Quito to Havana – From the middle of the earth to the centre of the revolution

Quito to Havana – From the middle of the earth to the centre of the revolution

La Mitad del MundoQuito is the capital of Ecuador. The word Quito means, in one of the indigenous languages, ‘the middle of the world’. The old, pre Incan, indian cultures already knew that Ecuador is right on the equator and thus in the middle of the earth. This is the main reason the Incas occupied the region and made it an important religious centre. They knew that the place where the sun passes overhead twice each year without creating shadows must be the place closest to their god Inti, the sun. They were able to calculate the exact place of the equator and the exact time and date of the equinox and solstices. There is a big monument just outside of Quito (La Mitad del Mundo) that sits directly on top of the equator and marks the middle of the earth. Its location was calculated in the 18th century by a group of French scientists. Many tourists come and visit the place and spend their money there. But it turns out that there is a small problem there… A simple check with a GPS receiver shows that the location is off. Way off… The ‘real’ equator is a few hundred meters away. It appears to exactly cross an archeological site on the top of a nearby hill, mount Catequilla, a monument of the middle of the earth of around a thousand years old. It is the proof of the absolute precision of the pre Incan cultures (and implicitly the incompetency of the French). The small group of scientists, joined in the scientific research group Quitsa-to, who made the discovery are trying to convince the government of the importance of these findings. They found that there are many other archeological sites whose locations coincide with this ‘real’ equator. A finding of great historical and cultural value. So you would think. But not the Ecuadorian government. The commercial value of the old ‘Mitad del Mundo’ apparently is of greater value to them…

We had a nice hotel in the ‘new’ town where there are lots of bars, restaurants and terraces. From there you can easily take the metrobus to the historic ‘old’ town to see some of the the city’s colonial past, or go on another bus to La Mitad del Mundo. Quito is quite nice but apparently not a very safe town. With our normal precautions however (don’t go out on the street with anything other than what you absolutely need, i.e. some cash and a camera) we managed to stay out of trouble (honestly mom!). After a few days it was unfortunately time to leave Ecuador and the South American continent. Our trip is coming to an end but before we finally go home we still have one more great destination to explore: Cuba!

The magnificent Caribbean island Cuba has around 11 million inhabitants. Two and a half million of them live in Havana. The city is a showcase of the rich and interesting history of the country. Unfortunately, due to difficult economic times, parts of the city are very run down. But there are serious initiatives going on to restore them. It is fun to walk around in and every time one of the old-timer American cars passes by (sometimes you think every other car is one) you can’t help but smile. These are all pre-revolution (1959) imported cars (Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Buick etc.) so you keep wondering how on earth these people kept them running for so long… They must be incredible mechanics. The revolution (Fidel, Raúl, Che, Cienfuegos and the other chaps) has left the country with a world-class, free, medical and educational system. But, despite recent changes that allow for small private enterprises, you can still see the I-can’t-be-fucked-coz-it-dosn’t-matter attitude (very Eastern European before the wall came down) in restaurants, bars and hotels. People serving you are totally not interested and just can’t be bothered. At the same time they will always (well nearly always) try to over charge you in an attempt to earn a little extra money (oops there goes your tip). We’ve seen cleaning persons in museums make an extra buck by letting visitors enter restricted areas for a little money. Every time you park somewhere or go to the toilet means digging up money. So our impression is that ‘socialism’ means that you’re allowed to rip off tourists for the extra peso.

After a few days wandering around Havana, we managed to rent a car (not easy!) for 6 days that allows us to see a little more of the central and western parts of the country. From Havana we drove West along the coast and through the sugar cane fields to the Viñales Valley with its remarkable limestone Mogotes. We have explored a number of caves and driven through the region’s famous tobacco fields. The views are sometimes stunning and we can’t wait to see more of the country…

La Mitad del Mundo Ernesto Che Guevara Vintage cars


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