I thought I might start off this chapter with a list of the countries we have visited. It's kind of hard to make the list in some ways though. Visited is relative. Is it the countries you have actually spent time in? Or is it borders you have crossed? More technically, is it places where you have had to get a stamp or visa to enter? I suppose there are a number of definitions that could apply. We have done a lot of flying around, which has sometimes put us into places that we otherwise would not have gone to, but on the other hand, some of those places we didn't really spend any time in either. I don't know. How about this: I'll just put up a list of all the places, and see how you guys criticize it. How's that? By the way, just so you know, I'm going to throw Tibet up as it's own place. Yeah, I know it's Chinese, but should it be? We did have to get a completely separate visa from the Chinese visa to visit it, so I think that says something. Anyway, here's the list in chronological order. Where countries were visited more than once (example - Australia, Thailand), I am only including them once in the list:
1 Fiji, 2 New Zealand, 3 Australia, 4 Indonesia, 5 Malaysia, 6 Thailand, 7 India, 8 Nepal, 9 Tibet, 10 Myanmar (Burma), 11 Cambodia, 12 Laos, 13 Philippines, 14 Vietnam, 15 China, 16 Mongolia, 17 Russia, 18 Denmark, 19 Poland, 20 Czech Republic, 21 Austria, 22 Hungary, 23 Romania, 24 Bulgaria, 25 Turkey, 26 Greece, 27 Italy, 28 The Vatican, 29 France, 30 Monaco, 31 Spain, 32 Portugal, 33 Ireland, 34 Germany, 35 Switzerland, 36 Liechtenstein, 37 Egypt, 38 Jordan, 39 United Arab Emirates, 40 Kenya, 41 Tanzania, 42 Zambia, 43 South Africa, 44 Argentina, 45 Chile, 46 Bolivia, 47 Peru, 48 Ecuador, 49 United States, 50 Canada (Hey, we're spending a few days in Montreal, and gotta round off that 50 anyway!).
So, we have reached the last (foreign) city. Quito. It could have been the first city. During the planning, one of the options was to start in South America and work across to New Zealand and Australia via Easter Island. That would have been cool eh? Maybe next time. If there ever is a next time! Many people have asked us what we will do for travel in the future. I guess that's a good question given the circumstances. Sometimes, our answer is simply that everything we do from now on will be two week vacations at 5 star resorts. At other times, we answer that all we'll ever want to do from now on is go camping around BC. But I think the reality is that we have really only skimmed the planet if you think about it. We have been but butterflies in the museum.
Another way to look at it is that now that we have a taste for many places, we can choose where we might want to go in the future and spend more time. India would be an example. But really, the world is a huge place, and there is so much more to fill a lifetime. There are a tonne of other places that we would like to go in the future, just not for so long. Iceland for one is high on our list. And we never went to Brazil. There's also the UK with Scotland in particular, and if we want to get a taste of the forests and fjords like at home, Scandinavia would be on the list. On the more adventurous side, what about all the "Stans" in central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, etc...). Or maybe West Africa with Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal.
The list could go on forever. There is so much more. There will always be so much more. So you see, we have but skimmed a little butter off the toast.
But enough philosophical rambling. Let's talk about Quito. Our first day here was spent not being here. We decided to go up to Mitad del Mundo, a place about 22 km north of town where the Equator cuts this country into two hemispherical halves. It's a fairly unique place because it is the only part of the equator where high ground exists and astronomical observations can easily be made because of the altitude. But, what I found much more interesting is the controversy around the place. You see, the line is in the wrong place. Yup, it's off by a good 200 plus metres. What has happened is that when the line was first positioned way back in the 1700's, the technology was only able to provide a certain degree of resolution. But, with today's GPS technology, the line has been pinpointed much more accurately. And it is not at Mitad del Mundo.
Now, because the government and various companies built a huge complex around the monument that contains the "wrong" line, there is a lot at stake in terms of business if all the tourists were to go only to the "real" line. That's why it's not publicized all that well. Savy tourists who are not on a tour will manage to visit both though - one for the historical context and the political story, and the other to have actually been at the real place. Actually, I can see how the companies and government would be frustrated. The real line passes just outside their property on the other side of their fence and through the property of what used to be a farmer's place. The farmer has instead set up a little park where indigenous artefacts are displayed along side some neat experiments that try to prove you are the Equator.
The experiments are a bit of a joke because they are trying to demonstrate the Coriolis effect that is a result of the rotation of the Earth, but the force is so small that it is very difficult to actually use. Things like balancing an egg and watching the water go down the drain in different directions - stuff like that. It was funny to watch them throw the water into the sink in the "correct" direction to get the swirl they wanted. When I challenged them to re-do the experiment by letting me do it (at which point I allowed the water to stabilize before pulling the plug), they said "Of course, we only do this for demonstration purposes - you have to be farther away from the line to see it for real". So, the whole thing is a bit hokey, but there is no denying their GPS measurements - they are in fact on the line.
Perhaps more interesting was the little cultural museum we stopped at. Here, we were given a bunch of information by a couple of scientists who are studying the "real" line, and they have in fact found a pre Inca archaeological site where a rudimentary solstice and equinox detector was built from stone. This is the real thing. Unfortunately, the scientists used to have an exhibit inside the theme park where the wrong line is, and they got booted out! The operators and the government were afraid that eventually no one would come and pay the entry fee and buy stuff at the wrong line, and there has been no government development of the archaeological site. It's almost a secret. It's not even in a lot of the guidebooks. Pretty sad I thought. Here is a prime cultural item, and the government is ignoring it! They could make ten times as much by operating the detector as a site.
it's a cool story too, because these guys only found the detector after the correct GPS determination of the equator's location was made. Once the line was known, they flew survey flights and scoured the ground for hundreds of miles along the equator and the solstice lines and found archaeological sites relating to the sun. But the government stays silent, not wanting to give up its entrance fees and ice creams from the theme park they created at Mitad del Mundo. They are ignoring their own cultural history. Unbelievable eh? Anyway, it was cool to visit the scientists.
So that was really a neat day, for an engineer I guess. The next day we went down into the old town to see Ecuador's best churches in the old town. And they really are fantastic. One in particular has over 700 tonnes of gold plastered all over the place. There isn't a scrap of wall without gold on it. The place is absolutely scintillating! Walking around the old town leads to countless beautiful squares, complete with horn bands and perfectly manicured flower gardens and lawns. The weather was spooky though. Alternating between sunshine and the darkest most ominous looking clouds you have ever seen. Occasionally, there would be a brief shower or hail storm. Pretty freaky!
But with our 10 day jaunt out to the Galapagos coming up as the end game for our trip, we just took it easy and just strolled around the town, thinking about how this was going to be the last time of the trip that we went for such a stroll. The next time we stroll a city, it will be back in our own country. Back in Montreal. For all intents and purposes, back home. And that is why this will always be remembered as our last city.