Ever wandered Here?

ANDORRA

Have you ever heard of Andorra?

If not, well, you’re not alone!

In a previous post, being a responsible traveler, I discussed finding places that were less traveled and that brought me to this series, ‘Have you Been’. Before this, I was also unaware.

Would you just look it?! This place is spectacular!

Andorra is a tiny, independent principality situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains.

Andorra is best known for its ski resorts and a tax-haven status that encourages duty-free shopping. Oh, I do love some shopping!

The Capital, Andorra la Vella, has boutiques and jewelers on the main Meritxell Avenue and several shopping centers throughout the principality and the old quarter, Barri Antic, houses the old Romanesque Santa Coloma Church.

Andorra was originally created as a buffer state by the French leader Charlemagne during the Middle Age and this state was created to keep the Muslim Moors out of France. The Andorrans were there to fight off the Moors and protect France and in return Charlemagne would grant them a charter. There were actually several of these buffer states created and Andorra is the last one of these states that is still an independent country.

Andorra had a series of rulers starting with Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s grandson, in the 7th century. The state was then handed off to various leaders and at one point there was a dispute as to whether France or Spain owned Andorra and they decided to share it. Currently there are co-princes who rule the country; the Bishop of Urgell from Spain and the French President.

Although Andorra is a small, landlocked country, it still manages to do okay economically, which is mostly through tourism. It is also considered a tax haven for the rich that uses the Euro for its currency although it is not a member of the European Union.

The languages spoken are Catalan (official), French, Castilian, Portuguese and the population is around 77,000 (2018). The weather is relatively pleasant but can of course get cold and snowy in the winter and the summers are fairly mild.

Well, it looks like I have a new place to add on my list for Europe next year!

BARBADOS

Fun fact: Rihanna is from Barbados!

Barbados is an eastern Caribbean island and an independent British Commonwealth nation. Bridgetown, the capital, is a cruise-ship port full of colonial buildings and the Nidhe Israel, a synagogue founded in 1654.

All Around the island are fabulous beaches, botanical gardens, cave formations and amazing 17th-century plantation houses like St. Nicholas Abbey.

Most Barbados traditions are drawn from West African and British cultures and this is what has shaped the island. The majority of the islanders are of African descent, however, it was a British Empire Colony for over 300 years which is why the English influence is very strong.

Music and theatre plays a large role in the traditions, which include the Tuk Band and the Barbados Landship. The tuk band is a collection of brightly attired musicians playing a bass drum, kettle drum and pennywhistle. Their infectious rhythm is a call to get up and dance, or at least tap your feet, and this is generally accompanied by costumed figures such as the “Shaggy Bear”, “Mother Sally” and “Green Monkey”, and by the very talented stiltmen. The Barbados Landship is a truly unique part of our culture, whose origin can be traced back to the 1800’s. Although the organization was based on the British Navy, its dances are performed to an African rhythm, often accompanied by a tuk band, once again reflecting the merged cultures of Barbados.

Other local traditions include afternoon tea and cricket (the national sport), pottery, and island festivals. Oh, we can’t forget about the food!

Barbados is the eastern-most Caribbean island and is less that one million years old. This island was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, which makes it geologically unique, because it is actually two land masses that have merged together over the years.

The first indigenous people were Amerindians who arrived in Barbados from Venezuela. Paddling long dugout canoes that crossed the oceans. On the north end of Venezuela, there is a narrow sea channel called the Dragon’s mouth that acts as a funnel to the Caribbean sea and the nearest Island of Trinidad.

The Portuguese then came to Barbados en route to Brazil. It was at this time that the island was named Los Barbados (bearded-ones) by the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos. It was so named, presumably, after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance.

It was May of 1625 that The first English ship touched the island under the command of Captain John Powell, and the island was then claimed on behalf of King James I.

In February of 1627, Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves to occupy and settle the island. This expedition landed in Holetown, formerly known as Jamestown and the colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639. People with good financial backgrounds and social connections with England were allocated land and within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations.

During the 1630s, sugar cane was introduced to the agriculture. The production of sugar, tobacco and cotton was heavily reliant on the indenture of servants. White civilians who wanted to emigrate overseas could do so by signing an agreement to serve a planter in Barbados for a period of 5 or 7 years. To meet the labor demands, servants were also derived from kidnapping, and convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados. Descendants of the white slaves and indentured labor (referred to as Red Legs) still live in Barbados any live amongst the black population in St. Martin’s River and other east coast regions. At one time they lived in caves in this region.

A potential market formed for slaves and sugar-making machinery by the Dutch Merchants who were to supply Barbados with their requirements of forced labor from West Africa. The slaves came from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. Many slaves did not survive the journey from Africa, but many thousands still reached their destination.

The Barbadians dominated the Caribbean Sugar Industry in these early years, with the sugar plantation owners being powerful and successful businessmen who had arrived in Barbados in the early years. Many natural disasters occurred in the late 1600s, such as the locust plague of 1663, the Bridgetown fire and a major hurricane in 1667. Drought in 1668 ruined some planters and excessive rain in 1669 added to their financial problems. However, investment continued in sugar and slaves and by 1720 Barbadians were no longer a dominant force within the sugar industry. They had been surpassed by the Leeward Islands and Jamaica.

After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the superb education available on the island. After the citizens had been educated, they wanted something more than working in the cane fields. Some of them gained prominent offices in Barbados, while others worked in common jobs, and a few stayed in the cane fields.

Many people were drawn to Barbados because of the climate and slow pace of life. The island was thought of as a cure for “the vapours”. Even Major George Washington visited the island with his tuberculosis-stricken half brother in hope of ameliorating his illness. After the abolishment of slavery, there was a 4-year apprenticeship period during which free men continued to work a 45-hour week without pay in exchange for living in the tiny huts provided by the plantation owners.  Freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 at the end of the apprenticeship period with over 70,000 Barbadians of African descent taking to the streets singing a Barbados folk songs.

Barbados was first occupied by the British in 1627 and remained a British colony until internal autonomy was granted  in 1961. The Island gained full independence in 1966, and maintains ties to the Britain monarch represented in Barbados by the Governor General and is a member of the Commonwealth. 

Barbados is a place full of history and tradition, that has been transformed. The views are magnificent and the luxury that fills the island is captivating.

If you missed last week’s, Have you Been?, you can read all about Andorra here.

Have you been to Barbados?

COMOROS

The Comoros consists of the four main islands, off the East Coast of Africa: Ngazidja , Mwali, Nzwani, and Maore. The nearest countries to the Comoros are Mozambique, Tanzania, Madagascar, and the Seychelles.

The combined area of the volcanic archipelago is around 2200  km²; the island nation is slightly smaller than Luxembourg or slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. The population of Comoros is 770,000 (2015); the neighboring populations, the Seychelles has a little under 100,000, while Madagascar has over 27 million. The Capital and largest city is Moroni on the Grande Comore island. The spoken languages are Comorian (Comorian Swahili, a Bantu language), French, and Arabic, while Islam is the official state religion with 98% of the population are Sunni Muslims.

To add to the country’s troubles, two of the four major islands, Anjouan and Moheli, declared unilateral independence in a violent conflict in 1997. The natural resources are in short supply and the islands’ chief exports – vanilla, cloves and perfume essence – are prone to price fluctuations due to the demand around the world and the supply issues. One very important source of income is money being sent home by Comorans living abroad.

If you haven’t seen the 60 Minutes segment on how vanilla is made, I highly recommend it!

The history of Comoros is quite interesting and conflict torn, with the government being in utmost control. Did you know that the presidency of the union rotates between three islands? The current system, which sees power rotate every five years between the archipelago’s three main islands – and enable the president to run for two fresh five year-terms; the vice president has denounced the referendum. Thoughts on this system?

Comoros’ population is a mélange of Arabs, Persians, Indonesians, Africans, and Indians, and the much smaller number of Europeans that settled on the islands between the 8th and 19th centuries, when this location served as a regional trade hub. The Arab and Persian influence is most evident in the islands’ overwhelmingly Muslim majority, with about 98% of Comorans being Sunni Muslims. The country is densely populated, averaging nearly 350 people per square mile and Anjouan is the most densely populated.

Given the large share of land dedicated to agriculture and Comoros’ growing population, habitable land is becoming increasingly crowded. The combination of increasing population pressure on limited land and resources, motivates thousands of Comorians each year to attempt to illegally migrate using small fishing boats to the neighboring island of Mayotte, which is a French territory. The majority of legal Comorian migration to France came after Comoros’ independence from France in 1975, with the flow peaking in the mid-1980s.

At least 150,000 to 200,000 people of Comorian citizenship or descent live abroad, mainly in France, where they have gone seeking a better quality of life: job opportunities, higher education, due to there not being any universities in Comoros, advanced health care, and to finance elaborate traditional wedding ceremonies.

One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Comoros is made up of three islands that are hampered by inadequate transportation links, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources. The low educational level of the labor force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. Agriculture employs a majority of the labor force and provides most of the exports. Comoros’ export earnings are easily disrupted by disasters such as fires and extreme weather, which is most of the issues that plague this island nation. Despite agriculture’s importance to the economy, the country imports roughly 70% of its food and rice is the main staple.

Comoros faces an education system in need of upgrades with limited opportunities for private, commercial, and industrial enterprises. Recurring political instability, sometimes initiated from outside the country, and an ongoing electricity crisis have inhibited growth as well. The government has moved to improve revenue mobilization, reduce expenditures, and improve electricity access, although the public sector wage bill remains one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and in mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community.

Although Comoros is plagued with a poor economy and a history filled with instability, the people are strong and so is their sense of community. There is a grand regard for music and other performance arts, while other local artisans are skilled in sculpture, pottery, embroidery, and basketry. Customary celebrations in the Comoros often feature dancing, music and the re-creation of popular and important literary texts, including war epics and tales about the beginning of different villages. Embroidered ceremonial coats, Islamic bonnets, and curtains are donned and jewelry is also widely produced and sold.

Islam is the dominant religion, and it influences the Comoros’ culture and traditions run deep; there is also a Roman Catholic minority. Customs should be respected, though locals are generally tolerant of outside cultures. Many people also believe in earthly spirits and the power of djinn, which is derived from African, Arab and Madagascan traditions. Although alcohol is not banned but discretion should be used when drinking.

Have you been to Comoros?

If you missed my last, Have you been? series, I covered Barbados!

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