12-15 December 2012
Three key events defined my trip to Quito. They are listed as follows:
1. The teleferico
Unless you are a gondola junkie, a bit of a waste of $8.50. It rises from about 1300 metres quite quickly, and in the what-should-not-have-been-a-surprise-but-was-rather-unexpected category, it was quite cold at the top. The ride itself was quite pleasant, with some pleasant views of Quito and some rapid transitions between vegetation zones. But at the top, on the cloudy day I was there, it was rubbish. Nothing to see. Nothing to do.
The whole operation reeked of failed tourist trap. At the base, there is a virtually abandoned theme park. It was operating, music was playing, workers were abound, but it was a ghost town. In our brisk stroll through the place, not a single ride was seen in operation. I was half expecting the zombies to jump out of the blue, ala Zombieland. At the summit, there was a church, a café, a souvenir shop, the empty shell of what used to be a handful of restaurants, and the option of a five kilometre hike towards the Pichincha Volcano that DFAT does not recommend.
2. The equator
This, however, was pretty cool. There are two comparatively successful tourist traps capitalising on Quito being a 40 minute taxi ride from the equator.
The first we visited was Museo de Sitio Intiñan. There were a few gimmicks, for they showed us some pet guinea pigs and then offered them to us, cooked, on a plate. They claim that the line they drew was determined using military-grade GPS. My phone GPS disagreed to the tune of 7 seconds of latitude (equivalent to about 180 metres), different datum perhaps?
The best part was their demonstration of the Coriolis Effect. Lampooned many years ago in The Simpsons, this is the phenomena that differentiates cyclones from typhoons and hurricanes, and determines what way the water in your toilet spins. A sink full of water was placed over the equator. The plug was removed. More or less, the water fell straight down the plug hole into the bucket beneath with only the slightest hint of a spiral. They moved the demonstration literally two metres to the north and repeated the demonstration. The water very clearly spun down the hole clockwise. The test was repeated a similar distance to the south of the equator – counter-clockwise.
But it was a little bit too obvious, it had to be rigged! And I later found out it was, thanks mystery researcher from General Electric.
The second was the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, literally ‘middle of the world city’. Never mind the minor issue of not actually being on the equator, it is several hundred metres south, the main attraction is a rather large monument claiming that it is. Everything else around the monument is just value-adding. The place reminded me of the pricing structure in the game RollerCoaster Tycoon, a fee to enter the carpark, a fee to enter the ‘city’, a fee to enter the museum in the monument, and clusters of restaurants and souvenir shops begging to take your money. Not as cool.
3. The pre-mature birthday celebration
Depending on what time zone you use, it was between two and three days early. My dessert selection wasn’t exactly conducive to the effective use of burning candles.