Fernando de Noronha

On December 12, 2010 · 4 Comments

Longtime reader "jlumsden" knows that I love to hear about the geo-adventures of my Twelve Mile Circle audience and he’s kind enough to share his experiences. There is a world of places I haven’t encountered personally. The next best thing is to travel there vicariously through the adventures of others.

Last time in June 2009, he arrived at South America’s Triple Frontier. This is the international tripoint for Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. He returned to Brazil for an entire month on the latest excursion and he’s gone to a number of spots including Belo Horizonte, Mariana, Ouro Preto, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, and Sao Paulo.

I’ve had great fun following him on Google Analytics as he hits my website at each new town and puts another dot on my visitor map. I’ve been able to track his progress in almost real-time. I’ve certainly wished I was there in person during a chilly North American winter. It’s 32°c. (89°f.) in Rio where I believe he is today.

That’s not what he wanted to share although it’s still quite interesting. He knows I enjoy islands — the more obscure the better — and he made it all the way out to the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha during this sojourn. It’s comforting in a sense when the audience begins to understand my quirks, and yes for the record, I do have an unnatural fascination with islands.



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Fernando de Noronha certainly fits the definition of obscure. The archipelago of 21 islands rests some 350 km. (220 mi.) off the Brazilian mainland. Only a few airline flights arrive here each day, it’s expensive because everything has to be imported, and only a couple of thousand people live here permanently. This isn’t a place that’s someone stumbles upon randomly.

Historically, nobody really seemed to know what to do with it. Various European powers occupied Fernando de Noronha over the years, built fortifications here, and considered it vaguely important from a strategic standpoint. It ping-ponged between Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands, before landing in Brazil upon its independence. In later years the archipelago became a remote prison site, a node for transatlantic telegraph cables, and an airline way station for passengers and freight. Today the economy depends on tourism, primarily eco-tourism as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can read Wikipedia as easily as I can if you want to know more. Let’s get on to some observations from jlumsden and a few photographs taken by one of his fellow travelers, used here with permission. Eventually they may be added to a flickr site but that may take awhile.


Flying in to Fernando de Noronha
Photo By Brian Arbanas © 2010 All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

The airplane prepared to land on the eponymous primary island in this image. It comprises about 90% of the archipelago’s landmass and you can see a big chunk of it in just this one photograph. There isn’t much to Fernando de Noronha way out here in the ocean.

Jlumsden notes that it’s the closest Brazilian territory to Africa, and in fact it’s closer to Senegal than to many areas of western Brazil. I prepared a map for an article a few months ago that shows a similar relationship using a different Brazilian location, and indeed it’s one of those fascinating but little-known facts about Brazil.

He also thought I might be amused to learn that Fernando de Noronha is part of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco although the archipelago is considerably closer to other Brazilian states including Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte. Indeed, that’s exactly the odd kind of odd thing that interests me.


Bay of Pigs
Photo By Brian Arbanas © 2010 All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

One of the best beaches on Fernando de Noronha can be found at Baia dos Porcos, which translates literally to "Bay of Pigs" in English. It’s hemmed-in and protected by a natural landmark known as the Two Brothers rocks. I did some quick web searches along with Portuguese translation options and found that this is considered one of the top beaches in Brazil. That’s certainly an impressive statement given all the great Brazilian beaches.


Village of Air France
Photo By Brian Arbanas © 2010 All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

I love this photograph. First, it’s visually stunning. More important, considering my fascination with weird situations, is that this is the final remaining vestige of a town called Air France. Jlumsden explained that this is the paradise where Air France staff lived back in the days when airplanes had to refuel and reprovision on Fernando de Noronha. Transoceanic flight couldn’t be completed in a single hop in the 1930’s. Does anyone know of another town named for an airline?

Thank you for sharing, jlumsden! Enjoy your final few days and return safely.

On December 12, 2010 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Fernando de Noronha”

  1. Paul says:

    Amazing! Thanks, all three of you. I have a similar fascination with remote islands (doesn’t everyone?!).

  2. Cape May says:

    Apropos of nothing, there was a great article in the NY Times today about the long land border between Queens and Brooklyn. You wouldn’t think that what is now nothing more than an internal border within a city would make much of a difference, but it really does, like in mail delivery and police services. And! It includes not one but TWO different border markers…

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/12/12/nyregion/20101212-border-info-gallery.html

  3. Joe says:

    So I was going to take up your challenge of finding another town name for an airline. Unfortunately, I came up empty. However, I did find a great article discussing airplane related codes and abbreviations, especially the FAA 3 letter airport abbreviations. Not specifically geo-oddity related, but something you might enjoy (I know I did): http://www.skygod.com/asstd/abc.html.

  4. Peter says:

    Apropos of nothing, there was a great article in the NY Times today about the long land border between Queens and Brooklyn. You wouldn’t think that what is now nothing more than an internal border within a city would make much of a difference, but it really does, like in mail delivery and police services.

    It also makes a huge difference in car insurance premiums. Most insurance companies redline Brooklyn,* to the point that a driver on the Queens side of the border will pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars less each year than a person on the Brooklyn side with a similar driving record and demographic profile.

    Some years back, residents of the Ridgewood neighborhood found themselves saddled with high Brooklyn rates even though they lived over the line in Queens. The Postal Service gave all of Ridgewood a Brooklyn zip code even though only a small part of the neighborhood is in Brooklyn, and car insurance companies redline on the basis of zip code. It took a great deal of effort for the residents to get their zip code changed.

    * = lest one think that the redlining is discriminatory, I once read that if X percent of multivehicle crashes lead to personal injury lawsuits in the nation as a whole, in Brooklyn it’s more like 3X.

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