For the first time since I began traveling non-stop in 2007, I am in South America. I have no particular reason why I haven’t been to South American, I just never got around to it. I’m in Quito, Ecuador right now and tomorrow I’ll be heading off to the Galapagos Islands. It is the beginning of what I hope will be more exploration of Latin America over the next year. I figured it was a good time for another installment of “8 Facts…”
1) Ecuador is the closest country to space. You might think the closest point on Earth to space would be Mount Everest, but you’d be wrong. The reason has to do with the fact that the Earth is not a perfect sphere. Because of its rotation, it bulges slightly at the equator. That means that all things being equal, the equator is closer to space and father from the center of the Earth than anywhere else. The bulge is big enough that Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is actually 1.5 miles “higher” than Mount Everest. Because mountain peaks are measured from sea level, Mount Everest is considered higher because the bulge in the Earth at the equator also means that the seas are higher too. [*]
2) Ecuador is the only country in the world named after a geographical feature. The official name of Ecuador is República del Ecuador which literally means “The Republic of the Equator”. The equator runs through the country. In fact, there is a large monument about 45 minutes away from Quito where you can stand in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
3) Ecuador has the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At the first UNESCO World Heritage conference in 1978, 32 sites were in the inaugural list. Each World Heritage Site has a number and site #1 is the Galapagos Islands and #2 is the City of Quito.
4) Ecuador had a long-standing border conflict with Peru. For decades, Peru and Ecuador clashed over where the border between the two countries was to be drawn. In 1941 fighting broke out which was ended by the Rio Protocol. Fighting broke out again in 1981 and 1995. Final demarcation of the border and end of the conflict occurred in 1999. One oddity of the agreement is that Ecuador has a perpetual lease of one square kilometer of Peru where they have a military base. It Peruvian territory but run by Ecuador.
5) Ecuador was once joined with Colombia and Venezuela. From 1822 to 1830, Ecuador was part of the nation of Gran Colombia which included Colombia and Venezuela. After their independence from Spain, they joined Gran Colombia, but the project soon fell apart and Ecuador became a republic in 1830.
6) Charles Darwin developed his theory of coral atolls in the Galapagos Islands. I’m sure you’ve heard all about Darwin’s expedition on the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos and how came up with the ideas which lead to the theory of evolution. What you might not know is that he also developed the modern day theory of coral atoll development in the Galapagos. He realized that the easternmost islands were larger and higher, and the further west you went they became smaller until you eventually had atolls. Also, the active volcanoes were in the east and not in the west. This is the same thing you can see in Hawaii. [*]
7) The Panama hat is actually from Ecuador. Panama hats are woven hats made from toquilla straw plants. The hats are made in Ecuador but were shipped to Panama on the way to the United States. The label on the boxes often had the shipping point for the products, which was Panama and the rest is history.
8) Rosalía Arteaga, the first female president of Ecuador, served for only 2 days. In 1996 she was installed as Vice-President after the election of Abdalá Bucaram. On February 6, 1997, he was removed from office by the congress. There was a dispute about who should assume the office of the Presidency. Congressional leader Fabián Alarcón was sworn in on February 6, but she was then sworn in on February 9. On February 11, Alarcón was again sworn in with the support of Congress and the army. She ran for President in 1998 but only received 3% of the vote. [*]