Trans-Continental Mambo writes on 2014-03-29:

Hi from the Equator!  Well, not exactly.  We were staying in a lovely little town called Otavalo roughly 37km north of the Equator, and are now south of the equator in Quito, a bustling, busy city.

Jenn, normally a Northerner, is resisting the pull of the southern hemisphere.

A relatively short ride from Otavalo to Quito, we arrived here passing through many impressive landscapes, including by the snow-capped volcano Cayambe, and then being beaten by hail upon arrival at our destination.  We had a quick ride through the old town (in the rain), then returned to the new town where we are now staying at the Backpackers Inn where we are surrounded by bars, clubs, and restaurants.  It is somewhat confusing as there is no shortage of signage in the hostal warning its guests not to carry valuables, passports, etc., due to the high rate of petty theft in the area, however the area seems to launch into a full-fledged party zone at six p.m. with no shortage of people, and police.

While we aren’t quite sure of our plans in Quito, just yet, we are considering riding up a nearby volcano (depending on the condition of the roads due to all the recent rain), and perhaps a visit to a nearby church to see the painting of The Last Supper featuring cuy (guinea pig) as the main dish.  As we mentioned, today’s commute from Otavalo to Quito was relatively short, although we did cross the equator again, having visited the Quitsato Sundial monument yesterday.

While you can also read about it on the Wikipedia page found here,  there are several aspects to its significance.  What we learned is that, like any object standing at the Equator, on the Equinox (we were a week late with the spring Equinox being on March 21) an object such as the Quitsato sundial will have no shadow at noon as the sun is directly above it.  And that objects on the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn will have no shadow on the summer and winter Solstices (June and December 21st).

Fact or Fiction?

The world’s tallest mountain is in Ecuador?

Fact!: (Sort of .)

It depends on the method of measurement.Ecuador’s Volcan Chimborazo stands at 6,310 meters (20,560 feet) from sea level. Mt. Everest stands at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) and is the tallest mountain in the world assuming that you are taking the measurement from sea level. Because of the shape of the Earth not being exactly spherical, but “bulging” at the Equator, if you were to compare the distance of Chimborazo to Everest with a tape measure from the exact center core of the planet, you would find that Chimborazo is “taller” than Everest. In other words, Chimborazo extends further into space than does Everest.

That said, for practical purposes, such as the “thinness” of air (i.e. lack of oxygen), Everest would still be considered a more challenging climb to mountaineers because that is dependent on the physical surface of the earth, rather than the shape of the planet.

This monument, however, is part of a local movement to foster awareness and research into prehistoric (as explained, Pre-Incan) knowledge of the sun movement and astronomical calendars. As it turns out, a nearby volcano called Volcan Cayambe (yes, a snow-capped at the Equator – which I believe is unique) is almost exactly on the Equator. On the Equinox, the sun rises ever so slightly south of the peak of Cayambe making it a very interesting geographical phenomenon.  Apparently, this is a globally unique.  If you have visited the previously mentioned Wikipedia site, you will have seen the interest star-like line patterns around the Quitsato.

The monument itself is not special in a historical sense, but is demonstrative of the sun’s position at various times of the year.  As it turns out, an organization called Quitsato who operate this “attraction” are investigating what seems to be a prehistoric representation of the patterns represented by the Quitsato Sundial over a fairly wide area of Ecuador archeological sites.  In other words, the placement of archeological sites seems to suggest that these people were locating them based on the understanding of the sun’s patterns as represented by this sundial.

As interesting as our information session was, we also took some cool photos around the monument as well as sending a SPOT beacon (an SOS/messaging GPS device) right on the Equator line.  Having passed the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico, hanging around the Equator is just plain cool.  Remember, the Equator (North-South) is a real geographic and astronomical feature, whereas East-West with the zero mark being in Greenwich, England is an arbitrary human construction.

While the Quitsato Sundial was the close of our day’s adventure, we spent a good part of the afternoon riding the foothills of Volcan Cayambe.  During my 2010 visit to Ecuador, I rode high enough up Cayambe (4.3km above sea level) to see its snow cap.  As it had turned out, with an absolute stroke of luck I had arrived at Otavalo on the Summer Solstice and during local indigenous Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun, and thus was riding around Cayambe on a rather special time of year, at least based on what we had learned above.

Cheat! Borrowing a shot from Adam’s 2010 shot. This is the Cayambe we were aiming for…

Jenn and I made a good go of re-tracing my Cayambe tracks from 2010 but not having any record of the specific route, we were not entirely sure if we were following the correct paths.  Memories fade and features change.  Much of what was dirt track, seemed to have now be converted into rough cobble with field stones – which is actually more jarring to ride than hard dirt track.  In the end, it started to get a little late and we decided not to continue as far as I had in 2010, assuming we were heading in the right direction.

On Cayambe.

Big skies to be found on Cayambe, Ecuador’s third tallest Volcano.

As we were bidding farewell to the cows, furry pigs, llamas, and local indigenous children, as well as the trucks, buses, and motorcycles that frequent this route, my bike started to feel a bit squirrely, and alas, I found my rear tire to be completely flat with a nice, big, rusty nail sticking out of it.  Of course.  But of course, while leaving most of our gear at our hotel, I did bring our mini-air-compressor, patches, etc. We pulled over and pulled out the tools and patches and got to work and eventually got it fixed, in good time.  Being about 5 or 6 KMs from the Equator, we made a quick visit and got back to our hotel in Otavalo as the sun was setting – well, almost.

Fixing my flat. I have been carting this “tire changing lubricant” (Palmolive and water) around for ages – pre-trip. Has anyone else seen the HU tire changing video? I feel like Grant Johnson except I am in Ecuador rather than the slopes of the Swiss Alps.

We closed off the night with a good meal at a local (gringo) pub.  I say “gringo” as I had assumed that it was mostly frequented by backpacker types.  That said, the other guests tonight included a table of young indigenous woman in traditional skirts sipping on cocktails, laughing their heads off, and seemingly avoiding playing with their mobile phones by stacking them at the end of the table (we have all done that once or twice, haven’t we?).

Cheers from the pizza place I had wanted to take Jenn four years ago but never thought it would be.


Delicious “pie crust” pizza.

The previous night’s dinner consisted of pizza and beer at a very cosy pizza restaurant I visited four years ago and ate alone thinking that Jenn would enjoy the place – she has a little thing for pizza.  Again, not another place that I would have dreamed that I would be back at, nevermind bring Jenn.  Funny enough, I had totally forgotten in interesting aspect of this pizza.  On our way there, Jenn had asked me what the pizza was like.  I had thought about it for a sec, and basically said, “you know, gourmet pizza”.

When it arrived at our table and having started eating, it struck me that this pizza was unique (at least to me) in that they don’t us yeast raised bread dough, but dough much closed to a pie crust.  Doh!  It totally came back to me, and I had actually took this idea home with me in 2010 and Jenn and I tried making pizza with store bough pie shells as en experiment – obviously not standing the test of time or else I would have remembered the originals.  I wouldn’t eat this style of pizza everyday (this is an inside joke, as it seems we are actually eating pizza everyday for the past while) but it is definitely interesting and definitely tasty.

Las Lajas sanctuary near the Colombia-Ecuador border.

Other than that, we basically left Pasto, checked out Las Lajas Sanctuary (a very interesting church built into the side of a mountain near the border of Ipiales), dealt a smooth exit out of Colombia, a fairly smooth immigration process into Ecuador, and then a very slow vehicular import process, and later an hour-long and very dusty road work blockage as we watched various heavy equipment operators drive bull-dozers and other equipment down steep, crumbly grades from perhaps a 100 feet above the road.  We were doing quite well for time…until…Yet Another Road Block – while we really do try to avoid riding at night, this road work isn’t always in our favour.  Other than that, our wallets are now thanking us for Ecuador’s cheap gas – $0.40/litre – it is much, much cheaper than gas in Colombia.

Cuy (or guinea pig) is an Andean staple. Lots of restaurants with cuy on a stick near the Ipiales border. I guess this is sort of the “Ronald McDonald” for this small restaurant serving cuy.

Photos from Otavalo found here.

Adam’s 2010 photos of Volcan Cayambe are found here.