Sharing stars in Ecuador III: Vicundo, unveiling the border between the two hemispheres

by Raul Puebla

A flash back…one day in between our visits to Rafael Larrea and Bicentenario schools, we visited the commonly known Middle of the World Monument, where like many other tourists, we were happily putting one feet on the south, the other on the north side of a yellow line we imagined to be the Equator.

Some days after, we headed to Cayambe, a small city 30 kilometers from Quito located at the foothills of the volcano with the same name. Our contact, Cristobal Cobo, suggested to meet at the Solar Clock Quitsato at the Middle of the World. Yes, another Middle of the World… How was this possible? When we arrived, we found the biggest solar clock I’ve ever seen in my live with about 15 meters of radius, and a white line crossing the center and pointing towards east. That line was the actual Equator line! as Cristobal pointed to us. More details about this fact and other middle of the world myths, will be described in a following post by Manu.

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After a small talk on the localization/orientation and archaeoastronomy of the area, the team went to visit Vicundo (which means bromeliad, a flower original from South America), a community formed by the descendants of former workers from a huge estate that was divided after two land reforms introduced by the Ecuadorian government in 1964 and 1973. Several families here run together a natural tourism and organic agriculture project, their ages ranging from teenagers to the 91 year-old gramma Alegría (Joy), the matriarch of the community.

Moreover, Cristobal, Josué (a junior community leader) and other young people have been working on an archaeoastronomy research project for the past 10 years, trying to rescue the memory and knowledge of the pre-colombian civilizations living in the area of Vicundo thousand of years ago.

During the two days that we spent here, the people from the community participated very actively of the astronomy talks and the activities. They were also very interested about the software Stellarium, which they used to recognize constellations and planets and to learn about the apparent movement of the stars. At night, we all reunited around the big fire place to cook “tortillas”, tell stories and stargazing. They also showed us their farms where they grow organic products and raise llamas, the bamboo constructions they are building with a technique that Josué learned in China (including a small and very cute house of Astronomy), their fishing places, all those practices contributing to a sustainable community…

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On the last day, Cristobal and his family invited the community and the GalileoMobile team to visit the main house in the old estate, which is a rural hostel for tourists now. They offered us a very tasty lunch consisting on several traditional recipes with a special ingredient: Misky Huarmi, a low-fire boiled syrup from the Agave plant. Afterwards, we walked around the state exploring the different buildings and fields. The walls of the oldest house were made of adobe (sun-dried brick), quite thick in order to keep the cold outside. A lot of history was hanging from them: old portraits, paintings, books…

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I have the feeling that I had learned much more than I was able to convey in Vicundo. These wonderful people showed us a new world view coming from the close contact with the land and the ancestral way of life, far from our computers and urban labyrinths. We left Vicundo feeling touched and moved, with new friends and a lot of learnings!

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