The islands labeled on my map-placement that most intrigue me are those that I have never or barely heard of–for example, the Revillagigedo Islands. Wikipedia tells me that they are four volcanic islands in the Pacific about 300 miles off the coast of Baja California and are “under Mexican federal property and jurisdiction.” (I don’t know what that means.) The islands were uninhabited when Europeans came across these lands, but a naval station now has a staff of 45 on one of them.
Clipperton Island I have now learned (and will soon forget) is about five hundred miles southeast of one of the islands of the Revillagigedo archipelago. Maybe that would give you an idea where it is, but if not, it is about 600 miles southwest of Mexico, if that helps. It has not had inhabitants since the end of World War II, but about 100 people lived there in 1914 to mine guano deposits. By 1917, all but one of the males had died of scurvy and bloodshed. Several novels have been written about Clipperton. I have not read them; if you have and would recommend any, give a shoutout. The atoll is now an overseas state private property of France. (I don’t know what that means either
My eye has been drawn to the placement section labeled Crozet Islands. I am looking in the southern Indian ocean closer to Antarctica than any place sensible. My intensive five-minute research tells me that the islands were whaling and sealing centers in the nineteenth century, and now two dozen people are stationed there doing meteorological, biological, and geological research. I do not fantasize about a visit. The average highs during summer are about fifty degrees, and while it seldom gets extremely cold, it rains 300 days a year and winds exceeding sixty mph occur one in three days. Do the handful of researchers consider this a good posting?
Amsterdam Island, roughly in the same part of the world as the Crozet Islands, is about equidistant between Madagascar, Antarctica, and Australia, which, of course, is another description for the middle of nowhere. A Spaniard first came across the then uninhabited dot in 1522, but he was not even impressed with it enough to give it a name, which came a hundred years later when a Dutch mariner named the island after his ship. (Did he not have a mother?) Amsterdam Island, too, was once a sealing center; it, too, does not have a native population; and it, too, has a research station with a couple dozen people. It, however, might be a better place to study whatever they study than Crozet. It has a mild, oceanic climate, with average highs in the 50s to near 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
St. Paul Island is Amsterdam’s neighbor, only 60 miles away. (There are other St. Paul Islands around the world, including one north of Cape Breton.) Amsterdam Island is ten times the size of St. Paul, but that doesn’t say much since Amsterdam is only twenty-one square miles. I can’t imagine what it is like to live on two square miles of land in the middle of the ocean, and apparently no one else knows either because St. Paul does not even have a research station and is uninhabited.
Even more remote—“one of the most isolated places on Earth”—are the Kerguelen Islands in the sub-Antarctic, but the main island is comparatively large, about two-thirds the size of Corsica. The weather “harsh and chilly with frequent high winds” surrounded by seas that “are generally rough.” Even though the Kerguelens are also known as the Desolation Islands, about five or six dozen soldiers, engineers, and scientists are there conducting research.
The Kerguelen Islands may be remote and isolated, but the Heard Islands are even closer to Antarctica and—surprise, surprise—uninhabited. However, 150 years ago up to 200 people “living in appalling conditions in dark smelly huts” were there until they wiped out the seal population. Not surprisingly, the “meteorological records at Heard Island are incomplete,” but what is known does not indicate an enticing climate.
The Heard Islands are followed on my placemat by the legend (Aust.) and the Amsterdam, St. Paul, and Kerguelen Islands are followed by (Fr.) while (U.K.) appends St. Helena. These are not the only countries who “own” remote, uninhabited specks. My eye scans the map, and I quickly see N.Z., India, Japan, U.S., Port., Sp., Mex., Ec. Den., Nor., and more. I am sure that many of these places present some sort of adventure or political story, contain unusual flora and fauna, and are the site of important research, but my little bit of reading has not made me want to seek them out. I realize that I live on an island and travel frequently to another isle. While both are familiar each also contain new stories and sights that continue to fascinate me. I don’t need to visit those specks on my map.
On the other hand, Aruba, with a status I don’t understand—it is a “constituent country” of the Kingdom of the Netherlands—has an average high of 86 degrees in January with infrequent rain. Some might consider this more pleasant than the winter weather of Long Island and Manhattan.