La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the Earth) - outside Quito, Ecuador
A handstand on the middle of the Earth - that'll make a great picture, I think to myself. I could caption it with a silly line like, "I hear gravity is different at the Equator," or something faux-clever like, "People want to be on top of the world, but I'm happy being in the middle." I hand my camera to my mom. I see an opportunity to jump in once the current gaggle of tourists finishes their selfies. I stretch my arms and legs in preparation. I'm about to straddle the yellow line that demarcates the Equator when a voice chimes in next to me.
"Habla ingles?" a young woman with sunglasses inquires, approaching me with her friend.
"Si," I respond.
"Okay, I want to try something with you for a picture," she immediately declares as she motions for me to join her.
"Oh, okay sure," I laugh. I'm bemused, but propelled by her confidence and bright smile. She has an accent, but I can't place from where.
She flicks a few times on her iPhone to show me a picture of her performing what she calls a 'Bluebird' at a different monument in a different part of the world. She passes her phone to her friend. I say that I'm down to try if she shows me how to do it.
Before I know it, I'm on the floor, shoes flung to the side, my back flat, pressed to the equatorial line. She deftly guides my feet to her abdomen. She grabs on to my hands and tells me to push up. She's not that heavy, but balancing a whole human being on the soles of my feet isn't in my usual skill set. After a couple tries, we stabilize ourselves and we let our arms go. She arches her back and extends her arms like wings -- like a bluebird.
We snap the photo. She tells me that I picked it up very quickly and that she was impressed. I inquire about her penchant for these poses and I learn that she's a part of an acrobatic group in New Zealand -- this explains a lot. We try a 'chair' after a quick break. She stands above me and sits on my feet. I push up and then hold her feet with my hands. We take another photo. She dismounts.
"Thank you so much," she exclaims. "My name is Sandra!" She gives me a hug. I tell her my name is Phil. We exchange contact information, promising to send each other our photos.
We try to take one last selfie. She suggests doing some kind of back arch, which I thought was a little complicated for just a selfie, but as always, I'm down. I place my feet in the small of her back this time, and push up. She arches her backwards. Unfortunately we don't hold the pose for long, because a few seconds after she arches, she begins to drift backwards.
I panic as her head plunges to the ground slowly, but surely. I hear a thud. I'm mortified. I check on her, fearing a concussion or worse. She tells me it's okay and laughs it off, saying that it was a very slow fall and that she's had a lot worse. I believe this -- head thumps must be a common occupational hazard for acrobats. But her calmness does nothing to allay my guilt. I laugh and suggest that maybe we should just take a normal selfie.
We take a normal standing picture, part with a hug, and go our separate ways. I feel a deep warmness within me as we're walking away from the monument. I just shared a special, one of a kind moment with a fellow traveler. Both of us so far from home, yet within those few moments, we created a small, temporary bubble of warmth and community.
Maybe the gravity is different here. It sure draws people together in unforgettable ways.