What's it's like to travel to a country that doesn't actually exist, according to a man who's been to 16 such places
- In 2009, Brazilian
travelwriter Guilherme Canever traveled to Somaliland, a former British protectorate that declared its independence from Somalia in 1991.
- No other country recognizes Somaliland's autonomy, even though it has a working political system, government, and its own currency.
- This fascinated Canever so much that he traveled to 15 other "countries" that aren't recognized by the United Nations, and thus don't officially exist.
- Some are dangerous and difficult to get to. Others are thriving tourist hotspots.
If a man visits countries that don't officially exist, where did he really go?
This is a question that fascinated Brazilian travel writer Guilherme Canever, 43. So far, he has been to 16 such places — nations that have not gained recognition by the United Nations (UN) and thus don't "officially" exist."According to the National Olympic Committee there are 206 countries, and to apply for an American visa there are 250 options of places where you're from," he told Insider. "So it's interesting. What is a country and how is it one? It changes. It's not just the countries that we think are countries."Advertisement
While the UN recognizes 193 countries, there are numerous nations that haven't gained recognition yet
According to the UN, for a country to be recognized it must have a permanent population, a defined territory with border controls, an independent government, relations with other countries, and be recognized by the UN.But while the UN only recognizes 193 member states, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), for example, has 211 affiliated countries, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) lists 249 country codes.
Intrigued by what he saw as a sort of fluidity in country-dom, Canever chose to visit 10 independent territories with what he describes as "limited recognition," and six autonomous regions that were either once independent or seeking independence.
Canever says he first became interested in traveling to off-the-beaten-path destinations around 20 years agoAround the year 2000, Canever says he stopped visiting mainstream attractions. A backpacker of the old school, Canever said he tried to stay with locals as much as he could. He wanted to get to know people, hear their stories, learn their customs, eat their cuisine.Advertisement
"What I like the most [about travel] is the culture, the people that live there. I really like to connect," he said, adding that he likes traveling alone because it forces him to be open to new people and experiences.
"I wanted to see the world before it changed," he said.Advertisement
By 2009, he had quit his job as an engineer to travel full-time along with his then-girlfriend and now-wife. He said their trips began focusing more and more on off-the-beaten-path spots.
"We can go to Western Europe when we're older, nothing is going to change," he remembers telling his then-girlfriend at the time. "We can go to the same attractions, but other places, they're changing very fast."They spent over two years on the road. During that trip, Canever decided to visit Somaliland, which got him hooked on exploring unrecognized nations. Advertisement
He said visiting Somaliland opened his eyes to countries that are not recognized elsewhere in the world
He was surprised to find that a Somali visa would not gain him entry into Somaliland: He needed a Somaliland visa. He also needed to exchange his money for local currency."That fascinated me so much because I was entering a country that's not recognized by any other country," he said. Despite no other country recognizing Somaliland's autonomy, it has its own laws, currency, and government.Advertisement
According to the BBC, the former British protectorate was once part of the Somali Republic. However, it declared independence in 1991, after overthrowing a Somali military dictator.After Somaliland, Canever started focusing on visiting places similarly not recognized, like the Republic of Transnistria, the Republic of Kosovo, Western Sahara, which is also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the State of Palestine, the Republic of Abkhazia, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Republic of South Ossetia, and Taiwan. Advertisement
He also visited autonomous regions in Russia, as well as Tibet, the Republic of Karakalpak, Kashmir, East Turkestan, and Kurdistan. While he says there are plenty of other autonomous regions, these were the ones that interested him the most.
"There are so many countries and places no one knows about, like Transnistria, and [people] want to know how to go there and what to do in those places," he said.
Canever has now written a book about his experience traveling in unrecognized territoriesAdvertisement
His new book, "Unrecognized Nations: Travels To Countries That Do Not Exist," outlines each destination's history, as well as who does and doesn't recognize it.
"I talk a bit about history, a bit about your politics [in the book], but I don't come with a solution or a personal opinion," he said, adding, "I didn't want to judge."Canever says he did a lot of research ahead of every trip — especially as some countries' conflicts weren't all that far in the past. He said he needed to figure out which places needed a visa, as well as where to get said visa. Thanks to tricky relations with neighboring countries, in some cases, he had to figure out which border crossings were considered illegal, and which stamps in his passport could get him into hot water.Advertisement
While some of these places are difficult to travel to, others are thriving tourist hotspots — like Taiwan, Kosovo, and Abkhazia, an autonomous republic of Georgia that Canever says was filled with Russian tourists buying souvenirs such as Abkhazian flag-shaped fridge magnets.As for a favorite place, he said he doesn't have one: "You cannot compare having vodka by old Soviet blocks to having chamomile tea in Somaliland."Advertisement
He says he approached his visits to these places as a traveler, not a diplomat or politician: "I just want to go and understand, and see what happens in those nations." He adds that having visited these little-known places felt like such a distinct privilege to him that he was compelled to share his experiences with the world. "I thought it would be very good to spread the news about [these places], even the conflicts," he said.Advertisement
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