Friday, November 11, 2011

A Standoff at the Tropic of Capricorn

The Tropic of Capricorn is an imaginary line circling the globe at about 23 1/2 degrees south latitude. It separates the sub tropics (to the south) from the tropics (to the north). Its Northern Hemisphere corollary (at about 23 1/2 degrees north latitude) is the Tropic of Cancer that separates the subtropics (to the north) from the tropics (to the south). Halfway between them is another imaginary line, the Equator where, as a line in a Jimmy Buffett song states "you don't know if you're up or down."

I first crossed the Equator on an Air New Zealand flight from Honolulu to Nadi, Fiji. My seat partner on the 767 was a strange man from Vanuatu who was returning to his island after visiting his son in Washington DC. The pilot made an announcement just after sunrise that we were over the Equator stating that "this imaginary line circles the globe and separates the Northern Hemisphere from the Southern Hemisphere." Excitedly my seat partner threw himself across my chest, peered out the window in the gathering dawn, pointed and exclaimed "I see it!! I see it!! I see the Equator!!!" Once he was safely back in his seat and off my chest, I pushed the flight attendant call button and asked to be reseated.

When you cross the Tropic of Capticorn along the coast of Australia travelers have to guess about where the line resides. Only when you have come within a few feet of it are you aware that the Tropic is anywhere nearby. Just a nondescript sign by the edge of the road tells you that you have reached the Tropic.
Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn in Australia

The same holds when traveling on the N1 Motorway north of Johannesburg, South Africa. This line, so crucial to biological communities, travelers dreams and novelists imaginations is merely an after thought.

It is quite a different story when you cross the line in Kruger National Park.
Here at the magical line travelers first encounter a small sign informing you that you are at the Tropic. Instructions on the sign tell you that you may alight from your vehicle to take pictures however you are not permitted to stray any great distance from the roadside. A red brick line crosses the highway at this point ostensibly marking the exact location of the Tropic. On the other side of the road the South Africans erected a monument (shown above) to the line. You are encouraged to take pictures and learn something about the Tropic.
When I arrived at this crossing I had every intention of taking a few pictures. My only obstacle was a terribly British couple parked squarely in front of the monument. An older woman (when you're 60 years old the word "older" is relative) sat in the passenger side window while her Winston Churchill look-alike husband filled the driver side window. Behind them, completely blocked from my view, was the monument to the Tropic of Capricorn.

These two, obvious rejects from the House of Windsor, sat motionless in their truck. They took no pictures. or videos, and didn't even show binoculars like a wildlife watcher would. They just sat there occupying space and blocking my view.

Not wanting to be rude, I removed my camera from its bag, turned it on and pointed it toward their truck. Any reasonable person would have gotten the hint that I wanted to take at least one digital image. The Windsor rejects remained motionless.

I then stepped from my car and stood by its door while looking squarely at the Brits who blocked my view and the view of anyone else who may have foolishly stopped by. I was perplexed. Were they being territorial about a monument to an imaginary line? Were they just being discourteous? Or, were they just being massive pains in my ass? My guess quickly became the latter when the wife of this pair snarled at me saying "So I guess we're blocking your view, sir?"

How much more obvious could they be?

Responding with a smile on my face I said "As a matter of fact, you are."

Most intelligent let alone cognizant people would have now taken the obvious hint and at least moved a few inches to give me access to take a picture. Not these two! They just sat there.

The former Coach and Horses Pub in Sarasota was owned by a pair of similarly arrogant Brits. Despite living in the country on a visa they could receive only if they maintained a viable business, the former owners, Eric and Allan, reeked of uppity Britishness just like the pair blocking everyone's view of the Tropic of Capricorn monument behind them. I quickly understood why I had developed such a passionate dislike for Eric and Allan

When it seemed like this Mexican standoff was going to become the second iteration of the War of 1812 (which the Brits lost) the wife of this pair exploded at her husband yelling "Well just fucking piss off Edward, I'm ready to leave." Promptly, and on command, Edward started the engine, put the clutch in gear, and these two took off headed north into the tropics. As they did, Mrs. Edward snarled again saying to me "Cheerio, now the fucking monument is all yours."

I still have no idea what their big deal was with holding hostage everyone's view of the monument. Maybe they were still upset about losing the War of 1812? I hope they the rest of their day was better than the morning had obviously become.
I quickly took my pictures and headed south.


  1. And then there's the Tropic of Cancer at 23½° North Latitude. But you've forgotten the most important imaginary latitudinal line -- that line exactly halfway between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle. It runs through Barron County, Wisconsin.

  2. Thats right....Its a great line but its headed in the wrong direction!