I love teaching conversions in fourth grade… Units of measure in length, volume, time, money…. Draw a t-table in the notebook to organize the values and bring on the conversions! I was looking forward to exchanging the US dollars to the monetary system in Ecuador and getting it all figured out. Math in real life! Love it! But guess what, Ecuador uses the US dollar. Who knew?
Apparently the sucre (former currency of 116 years) began to collapse in value and people began to invest in the US dollar for greater stability. In 2000, the Ecuador government officially declared the dollar its legal currency. All paper dollars are the green notes we use in the US and the coins too (including the golden dollar with Sacajawea). As I looked closer, some of the coins pictured different faces, symbols, and language. The coins, called Ecuadorian centavo, began circulation in 2000 along with the dollarization. I have not investigated the people or the symbols found on the Ecuadoran centavo but I will eventually…. I wonder if the people in Ecuador investigate the images and symbols found on the US dollar?
About an hour from Quito, we arrived at a quaint village in the east Andean cloud forest called Papallacta. I was grateful for the scenic ride with lush vegetation, waterfalls, and a light mist on the windshield to distract me from the windy roads that led up the mountain to an elevation of 10,800 feet (a little more than double the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado). Although I was a little nauseous upon arrival, my attention was redirected to the hot springs revealed as we entered the grounds of the hotel and… Oh. My. Gosh… Heaven on earth! With the cool, misty air, the pools had steam rising from the warm waters below. Ahhh…
Can I move in?
I learned Papallata translates as “potato town”, the crop once grown locally until the hot springs became the destination for tourists and locals alike. The waters, warmed from the Chacana caldera at temperatures 96-104 degrees fahrenheit, are said to have “health-giving qualities.” Yes, please! I sat in warm waters, ate light salads and soups, and enjoyed the flora surrounding me and the vistas of the mountain slopes in the distance. The Termas de Papallacta Hotel and Spa is worth all the accolades.
I have to admit, I typically enjoy my dark chocolate without much thought to its origin. For the first time ever, I saw the inside of a cocoa pod and tasted a seed… the seed, covered in a white slimy texture, had a subtle sweetness to it. I learned the seeds are removed from the pod, laid out to dry, and roasted. The skins of the shell are removed to reveal the deep brown seed I anticipated when the pod was first cut open. The outer skins are used to make chocolates with less quality and whose names shall not be mentioned. The seeds are ground to create a rich, smooth texture (similar to grinding corn on the fourth grade field trip to the Adobe in Ventura). The pure, 100% cocoa is bitter in taste. As you know, chocolates found on the shelves at the store have milk, sugar, and other flavors added. The brand Pacari shares its story how the company was founded and works with local farmers making its chocolate 100% Ecuador experience.
From the market in Otavalo, our taxi driver drove us 90 minutes to the equator, locally known as “The Middle of the World.” He asked which site we wished to visit first, the museum or the monument. We chose Museo de Sitio Intinan. The museum offered the opportunity to learn about the indigenous people (more on that later) and to observe water draining town a sink, and challenge oneself to balance an egg on a nail in effort to learn about the coriolis effect. In summary, with my best scientific understanding, the coriolis effect has something to do with pressure, rotations, and hemispheres. Although the coriolis effect is a real phenomenon, the explanation shared at the museum is more awe than accurate. I found a video on Youtube that mimics the demonstration I witnessed at the museum and exposes the inaccuracies of the science (especially since the museum is not actually on the equator as clearly marked with a line painted on the grounds). Regardless, I loved the museum because I left with more questions than answers. I spent a lot of time (maybe too much) watching videos online of water draining down sinks and toilets… moving on.
Notice the hummingbird sculpture… lots of hummingbirds in the area!
The Middle of the World!
I tried, but was unsuccessful.
We drove a few minutes to Ciudad del Mundo, a 30 meter tall monument monument that was completed in 1982 (to replace a smaller monument that was built in 1936). The monument celebrates the first Geodesic Mission in 1736 to measure the roundness of the earth at the equator compared to another measure of latitude in Sweden (which explains the big sphere at the top of the structure). Although we only had about 30 minutes to enjoy the grounds before closing so we skipped the exhibits and walked around the four sides of the monument marked, N, S, E, and O. Yes, “O”?! I learned “O” stands for Oeste which translates to West. Cool, right? Each cardinal direction shared some notes about the symbolism of the designs one can observe on the monument.
Ouest = West
Painted yellow line divides the earth into the northern and southern hemispheres.
Once we arrived back to the hotel, I did a little research to learn, with the latest GPS technology, there are only two points of interest that actually lie on the equator. One of which is and the other is the Catequilla archaeological site and the Quitsato Sundial. Regardless, it was a fun, geography filled day!
Our taxi driver, Marcelo, was a kind and patient helper. He introduced us to a google translate which helped us coordinate an added destination to the equator. On the way to Otavalo, we stopped at a touristy spot to grab a coffee, hear some local music, and take pics of the Cotacachi Volcano.
As I was packing for this trip, I felt like I was taking off for sleep away camp. As my kids ran errands with me for travel items, and helped me load my suitcase, I was already feeling homesick. I walked through the maze of colors and heard the giggles of a couple children. I captured this game of hide and seek which filled my heart with joy (hard to hear, but there are some quiet giggles at the end of the video).
We made it to Quito and hit the ground running. Since we lost a day because of our cancelled flight, there was no time to waste. We took a two hour taxi to Otavalo to experience the must see market. We chose to go on Friday to beat the tourist crowds that flood the area on Saturday. The market is one of the most important markets within the Andes. Historically, the weekly market served as a space for local tribes to emerge from the Amazon jungle for trade. Today, the local Otavalenos share their textiles and other handmade crafts.