We got on the bus when it was still dark at 6 a.m., and the full moon was the only light as we left the city. As we headed further into the Spanish countryside, the fields and hills looked golden in the sunrise and fog hung in the valleys.
As we got closer to the border with Andorra, the temperature dropped more than 10 degrees, and stony cliffs and mountains replaced the rolling farmlands. Andorra is the sixteenth smallest country in the world in size; eleventh by population. It is nestled in the Pyrenees mountain range surrounded by the borders of both Spain and France.
Being so close to both countries, Â it is a convenient and popular tourist destination while still offering a seclusion that is refreshing compared to the city just three hours away. As we pulled into the country of Andorra, which is just 40 kilometers across, the steep mountains replaced open sky with sharp rocks and snow-covered peaks. With a population of 85,000, residents live in an even smaller area, filling only the valleys because the rest of the country is so mountainous.
After checking in at the hotel and getting a much-needed coffee, my friends and I bundled up (the weather there is much colder than Barcelona) and spent the day hiking a mountain that surrounded the town we were staying in. We passed by tiny farms and even came across two old stone churches, now abandoned, that stood on the peaks overlooking the town below. Later that night we enjoyed the Caldea thermal baths, Andorra’s most popular attraction, which is one of the largest spas in Europe.
And lucky us, we even got to see a little action in one of the smallest countries in the world. The day we were going to leave, there were suddenly police cars everywhere and helicopters flying over the whole country. Although not much usually goes on there, it turns out that the day before there was a robbery and the criminal was still at large.
For a small place, Andorra sure does take their protection seriously, and it was pretty impressive to watch. Andorra is not a member of the European Union or the open border zone, and being so small they take a lot of measures to protect themselves, which was evident in the search for the fugitive.
They did random searches of vehicles leaving the border, so unfortunately our bus was stuck in traffic for two hours on the way home. I dozed off, and when I woke up it was dark and the moon was out again, just like on our way there. Under the moonlight, across the barren landscape, and the lights of aged and tiny towns looked like constellations spread out across the earth.
Luckily, we returned home in time for the elections on Sunday. Nov. 9 was finally here, the day that some Catalans have been waiting on for hundreds of years. My host mother proudly boasted she would be getting up early to go to the polls and vote.
“This is a historical day for us!” she said.
Every night leading up to it, she had faithfully banged her pot from our front window, along with people across the city in protest, after the Spanish government called the Catalan independence vote unconstitutional the week prior.
She explained to me, “My mother and I call ourselves Catalans, but my sisters and brother identify as Spanish. But even though we are different, we still respect each other and they believe we should be able to vote too.”
And it’s true; not all those who voted in the election voted yes to the independence of Catalonia. Some voted just on principle- the principle that Spain is democratic, and therefore the people should be allowed to vote.
Over 2 million people turned out to the polls on Sunday, out of the 5 million who were eligible to vote, the BBC reported. Of those 2 million, over 80 percent voted yes to independence. Although this election was technically illegitimate, Catalans and their President Artur Mas are hopeful these results will prove the necessity of a true referendum.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, called the vote a complete failure, and the Spanish government refuses to acknowledge the results.
“For Scotland, the United Kingdom at least said ‘yes, they can vote.’ But here they don’t let us. They just keep saying ‘no, no, no’ and now they ignore us,” said my host in frustration, as we watched the news. I’ve learned a great deal from her on the topic in the past couple of weeks and appreciate her honest opinions.
It was a true move of quiet and tactful civil disobedience to still hold the elections, even after they were called illegal. The Catalans have been peaceful and resilient in their actions and rather than fighting back with violence, although they may be angry, they only let this adversity make them stronger.