Belize

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, considers itself to be both a Caribbean and Central American country. It is the only country in Central America where English is the official language and it has the lowest population density in the region. In fact, it is the least populous non-island nation outside Europe with an approximate population of 320,000 people. The name Belize is believed to come from the Mayan world “belix” meaning muddy water, which is pretty descriptive of the Belize river.
A night time view of Belize City

A night time view of Belize City

The Mayan civilization dominated the area now known as Belize from 1500 BCE to about 800 ACE. The civilization was large, with as many as 400,000 people living in the area during the late classic period of the Mayan civilization.
The Mayan’s rebelled and attacked, forcing away the Spanish who were the first to try and settle in the inland area of Belize.
Baymen, English and Scottish Buccaneers, sought to attack the Spanish and settled on the coast of Belize in 1638. in the 1700s the settlers began cutting logwood which yielded a fixing agent for clothing dyes which became an important part of the European woolen industry. African’s were being brought from Jamaica as slaves and by about 1800, they outnumbered the Europeans by 4 to 1.¬† The settlers established a lot of their own laws and government because Britain did not want to aggrivate the Spanish and provoke an attack by claiming Belize as a British Colony. While the British Empire abolished slavery in 1838, not much changed for the slaves in Belize because their superior skills with Mahogany extraction made them an expensive commodity.
In 1928 Monrad Metzen, the govenor of the colony of British Honduras, went on a bike ride in the country and concieved the idea for the first Cross Country Cycling Classic (which still continues today). Because of the experience of riding in the races he began proclaiming “roads, roads, and still more roads” which eventually worked at getting the govenors intersted in road building.
The Belize Cross Country Cycling Classic occurs over Easter weekend so it is sometimes refered to as the Holy Saturday Cross Cycling Classic. It is a one day race, meant for amateur cyclists, but it gained popularity around the world. It is probably Belize’s most popular event bringing in many tourists who enjoy the race as the route highlights some of the most beautiful rivers and forested areas in Belize.
Belize's Cross Country Cycling Classic

Belize's Cross Country Cycling Classic


A race through the jungle

A race through the jungle

Belize holds a largely diverse ecosystem. Only about 20% of the countries land is used by humans (agriculturally or for human settlements). The rest is mostly protected and contains a range of biodiversity not seen in very many places in the world. Along the east coast of Belize, the Caribbean Sea holds the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world.
Blue Hole
The Great Mayan Reef holds the diverse habitat that many creatures call home

The Great Mayan Reef holds the diverse habitat that many creatures call home

Belize has the largest cave system in Central America.
Many people enjoy tubing through the large and beautiful cave system in Belize

Many people enjoy tubing through the large and beautiful cave system in Belize


Beautiful cave

Beautiful cave

Mestizo is a Spanish term which refers to people of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry in Latin America. About 34% of the population in Belize is Mestizo. Though they once controlled all of Belize, only three Maya groups continue to inhabit the country:
1. The Yucatec:
The Yucatec came from Yucaten, Mexico in

The Yucatec came from Yucatan, Mexico to escape the Caste War in the 1940s

2. The Mopan:
The Mopan were indigenous to Belize until they were forced out by the British, only to return in the 19th century in order to avoid slavery in Guatemala.

The Mopan were indigenous to Belize until they were forced out by the British, only to return in the 19th century in order to avoid slavery in Guatemala.

3. Kekchi:
The Kekchi fled from slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century.
The Kekchi fled from slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century.
Much of the population (25%) are Kriol. However Kriole culture denotes more than just a look and you can often find blonde, blue-eyed Kriol. While English is the official language only about 5.6% of the population speaks it in their home, about 37% consider Kriol their primary language.
 The National Flower is the black orchid

The National Flower is the black orchid

The National Tree is the Mahogony tree

The National Tree is the Mahogony tree

The National Tree is the Keel Billed Toucan

The National Tree is the Keel Billed Toucan


The National Animal is the Tapir

The National Animal is the Tapir

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Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Bechuanaland freed itself from British control on September 30th 1966 and became the commonwealth of Botswana. At the time it was one of the most impoverished countries in Africa. Today it is one of the most successful nations in Africa due to its stable political system and growing market economy.

Much like the country’s borders, Botswana’s economy is closely tied with South Africa. It is very successful due to its fast growing service sector, diamond industry, and burgeoning tourism and manufacturing sectors. Currently only 30% of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 US a day. Botswana holds the fourth largest GDP in Africa and has a standard of living close to that of Mexico or Turkey. Uranium was found in 2007 which holds another economic prospect for Botswana. Mining is to start in 2010.
The two main languages of Botswana are English and Setswana. Prefixes are a very important aspect of the Setswana language. Examples are:
Bo: referring to the country
Ba: referring to the people
Mo: referring to one person
Se: referring to the language
Because the main tribe of people in the area is Tswana. BO(Tswana) is the Setswana name for the country. The people of Botswana are called Batswana, one person is a Motswana and the language is, of course, Setswana.
While there are many art galleries and artists, the most interesting and unique for of artistic expression is the intricate and colourful baskets made by the women in Northern Botswana, especially in the towns of Etsha and Gumare.

Baskets from the Etsha village

Baskets from the Etsha village

The African country is slightly smaller than Texas but about 70% of it is covered by the Kalahari desert. The Okavango delta is the world’s largest inland delta and is situated in the northwest corner of the country.
The Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert

The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world!

The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world!

A close up in the Okavango Delta

A close up in the Okavango Delta

Botswana has very assorted natural scenery. There are savannas and grasslands which are home to the blue wildebeest. The one of the few remaining populations of the endangered African Wild Dog resides in Northern Botswana.
Blue Wildebeest live in the savannas of Botswana

Blue Wildebeest live in the savannas of Botswana

The African Wild Dog is an endangered species that lives in northern Botswana

The African Wild Dog is an endangered species that lives in northern Botswana

Botswana, at least politically, is the least corrupt country in Africa, and according to Transparency International is on level with South Korea and Portugal. The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) was formed after attacks from Rhodesian and South African Armies. They increasingly focus on peacekeeping, combating poaching and preparing for disasters. The United States is the BDFs largest single foreign contributor.
The major plague of Botswana is HIV/AIDS, as it has the second highest infection rate in the world (After Swaziland). One in six Batswana have HIV. Despite this, the government acknowledges AIDS effect on the economy and Botswana currently has the best AIDS prevention program in Africa.
One of the main pastimes in Botswana is bridge. It is something that has spread since the 1980s by British teachers in schools. The Botswana Bridge Foundation organizes tournaments among students. There can be as many as 600 children playing bridge. This is something quite unique to Botswana.

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San Marino

San Marino may have the smallest population of the entire Council of Europe, but they are considered the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.

View of San Marino

View of San Marino

San Marino was founded on September 3rd, 301 by Saint Marinus and his friend Leo after being persecuted for their Christian teachings and fleeing to Monte Titano. Until today the Three Towers of San Marino (Guaita, the oldest from the 11th century, Cesta from the 13th century, and Montale from the 14th century) are located on the three peaks of Monte Titano.

While San Marino was neutral during both World Wars it didn’t not remain so without incident. During World War I, Italy suspected San Marino of helping the Austrians; as a result Italian police were dispatched and San Marino’s telephone communications were suspended. San Marino remained neutral during World War II despite incurring a bombing which killed 60 civilians.

San Marino is almost famous for its small size. While slightly disputed by Nauru, it is likely the smallest republic on Earth. It is the third smallest country in Europe despite having the smallest population. Interestingly there is no level natural land and 100% of the country is built on top of the Apennines mountain range.

The heads of state are the Captain Reagents and the election process and term is similar to that of the Roman republic. Elections are held on April 1st and October 1st every year and the Captain Reagents serve a 6 month term. Two are chosen each election, one from each of the opposing parties so that there is a balance of power on the council. Once elected it is illegal to refuse, the punishment being incarceration.

San Marino is not part of the European Union, however it received special permission to use the Euro and even print its own images and designs. With one of the smallest military forces in the world, Italy’s armed forces have taken over most military responsibilities. However, the San Marino Miltary still is composed of 6 largely ceremonial sectors. The most famous of these is the Guard of the Council, or Guard of Nobels, which is comprised of volunteers with ceremonial duties who wear distinctive blue, white and gold uniforms. The Army Militia is the main army force of San Marino, and while it too is largely ceremonial, it is a great source of pride for the citizens to belong to it.

San Marino’s cuisine is very similar to Italy’s, especially the Emilia-Romagna and Marche region; however, it does contain several unique dishes – most famously ,a chocolate wafer cake, La Torta Di Tre Monti, which translates to the Cake of the Three Mountains/ Towers.

While San Marino is attempting to modernize, it is still largely Roman Catholic. While the ban on homosexuality was lifted in 1864, in 1974 a new penile code was adopted which contained Article 274. Article 274 states that punishment with imprisonment from 3 months to a year would befall those “regularly committing lustful acts with a person of the same sex, if from that act public scandal is derived.” Currently, the age of consent for heterosexual or homosexual relations is 14 years old.

Interesting fact: San Marino has the longest average life span in the world, 81 years. It is tied for second with Italy for the largest combined average life span of the two sexes at 82 years. They are rivalled only by Japan.

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Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is the smallest German speaking nation in the world. Originally made a territory by the Holy Roman Empire, it ceased obligation to any feudal lord after the Holy Roman Empire was taken over by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Soon, Liechtenstein joined the German Confederation. After World War II Liechtenstein gave asylum to 500 Russian soldiers from the First Russian National Army. This proved to be difficult because it did not have much money or food, so the soldiers were transferred to Argentina, who agreed to house them. To fix their financial straights Liechtenstein resorted to selling family artistic treasures, such as Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo da Vinci. Today it is a popular location for winter sports!

The monarch of Liechtenstein (also the head of state) is the reigning prince of the Princely House of Liechtenstein. Switzerland, however, has taken over most of Liechtenstein’s international relations. Liechtenstein is divided into two halfs: the Oberland (upper country) and Unterland (Lower country). The government is made up of an executive authority, legislative authority and judicial authority. The parliament elects a Landesausschuss (national committee) made of the president of the parliament and four additional members that perform parliamentary oversight functions.

Liechtenstein is one of two (other being Uzbekistan) doubly landlocked countries. Which means that it is landlocked only by other landlocked countries. It is the 6th smallest independent nation in the world, however still divided into
11 municipalities which are called Gemeinden.
Liechtenstein prides itself on being a legitimate financing center. It is one of the only countries where there are more registered companies than citizens. The largest employer is Hilti which makes high power tool, but Liechtenstein is also the home of the Curta calculator.
Fun fact: The principality produces a large portion of the world’s false teeth.

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Australia

So there is a lot going on in the land down under. Australia has quite a unique ecosystem. It has the most diverse reptile population of anywhere in the world, with a total of 755 types of reptiles. Australia is the single home of the monotremes (platypus and echidna) and such marsupials¬† as the koala and kangaroo. Geographically, Mount Augustus may be the largest monolith in the world. For those of you who don’t know what a monolith is, it is basically a very large rock or stone. The plant life there has a rich variety of endemic legumes (plants that have fruit or nuts). This is because these plants have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi

The population of Australia does not reflect the diversity of its plant life. In fact, 90% of the population is of European decent and 80% speak English at home. A significant explanation for this is the White Australia Policy, which was abolished in 1973, that prevented non-white people from immigrating to Australia. Today, there is a significant increase in the immigration to Australia from Asia, and while most immigrants are skilled there is a quota for refugees and family as well. The population of Australia is quite active and about 24% of Australians over the age of 15 participate regularly in organized sporting activities.
Interestingly the world’s first feature length film was from Australia in 1906 called “The Story of Kelly Gang”.

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