SOUTH AMERICA – THE JOURNEY PART 26
Quito – standing on the equator at Inti-Ñan
I gasped in amazement at the best news I’d heard since eating my greasy breakfast; I’d magically lost over two pounds in weight by simply shifting my location.
A group of six of us were standing in the southern hemisphere in Quito, Ecuador. Several metres away and we’d be in the northern hemisphere.
“Move onto the yellow line,” Nataly, a guide at Inti-Ñan museum told us. We did so dutifully.
“You’re all 2.2 pounds lighter than a few seconds ago.”
Puzzled faces stared back at her waiting for some logical explanation.
“If you look down you’ll see that now you’re all standing on the equator line. Due to less gravitational pull here you weigh less.”
I beamed triumphantly. Weight reduction in South America is about as common as a subtle Latino man – it simply doesn’t exist. In a continent that consumes fried food on a daily basis, any amount of weight shiftage, whether momentary or not, deserves a grin.
Nataly smiled back, proud to show us that we were actually standing on latitude zero. “Follow me,” she said. I did. Maybe I’d lose another few pounds…
I was at Inti-Ñan museum which stands on the equatorial line, 24 km north of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. The country was aptly named after the equator when Finnish scientists in the 1800s declared it the prime place on Earth to measure the equator’s bulge. Thanks to this, Mount Chimborazo (6310m) in the country’s central highlands is the farthest point from the centre of the planet.
Our guide began to explain: “The earth is a sphere and has an equatorial bulge at the centre. This results in 0.3 percent less gravity here. That’s why you find shuttle launch pads closer to the equator, such as NASA’s Space Kennedy in Florida. It’s easier for them to launch.”
We were suitably impressed.
“A volunteer, please.”
A six-foot Australian man made his way forward. He obeyed Nataly’s instructions and outstretched his arms above his head, clasping his hands together. She pushed down on his raised appendages.
“Good. I can feel the resistance. Now move onto the equatorial line,” she instructed.
He took up the same position only a couple of metres away. This time his arms were brought thumping down by our five-foot tall Ecuadorian guide using only one hand. Embarrassment flushed his face while his girlfriend watched on in utter amusement.
The experiments at the museum aren’t so much to wow visitors at the centrifugal differences in gravity, but more to prove that people are actually standing on latitude zero.
Without a shadow of a doubt
Just 300 metres south of Inti-Ñan lies Mitad del Mundo, a false claim to lie on the equator. A dominating monument stands amongst souvenir shops and restaurants. However, the US military has since taken a GPS reading and placed the real line further north, where Inti-Ñan now stands.
Our group of six stopped at a vertical sundial, its numerals completely out of sink to those I was used to seeing on a horizontal one. They ran from 6am to 6pm in a semi-circle.
“At the equator, sunrise and sunset is always consistent at six in the morning and six in the evening. The sun falls perpendicular here, hence our unusual sundial.
“On the solstices – the 21st of June and December and on the equinoxes on 21 March and 23 of September, there are no shadows cast because the sun is directly overhead for the entire day.”
In fact, the capital Quito is derived from Quechua, the native language in Ecuador, and means no shadow.
Nataly wandered back to the yellow line, depicting the sun’s path. She gleefully held up an egg and shuffled her feet. Her eyes fixed on an upright nail driven into a slab of wood. Slowly and deliberately she lifted the egg into the air and balanced it on the nail. We were memorised as she demonstrated her dexterity at steadying the wobbling sphere without aid. It was yet another show of a reduction in gravity.
She turned to us and announced, “It’s your turn.”
We were pretty useless and watched our eggs roll off the nail and smash onto the floor. Others were more determined to succeed, I
knew I was defeated after frustration racked through my body after five seconds.
I gratefully moved towards the final experiment which involved high-tech apparatus including a sink, water, leaves and a bucket. Nataly shifted the mobile wash basin to the northern hemisphere – just several metres north of the line. She tipped the bucket of water into the stainless steel basin and added the leaves. Once she pulled the plug out we watched the water swirl around anti-clockwise as it drained out of the hole.
Moving two metres south and the sink was suddenly in the southern hemisphere. The water flew out clockwise. It was like being a child again where extremely simple things fascinated me. Collectively as a group we were memorised. The change in the earth’s gravitational pull is so pin pointed.
Then we moved to the equator line and the water simply drained straight down. “As you can see, it’s quite straight forward to see we’re standing on the equator line. We can flush out the false claims of being on the equator here!”
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WHERE ON EARTH?
- The country is the size of New Zealand and next to Peru, Colombia and Brazil in South America
- 15 million people live in Ecuador, 1.5 million in the capital Quito and 3 million in the largest city of Guayaquil
- The country’s name was derived from its location on the equator (Ec-ua-dor / Eq-uat-or)
- The currency is the US dollar
- Lies on the equator line, 24km from Quito
- The museum is 300m from Mitad del Mundo, the towering monument that claims to stand on latitude zero
- Entrance to the museum is US$3 and guides are in English and Spanish
How to get to Inti-Ñan from Quito
- Take the Metrobus (yellow or blue) from La Marin station in Quito Old Town for 25 cents
- Get off at the last stop Ofelia
- Stay inside the terminal and take the blue bus from the platform signed ‘Mitad del Mundo’
- Get off at the roundabout – ask the driver to tell you when you’re at Mitad del Mundo
- Walk round the side gate of Mitad del Mundo and you’ll see the sign for Inti-Ñan museum