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Neil Sawyer, Spontaneous Traveler, 04/21/13

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On the equator: ‘Fantastically diversified,’ Ecuador is delight

By Neil Sawyer

If you’re in the mood to go to a foreign country, you must go to Ecuador — it’s one of the most beautiful countries you’ll ever see, I’ve been told.

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So, like good soldiers obeying orders, my wife, Karyn, and I went to Ecuador in early March.

Ecuador is easy to get to, just a three-and-a-half- hour flight from Miami, and if you go now, you can enjoy a totally new airport that has only been in operation about a month. We were there on the second day of its operation as various staff members worked out the glitches. Never mind that the new airport is an hour’s drive into downtown Quito, Ecuador’s largest city. Having arrived about midnight, and because of the traffic and nighttime activity, it appeared that everything that happens in Ecuador must begin in Quito.

The first day on the ground, we discovered there are several interesting museums in Quito, lots of markets selling everything any tourist would ever need, and Independence Square, home of the Presidential Palace. There are seven cathedrals near the square, so plan at least a couple hours to wander in this neighborhood.

But, the most enticing, all-encompassing “must-do” in Quito is the Teleferico, a 3,600-foot gondola ride to the top of a mountain, with striking views in every direction, including 14 volcanic peaks and more. The elevation at the top is more than 13,000 feet, an altitude that may cause some breathing discomfort if you haven’t become “acclimatized.”

At the top is a restaurant, a snack bar, restrooms, trailheads for hiking in almost any direction, a launch for mountain bikes that are ferried up on the gondolas, ever-changing scenery because of the clouds — almost always present (many times below us) — and a full view of the entire city of Quito. The wind is frequently cold, so wrap up, look like the locals and stay warm.

After a couple of days in Quito, we joined a group tour that took us around the country to other scenic and historical places in Ecuador, including cloud forests, rain forests, hiking on the Inca Trail, visiting several local markets and zip-lining through the jungle.

One of our early stops was at — you guessed it — the equator, from which the name Ecuador is derived. Of course, the first thing everyone wants to do is flush a toilet to determine if, indeed, the vortex of water swirls in different directions north and south of the equator. If you know the answer, please let me know.

There is probably more speculation and charisma surrounding the equator than there is in picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Is a person stronger when they straddle the equator? Is there truly only one season on the equator — no summer or winter?\

Do you see the other side of the moon when you cross the equator? Can an egg be balanced on the head of a pen on the equator? Do you really weigh less on the equator?

These and dozens of other questions are interesting conjectures — especially at the equator.

Not so interesting is that the equator is not a straight line and it can vary in width up to three meters.

Fact: You don’t cast a shadow on the equator March through December, as the sun is almost directly overhead. Give us a break — don’t stretch the point and consider your footprint a shadow.

My lasting impression of Ecuador is that, yes, it is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited and Quito is much more than just a gateway. Allow enough time to enjoy all of this fantastically diversified, beautiful country.

Neil and Karyn Sawyer have been residents of Crystal River for 28 years. They travel frequently, having been to 48 states, 66 countries and seven continents. Neil welcomes comments and questions about travel. Contact him via email
to gobuddy@tampabay.rr.com.