Hidden Countries


The desire to discover new cultures and new ways of living is a common motivation for many travellers, and can be a big part of how much you enjoy your time away. The good news is that some country’s can offer you a surprise opportunity to discover an extra culture in places that you never expected them to appear. Exclaves and enclaves and ethnic clusters all give a great opportunity to view a different world from just down the street, and sometimes this is a glimpse into another country, or sometimes a look at how that country might have been in the past, when the first intrepid souls left and settled in a new land.

La cumbrecita
located: argentina; culture: german
Photo courtesy of AHLN

La Cumbrecita was founded in the 1930s as a holiday retreat by two homesick Germans, who decided to recreate the Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Sierras de Córdoba in Argentina. There has long been a history of German immigration to Argentina, and it is thought that at least 500,000 people still speak German across the country. However, most do not build their own Bavarian holiday resort. After Helmut Cabjolsky bought the 500 acres that was out in the wilderness, his two brother-in-laws came over from Germany to help start the village and crucially build the road to connect it up to civilisation.

After the Cabjolsky’s first house was completed (the still running Hotel Cumbrecita) they started selling plots of land to their friends on the condition that anything built matched the Alpine feel of the place. After a while they did allow some variation, you may spot some Swiss or even Hungarian influences in the buildings, but what it will not feel is very Argentinian.

The signs are in German, the food is German and the people, on the whole, speak German.

La Cumbrecita is less than 80 miles from Cordoba, and it is easy to drive to, or even get the bus. The town itself has been a pedestrian-only village since 1996, so don’t expect to be able to drive up to the front door.

Wassenaar
located: Japan; Culture: Dutch

Visiting Wassenaar isn’t exactly going to give you a blast of Dutch culture, but it will certainly make you forget you are in Japan briefly. It is located next to the huge and already quite unsettling Huis Ten Bosch Dutch theme park, which has been built as a replica of a medieval Dutch town, complete with canals and tulips, to celebrate to Dutch links with Japan. Wassenaar isn’t a theme park however, but a genuine town that has also been built along Dutch architectural lines. People here live in traditional (but modern) Dutch houses, with Dutch furniture and of course the classic Dutch personal dock for your boat. There are only about 800 people living here, many as weekend homes, but it’s certainly a world away from the towns you expect to see in Japan.

Gimli
located: canada; culture: icelandic
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba

The late 19th century wasn’t a great time to be an Icelander, what with the poor harvests, volcanic eruptions and a pretty rigid social  structure. This led to groups of Icelanders heading overseas to find an easier life. The numbers involved sound pretty small, but coming from such a tiny population, it was quite an exodus. 16 Mormon converts left for Utah and 40 headed south to Brazil. Just 4 moved to Wisconsin but their letters home proved a temptation for others, and the Northern USA and Canada became the destination of choice for Icelanders.

In 1875, the Canadian government granted a small patch of land to their new immigrants, and New Iceland was born on the banks of Lake Winnipeg. It didn’t last very long as a semi-autonomous region, partly as the new immigrants were not ready for the different climate and farming required and struggled to thrive, and partly due to a wave of smallpox, but the mark it left on the area is still there. There are now over 26,000 people with Icelandic heritage living in the province of Manitoba, and there is a 3-day Icelandic festival held in Gimli every year, although it looks a lot more fun than necessarily authentic.

Gimli can’t be said to be an Icelandic town dropped into Canada- it is in every way a small Canadian town. But there are definite hints to its heritage, from place names to the Icelandic Heritage Museum to the locals appetite for sweet treat Vinarterta.

Nikolaevsk
Located: Alaska; culture: Russian
Photo courtesy of afletch4141

Russia obviously has a long history in Alaska, being some of the first peoples to colonise it, and even though it was sold to the Americans back in 1867, there is still plenty of evidence of its Russian heritage. From Anchorage to Juneau you can spot the odd onion dome on the skyline, but nowhere is the culture so different as in Nikolaevsk. The small village was settled by  Old Believers of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Churchin 1968, and two-thirds of its population speaks Russian at home. There are no grand buildings here, but a dogged perseverance by the Old Believers to hold onto their old ways means it can feel like stepping into the 1700s when entering the village. However, it is a very insular community. They moved here in the 60s from Oregon as they felt their youth was being too influenced by American culture, and this desire to be apart means that without taking the time to cultivate a local contact, a visit to the village may well not extend beyond the church, art gallery and the kitsch souvenir shop and cafe the Samovar Cafe.

japantown, Düsseldorf
located: germany, culture: japanese
Photo courtesy of Like_the_Grand_Canyon

This exclave is not, as with the others listed, a full Japanese town in Germany, and on visiting Düsseldorf, you might not at first spot the Japanese influence. However, walk down Immermannstrasse and suddenly you’ll see all the Japanese restaurants, stores, bookshops, bars and bakeries. Düsseldorf has one of the largest Japanese communities in Europe, and the largest temple as well. Visit the EKŌ-Haus on the west side of the river and you step straight into picture-book Japan, with a traditional Japanese garden, house and the temple on site.

The best time to visit to get a real flavour for the Japanese culture hiding in Düsseldorf is on Japan Day, held every year in May or June, when the whole city celebrates its Japanese side.

little india, southall
location: london, culture: indian
Photo courtesy of The Big London

Southall is one of the most distinctive neighbourhoods in London. During the 1950’s, it became a beacon to immigrants from both the Caribbean and India, and later from Pakistan. The nearby R Woolf rubber factory played a part, being run be an old army officer who had served in India alongside Indians, and actively tried to recruit them to work for him. As early as 1951 there was a local Indian goods store, providing all the basics that the new immigrants were missing from back home, and as the community grew, it only served to attract more people to the area.

83% of the population in Southall are from an ethnic minority background, with 47% alone being from India. The largest religion in the area is Sikhism, and the area has the largest Gurdwara outside of India. Over 15% of people here do not speak English, and walking down Southall Broadway you can easily forget you are in London. The signs are in numerous languages, including Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil and the cinemas show more Bollywood films than Hollywood. The clothing is far from classic British pinstripes, and you can get jalebi and halwa on every corner.