The Middle of the World is a dusty place. And actually, there are three Middles of the World in Ecuador.
The sun beats down ferociously on the equatorial line less than an hour north of this country’s capital, Quito. A bus from the city dropped me off at a rough-and-tumble traffic circle near a couple of very off-priced eateries and the entrance to the Official Middle of the World attraction.
For two U.S. dollars, I entered the site, which straddles the line charted as the equator beginning in 1736. At the center of the complex sits a stone tower topped, cherry-style, by a metal globe. Inside the tower, I found the comprehensive Ethnological Museum, highlighting Ecuador’s many indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian communities with traditionally dressed wax figures and reproductions of houses and fishing vessels.
A pilgrimage to the top grants a panoramic view of exhibition pavilions and souvenir shops surrounding the tower on either side of the red stripe that indicates the equator. I took a picture behind the yellow sign that read “Equator,” each sneaker planted in a different hemisphere.
The second, less official Middle of the World is a few hundred yards to the north along the rough-and-tumble roadway. Entering involves traipsing up a dry, gravel driveway with the hope that no cars pass by and coat you in chalky powder.
At the Inti Nan Solar Museum, where the equator is “calculated by GPS,” I saw traditional indigenous living quarters, shrunken heads and plastic life-sized natives. There was a seemingly-convincing water test in which water spiraled out of a basin in opposite directions in the different hemispheres, which were marked by a red stripe. I took a picture behind a yellow-and-white sign that read “Greetings From the Middle of the World — Calculated by GPS,” each of my tennis shoes on a different half of the Earth.
The third Middle of the World, according to Google Earth, crosses an empty gravel lot, the same rough-and-tumble roadway and a warehouse a few hundred feet north of the Inti Nan Solar Museum. I wasn’t able to take a picture on this equator. I found it after I had returned home — while trying to figure out which of the first two was the real Middle of the World.