Smallest Country on Two Oceans

On September 7, 2017 · 1 Comments

While I researched the Smallest Multiple Time Zone Countries I noticed that a small corner of Chile actually abutted the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of kilometres of its coastline hugged the Pacific Ocean and that one tiny little corner curved and extended far enough to reach the Atlantic. I enjoyed that meaningless anomaly for some unknown reason. I thought about it some more. Chile might not be that remarkable after all, I concluded. One would expect a large nation to possibly touch two oceans. Of course that led to a quest to find the smallest country with that distinction.

I created a couple of ground rules for this particular exercise. First, the landmass needed to be contiguous. I didn’t care about nations with lots of far-flung islands. Otherwise I would select something silly and call it a day. Next, I used a fairly relaxed definition of "ocean." For instance the Caribbean Sea served as an extension of the Atlantic, so I considered it to be part of the Atlantic too.

Timor-Leste


Clouds over Jaco Island, Timor Leste
Clouds over Jaco Island, Timor Leste. Photo by Kate Dixon on Flickr (cc)

Timor-Leste (or East Timor in English) covered the eastern half of Timor Island, with the other half belonging to Indonesia. It also included that interesting little exclave called Oecusse towards the western side of the island. The Timor Island split occurred because of colonialism. Dutch powers originally controlled the present-day Indonesian portion. Portuguese powers controlled the east, thus giving rise to the name Timor-Leste. The nation suffered through a rather tumultuous period despite its recent independence. Indonesian forces invaded it, a brutal civil war took place, and Australian troops came as peacekeepers a couple of different times. Things seem to have settled down in the last few years, though.

Back to the point, Timor-Leste covered only 14,874 square kilometres (5,743 square miles). The northern coastline hugged the Savu Sea, a part of the Pacific Ocean. It’s southern side touched the Timor Sea, part of the Indian Ocean. I’m not sure who made the rules about where one ocean began and the other ended. I guess the line had to go somewhere so that’s the arbitrary situation it created. These things are all artificial anyway. Timor-Leste seemingly "won" my trivial competition.

The two seas met at the nation’s easternmost point, a place called Jaco Island (map). A narrow channel separated it from the rest of the country, protecting it as part of Nino Konis Santana National Park. Nonetheless, for a few bucks, local fishermen reportedly would take take tourists to its pristine beaches on unsanctioned visits. That’s what the Intertubes said although I don’t necessarily endorse such clandestine behavior.


Israel


Eilat - Panorama night 1 - by Ron Borkin
Eilat – Panorama. Photo by Ron Borkin via israeltourism on Flickr (cc)

The next smaller occurrence surprised me a little. I didn’t really think of Israel as bordering two oceans. Nonetheless I believed it did based on my simple rules. Certainly it included an extensive coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, which served as an extension of the Atlantic Ocean. I always forgot about its access to the Gulf of Aqaba though, probably because the other coastline dwarfed it by comparison. The gulf led to the Red Sea which led to the Indian Ocean. Thus, Israel with a land area of 27,632 square kilometres (10,669 square miles) passed the test.

Just a few kilometres of Israeli coastline hugged the Gulf of Aqaba. It offered room for just one town, Eilat (אֵילַת). Historically, Eilat (map) traced back to the ancient world, even earning a mention in the Old Testament of the Bible. The unique situation of its geographic placement also guaranteed that it would remain a busy place in modern times. Israel, largely isolated by its neighbors, could use the port for easy access to Asian trading networks. Egypt and Jordan bordered on Eilat, and Saudi Arabia sat practically within eyesight towards the south. Those could all be bypassed using the waterway.

Eilat also provided a nice beach and served as a popular resort destination. One couldn’t drive too easily to the outside world from Israel so this would pretty much be the end of the line for a weekend getaway.


Costa Rica


Montezuma, Costa Rica
Montezuma, Costa Rica. Photo by Javier Bacchetta on Flickr (cc)

Next my attention turned to Central America. Every nation there except for Belize and El Salvador bordered both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, an extension of the Atlantic Ocean. I only had to pick the smallest one. That honor went to Costa Rica with a land area of 51,060 square kilometres (19,710 square miles). What a spectacular set of coastline it had too. Costa Rica featured more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) of water access.

Tourists began to flock to Costa Rica in recent years for its beaches. Some of the most spectacular examples ringed the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific side of the country. If someone traveled to the farthest spot, to the tip of the peninsula, one would find Playa Montezuma (map). This playa (beach) had a reputation for being both relaxing and cheap, a destination for aging hippies.

Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 4 Comments

Today begins an effort to try to increase pushpins on the 12MC Complete Index Map for nations underrepresented by previous articles. This came from a realization that I’d continued to overlook certain parts of the world even after hundreds of posts. I’ll try to make it an occasional, relevant and unobtrusive effort, as with the following topic du jour.

It surprised me to learn how little information existed on the Intertubes about the highest points of elevation in each of the countries of Central America, beyond their simple names and locations. That wasn’t only English-language content either. I found little Spanish coverage as well. In fact, the highpoints of individual U.S. states seemed to receive better treatment from the digital masses than international highpoints of Central America. Mountain climbing sites such as Summitpost.org offered the most detailed accounts, albeit with not much even there.

I began by compiled the highpoint peaks onto a single map.



View Highpoints for Central American Nations in a larger map

I dug a little deeper, examining each of the seven Central American national highpoints from highest altitude to lowest. Oddly enough, the two lowest highpoints might actually be the most difficult to summit.


Guatemala: Volcán Tajumulco 4,220 metres (13,845 feet)



The highest point of Central America sat atop a Guatemalan stratovolcano, Volcán Tajumulco. While it’s possible for climbers to reach the mountaintop using their own resources and efforts, many people sign-on with one of several local guide groups that specialize in this activity. The trip took most people at least two days. One guide explained,

Conquering Tajumulco is no walk in the park. At the uppermost reaches of the volcano, the air is thin, the temperature plummets and the effects of altitude are likely to cause hikers some degree of discomfort.

The climb wasn’t supposed to be super-technical. The altitude seemed to be a primary issue.


Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó 3,820 m (12,533 ft)


Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica by Monty VanderBilt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Many of the tallest Central American mountains traced to a recent volcanic origin. Cerro Chirripó, the centerpiece of Chirripó National Park did not. Rather, Chirripó belonged to the Sierra de Talamanca, the intrusive eroded core of a long dormant volcanic range subsequently uplifted.

Vegetation and climate changed with elevation as one would expect: "The mountains in this area are covered in thick primary cloud and rainforest to about 9,000′ elevation. From there, the Paramo, or wet desert is the primary ground cover." Sources claimed that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central America happened here, -9°C (16°F), although I couldn’t find a primary source to corroborate it.

Many climbers took the mountain in two stages. They checked-in and receive a permit at a ranger station, stopped at Base Crestones and then made the final push to the summit.


Panamá: Volcán Barú 3,475 m (11,401 ft)


technologically advanced summit
technologically advanced summit by steve hanna, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

What better location to place an array of antennae and broadcast towers than the highest point in Panamá? Obviously the people who constructed these installations didn’t drag all of that material up the slope by hand. They drove. A steep, muddy, rutted road climbed to the summit, and provided a primary route for hikers as well. Once atop, on a clear morning visitors reported that it was possible to see both the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean from the same spot. That would be a very rare and precious sight, indeed.


Honduras: Cerro Celaque – Las Minas 2,870 m (9,416 ft)


Cerro Celaque, Honduras
Cerro Celaque, Honduras by Joe Townsend, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Honduras didn’t focus much attention on its national highpoint although it did establish Celaque National Park in 1987 to create a protective reserve. The mountainous terrain could be best described as a "cloud forest" with increasing amounts of rainfall as one ascended. That water had to flow somewhere, and the slopes of Cerro Celaque provided headwaters to several local rivers. Honduras.com explained that Celaque derived from the local Lenca language, meaning "box of water."

…it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.


El Salvador: Cerro El Pital 2,730 m (8,957 ft)



Cerro El Pital might be the most visited Central American national highpoint. Interestingly, the summit itself was in neighboring Honduras so the highest point of El Salvador wasn’t even the highest point of the mountain. A road, the Ruta El Pital, provided convenient access and made the park very attractive to visitors. The easiest highpoint hiking option involved a 3-minute walk from the camping area. One account described the situation:

The views were nice, but I was not expecting to share the road with so many cars. The road is not just a hiking trail, but an actual road. There was not a steady stream of cars, but enough to be a bit annoying… HUGE!!!! camping area with hundreds of tents every weekends. A lot of people, dogs searching your tents and many STUPID people with fancy cars with super-sounds system to annoying everybody.

It didn’t seem contemplative or relaxing. However, if someone ever wanted a quick dash-and-grab highpoint in Central America, this would be the place to do it.


Nicaragua: Mogotón 2,107 m (6,913 ft)


Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua
Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua by cam landrix, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Not much more than two thousand metres high and yet Mogotón might not be an optimal choice even though Reserva Nacional Cordillera Dipilto y Jalapa was created to protect it. The situation traced back to recent history from a generation ago. Sandinista forces placed numerous explosive mines throughout the area during the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980’s. Many of those mines continue to lay buried and forgotten, just waiting for an unwary hiker to step in the wrong spot. Compounding that, jungle covered Mogotón and made it difficult to discern clear trails to the summit. It wouldn’t be advisable to approach the Nicaragua highpoint without a local guide.


Belize: Doyle’s Delight 1,124 m (3,688 ft)



While barely a bump compared to other Central American highpoints, I enjoyed learning about Doyle’s Delight the most. First, it wasn’t identified and named until 1989. Second, nobody climbed it until 2008. From Summitpost.org,

Doyle’s Delight was named for its resemblance to the prehistoric setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel "The Lost World." Towering palms and strangler figs, their trunks wrapped in a green shag of ferns and mosses, rise and converge in a leafy canopy that keeps the moist forest floor in perpetual dusk. The ridge is so remote that the British Army’s jungle training unit, scientist and other researcher with multinational expedition drop most of the expedition members in by helicopter.

Go ahead and watch a few frames of the video shot during that initial expedition. Notice the spiked and poisonous trees, the venomous snakes, the hardships of the hike, and the determination of the climbers. It was hard to believe that even today remote corners continued to remain unexplored.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Subscribe
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Categories
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
December 2017
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31