Most of the Equator runs through oceans and jungles. Here Quito is surrounded by seven volcanoes that helped the ancients notice the predictable pattern of the sun and moon as they move through the sky; the volcanoes were fixed objects that the position of the planets could be compared to. A thousand years ago they had things figured out and built temples at the spot where the sun is directly overhead at the Equinox. It took the white man much longer to come to the same conclusion. When the French sent a scientific party to the area in the 1800's, they spent eight years here evaluating the situation. The government built a large monument on the Equator line as the French had designated it and tourists and scientists visited it over the years. But when GPS's came out, it was discovered that the French measurements were about 800 feet off. Suddenly the man who owned the land where the line really is, had a bonanza on his hands. We visited the precise spot where we were shown what felt like a bunch of magic tricks. It was impossible to walk a straight line on the Equator with your eyes closed, because you are buffeted by the electromagnetic energy both poles generate equally. These are the same forces that cause southern storms to rotate in the other direction from ours. We were able to balance a fresh egg on the head of a nail on the precise line. When a washtub full of water was drained right on the Equator the water flowed straight down. Small repositioning of the tub had the water swirling clockwise and counterclockwise, depending which side of the line it was on. Pretty cool!
One of the many things we like about OAT, our travel organization, is their commitment to making the world a better place and giving back. A percentage of the fees we pay to take their trips is given to local organizations in need. Today we visited one of the places that profit from OAT's patronage. It was a music school started by a professional trumpet player who felt that his love of music would help special needs students. Most of them have Down's Syndrome or some sort of brain damage. Today the school teaches about one hundred students, some of whom continue there long into adulthood. The emphasis is on the arts, but practical skills are taught as well. Today we attended a concert performed by the man who started the school and his beginning students. Not surprisingly the orchestra was heavy on tambourine players. Other students danced to the music wearing local costumes. Of course, we had to dance with them at the end. They clearly were having so much fun performing, it brought smiles to our faces.
Then we went to a museum/factory where agave is being turned into fruit juices and tequila. Here the work is done on a much smaller scale than we have seen in Mexico. The traditional methods have almost been forgotten so the young owners of the place are trying hard to preserve this important part of the culture and providing work to a handful of older workers who still have the requisite skills and knowledge. The agave plant grows for ten years before it can be drained of its sap by drilling a hole into its heart and bleeding it for four months. Before the sap is harvested, the plant send out suckers and the mother plant dies. The stalk and roots of the plants are traditionally used for all sorts of products like soap and rope.
The weather has been so clear and dry we just had to squeeze in a trip on the Teleférico sky rail to the top of Pichincha, a dormant volcano that offers sweeping views of the city. Because Quito is located in a valley between two mountain ranges, it is oddly shaped: 38 miles long and 7 miles wide. Poor folks built their homes high up the flanks if the mountains unlike our country where the rich live up high with the views.
It was tempting to go back to our hotel room and put our feet up for a while, but our guide had one more surprise planned. He hired a party bus to take us on a city drive. This open-air brightly painted bus was decorated with balloons and had flashing, colored lights. A DJ was on board playing loud dance music and we were served a concoction made out of hot tea, fruit juice and rum. We had whistles to blow and wore flowers around our necks and created a real spectacle as we drove down the street. These buses are normally used during holiday times. Today we just had a holiday of our own.