Workcamp “Into the bear forest 3”

On the sixth of August, the adventure started for us – the volunteers of the «Into the bear forest 3» – in Otocac bus station. There we introduced ourselves to each other (at least 8 times for some of us). We were then fifteen people from eight different countries – Belgium, Bulgaria, Catalonia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Slovakia, Portugal. Our first mission was to find out which bus to catch in order to arrive to our final destination – Kopija Camp. Kopija is this mysterious and mystical place in the middle of the Lika forest, three kilometres away from the bear refuge in Kuterevo. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed by Zuzka and Aniol, EVS and ex-EVS volunteers in Kuterevo and the campcoordinators. Dinner (Ajvar and bread) was waiting for us and we got to share our first meal together – the fifteen of us. Living in Kopija requires to be environment friendly, therefore food is vegetarian and promotes local production. Being a volunteer for the Kuterevo bear refuge also requires to understand the «Kuterevo spirit». To do so, we got the opportunity to listen to Ivan’s traditional stories about the place, to watch a video about the history of the project, to look for bear tracks in the middle of the forest or also to participate to the traditional ceremony for the volunteers.

So, what was the main goal for this workcamp? Our main objective was to renovate and improve a hiking trail allowing visitors to discover bears’ natural environment and enjoy Kopija. We were soon confronted to few challenges such as the steepness of the trail, its slipperiness or also the lack of indication in the forest. Thanks to discussion and cooperation we decided all together what improvements should be made. Cleaning up messy areas, building wooden steps in the steepest part of the trail, making benches for resting area, making indication and information panels, and so on. Everyone was very excited about starting to work, the first steps were real pieces of art! Eventually, we made over 50 steps in the trail thanks to a lot of hammering and blistered hands. After hours of drawing and paintings (even during the night for some passionate people!), the panels turned out beautiful. We had a great group energy with a lot of sharing, learning and listening. Work was «awesome!», as some could say. At the end, we were all very proud of our work even though we couldn’t finish everything we had decided at the beginning.

But the workcamp was not only about the work, it was also about discovering a different way of living and different culture. First, the life style in the camp brought us closer to the nature. Surrounded by the forest, we tried to have the least impact on the environment. We didn’t have access to electricity or even water system which means cooking was made thanks to fire and we had to save water as much as possible. It requires a lot of inspiration to cook vegetarian and local food with fire for fifteen people (Awesome Goulash and French fries), and some smelly days to save water. Sleeping accommodations were luxurious, a huge tent for most of us, wooden house for the couple, and for some no need for a roof, outside is good enough. However, when storms and rains appeared the tent had a nice smell of dirty socks and humid dirty clothes. Anyway, living so close to nature and wild animals at Kopija was an awesome experience that none of us will ever forget.

Then, the educational workshops offered by the volunteers of the Volunteers’ Station allowed us to learn about biodiversity and sustainable development. We learned about the bears’ situation in the world, talked about our ecological foot print, climate change and alternatives, but also discovered the benefices of permaculture. We learnt also more about SCI organisation, since the workcamp is part of it, and its Climate for Peace campaign. It was nice to share on these topics with the people of our group.

Finally, encountering the local population was great! We met Milan, the carpenter, whose chairs never breaks and also Teta Dragica the shoe making lady who welcomed us with Rakija.

Since all the group got along very well, we got to spend our two day offs together for touristic visits. The first week we went to Plitvice lakes. Beautiful landscapes and unique colours! However we found out the hard way that people in crowded places are more aggressive than wolves. Eventually, we all went back to Kopija safely, and with a good laugh.

Then, we went for a six hours hike in the Velebit Mountains, the view was amazing! Two hours after our departure, drops starting to fall. And then, it was just storming and pouring until the end of the trail. No one complained, and we all know the rain made this day unforgettable. At the end we all shared coffee, tea and even Rakija at the restaurant down the trail. Still motivated, we then went to Senj while some were eating and having beers the Bulgarian delegation was having a swim under the rain with dolphins…

To sum up, this camp was an amazing experience with a lot of work, laugh, fun and heart breaking goodbyes.

Claire

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