Random Islands

On February 19, 2017 · 2 Comments

Something needed to be done about the clutter. My list of potential topics grew to unmanageable proportions once again so I decided to keep pruning. I discovered an island theme as I sorted through the pile so I lumped a few items together. Nothing much unified them except that they involved islands with unusual twists. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t really need any more than that to get things going.

Lord Howe Island Group


Lord Howe Lagoon
Lord Howe Lagoon. Photo by David Stanley on Flickr (cc)

My mental island journey began with the Lord Howe Island Group first (map). They sat within the Tasman Sea off of the eastern coast of Australia, unknown until spotted by Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 as he sailed towards Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. He named the tallest of the islands, a jagged volcanic peak rising mightily into the sky, Ball’s Pyramid. He named one of the more dramatic peaks on the main island Mount Lidgbird. His legacy secured, he decided to suck-up to his superior by naming the main island after Lord Howe. Richard Howe, First Earl Howe, was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.

Ball claimed the island group for Britain. Whalers began using it as a convenient place to replenish provisions. A permanent settlement followed soon thereafter. The group became part of Australia as that nation formed. It’s now an unincorporated area of New South Wales. Few people live there though — only 360 residents as of the 2011 Census — and the government limits tourism because of the fragile ecosystem of such a small place. Given that, a maximum of about 800 people occupy the space at any given time.

The Twist: Lord Howe Island made a credible claim to being located within the world’s least populated time zone. This island group uniquely occupied Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +10.5. Fewer than a thousand people ever set their watches to observe this time zone at any given moment. That contrasted with UTC +8 (the one with China) with a population of 1.7 billion.


Smith Islands


Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP
Lindeman Islands & Smith Islands NP. Photo by portengaround on Flickr (cc)

I remained in Australia momentarily, focusing on the coast of Queensland near Mackay. There I found the Smith Islands (map), the site of a national park of the same name. Those unspoiled islands offered very few amenities other than their natural beauty. People traveled there by boat, private or charter, for fishing, diving and wildlife excursions. They needed to be self-reliant during these excursions. Visitors might be completely isolated with little help available anywhere around them should any difficulties arise. Nonetheless, the park attracted a certain type of adventurer who relished unspoiled experiences and abundant solitude.

The Twist: While I never discovered who named the islands or how they chose the theme, they did follow a consistent pattern. Imagine every kind of smith — skilled metal workers — and it had its own island named for it. I saw Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Silversmith, Coppersmith, Goldsmith, Anchorsmith and Tinsmith. Some readers may remember the 12MC article I called Ladysmith, and yes that’s how I found this island group. I liked Blacksmith Island most of all, however. Nearby stood Hammer Island, Anvil Reef, Forge Reef and Pincer Island, enough tools to create an entire blacksmith shop. Other features figured into the general theme as well, including Ingot Island and Bullion Rocks.


Ada Kaleh


Ada-Kaleh
Ada-Kaleh on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

Ada Kaleh experienced a convoluted history. This small island sat in the Danube River between modern-day Romania and Serbia, just downstream from Orșova (map). It became a strategic point along the river, a place taken and retaken repeatedly by the Austrian and Ottoman empires starting in the 17th Century. The name of the island itself came from a Turkish word, Adakale, meaning Island Fortress.

The real weirdness started in 1878 when the Ottomans lost control of the surrounding area as a result of losing the Russo-Turkish War. Everyone just sort-of forgot about Ada Kaleh during the peace talks so it became a Turkish exclave. It transformed into something of a lawless territory, a haven for smuggling and other nefarious activities. The situation remained that way for about a half-century when another treaty corrected the error. However, even afterwards it retained its distinct Turkish attributes and culture even though if fell within the physical confines of Romania.

The Twist: Ada Kaleh no longer exists. The waters of the Danube rose considerably along this stretch of the river after construction of the Iron Gates Dam in 1972. Most of the island’s residents chose to relocate to Turkey rather than remain in Romania.


Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom
Isle of Dogs, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Alvin Leong on Flickr (cc)

In east London the River Thames took quite a curve, enclosing a small area on three sides (map). Technically this wasn’t an island at all so it probably shouldn’t even be on my list. I found it while Marking the Meridian. The Isle of Dogs wasn’t that distant from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the meridian came oh-so-close to crossing through it. Despite its name, somehow it attracted commercial enterprises in the modern era particularly for banking and finance.

The Twist: Well, other than the fact that it wasn’t actually an island, nobody knew how it became the Isle of Dogs. East London History said,

The original name for the island was Stepney Marsh or Stebunheath. It is thought that the Isle of Dogs name originated in the 16th century. Nobody really knows where this name came from, but there are plenty of theories. Some say that the name was given to the area because of the number of dead dogs that washed up on its banks. Others think that the modern name is a variation of other names given to the area, such as the Isle of Dykes or the Isle of Ducks.

Dogs or Dykes or Ducks (or others). Take your pick.

Mr. Walker’s Island Adventure

On January 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

It didn’t take much to get me started on another obsessive-compulsive exercise. Longtime reader Rhodent commented on my observations about a stalker on St. Martin’s Island (map) in Bangladesh. That made me even more curious about the underlying situation. I knew I needed to check every image in painstaking detail to see if I could untangle the story. Fortunately the island didn’t cover a lot of ground so this actually seemed like a reasonable task, if a bit ill-advised.

Google Street View Comes to St. Martin’s Island


Antarctica: New Years Day Castle Rock Hike
Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Photo by Eli Duke on Flickr (cc)

Google Street View arrived on St. Martin’s Island in October 2015 in an unusual way. The government of Bangladesh didn’t allow motorized vehicles there. It’s too small and it doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure anyway. People followed footpaths. Therefore Google brought its Trekker, a backpack device used more commonly to photograph mountain trails or glaciers in Antarctica or inaccessible places like that. The Trekker weighed 42 Pounds (19kg) including a vertical staff topped by 15 cameras. Google loans the Trekker to qualified individuals and organizations for those who want to add a favorite out-of-the way place to the Street View portfolio. Apparently someone wished to do that for southernmost Bangladesh.


The Main Characters

Two men dominated the narrative. One man carried the Trekker. I called him Street View Guy (or SVG). The other man accompanied him every step of the way.


Street View Shadow
Street View Guy

Evidence of SVG rarely appeared because he carried the backpack and stood beneath the photo sphere. At certain times, however, his shadowy image emerged from beneath the camera. This happened primarily as the sun began to set on a long day, when shadows extended far enough that they fell into camera range. Those were exceptions. Most of the time SVG stayed behind the scenes as he should, recording the story instead of contributing to it.


Street View Follower
Mr. Walker Reveals Himself

In the earlier article I named the other guy The Stalker. That didn’t seem appropriate anymore so I renamed him Mr. Walker because, well, he walked every corner of St. Martin’s Island. I viewed literally hundreds of distinct frames, tracking his every move. Only one showed his unobstructed face, the one that I found previously that Google forgot to blur. Who was he? I knew he wore a uniform although I didn’t know what it represented.


G4S Security
Mr. Walker’s Epaulet

Every once in awhile Mr. Walker moved next to SVG. One of those close-up images let me see his epaulet and the matching logo on his shirt in detail. It said G4S. That offered the clue I needed. G4S is a company that provides security services worldwide including Bangladesh. That solved the mystery. Mr. Walker wasn’t a policeman or a tour guide. He belonged to a private international security firm. He was hired to keep SVG safe, or maybe just Google’s expensive hardware.


Maps That Guide the Story



I needed to create a couple of maps to help me make sense of the island trek. The first one showed various points of interest that I noticed as I sorted through the multitude of images available. More than fifty shots made the cut, which I think clearly demonstrated the daunting size of the larger set. Fifty images barely made a dent. However that tiny sample provided a number of useful vignettes, little points in time. The did not provide, either singly or collectively, any fluidity of motion. I needed to create something else.


Island Path
Direction of Routes Walked

Presumably SVG and Mr. Walker moved forward, not backward. That let me determine the direction of all paths they took that day. I marked them with arrows. It revealed the two-phase strategy followed by the mapping team. They focused on the interior of the island in the morning and early afternoon, which I determined by examining the angle of the sun. Then they shifted course in the late afternoon. They walked the circumference of the island beach in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the ferry pier and continuing all the way around.


Wandering the Interior

Theoretically, I supposed, one could figure out the exact sequence of steps taken by SVG and Mr. Walker as they covered the island interior. However, even though my efforts demonstrated irrational signs of compulsion, I didn’t go far enough overboard to calculate the angle of the sun in minute detail. Nor did I attempt to calculate exact timing based upon the images that the Trekker captured once every 2.5 seconds. I’ll leave that for someone even more obsessed if so inclined. Nonetheless, I observed all sorts of interesting encounters as the team followed its journey.


Boy in Green
The Boy in Green

Many of the locals seemed amazed or amused by the site of a man hauling Trekker machinery through jungle, fields and down the narrow corridors of the marketplace. Children especially enjoyed the spectacle and expressed the most interest. Some kids, like the Boy in Green, showed even more curiousity than others. He joined Mr. Walker has he escorted SVG from the eastern beach into the deep island interior.

Mr. Walker didn’t provide much actual "security" during his walk. He seemed to get distracted regularly and fell back. Other times it looked like he needed the kindness of strangers to help him get back on the right track. Once he fell so far behind that he had to hitch a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw. He carried a white plastic bag stuffed with goodies that whole time; I even caught him eating a snack. Mr. Walker amused me. SVG walked the whole island with a 42 pound backpack, and yet, Mr. Walker couldn’t keep up, got sidetracked by locals, glanced at his mobile phone, and seemed generally disinterested much of the time. He probably wondered what he did wrong to get stuck with this assignment.


Mysterious Mr. Bald

Say hello to Mr. Bald, first noticed by reader Rhodent in the previous comments.


Mr. Bald
Mr. Bald

Mr. Walker met-up with Mr. Bald late in the afternoon on a walk from the marketplace to the ferry pier. Mr. Bald also wore a uniform, although a different one than Mr. Walker. I drilled down on an image where he moved near the camera to see if I could find some clues about his identity.


Mr. Bald's Epaulet
Mr. Bald’s Epaulet

His epaulet seemed to have an anchor on it. I think he might have been part of the ferry crew. The image didn’t quite have enough resolution for me to read his name tag although I think it may have been in Bangali anyway. The ferryboat had a name, Keari Sindbad, that I traced to a tour company based on the mainland in Cox’s Bazar. The route took about two hours. It was quite a bargain at 800 Bangladeshi Taka (about $10 U.S.) for the best seats on the boat, on the bridge deck.

Although I found many photographs of the ship, I couldn’t find any images of the actual crew. Nonetheless, I still thought Mr. Bald probably belonged with the ship. Also I thought his appearance was coincidental. He seemed too surprised by the spectacle, taking photos with his mobile phone along the way. Several other people followed the exact same track back to the ferry. Mr. Bald stood out from the rest of them because he wore a uniform.

Then, as Mr. Walker approached the ferry, he put his tie back on. I guess he wanted to look more official.


Circling the Island

SVG and Mr. Walker began their counterclockwise loop of the island once they returned to the ferry dock. Mr. Walker forged way ahead as they walked the beach on the northwestern side of the island. Maybe he got tired of SVG’s company or maybe he wanted to get away from the ever-prying Street View camera. Mr. Walker returned soon enough when a bunch of kids surrounded SVG. Mr. Walker had to shoo them away. Finally he was able to provide some actual "security."


Mr. Local
Mr. Local

Mr. Local then approached. Like the earlier Boy in Green, Mr. Local seemed rather curious and he followed along for quite awhile on the western side of the island. Mr. Walker got sidetracked a couple more times by people selling stuff, and by a woman who caught his eye. Then he fell back once again trying to walk across the mostly barren rocky western side of the island. After proceeding a bit further, the heat of the day began to wear on Mr. Walker. He removed his tie, and reached not once but twice into his red translucent bag for a swig of water. He got really sweaty too. The heat must have been brutal. It was a long day.


An Arm in the Sand
Arm Reaches out of Sand for Water

Even SVG needed a drink. This created one of the more memorable Street View glitches I’ve seen in awhile. It looked like a zombie arm reaching out from the sand trying grab a plastic bottle instead of brains.

Mr. Walker continued to chat with the locals as they rounded the southern edge of the island and walked towards the eastern side. I’m not certain although he may have relieved himself in some bushes by the side of the beach. Eventually the duo made it back to the ferry pier safely just as the sun began to set on a long day of Google Street view trekking.

I guess the hours I spent on this exercise showed that I need to get a life. Maybe I should take a trip to St. Martin’s Island and relax for awhile.

Southernmost Bangladesh

On January 15, 2017 · 4 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle explored the Ends of the Earth recently, including the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. However, more accurately, the article reached the end of mainland Bangladesh. In the course of my research I found a spot even farther removed in the Chittagong Division, a place called Saint Martin’s Island (map). I never knew it existed until then. It could have belonged to Myanmar (Burma) just as easily. In fact the island fell closer to Myanmar than to its own nation.

About That St. Martin Name



How odd to find another island of Saint Martin. It shouldn’t be confused with that weirdly divided island in the Caribbean. I enjoyed exploring that one a few years ago in person, recording border markers between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. I’d also experienced the weirdly bifurcated Saint Martin Parish in Louisiana. Apparently things with that name attracted geo-oddities. Who knew?

The same saint underpinned both the Caribbean island and the Louisiana parish. They honored St. Martin of Tours. Christopher Columbus spotted the Caribbean instance during his second voyage in 1493. It happened to coincide with the saint’s feast day, November 11, thus the name. I saw earlier that certain locations discovered on December 25 sometimes came to be called Christmas so it didn’t surprise me to see a similar naming convention here. The same could be said for Easter Island too, I supposed. The European discovery in the Caribbean fell on St. Martin’s Day and Columbus named it accordingly


As for Louisiana

Similarly, Saint Martin of Tours inspired the name of the parish in Louisiana, albeit in a roundabout way. The town of St. Martinville, the seat of local government for the parish, described what happened in 1765:

[Charles-Philippe] Aubry had also sent a French priest, Fr. Jean Louis Civrey, to accompany the Acadians and serve the Attakapas district, where he became the first resident curate. In his records, Civrey refers to his new home as "la Nouvelle Acadie". He calls his new parish "l’Église des Attakapas (Attakapas Church)" and later, "l’Église St-Martin de Tours (St. Martin de Tours Church)", for which it is said St. Martinville is named.

St. Martinville predated the parish, which then adopted the town’s name upon its creation in 1807.

Did Saint Martin’s Island in Bangladesh memorialize the same saint? Honestly, I never found out. It seemed likely. The Anglican Communion venerated St. Martin of Tours too. He would have been a familiar figure to British adventurers who named the island.


The Saint Himself


Basilique Saint-Martin (Tours)
Basilique Saint-Martin (Tours). Photo by Hocusfocus55 on Flickr (cc)

Saint Martin lived during the Fourth Century and became a conscript in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity as a young adult around the time it became legal to do so in the Empire. The most well-known story recounting his pious acts involved an incident during his time as a soldier. A beggar dressed in rags on the verge of freezing to death sat by the side of the road. Martin removed his tunic, sliced it with his sword, and gave half of it to the beggar. That night God came to him in a vision and set him on a course that would guide him for the rest of his life. Martin became a conscientious objector, founded a monastery and eventually became Archbishop of Tours (now a city in France).

I’ll take a moment for an interesting tangent. The portion of the cloak retained by St. Martin became an important relic to the early Christian church and to the Frankish kings. In the Latin language a cloak of this type was called a "cappella." The priest in charge of guarding the cloak became a cappellani. The modern English words chaplain and chapel both descended from the people and places designated to protect this sacred cloak. Indirectly, the musical style "a cappella" (in the manner of the chapel) descended from the same etymology.

He became the patron saint of an eclectic group of people, both soldiers and conscientious objectors, as well as the poor, tailors and winemakers. The Basilica of St. Martin in Tours, France marked his tomb (map) and became a place of pilgrimage.


Onward to Bangladesh


Bangladesh  - St Martin's island - boats
Bangladesh – St Martin's island – boats. Photo by ulricjoh on Flickr (cc)

Nobody lived on the Bangladeshi island of St. Martin’s until about 250 years ago when Arabian sailors occupied it. The British came soon thereafter and took control. It wasn’t a large place, just 8 square kilometres (3 square miles) at high tide and a good bit less at low tide. It was also the only coral island in the entire nation of Bangladesh. St. Martin’s became its English name, of course. In Bengali it went by a phrase that translated into something like Coconut Island.

Most people who moved there became fishermen. They prospered quite nicely until recent decades. Since then, a number of tourist hotels and resorts opened, stressing the island ecology and the coral reefs around it. Fish populations declined. The reefs began to erode. The island began to shrink. Still it seemed to be a mostly idyllic place where tourists came to escape a hectic pace found elsewhere. Ferries crossed from Cox’s Bazar on the mainland, a two hour ride away. Electricity didn’t exist except for the generators at some of the larger hotels. No motorized vehicles were allowed, the only mechanized transportation being pedal-powered rickshaws. Wikitravel noted "not even a hint of nightlife."


Chera Dwip


Chera Dip
Chera Dip. Photo by Taufiq Ahmed on Flickr (cc)

Even farther south, the true southernmost tip of Bangladesh, culminated at an area called Chera Dwip (or Chera Dip, or Chera Deep). At low tide Chera Dwip attached to St. Martin’s Island. At high tide it separated and formed its own distinct island. Tourists enjoyed the area although they needed to be careful to keep from being stranded there when the tide rolled in.


The Stalker


Street View Follower
He Followed Street View Everywhere
via Google Street View, October 2015

Unbelievably, the island included Google Street View coverage! Someone carrying a backpack recorded it in October 2015. I noticed something peculiar, however. The same man appeared in every single Street View image. He wore a uniform. He didn’t seem to be wearing a military uniform, although he might have been a policeman, a crewman from a ferryboat or a tourism official. I couldn’t tell. Regardless, he escorted the Street View camera all over the island. The day warmed up and he removed his tie. He got bored and talked on his mobile phone. Occasionally he helped himself to a bottle of water that he carried around in a red translucent plastic bag. Then he carried a different bag. Then he wore a different shirt, I think because filming probably took place over a couple of days. Was it weird that he followed the camera or that I tracked him obsessively from the other side of the world?

He probably appeared in hundreds of distinct images, sometimes right by the camera and sometimes lurking in the shadows, our own South Asian Where’s Waldo. I finally found an image of him where Google forgot to blur his face. I figured I’d give him a little Intertubes recognition. He deserved it.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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