Andorra is an odd duck. It is a tiny country, nestled in the Pyrenees. If you looked at your globe, you would have a hard time finding it. Look for a small dot between France and Spain. Interestingly, it has no government of its own. The governing of Andorra is shared by its two neighbors, France and Spain. The technical term, I´ve read, is “parliamentary co-princedom”. And although its two governing countries are part of the EU, Andorra is not. Oh, but it does use the Euro for currency. Go figure.
It gets better. Andorra has no postal system of their own. So, who handles the mail? France? Spain? Actually, both those countries run separate postal systems in Andorra. Now, considering all this, what do you think is the official language in Andorra? French or Spanish? Actually, it’s neither. The official language is Catalan. But, everybody is trilingual and can speak Spanish and French anyway.
This all seems crazy to me. But this is Europe, they do things like that here.
A few other things you should know about Andorra: it is a big shopping destination, its people have one of the highest life expectancies on the planet, and they have lots of skiing. (Are the last two a coincidence? I think not…)
Anyway, on my bike ride from San Sebastian to Barcelona I stopped for one night. I was just sitting in a plaza watching the people go by. The weirdest thing was happening. More and more people were gathering in the plaza. Whole families, young and old, appeared. Children kept throwing those small firecrackers that explode when they hit the ground. The growing crowd was waiting for something to happen, I could feel it.After darkness fell I heard drum beats approaching. A drum band entered the plaza, pounding furiously. And then, an incredible sight: people in capes, their faces hidden by hoods, parted the crowd twirling blazing fires at the end of chains!
Ashes flying everywhere, holy shit!!
Now, maybe you have seen fire dancers before. I love those fire shows, but they ain´t got nothing on the hooded pyromaniacs in Andorra. Fire dancers have small spheres, which are lit on fire, at the end of ropes. They have small strings to keep the ropes lashed to their hands. But, forget that; the caped crazies in Andorra are next level. They are flinging huge freaking bonfires on the end of metal chains! They hold onto this small inferno with metal handles!
(note all the smoke in the air from all the firecrackers and other explosions)
A siren goes off behind me! It turns out, Andorra has outdoor fire alarms in their streets, and they are ringing non-stop because of all the smoke!
What have these people blown up now? It looks to me like a portal to another dimension…
The whole procession marches through the streets for two hours, making its presence felt with continuous firecrackers and explosions. It finally arrives at a parking lot with a big pile of would in the centre. I know exactly what is going to happen.
The pile of wood is lit. Within in 60 seconds, the bonfire is huge. At 30 metres, the heat is searing my skin and I need to retreat further.
Fireworks continued all night. In a huge tent nearby, a band played into the wee hours. Kegs were drained. What a party! As it happened, I had rolled into town for a special fiesta, the one night of the year when Andorra lights everything on fire. As I often say: in
travel, timing is everything.Andorra, you light my fire.