Getting Centered at the Equator in Ecuador (or Our Journey to the Center of the Earth)

Just outside of Quito, Ecuador lies the exact midway point between the North and South poles

Just outside of Quito, Ecuador lies the exact midway point between the North and South poles and, being of reasonably sound minds, we had to see it.

Humans figured out around 500 BC that the Earth was a sphere and therefore must have a center line dividing the halves. In South America the ancient Quechua people named that equatorial line Inti (sun) Nan (path) centuries ago. Then in 1735, the French Geodesic Mission set out for Quito to pinpoint the location.

The middle of the world monument stands in the wrong place!

The expedition lasted nine years, was responsible for giving Ecuador its name, and succeeded in a fairly accurate measurement.

Although it turns out they probably should have just asked the natives, since modern GPS has proved that by simply observing the sun their line was more accurate than the French scientists.

Slight discrepancies notwithstanding, we knew we were within a few feet, if not inches, of that big blue stripe we’d seen on globes since grade school.

So bypassing the Mitad del Mundo complex and the old French monument, we chose The Intiñan Solar Museum and the “real” line.

The Shuar people of Ecuador dabbled in head shrinking.

But before we could get to the main attraction, we were sidetracked by a lesson on making shrunken heads… yes, they are real.

The Shuar people from high in The Andes of Ecuador performed this ritual, and now we know their secret… remove the skull, sew the eyes and mouth shut, then cook the skin for an hour or so and fill it with hot rocks.

All joking aside, this was serious business for the warriors, and obviously the victims too. Shuar feel that the muisak, or soul of the victim, is contained in the shrunken head (tsantsa).

Our guide, Alexandra, explained that because of this, head shrinking became all the rage with the nobility as well.

Sundial at the equator at the intianan museum

Okay, on to the line around the center of the world which, unlike on our classroom spheres, is red here.

Several sundial type instruments and markers are setup along the stripe to show how the sun passes perfectly overhead on the equinox, and always has an equal 12 hours of day and night year ’round.

Perfectly viable, accurate scientific stuff. Ah, but then came the “experiments.”

In order to demonstrate the Coriolis Effect, and our guide was very careful to specify that this was just a demonstration, a tub of water was sitting directly on the equator.

Now the Coriolis Effect is without a doubt perfectly real, it has to do with the earth’s rotation and the inertia effect it has on objects. It is what causes ocean currents, wind patterns, and hurricanes to rotate one direction in the northern hemisphere and the other in the south, but this “demonstration” had exactly nothing to do with it.

Demonstrating the Coriolis Effect at the Equator in Ecuador

When the drain plug was pulled on the tub, the water ran straight out with no spin or vortex.

Perfect, there is no Coriolis Effect on the equator.

Then the tub was moved about six feet north of the line and water poured in, drain plug pulled, and viola, a vortex! Six feet south of the line, the vortex spins the opposite way.

Wow! We saw it with our own eyes!

But what really happened was just a “demonstration,” and our guide was quite subtle and sneaky with her technique.

The first tub was allowed to sit perfectly still long enough that the water was motionless and no vortex would form, while the others had just enough momentum left from the pouring motion to spin first one way, then the other.

Cheeky llama the equator in the Intianan Museum in Quito Ecuador
Say cheeeeeese! LOVED this guy hangin’ out!

The truth is, yes there is such a thing as the Coriolis Effect, but its effect is so miniscule this close to the equator that it could never be measured, much less move a tub of water. By the way, same thing holds true with toilets.

They spin whichever direction the flow of water pushes them, no matter which side of the equator you’re flushing on. Still, we appreciated the show.

We were then challenged to walk directly along the line with our eyes closed.

No explanation was offered as to why this should be more difficult directly on the equator than anywhere else, but we did have a hard time keeping our balance.

Personally I think that I’m just a klutz and can’t walk well with my eyes closed… but that’s just me.

Egg balanced on a head of a nail at the equator

Egg balanced on a head of a nail at the equator in the Intianan Museum in Quito Ecuador

Next came the balancing a raw egg on a nail trick, which is also supposed to demonstrate the lack of Coriolis Effect on the yolk directly on the equator.

This is also another thing that I can’t do, here or any place else on the planet I suppose.

If egg balancing is any easier at the equator than anywhere else in the world, the difference is so slight as to be nonexistent.

Bottom line, balancing an egg is difficult where ever you happen to be. Even our guide couldn’t pull it off… that said, Veronica did it!

Veronica receives her award for balancing an egg on the head of a nail at the Intianan Museum!
It was so impressive that she was issued a certificate to commemorate the event. Our guide, Alexandra, made things official.

Veronica receives her award for balancing an egg on the head of a nail at the Intianan Museum!

Veronica felt ever so proud of her accomplishment, especially when Alexandra stamped the back of her certificate with the much coveted “LATITUD 00, 00, 00” stamp.

The time had come for the goofy standing-in-both-hemispheres-at-once photos.

Has anyone ever come to this place and not done that?

Don’t think so.

the goofy standing-in-both-hemispheres-at-once photos. At the Equator in Ecuador!

BONUS TIME: More at The Intiñan Solar Museum

Llamas at The Intiñan Solar Museum

The Intiñan Solar Museum

The Intiñan Solar Museum

David & Veronica,

Click here to see our full adventure with Road Scholar – a not-for-profit organization – through Ecuador, Peru, The Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and much, much more!

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62 thoughts on “Getting Centered at the Equator in Ecuador (or Our Journey to the Center of the Earth)”

  1. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d
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    1. It’s also a matter of perspective I thought another tourist trap on the equator where they have two toilets back to back you flush one watch the rotation then moved to the other side of the two toilets flush it and it appears to spin the other way in reality they are identical toilets and they always flush in the same direction You’re simply standing on the other side of it in reference to the tank so it appears to spin the opposite direction in comparison to the other one

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  3. I really can’t believe how great this site is. Keep up the good work. I’m going to tell all my friends about this place.

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  6. Am I missing something here? Doesn’t 0 degrees, 0′, 0″ go completely AROUND the entire Earth? Isn’t that what the “equator” is after all? How can one “spot” be 0.0.0 when any where along the equator is also 0.0.0? Sorry for sounding so dumb but I would really like to know how this is any different from any other spot along the equator? Thank you.

  7. Sorry to bust another myth, but the Sun follows the path of the Equator only twice a year. So the equal day and night thing will only apply twice a year on the corrosponding Equinoxes. 🙂

  8. I visited this site in May, I was very impressed with the tub of water experiment, the shrunken heads and the sun dials. It was a trip of a lifetime. I didn’t know till now though, the story behind the balancing egg demo. I also saw Cotopaxi on a clear day and did the Galapagos and the Ecuadorian Amazon. I’m saving your website in my favorites.

  9. I just love learning new things when I read travel blogs and I got a good education with this post. Interesting history and museum. I’ll pass on the shrunken heads lesson, however.

  10. I love the history of the shrunken heads, never knew they removed the skull. That must have taken some fine handy work. I used to teach 6th grade and in CA, where I taught, 6th grade social studies was the study of ancient civilizations so we did a lot of work with mummification and I used to love grossing out my students when I described how they actually went about the process. And then we’d mummify game hens so they could see the drying out effect. Cool stuff.

  11. It looks like you got a history lesson and learned a lot at the same time. I don’t know how long I could look at that shrunken head. Your photos are fantastic!

  12. How amusing for humans to do these crazy stunts while the animals are thinking – yes, humans are crazier than us. Yup, they’re right.

  13. I traveled to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time this year. As a kid I always learned about the Coriolis Effect. One of the first things I did when I checked into my hotel was go flush the toilet to see which way the water would spin. When it didn’t go counterclockwise, I felt so embarrassed! Anyway, great post. It looks like you had a blast in Ecuador 🙂

  14. We fly into Ecuador in September to spend a few months and we’re reading everything we can about this fascinating country. Your photos were great and the story about the shrunken heads was really interesting. I love collecting these kind of macabre factoids!

  15. I envy you for having the time to enjoy that spot while you were in Quito! Our time was so limited (and filled with chocolate exploration!) that we didn’t have the time to get to that park. Looks like you had a great time. Thx for sharing.

  16. I visited here and really enjoyed it as well. Interesting that the Coriolis Effect is so minimal. I also balanced the egg, mostly out of sheer determination though since my partner had done so and would never have let me live it down if I hadn’t done the same.

  17. If you didn’t stand with one foot in each hemisphere I would suspect you of being an alien. We humans seem to have a fascination with borders. Growing up, my sisters and I used to “beep” whenever we drove across a bridge from one state to another, trying to capture that moment when the front seat people were in a different state than those in the back seat.

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