Finding the Middle of the World

Saturday, 2018-02-17 11:17:02
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Monument to the Equator at Mitad del Mundo complex which marks the passage of the equator through Ecuador.
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NDO – There are two famous 0° landmarks in the world: the first is the prime meridian passing through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, in the UK; and the other is Mitad del Mundo (Spanish for "Middle of the World") - situated at the latitudinal measure of 0.0.0 in Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador.

Ecuador, the name itself brings implications of a geographical location: the country straddles the line of the equator. In Spanish, ecuador means equator. However, where exactly is Mitad del Mundo? The answer remains somewhat ambiguous even now but maybe many people do not believe that I found my own latitude 0.0.0 in a way that no one could imagine and did not follow any guidance.

The fake and real coordinate 0

The Mitad del Mundo is a complex located about 9-10 km away from the centre of Quito. It is home to a population of the busts of well-known geographers of the world, who had measured the 0.0.0 latitude. In particular, it consists of a 30m high monument with the Mitad del Mundo Museum inside. A lot of tourists have visited the monument, looking for ways to test the magic when standing right on the 0.0.0 line, with experiments on the theory of gravity. Nobody wants to miss the opportunity to stand on the yellow line and I was no exception.

I also read a lot of warnings that the 0.0.0 latitude on the square is a "fake." The exact coordinate is located at a private museum a few hundred metres to the north. That means Ecuador has two 0.0.0 landmarks: a symbolic landmark and a real one.

When my friends and I got to the Mitad del Mundo, on the yellow line marking the coordinate, a group of French guests were following their guide's directions: knitting your hands together and raising them up, then the person opposite would easily drag your hands down, as you're in the centre of the earth, so your muscles are weakening due to latitude. If you stand aside just a few steps, when you raise your hands, the person opposite, if not strong enough, will not be able to pull your hands down. Some people tried and were excited because it was exactly what had been described.

This is further confirmed when stepping into the Mitad del Mundo Museum, located inside the monument. On display are experimental instruments showing that you are at latitude 0.0.0. For example, there are two scales, when you stand on the scale at latitude 0.0.0, you are lighter than your weight in another position. Indeed, when we all tested, all the indicators showing on the scale were smaller than the normal ones.

However, dozens of experiments in the museum could not replace the fact that my GPS was at 0.0.8 and many documents have indicated that the coordinate at the museum is a mistake. Even its staff, when being asked to stamp 0.0.0 into my passport as a popular souvenir, also refused and directed us to go to Museo de Intinan (Intinan Museum) - the place that is said to have the most accurate 0 coordinate.

Intinan is a small private museum a few hundred metres from Mitad del Mundo. Here the experiments are much more manual and intuitive than those found on suspicious machines like in the Mitad del Mundo Museum. I can put an egg on a nail placed in the middle of the 0 line easily; or when placing a washbowl with a plug hole at its bottom here, the water draining from it will flow down vertically, without swirling.

Vera, who was responsible for stamping the 0.0.0 souvenir coordinate, said it was the only official seal and is being offered only at this museum following a decision from the Ecuadorian Geographical Association. However, there are fake seals used in the stalls along the route from the central square to the museum. That means everyone can have a seal on an envelope or postcard without spending US$4 for the admission to Intinan.

And once again, our suspicions arose. At that time, all of the measurement devices we carried along show the same result at the latitude coordinate of 0.0.5. The discovery made everyone around us startled. Vera was even more surprised: "No, that's because of a machine failure, this is exactly the zero mark."

In fact, when we looked at the materials on display, we concluded that this is the zero benchmark confirmed by scientists with the most advanced methods today. This is also the reason why the owner of the land where the Intinan Museum is situated left his profession as a farmer to earn his living mainly by business operation, because the special coordinate goes through his house. He wrote five books about how people come to his home to measure the latitude 0.

My own 0.0.0 coordinate

In fact, both the Mitad del Mundo and the Intinan Museum are not the first 0 coordinate markers to be built. In 1936, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the discovery of latitude 0, the government of Ecuador built a 10m high monument on the site of today's Mitad del Mundo complex. At the top of the monument they placed a globe model decorated with traditional patterns of the indigenous people.

In 1979, when a decision was made to build a new monument to attract tourists, the Pichincha authorities decided to move the monument 17 km away to a small town named Calacali, also on the equator. Therefore, it is possible to confirm that the first 0.0.0 latitude is located in Calacali. The current Mitad del Mundo with its monument standing over 30m high is a place to welcome visitors with tourism services.

Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Calacali man, said that local people here are extremely proud of this symbol. For Calacalians like Rodriguez, this monument is more significant than the larger square at the original site. Many years later, after they found the Museo de Intinan, Calacali in the hearts of local people remain unchanged. Of course, even standing at the Calacali monument, my GPS still stayed at 0.0.6.

As soon as we saw the incorrect 0 coordinate at the old monument, we decided to ride slowly from coordinate 0.0.9 back to Mitad del Mundo, hoping to find the true 0 coordinate as rumored. That meant we would gradually reach the mountain in front of us. Rodriguez said he has once climbed up the mountain and found latitude 0 somewhere on the way up to the peak. This also seemed to coincide with the information we found on the internet: when making the landmark for coordinate 0.0.0, because the position was in the middle of a mountain and not convenient for construction techniques at that time, they chose the current location of the Mitad del Mundo complex, because the present square has spacious grounds where they could erect a symbolic monument. That error continues to this day and turns it into a symbol.

Right before leaving the highway, my GPS moved quickly from 0.0.3, 0.0.2, 0.0.1 and the number 0.0.0 surprisingly appeared when we were still in the middle of the street, just a few steps from the Intinan, about a dozen metres to the north. We stared at each other. Rodriguez murmured: "No, I'm sure 0 is on the way up the mountain." But clearly my GPS, in the middle of a sunny day, displayed the 0 coordinate right in the middle of the motorway connecting Quito and Cuenca. This is not described in any of the travel guides, nor in any documents.

Maybe it’s because the phone's GPS is not a reliable one, even if it's the world's leading brand. But both Rodriguez and I did not need to try to find a position as accurate as the scientists found the 0.0.0 coordinate. We had an interesting day, when we came up with four different 0.0.0 coordinates, and that would not affect whether the Earth was rotating or its equator was flattening out against the whole globe.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is worth more than having a GPS with 0.0.0 accuracy, in the reason of a wanderer.

MAI NGUYEN