The first secret is that Mitad del Mundo sucks. It’s not a monument to the equator, but to everything wrong with tourism. It’s not even on the equator, but a few hundred metres off (the actual equator is supposedly somewhere much more awesome). Nonetheless, to bask in this testament to lousy maths, you have to pay $3 (double that if you want to go inside the monument). This entry fee gives you access to a cheesy fake colonial village, complete with brightly coloured cottages, a chapel that smells like dead moths and an empty bull fighting ring. Apart from a few touts peddling overpriced cappuccinos, the place is totally lifeless. The biggest drawback is that Ecuador is littered with pleasant colonial-style mountain villages. There’s simply no need to have a fake town for tourists. The whole thing seems as logical as building a mock wild west recreation town in the 19th Century.
The second secret to Mitad del Mundo is that there’s something awesome nearby. Walk 200 metres north of the monument entrance to the less well known Intinan Museum. The open air museum is down a dusty driveway on your left, if you’re walking from Mitad del Mundo. At first the site looks even less appealing than the monument. To get in you must cross a creaky bridge, and enter a clunky forest of grinning totem polls. Tours are mandatory, but the office is located at the back of the site. For me, this meant spending around 15 minutes wandering the museum grounds aimlessly, before a worker gently coaxed me towards the office to sign up for a tour.
As I soon discovered, the tour is totally worth the $4. The museum’s “exhibitions” are an eclectic mix of indigenous stuff (I can’t be more specific, so let’s just stick with “stuff”) and weird “experiments” on the equator line, which they claim runs through the museum. It’s like primary school science class — light-hearted, fun and yet somehow educational. As the icing on the cake, the museum hosts authentic shrunken heads, walk in reconstructions of indigenous houses, a preserved boa constrictor and more. The friendly guides bring this quirky museum to life, and seem to know plenty about indigenous culture.
The best part: everything is interactive. You can touch the hunting spears, pet the guinea pigs (I think…) and mess around on the supposed equator. Overall, the Intinan Museum is a testament to what can be created with limited resources, but a tonne of creativity. The Mitad del Mundo monument is the exact opposite: if it doesn’t have soul it’s garbage, no matter how much money is thrown around. Never underestimate soul, and never forget the value of creativity and interactivity.