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Geographic Oddities

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

As relics of wars and the treaties that followed, there are several bits of land that defy the usual rules of political geography.

Enclaves and Exclaves

Enclaves are sovereign countries entirely surrounded by another nation. An example is Lesotho, which is bordered on all sides by South Africa.

It is not a happy place despite its glorious scenery. There are many issues with living conditions such as poverty, high levels of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity, and poor quality housing. At 11,700 square miles (30,300 sq. km), Lesotho is about the size of Massachusetts and the biggest enclave in the world.

There are two smaller enclaves at the national level, San Marino (23 square miles) and the Vatican City (0.17 square miles). Both of these are entirely surrounded by Italy.

Exclaves are regions that are physically separated from the country to which they belong.

Point Roberts in America's Washington State is an historic anomaly that resulted from a poor knowledge of geography. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the border between the United States and British North America (later Canada) at the 49th parallel.

When the treaty was signed, nobody noticed that the boundary line lopped off the southern tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, which was Canadian territory, except for the nub below the 49th parallel.

There is only a primary school in Point Roberts so, from Grade 4 onward, children must make a 40-minute trip up the peninsular into Canada and then down into Blaine, Washington. That means crossing two international borders twice each day. There have been proposals for Point Roberts to join Canada but they have always come to nothing.

The boundary between Canada and the United States on Point Roberts.

The boundary between Canada and the United States on Point Roberts.

The Kentucky Bend comes by a number of other names—Bubbleland, Bessie Bend, and New Madrid Bend. It's a 30 square-mile peninsular that sits on an oxbow loop in the Mississippi River and is entirely surrounded by Tennessee and Missouri. It exists as a relic of sloppy surveying in the 17th century.

Tennessee has demanded sovereignty over the area several times and residents have been divided. At one time, a church was built straddling the border between Kentucky and Tennessee; congregants sat on either side of the church depending on which state had their loyalties.

Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, is part of Russia but it's separated from the mother country by 200 miles; Lithuania, and Poland cut it off from the main part of Russia. It's in a part of Eastern Europe where national borders have shifted over the centuries because of war.

For a long time, it was part of Prussia (Germany), but was occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II. The Soviet Union managed to hang on to the area in the peace settlement and, when that entity collapsed in 1991, it passed into the hands of Russia.

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The Congo Pedicle

Zambia in Central Africa is almost divided in two, by a section of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's called a pedicle because it looks like a small foot dangling off Congo, but it's far from small—it's about the size of New Jersey.

As with most of the national boundaries in Africa, it is a relic of colonial history. Cecil Rhodes was advancing from the south, claiming territory for Britain, while King Leopold II of Belgium was seeking to expand his vast personal Congo property.

There was no obvious geographical feature to separate Zambia (or Northern Rhodesia as it was then known) from Congo, so the two sides sat down and argued about who would get what. Of course, the people who lived in the region were not consulted, geopolitics being considered far too complicated for the African mind to grasp.

Eventually, the King of Italy, who never went near the area, was called in to decide on boundaries; this he did with a ruler and the Congo Pedicle was born. So, now a portion of Congo plunges into Zambia making the map of the latter look like an asymmetrical butterfly. This causes communication and travel problems for Zambia along with the danger of almost continuous Congolese conflict spilling over into generally peaceful Zambia.

Poles of Inaccessibility

Described by worldatlas.com as “the most remote points in the world. Poles of inaccessibility are challenging to reach and are often defined as the furthest location from the coastlines of a continent.”

We know about the Arctic and Antarctic Poles, but geographers identify other poles. The North Pole is not the same as the Arctic pole of inaccessibility, which is on floating ice pack with the nearest landmass being Ellesmere Island. Similarly, the Antarctic pole of inaccessibility is not the South Pole, but the point farthest from the sea.

The North American pole of inaccessibility is in the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, near the small communities of Allen and Kyle. The exact spot is 1,030 miles (1,650 kilometres) from the nearest coastline.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility is in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between New Zealand and Chile; it's 1,670 miles (2,688 kilometres) from the nearest land. Geographers have nicknamed the pole Point Nemo after the captain in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. The nearest people to this location are astronauts aboard the International Space Station when they fly over.

Bonus Factoids

  • Migingo Island is a half-acre lump of rock in Africa's Lake Victoria. Uganda and Kenya have been disputing ownership of the place for years and people from both countries live on it. You can learn more about it here.
  • In 1682, England's King Charles II decided to draw a 12-mile circle with the courthouse at New Castle, Delaware as its centre point. This land was given to William Penn and its existence gave rise to several geographic peculiarities, including the semi-circular boundary of the northern tip of Delaware.
  • Treasure Island—no, not the one Robert Louis Stevenson created, but a real one—sits in Lake Mindemoya, which is on Manitoulan Island, which is surrounded by Lake Huron. So, Treasure Island is an island in a lake on an island in a lake. Geographers call this phenomenon recursive.

Sources

  • “8 Facts about Living Conditions in Lesotho.” The Borgen Project, October 19, 2019.
  • “What to Know About Kaliningrad.” Matt Rosenberg, ThoughtCo, August 15, 2019.
  • “What Are Enclaves and Exclaves?” James Anderson, worldatlas.com, April 25, 2017.
  • “The Poles of Inaccessibility of Our Planet.” Amber Pariona, worldatlas.com, April 25 2017.
  • “11 American Geographic Anomalies.” Matt Hickman, treehugger.com, May 13, 2021.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor

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