Great first impressions of South America

When we first arrived in Quito on Friday, we took a taxi from the new airport about an hour out of town to our hostel, la Posada Colonial, located in the old part of the city.  We heard about a walking street called la Ronda (that turned out to be about 100m away from the hostel) that was lined on both sides with traditional Ecuadorian restaurants and cafes, and live “folklore” music.  It’s the oldest street in all of Quito, and was the street surrounding an old walled city, and the restaurants were built into the walls.  The street was the center for the artistic community of Quito and some very famous Ecuadorian songs were written here. So to start our South American experience, we went there for dinner that evening.  We spent quite a while looking for the perfect restaurant, with live music, but not too loud, and reasonable prices.  We found one, and had shrimp and chicken burritos, fish, salad, and some of the best fries I’ve ever had!  Potatoes are native to the Andes mountains, so they don’t need to be drenched in salt and butter to taste good.  There was a musician playing traditional music, and people were dancing.  It was so lively all down the street, and in the park right beside it, people were selling jewelry and wool clothing.  It was a great start to our South America.

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The guys in the back are playing guitar, panpipe and singing
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La Ronda

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We got a chocolate-covered-strawberry-kebab for dessert!

The next day we went to Intinan museum on the equator, which Kaia will write a blog about.  On Sunday, on our way to a travel agency to book our Galapagos cruise (on the 21st, so excited!!!), we stumbled onto the Mama Negra parade, a celebration in Ecuador.  Mama Negra is a festival which originated in 1742, from the eruption of Cotopaxi volcano.  Many towns were completely destroyed, but the town of Latacunga was not, and it was believed that it was saved because they prayed to the Virgin of Mercy.  It became a tradition that every year, to save them from later Cotopaxi eruptions, a festival was held where people prayed to the Virgin of Mercy, which eventually mixed with african culture and became Mama Negra.  Now, it is a festival to celebrate many things, including homosexuality.  That explains why a man walked up to my dad, grabbed his crotch and kissed him on the cheek (nothing personal, he did it to a lot of people).

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There were people dancing in traditional clothing, marching bands, and even someone dressed as Mama Negra on a horse.

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It's Mama Negra!

We followed the parade until we got to a park which happened to have a great market, where we bought a bunch of Ecuadorian snacks, and alpaca wool hats for all of us. 

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Kaia and I in our new hats
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Colourful indigenous fabrics
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Lunch!

The next destination was to be Cotopaxi mountain, which we were told would be surprisingly and painfully cold, given it being on the equator, so the hats would and will be put to good use.  We walked around the park a bit, then went to the travel agency.  We decided to walk back to the hostel along a street that was closed to cars for a day.  My dad and I were due for a haircut, so we stopped at a barber shop along the way.  It was quite different from the usual buzz cut by my dad!  The barber shaved the sides and back of my head, spayed my head with water and alcohol, combed my hair, cut it with scissors, trimmed around my ears with a tiny razor, and so on.

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Next, we’re headed to the Black Sheep Inn in a remote part of the Andes.  Our 5-week visit to South America is off to a good start!

Jake

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Mitad del Mundo: The Middle of the World

On our first day in Quito, Ecuador, we decided to go to the Mitad Del Mundo (equator) museum, 20 km north of the city. While talking with another woman at our hostel, she said “Well, you know you have to go to the real equator, not the fake one.” As it turns out, three French scientists (Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer and Charles Marie de La Condamine) first calculated the equatorial line in 1736. A monument was built there, and there is a very famous museum. Unfortunately, their measurements were inaccurate (but pretty good for 1736!). In the late 1900s, the line was calculated with military GPS, and it showed to be about 300 m from the original line. So of course, another museum was built on the “new” line, called the Itinan Solar Museum. That’s the one we decided to visit. Two bus rides, $1.35 for the whole family, and a couple of hours later, we were there.

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The museum was cute: it was all outside, with traditional artwork and sculptures. You could tell that an artist was involved in the making of it. We had a guide to show us around to the different parts.

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The beginning was about the aboriginal culture, we got to go inside two traditional huts (houses for four families) and saw graphics of how shrunken heads are made. The picture speaks for itself.

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In the next part of the tour, our guide showed us science experiments and phenomena of the equator. My personal favorite was the water basin: we got to see how in the northern hemisphere, draining water goes down counter-clockwise, and in the southern hemisphere, it goes clockwise. When he put the basin directly over the line, the two forces canceled each other out and the water drained down straight. Really mind blowing! Thinking back, the guide did push the water a little bit… could that have exaggerated the movement of the water? Decide for yourself: watch the videos on YouTube
http://youtu.be/0p02wZcPLcg (Northern hemisphere)
http://youtu.be/l_8SE5wF05w (Southern hemisphere)
http://youtu.be/IMndm548mu8 (directly over the equator)
We also got to try balancing an egg on a nail. Apparently, one out of ten people are successful because it is easier on the equator. I’m not sure what the difference is… but one guy in our group did manage to balance the egg.

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mom trying .,..
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a Russian guy succeeded

We also tried to walk in a straight line on the equator with our eyes closed. It is supposed to be harder than usual because you are being pulled in two directions by coriolis forces… It definitely was hard… but, I’m not sure how much more difficult it is than anywhere else, I mean, walking in a straight line with your eyes closed is generally a hard thing to do. But I definitely did feel those forces pulling me in two directions!

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We also had to take those cliche pictures…

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The museum was really cool, although I’m not sure how much those experiments were manipulated. After, we got the GPS app on my phone, and the “equator” didn’t show 0deg 0′ 0″, so my dad decided to go find it. He said that it was in the middle of the busy street. Somehow he still managed to get that screenshot…

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So, who knows if the experiments were manipulated a bit, but it was a cool place, and we are really glad we went.


Kaia