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AN AFTERNOON IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD

by Pam Hobbs

It seemed like the thing to do. In London, after all, tourists love to pose astride the prime meridian in Greenwich with a foot in each of the eastern and western hemispheres. So, finding ourselves in Quito with an afternoon to spare, we hopped over to straddle the equator line 24 km north of the city, and discovered a delightful reproduction of a colonial settlement.

Listed in guidebooks as Ecuador's most popular visitor site, it is surprisingly quiet on a Wednesday afternoon. Pleasantly cool too, in view of the 2,683m altitude. Although nobody lives here, this Town of the Equator has all the requisites for an interesting half day visits. Enhancing its authenticity as a traditional Spanish community, whitewashed buildings are in gardens around a main square. There is a church and a city hall and a bull ring where fights are staged on festival days. Dinky little shops sell Ecuadorian crafts, cafes and restaurants have seating indoors and out. Shrubs and flowers line the footpaths, while a red line on the sidewalk denotes the equator bisecting northern and southern hemispheres. Best of all, the Equatorial Monument contains the country's finest museum devoted to Ecuador's various native populations.