… so I got that going for me (Caddyshack).
Friday was Cass’ first day on the other side of the world so we wanted to do something fun that wouldn’t require a lot of travel hassle. Everyone met up (except Alex and Kristi; they pushed ahead to Peru via bus) in the morning at the local DHL office so the Aussies could ship so extra weight home. Together Charlie and Andy amassed about 16 pounds worth of gear, plus Andy’s travel guitar. The cost to ship it to Perth: $860. I think there is room for competition in the international freight industry. Obviously nothing was shipped home and Andy’s guitar was one of the only items lucky enough to escape the dumpster. We went straight to a cafeteria for lunch and then hopped in a cab off to the equator monument.
‘Mitad del Mundo’ (Middle of the Earth) is about forty minutes outside of Quito. For $5 each taxi fare, we can’t be bothered to start up the bikes. The taxi dropped us off at the state-sponsored Mitad del Mundo monument. It was a $2 cover to enter the site which had more shops and retailers than it did substance. In the middle was a tower with a globe on top with different compass directions labeling all four sides. On the ground running right underneath it was a line designating the equator. We got the obligatory photo, stood around a few minutes, and then found ourselves completely underwhelmed. We had heard about an exciting museum so we started asking questions.
In the lot next door to the monument was Museum Inti Nan. The following forty-five minute tour was what we really came to see. To start things off, the first fact dropped on us was that the equator line at the monument was false. That line was designated in the 1700’s; military GPS proved the real equator line to be about 70 yards north running right through Museum Inti Nan. Our tour guide started us off with the shrunken head exhibit. Deep in the Ecuador rain forest is where this craft still exists today and we got to hear the gruesome process detailing how they are made. The worst step, pull the skull out of the head’s skin. Between that account and the displayed spider corpses the size of my hand, I won’t be including much of the Amazon on this trip.
The second part of the tour led us directly to the real equator line itself. I love phenomenon, so this was a treat. The guide set up a basin with a bucket underneath and the drain spout exactly over the equator. He threw a couple floating leaves on top and pulled the plug. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, the water poured into the bucket without creating a funnel. The leaves hovered above the spout until one by one they were sucked through. Afterward the guide moved the basin just five feet into the southern hemisphere (summer as he called it) and repeated the process. This time the Correlius effect kicked in and the water created a funnel as it drained. Every time a leaf went through it first did a couple spins before being spat out into the bucket. The guide did the same thing in the northern hemisphere (winter) and the leaves spun the opposite direction. Just feet from the exact equator line and the Correlius effect was proving itself.
Next we had some fun playing with gravity. The museum had a pedestal set up right over the equator with a couple nail heads sticking out the top. Our guide explained to us that the rules were different with gravity pulling straight down, rather than slightly towards the equator. To prove it he pulled out a raw egg and balanced it on end on top of the nail within fifteen seconds. The egg just sat there. Then it was my turn; I took about forty seconds, but I got the egg to stand at attention. I’m also happy to announce that I’m the only one who could. The museum gave me a diploma. There was one other test. Our guide told us that in either hemisphere our bodies are accustomed to having some sort of slight magnetic draw towards the equator at all times. With our eyes closed, he had us walk one foot in front of the other down the equator line just like a sobriety test. I don’t fully understand it, but I walked like a drunk trying to move down the line. It has something to do with your brain having no magnetic guidance to rely on. I found it fascinating.
That’s the extent of my tourism in the last few months. It was of course overpriced, but worth the trip and a nice change of pace. Tomorrow morning Andy, Charlie, Cass, and I are heading to the nearby volcano Cotopaxi for a night in a lodge. When we’re finished taking in the scenery, we’ll bolt for Peru and head into the real Andes. I expect to learn a lot about my fuel mixture screw.