February 15, 2011

Tips of the Continents

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

For some reason, humans like to travel to extreme or notable points on the globe: the north pole, the south pole, the southernmost point of this, the northernmost point of that, the westernmost point of this, the easternmost point of that, the highest point of that, the lowest point of that, continental divides, the equator, the arctic circle, the prime meridian, and many others.

I’m not sure why these extreme or notable points– which often don’t look like much when you visit them or which can be crazy tourist traps– are such significant travel goals for humans. Perhaps humans like having a place to seek, a destination that drives them onward rather than just a place to wander across. I suppose that this is one reason I like traveling for geology. Geology gives me specific places I need to reach: a roadcut, a stratigraphic boundary, a fossil-hunting ground, a mineral spring, a fault, an erratic boulder, a sculpture carved into a rock, a rock arch, a glacial striation, a sand dune, and so on.

On the other hand, I sometimes wish there were more time for wandering on busy, fully-scheduled geology trips. Much of my travel has, wonderfully, been funded by my geology research and geology class field trips. This is one reason I decided to become a geologist– I am often paid to travel, and I find this wonderful. However, after my PhD, I plan to take a little time off and do some wandering with no formal geology obligations. I’m sure I’ll wander across some wonderful places and some amazing geology anyway.

Maybe in my wanderings I’ll visit a few more so-called extreme points on the globe. So far, I haven’t been to too many extreme points. I guess I’ve made some progress on visiting the southernmost points of continents. I’ve been to the southernmost point of Africa and the southernmost point of Asia. Well, sort of. One of the problems with many extreme places (well, the ones that are easier to reach, perhaps not Mt. Everest and the poles) is that they attract tourists. Sometimes, locals might exaggerate or even make-up the “extreme” characteristics of their home place in order to attract more tourists.

Cape Agulhas, South Africa seems to be the geographical southernmost tip of Africa. Sentosa Island, on the other hand, seems dubious in its claim to be the southernmost point of continental Asia. I think perhaps Sentosa made up this claim to attract tourists. First of all, Sentosa is an island and not really part of continental Asia. Excluding islands, I think the southernmost tip of Asia should be located in Malaysia. Second of all, Sentosa is not the southernmost Asian island. Including islands, I think the southernmost tip of Asia should  be located in Indonesia. However, Sentosa is a beautiful– if touristy– place, so I recommend visiting anyway. You can even take a picture next to Sentosa’s dubious, slightly Engrish sign proclaiming “Southernmost Point of Asia Continent” if you want.

Perhaps I’ll try to visit the southernmost points of some other continents in my post-PhD wanderings– just five to go. Or maybe six.

Jackie (my fiance) and I at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, South Africa, March 2009.
Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, South Africa, March 2009.
Rocks hanging out at the southernmost tip of Africa, March 2009.
Southernmost point of Singapore, but probably not of Asia, Sentosa, August 2007.
Beautiful Sentosa beach, August 2007.
Beautiful Sentosa bridge, August 2007.