Adventures in Quito: A Visit to the Middle of the World, and the AR World Championships Opening Ceremonies

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My second day in Quito didn’t quite start the way I had hoped. After a busy, and fun filled day 1, I was ready to get a good night’s sleep, and hit the ground running this morning for more adventures in Ecuador. Unfortunately, a bit of the local cuisine didn’t sit all that well with me, and I was woken in the middle of the night to the sound of my stomach gurgling in a tell-tale fashion. Yep, it was a bout of the Revenge of the Incas, or what ever term would should use to describe food poisoning here in South America. While I’ll spare you the gory details, lets just say that between the hours of 1:30 and 3:30 AM I was wishing that I was dead. Fortunately, I’m both blessed, and cursed, with a fast metabolism, so while something from last evening’s dinner didn’t sit well, by breakfast time I was on the mend, and after lunch, I was my old self again.

It’s a good thing too, as today was another busy day in Ecuador’s capital city. It started with a media briefing for the Adventure Racing World Championship, which officially gets underway tomorrow. This year, the race is being hosed by the Huairsinhi Explorer, one of the top races in South America each year. At a morning meeting, those of us who are here to cover the race in some capacity met to discuss logistics of that coverage, and to talk about how the race will unfold in the days ahead. As you can probably imagine, there are a lot of moving parts for an athletic competition that includes 50 teams of four running, mountain biking, and paddling their way across a 710+ km (440+ mile) course in the remote regions of Ecuador. The briefing helped to put everyone on the same page, and get us thinking about how things will unfold over the next eight days of the competition.

The briefing took place in the offices of Gulliver Travel, one of the leading adventure tour operators here in Ecuador. The company offers options for travelers who want to visit the Andes, the Amazon, the Pacific Coast, and the Galapagos Islands. They also very wisely offer acclimatization packages for Ecuador, which allow adventure racing teams from across the planet to get ready for the AR World Championship. I thought that was pretty clever marketing on their part, and a great opportunity for teams looking to gain valuable skills in a variety of environments.

Sadly, the meeting ran a bit longer than expected, which meant I was cramped for time for some of the other things that were planned for this morning. I ended up having to scrap my trip to the top of Pichincha Volcano aboard the famous Teleferico, a cable car that shuttles visitors to the top of the mountain for some unprecedented views of the city, and the surrounding area. I was let down that there wouldn’t be time for that excursion, but the schedule was tight.

With the Teleferico off the table, I instead set out on a 45-minute drive north of Quito to the Mitad del Mundo – the Middle of the World. This monument, which is surrounded by a quaint little village filled with tourist shops, restaurants, and places to get a snack, marks the equator as it passed through Ecuador. The line passes through the village itself, allowing visitors to pass freely between the North and South Hemisphere at will.

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The main attraction at the Mitad del Mundo is a three-story tall tower with a ten-ton globe on the top. It provides some excellent views of the surrounding countryside, with the compass points clearly delineated below. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower, but should definitely walk the stairs back down. Each level of the tower offers insights into Ecuadorian culture, with images and heirlooms from numerous indigenous cultures.

After I left the Middle of the World, I traveled just next door to the Museo de Sitio Intiñan, which also sits directly on the equator, and uses that location to its advantage. The site is a mix of Incan cultural displays, and scientific experiments that demonstrate some of the strange happenings at 0º latitude. For instance, you learn how easy it is to balance an egg on the head of a nail when you’re at the equator, as well as how the Incan’s used the movement of the sun to tell time. It was fun, fascinating stuff, and a good compliment to the more touristy Mitad del Mundo.

Once we finished marveling at the equator, it was time for some lunch at the Crater Restaurant, which is said to offer some pretty spectacular views of the collapsed caldera of a nearby volcano. Unfortunately, that view was obstructed today by low hanging clouds, so I had to settle for a tasty meal, before heading back to Quito proper.

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I arrived back in Quito just in time to reach the San Francisco Plaza – a site I visited yesterday – for the start of the Adventure Racing World Championship’s opening ceremonies. Over the following hour and a half, the teams were brought up on stage and introduced to the crowd, while a gaggle of eager media types (like me!) crowded around for photo ops. The race opened with a lot of pomp and circumstance that included a large band, a speech from the mayor of Quito, and traditional dancers showing off their moves.

After the opening ceremony, it was time to head to a nearby theater for the race’s official briefing, and for the teams to receive their maps which would reveal the course of the race at long last. But before we could move to that new venue, the skies overhead opened up, and began to drop a deluge on those in attendance. You would think that adventure racers would be use to roughing it in all kinds of poor conditions, but watching them scramble for cover from the rain was a source of much amusement. This humble travel writer calmly pulled on his rain jacket (thank you very much Outdoor Research!), which he had remembered to pack because he knew it was the rainy season in Ecuador.

Eventually we did make it to the theater however, and the festivities continue there for another couple of hours. Much of the briefing was to give the racers information about what they could expect out on the course, and how they should interact with the environment (Hint: Leave No Trace!). They were told to watch out for snakes, rabid dogs, and even lava flows. Those aren’t typical elements of an adventure race, but they sure will help to keep things interesting.

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The ceremony did drag on however, thanks to the numerous cultural displays of music and dancing. While those aspects are always appreciated when you visit a new place, I do believe that by the end, the racers just couldn’t wait to get their hands on their maps. Eventually they were rewarded for their patience however, and tomorrow at approximately 8:30 AM local time, they’ll set off on their first trekking stage from a nearby national park.

Following that pre-race briefing, the assembled media gathered once again for a final update as well. The race director gave us some ideas on how to approach covering the race, and what we should expect as well. Sadly for me, most of it didn’t apply, as after I see the racers off in the morning, I’ll be headed to other parts of the region to have some outdoor fun of my own. That includes some mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. You’ll be hearing much more about those things in the days to come.

Tomorrow, the ARWC gets underway at last, and it should be a good one. The setting here in Ecuador is perfect for an adventure race, and I think this will be one for the ages. I’l try to keep tabs on things in the days ahead, but I’ll also be a bit preoccupied with my own adventures as well.

More to come soon!

Kraig Becker

4 thoughts on “Adventures in Quito: A Visit to the Middle of the World, and the AR World Championships Opening Ceremonies”

  1. By the way, I went to both "equators" 18 months ago with my GPS. I had to make then admit that they knew the equator is not in any of the 2 sites you visited. It's a few hundred meters away near a sealed road. Less sexy of course.

  2. I still don't get why the little games with eggs etc work but I guess the earth force is more suitable where they are located than on the real geographic equator. The planet is not 100% a superb spherical flat ball 🙂

  3. Hey LouPhi! Actually, the admitted to me straight-out that the coordinates are about 150 meters off. Still didn't detract from the fun experience there though. It is rather touristy, but still enjoyable

    And yeah, those parlor tricks and games are interesting, particularly the one that shows the Coriolis effect in the northern and southern hemisphere, even though they're just a few meters apart.

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