I love circles, which I guess would be a redundant statement on the Twelve Mile Circle. I’ve been toying with a concept in the back of my mind for awhile. What it the smallest circle that I can draw on a map that touches the largest number of countries? Google Maps doesn’t offer such a tool and I felt guilty after I badgered them for something like two years to get county lines, so I let it slide. Still, I wanted to know.
There are radius tools designed by private software developers using the Google Maps application programming interface (API) but I kept hoping Google would cave-in and develop one themselves. It hasn’t happened. Finally I turned to one of the outsider tools. Thus, the maps today are not embedded or interactive in any way. They are screen prints. You can’t click on them. Well, you can but they won’t do anything.
It made no sense to ponder the smallest circle touching one, two or three nations. That’s just silly. I began my quest by examining four nations instead. I can’t promise I found everything. Hopefully this will get the ball rolling so that others can build upon my platform
The best example I could find was Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. One can draw a circle with a radius of perhaps a tenth of a kilometre touching all four countries where the Kazungula Ferry crosses Zambezi River (map). It might even be a quadripoint. Nobody is completely sure and it would entail definitive surveys by all four nations. I’m not going to spend much more time on this topic because I covered it previously on What Happened to the Handle?. I will add one editorial comment though: this spot is high on the list of places I’d love to visit someday.
I’ve also discussed the second best example I found, a radius of 1.5 km touching Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey (map) in Fictional Geo-Marathons. Ditto for the third, a radius of 17 km touching Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland centered on Diepoldsau, Switzerland (map).
Tied for third, with a 17 km radius, finally I can print a new map. The four nations are Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg, centered practically right atop Luxembourg City. I’ve been to Luxembourg a number of times. It’s a nice place, and indeed it’s a convenient way to hit a number of nations with minimal effort. I took a ridiculous trip for that very purpose once and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.
I found a few other examples.
- 22 km radius: Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Western Sahara (albeit Western Sahara is disputed)
- 25 km radius: Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria
- 32 km radius: Austria, Italy, Lichtenstein, Switzerland
Then I turned my attention to five nations. The overly-fragmented situation of the Balkans provided plenty of opportunities to examine possibilities
The best instance I could find was a circle with a radius of about 70 km touching Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Albania. For added drama, and depending on whether one recognizes Kosovo, the same circle could touch six nations!
This was followed closely by a radius of 80 km that included Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. This one was fun because the final nation was found on the other side of the Red Sea. That’s where the circle picked up Yemen.
It was around that time that I began to lose interest in my circular game. Obviously one could use the tool to see if better examples existed or to extend the game to larger numbers of nations. I was thinking that perhaps various Caribbean islands might be a possibility.
Every once in a great while, whenever I get a little curious and begin to wonder, I go back through my older web logs and see if I’ve recorded any more first-time international visitors. This is becoming an increasingly unusual discovery. I’ve been running Google Analytics for two-and-a-half years. Almost all sovereign nations of any size, shape or location, and even some that would seem to highly unlikely, have sent at least one visitor across my transom.
African nations provided all four of my new additions during the Spring of 2010. That’s a great thing. I’ve struggled to attract more visitors from Africa for the longest time. I do get a decent amount of traffic from South Africa including a few regular readers who subscribe to the blog on RSS. However, I still haven’t managed to resonate much with other readers from the continent. I continue to find it difficult to post geo-topics that might interest an African audience.
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Nouakchott is the capital and largest city in Mauritania. This is a hot, dry locale although it’s not quite as extreme as some other cities in the region thanks to steady breezes that originate on the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The city has a deepwater port and serves as a trading gateway to Western Africa.
I have absolutely no idea why my visitor had an interest in an obscure Midwestern family and its mundane dealings between June 7 and August 21, 1903. This page comes from the genealogy side of my website and it would probably interest only the most dedicated band of hard-core sociologist or researcher.
Then I think I figured it out. It talked about tea parties. The viewer might have been searching for information on the recent Tea Party political phenomenon in United States. Perhaps she’s a friend of this blog’s (theoretically but highly unlikely) most famous reader.
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I have a definite soft spot for Sierra Leone because of a gentleman I knew from that West African nation. We toiled together as we pursued our graduate degrees many years ago.
I’m glad I finally managed to attract a visitor from Freetown, its capital city. Freetown was founded in 1787 by freed slaves relocated from the Americas with support of British abolitionists. I just learned that tidbit. That’s really cool. I probably should have guessed it if only I’d pondered the derivation of the city’s name. I’m more familiar with the story of Liberia, its neighbor, but I digress. Today Freetown is a city of a million people so I suppose it’s safe to conclude they succeeded.
However, I cannot figure out for the life of me why this first-time visitor cared that Arizona does not recognize daylight saving time. Maybe they were contemplating a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer? That seems really tenuous.
The CIA World Factbook estimates only 13,900 Internet users in Sierra Leone (as of 2008). This one was a good catch.
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My next new visitor came from Lusaka, Zambia. Nearly a third of the Zambian population lives in this capital city. Once again it’s not too surprising that my initial voyager came from the settlement with the preponderance of infrastructure and economic resources. The name Zambia derives from the Zambezi River, a vital connection to the outside world in this landlocked country.
So why were they interested in John Harvard’s Brew House, a small brewpub chain clustered in the northeastern United States. Did the Harvard thing confuse him or was he truly an aficionado of craft breweries?
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Finally, I received a virtual guest from Namibia who geo-located to its capital city, Windhoek. A big chunk of Namibians reside in that locale and once again we find a situation where disproportionate amounts of financial resources and infrastructure focus on the capital. Windhoek would be the most likely place to send a Namibian Internet visitor my way. South Africa controlled Namibia for much of the Twentieth Century up until 1990 so I’m a little surprised that it took this long to record a tally on the website simply because of cultural similarities between the privileged elites that would most likely have Internet access.
My Namibian visitor searched for "cartography" on the Twelve Mile Circle blog. This viewer might be someone with a true appreciation of odd geography. I can only hope, can’t I? I’ve since recorded other Windhoek visits which seem to support that assertion.
Slowly the map fills-in.
While I spend a lot of my free-time reading, researching and writing online, I freely admit to one guilty pleasure: I enjoy curling up with a daily newspaper at the end of each day. There’s something about the feel of paper, the ease of use, and the depth of coverage that makes me happy.
I’m not the type of person who normally forwards cartoons or plaster them around the home or office, but every once in awhile one catches my eye. On Thursday while leafing through a printed tree carcass, I spotted one that lined up with the theme of Twelve Mile Circle. While I’m confident I could reproduce the cartoon here under the doctrine of "Fair Use," I’m sensitive to those things so I’ll request that you open a link to another tab or window if you want to view it — The strip is called "Close to Home" by John McPherson, and the cartoon appeared on January 8, 2009.
Here’s the setup: Four students walk along a school hallway. Each student wears a different mask in the shape of a country; Paraguay, Mongolia, Sudan and Namibia. The caption reads, "Concerned about the poor geography skills of U.S. students, Westfield School District found a creative way to address the problem."
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But take a look at poor Namibia. It’s missing it’s most interesting feature, the eastern panhandle. I contend the author did this on purpose. He’s working the joke on multiple levels, including a little tweak at the expense of those who were lucky enough to have received a quality education. The masses will chuckle at the perceived deficiencies of our educational system. The educated will delight in the irony of a cartography error. The all-knowingly self-righteous will billow and write nasty letters to the publisher about Mr. McPherson contribution to the problem. The rest of us will realize the joke’s on everyone else. It’s too obvious to be a mistake. It’s a cartoon.
I’ve wanted to talk about Namibia’s eastern panhandle, Caprivi, for quite awhile and this gives me a perfect introduction. It’s been sitting on that pile of topics waiting in reserve for just the right moment to jump onto the screen. Somehow, until this cartoon came along, I’d always found something else to feature.
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Caprivi is the common designation but it goes by others labels such as the Caprivi Strip, Okavango Strip and Itenge. It extends an amazing 450 kilometers (280 miles) from the northeast corner of Namibia to a point deep within the African interior, and owes its existence to the Zambezi River.
The Germans felt a continental route across southern Africa might benefit trade, communication or movement between colonial possessions, Deutsch-Südwestafrika (German South-West Africa, now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). It would provide a nice option to an ocean voyage. Caprivi was their ticket to the Zambezi River watershed, which in turn drained to the Indian Ocean on the eastern side of the continent.
SOURCE: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zambezi_river_basin.jpg under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, 1.2+
Notice how the Zambezi watershed includes Caprivi as well as the western border of Tanzania
They simply traded for it with the United Kingdom in 1890. Things like that were possible under the cavalier attitudes of colonialism. It was a rather complicated arrangement called the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty that involved swapping territories, geographic interests, spheres of influence and all sorts of other things that I won’t bother to cover here except that it delivered Caprivi to German control. Funny thing, it turned out that the Zambezi River wasn’t navigable all the way down from Caprivi. It included a little thing called Victoria Falls, perhaps the largest set of falls on earth, as well as a number of other obstacles. The falls were known by Europeans decades before 1890 so I’m not sure what monumental feat of German engineering was envisioned to get around the problem.
Nonetheless the strip became a permanent part of the colony and it would be inherited by the modern nation of Namibia. It’s more than a curiosity. It actually important strategically both to Namibia and to the African continent. Through here runs the TransCaprivi Highway, connecting a huge swath of south-central Africa to Namibia’s port at Walvis Bay. It’s also a vital link in the northernmost paved road crossing Africa between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans (consider how far south this is and let that fact sink in for awhile). The Germans had the right idea but they were off by a full century. The TransCaprivi Highway wasn’t completed until 1999.
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If all that weren’t enough, let’s ponder one additional fascinating feature of Caprivi. Even this panhandle has a panhandle. The tip-of-the-tip narrows down to next to nothing. Only a kilometer separates it from a shared border with Zimbabwe, and had it extended just this small fraction further it would have created a Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana quadripoint!