I’ve held my counting fixation at bay recently although it lurks just below the surface ready to strike. It emerged briefly during the summer as I crossed the borders into several new counties in Utah and it disappeared just as quickly when I focused on other pursuits. It’s been much longer since I paid attention to the world map of new Twelve Mile Circle visitors. I think that’s because I’ve already colored-in all but the most stubborn territories.
Nonetheless, curiosity got the best of me so I checked it again over the weekend. I’d added only two new countries since last spring: Andorra and Somalia. Don’t get me wrong, these are great catches. I’m pleased to have attracted my first visitors from both of these nations. Somalia brought a particular sense of satisfaction. The Somalia internet domain did not exist for several years while the nation dealt with larger issues. A country code top-level domain (".so") didn’t become available again until April 2011 when ICANN re-delegated it to Somalia’s Ministry of Information, Post and Telecommunications.
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I attracted my first Somali guest soon thereafter, thus coloring-in what had been one of the larger blank spots remaining on my map. The visitor landing on my website arrived from Hargeisa, the second largest city in Somalia and the capital of Somaliland, a self-declared sovereign state. I guess I’ll find myself in an interesting position if Somalia splits and Somaliland becomes an independent nation. Somaliland will have already been captured in my logs but I’ll have to go back and pick up Somalia again.
This is not an academic exercise according to my completely arbitrary yet fully binding rules of international website visitor fixations. That might have also happened to me with the creation of South Sudan. Google Analytics is a bit slow. It still shows the outdated Sudan borders so I’ll just have to wait that one out a little longer.
What’s still missing?
Antarctica, Ascension Island, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Comoros, Cook Islands, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Falkland Islands, French Southern Territories, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Kiribati, Montserrat, Niger, Niue, Norfolk Island, North Korea, Pitcairn Islands, Republic of the Congo, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Helena, Samoa, San Marino, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, South Sudan (possibly), Tokelau, Tuvalu, Vatican City, Wallis and Futuna.
Many of these locations are tiny islands in remote locations or they’re impoverished areas of Africa where English isn’t a predominant language. Still, I hold out hope that some of these places may check in eventually.
This is the part where I beg again
There are a number of regular readers from the UK. Perhaps one of you knows someone who resides in or plans to visit any of the more obscure British Overseas Territories? Maybe send them a link to this page and ask them drop by for a quick visit? I’ll give double bonus points and abundant recognition if they post a comment.
I can’t believe I’m still missing San Marino either. Surely somebody plans to stop there soon? However, Vatican City is a bit more enigmatic. I have it under good authority that someone once clicked from that location but it apparently registered as Rome in the statistics. A similar thing happened to me when I was on the French side of St. Martin — all of my activity registered as the Netherlands Antilles. I think in certain situations the Internet gateways may not aligning exactly with territorial boundaries.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get Heard Island and McDonald Islands though. It’s doesn’t have a permanent population.
We’re one step closer to an American Meridian Happy Hour. The operative phrase is: "The nearly 5,500 square foot restaurant features a 54-seat bar…" Right now I’m thinking January after we get the Holidays behind us. I will send out a formal announcement ahead of time.
I noticed something interesting when I created a recent article, Highest Lowpoints. The diminutive size and mountainous terrain of Andorra, trapped firmly between Spain and France, creates all sorts of interesting opportunities for practical exlaves and near-misses.
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Most of you are probably aware of practical exclaves. Others readers may require a quick summary: An exclave is an area of a nation that is completely separated from the main body of a nation. The U.S. state of Alaska would be a prime example. A practical exclave on the other hand is connected physically to the main body of a nation but not in any convenient manner. Ireland’s Drummully Polyp is a classic instance of this phenomenon.
I’m not sure it really matters in Andorra except as an interesting academic exercise. Andorra is not a party to the Schengen Agreement. That could be a problem on a theoretic level, for those requiring access to a practical exclave on either side of the border. According to Wikipedia, which has varying levels of accuracy,
Border controls remain on Andorra’s borders with both France and Spain. Citizens of EU countries require either their national identity cards or passports to enter Andorra, while anyone else requires a passport or equivalent. Those travelers who need a visa to enter the Schengen Area need a multiple-entry visa to visit Andorra, because entering Andorra means leaving the Schengen Area
Other sources seem to imply that border controls have been removed or relaxed to the point of becoming a formality. Has anyone in the 12MC audience crossed the Andorra border recently and have a more accurate assesment?
I found several examples of practical exclaves, all on the border between Spain and Andorra. The French side presents much more mountainous terrain and many fewer roads that seem to cross between the border areas. The geography is much more difficult to navigate from France.
My search started at the primary crossing from Spain where the satellite image shows border controls in place (at least at the time the image was captured).
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This map shows a few nice instances; a couple of loops and then a road forking into the hills. It’s a practical exclave because it’s obviously part of Andorra but a citizen can’t reach this area without venturing into Spain. Well, an Andorran could probably hike to this remote corner without leaving his national territory but it wouldn’t be possible to drive there in an automobile. That’s how practical exclaves work. It’s not impossible, just inconvenient.
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Here are two examples of "almost" practical exclaves. Let’s say our Andorran citizen owned farmland along this stretch of the border. He would need to use the Spanish road to get to his forests and fields. He would park his car and then walk a metre or two across the international boundary and onto his land. If he built a little driveway then it would become a perfect instance.
Then I checked on the eastern side of the main road leading from Spain to Andorra.
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The opposite condition exists on this side. It’s Spanish territory that comprises practical exclaves, with access from the Andorran side of the border.
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Neither of them are particularly large but it’s fun to watch how the road slides across international borders with little apparent meaning to the people who constructed them. I’m sure there are other instances so I’ll leave those for someone else to explore. It was a nice hour-long diversion.
There’s a tendency to wonder about the highest point of land as one examines an area from afar. People make quite a hobby out of of collecting visits to those highpoints even for remarkably small subunits. I’ve been know to do that myself and I’ve featured the results of my efforts on these very pages. However, considerably less attention is given to lowpoints. Where are the web pages devoted to the achievements of state and county lowpointers? Exactly. They don’t receive nearly the same level of respect as their summit climbing brethren.
I recognize that California has the lowest U.S. state lowpoint at Death Valley near the lowest public restroom in North America. I wondered though about the opposite extreme, the state with the highest lowpoint. I found a ready answer from the website of a regular reader, Dale Sanderson of usends.com. The answer is Colorado. It’s lowpoint occurs where the Arikaree River crosses into northwestern Kansas, at an elevation of 1,010 metres (3,315 feet). He can explain it much better than I, so take a look at his writeup and see how he convinced both the State of Colorado and the U.S. Geological Survey to correct a long-standing error.
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I also examined Canadian provinces and territories. That’s a much easier exercise since all but two have coastlines so their lowpoints have to be less than or equal to zero by definition. That leaves Alberta and Saskatchewan in the running. Whichever has the higher lowpoint gets bragging rights for Canada as neither province nestles any pockets below sea level.
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Saskatchewan wins. The highest provincial lowpoint can be found along the shore of Lake Athabasca on the boundary with Alberta. Water then flows from Lake Athabasca on the Alberta side of the border into the Slave River where it exits the province. This puts Saskatchewan "uphill" from Alberta and it has the higher lowpoint: 213 m (699 ft) vs. 152 m (499 ft).
I tried the same exercise with the UK, Ireland, France and others but I could not find reliable lowpoint elevations for their divisions. It seems the Americans and Canadians may be uniquely obsessed with this phenomenon.
Lowpoint information at the national level, however, is readily available so let’s determine champions by continent. Africa wins, hands-down. Lesotho has a lowpoint of 1400 m (4,593 ft) where the Makhaleng River joins the Senqu River at the border with South Africa, where it then becomes known as the Orange River (map).
Europe follows, and again it’s a small mountainous nation that has a natural advantage. Andorra’s Gran Valira River flows into Spain at 840 m (2,756 ft) above sea level (map). The primary route between these two nations runs directly alongside the river. No doubt, many tourists and residents alike get an opportunity to visit Europe’s highest national lowpoint but they probably never realize it.
Next comes Asia at Hoh Nuur in Mongolia (map) at 518 m (1,699 ft). South America follows with the confluence of the Rio Paraguay and Río Negro in Bolivia, on the Bolivian side of the Bolivia-Brazil-Paraguay (BOBRPA) tripoint (map). This highest national lowpoint for South America sits at 90 m (295 ft) above sea level. This will change if Bolivia ever gains it coastline back and frees its landlocked navy.
North America does not have any landlocked nations. There are any number of countries that tie for highest continental lowpoint along their respective seacoasts. Any nation without dry land below sea level would qualify. Finally, Australia trails the pack. It’s unique position as both a continent and a country skews the results. It has only a single national lowpoint that is actually below sea level, -15 m (-49 ft) at Lake Eyre (map). I discussed the the Lake Eyre Yacht Club in a previous article.
And Antarctica is moot in this context.