In the winter of 1991 I spent a month on the Pulau Weh at the westernmost tip of Sumatra.
The quiet island was remote. Few westerners ventured north from Medan. There were better beaches in Thailand and an ethically more interesting culture around Lake Toba, however I was drawn to this destination knowing it was the end of the great Indonesian archipelago.
One evening I rode a 115cc motorcycle to the highest point of the island.
I was surprised to see distant island floating on the sunset’s horizon.
They were not on my Nelly map.
Upon my return to New York, I visited the map room of the 42nd Street library. The woman at the desk provided e with several maps, both nautical and topical.
No islands dotted the Indian Ocean so close to Pulau Weh other than Great Nicobar.
Google Maps shows a single island between the two.
It has no name.
Neither had the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the South China Sea. The unpopulated were terra incognita until a recent territorial spat between Japan and China introduced the desolate five islets and three barren rocks to the world.
At stake is an expansion of fishing and oil rights.
None of the islands have water and they cannot support permanent human habitation, but unlike those islands north of Pulau Weh they are on the map and no nation owns them.
Same as Antarctica, however China has claimed air rights and international flights have been diverted from previous air traffic routes to avoid confrontation with a resurgent Middle Kingdom.
Both nations have naval ships cruising the waters.
Hopefully the winter weather will force the navies back to port and the Senkaku Islands will return to oblivion.
The Pacific Ocean almost looks clean this far from Man.
I hope it stays that way.