Transniestria, Abkhazia, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, Ajaria, South Ossetia,……..these are just a few of the obscure, unknown and unrecognised countries in the world. There are dozens of these kind of non-official, breakaway states that you never heard of. They have their own parliaments, police forces, they issue passports and postage stamps but they are not recognised and make that strange list of countries that don’t really exist.
After having circled the planet three times – following the Equator, Tropic of Cancer & Tropic of Capricorn – Simon Reeve gets fascinated by these unknown and unexplored lands and he embarks on a kickass journey to “Places that don’t Exist”.
Simon Reeve visits unknown ‘Independent’ Countries
All of the breakaway states that Reeve visit have declared independence, often after violent struggles with a neighbouring state. Some now survive peacefully, but others are a magnet for terrorists and weapons smuggling, and have armies ready for a fight. They are however also a magnet for real adventure travelers as they are completely off the beaten path, difficult to enter (due to visa restrictions) and even harder to explore. The latter is exactly what Reeve does on his trip to these “places that don’t exist”.
Start a country by brewing beer
Each of the places Reeve visits has declared independence but lacks acknowledgement by the international community and the United Nations.
Frank Zappa famously said:
“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
And we believe not following that brilliant advise is exactly what Transnistria, South-Ossetia, Somaliland and all these other unrecognised countries did wrong!
A beer would have definitely helped welcoming the few tourists, like Reeve, that make there way to these hard to visit “places that don’t exist”.
Principality of Sealand, Seborga and Kingdom of Fusa
All these wannabe countries can take an example from the more successful micronations of the ‘Principality of Sealand’, ‘Kingdom of Fusa’ and the ‘Principality of Seborga’. Another Brit with a great interest in visiting obscure nations – Danny Wallace – went out to visit these micronations with the intention of starting his own country named ‘Lovely’. He succeeds…temporarily…and hilariously creating a flag, coat of arms and even recording a national anthem!
An exotic TV series
Back to Reeve and his mission to visit ‘places that don’t exist’. The result of Reeve’s travels around the world’s breakaway states was turned in a five episode TV series. The unusual travel show gives you an insight in some mysterious, strange and highly interesting countries that are sure to be added on your ‘must see’ places in the world.
An independent country within – as the name suggests – Somalia, somaliland is actually an African success story. Reeve starts his trip in Mogadishu, the craziest and scariest place he visits in his ‘places that don’t exist’ series:
Mogadishu is a completely lawless, anarchic city, where guns control everything, and we could only operate there with a dozen armed gunmen shadowing our every move to protect us from kidnap or shooting. We were the only white people in a city of 1.3 million. It’s been abandoned by the rest of the world, and is reckoned by the UN to be more dangerous than Iraq.
In comparison to the anarchic, gun-filled streets of the Somalian capital city, Reeve travels to the relative safety of the breakaway neighbour, Somaliland.
Here he finds mass graves, a foreign minister who delivers babies and some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.
The contrast between Somalia and Somaliland couldn’t have been any bigger according to Reeve:
I was most comfortable in Somaliland; they’re building a country from nothing, with no help or aid, yet because of that there’s virtually no corruption and no debt. It’s an African success story, and they desperately want tourists to visit. If you want somewhere a bit different, it’s not a bad place to go.
Transnistria (also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria) is a partially recognized state located mostly on a strip of land between the River Dniester and the eastern Moldovan border with Ukraine
Reeve starts his trip in Moldova by seeing the President of Moldova, who’s actually a Transdniestrian. Interestingly the president himself can’t go to his Transnistrian homelands because it broke away from Moldova and has broken with all politital ties with it.
We thought it would all be very serious, but he decided to show us his wine cellar, and then took us fishing, at which I was completely hopeless. It was a very strange afternoon, finished off by a few bottles of cognac, which he insisted we drank
He then crosses over to the breakaway state to find a region where Lenin statues still take pride of place and “independence day” is celebrated with a show of force by thousands of troops. He also gets arrested for trying to film a secret Soviet base which makes the BBC news headlines and gives him some fame back home in the UK.
In Transdniestria, an official from the bank asked us to look at a display of banknotes. All the figures on the notes were from other countries, which was strange, but he said: “We’re only a young country, we haven’t had time to create any national heroes.”
That Transnistria is very poor shows when Reeve visits a village where – to make money – 32 men there sold their kidneys.
South-Ossetia and Abkhazia
Simon crosses the front line, past Russian tanks and into this breakaway state that has declare independence from Georgia. South Ossetia is located strangely within Georgia and can only be accessed from Russian in the North by a long narrow tunnel. Reeve’s every step is greeted with great paranoia. He is shown graveyards in a school playground and joins a birthday drink with troops returning from the front… before being chased out by the local KGB. Sounds like the normal way to leave a highly paranoid nation like South-Ossetia.
Not far from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, situated in south-western Azerbaijan, lies the unpronounceable nation of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a richly fertile area of striking beauty scarred by its violent history. Enclosed by Armenia and Azerbaijan soldiers still face each other in trenches only 100m apart. The place is littered with mines and Reeve goes out with a team of de-miners who fail to convince locals to take a detour around a minefield, before ending his journey at a local wedding.
Not as unknown and obscure as the previous countries Taiwan, however is a breakaway state. At the very least considered from a Chinese perspective. Also the United Nations still insist Taiwan is officially part of China.
Simon is invited to a concert by Taiwan’s equivalent of Take That and sings funny patriotic pop songs with them.