Winter time means hard work!

Snow was falling in Kuterevo for close to two months and although it’s disappearing faster and faster by now, the volunteers are fast asleep in hibernation, which leaves the all-day work to our bears.

While the lazy humans can be heard snoring in their smelly dens, at eight in morning our fellow bear wakes up to the sound of his alarm clock (which plays “Bear, you can count on me!“ – enjoy live version at minute 2.10 of the movie Kuterevo Spirit!). The day seems to be a nice one; the sun is up, no clouds in sight. A trip to the balcony for the obligatory morning stretch helps to get the body going despite the hour.

The volunteers, sleeping and not wasting a thought on their physical appearance and their smell, leave the shower to only one guest, who uses it singing (“Bear, you can count on me!”) and dancing. Soon, nature calls and the fluffy companion grabs the latest version of a horrifying novel about hunting, killing, selling and even eating bears. The reader, noticeably shocked, but now surely awake, is almost forgetting what he went for the compost toilet for.

Inspired by these terrifying pictures and thoughts in his head, the king of the forest tries to get creative, takes the guitar and starts composing something, that – in his opinion – has never been there before (to me it sounds like a very bad version of “Bear, you can count on me!”). Apart from his ridiculously huge hands and his inability to actually look at his instrument, animals from the species Ursus arctos are notorious for a French, that is said to be able to get fresh milk bad in seconds. For that (and angry shouts of complaints from neighbours, chickens, roosters, cats and ducks alike), our musician gives up his efforts for now.

Instead, nature calls another time. In the opposite direction, however, so the artist becomes a cook for a short time.

If you take a closer look to the pot, you will notice that something is wrong with it… That’s right, the pot is empty. This and the terrible results of the Kuterevian picking up the guitar, has left renowned scientists in brain research at large carnivores reconsidering the broadly as “highly developed” accepted intelligence of the European brown bear.

No one, however, can neglect his physical strength, which is always needed in the refuge. The snow has to be cleaned away between the buildings of the metropolis-like location “Utočište”, and that appears to be a job just right for an animal mainly consisting of protecting fur and giant muscles. The task of painting timber for the inner fence of the new enclosure requires the help of one volunteer, who is not happy of being woken up in the middle of his well-deserved hibernation.

The work leaves the bear in such a way exhausted, that he tries to get himself something between his teeth on the traditional way: hunting. This, unfortunately, is as successful as playing instruments or cooking, so he has to find other options to find food.

While thinking about that topic, his friends arrived. Three of them, if you want exact numbers. With the same enormously large hands, but at least able to see a bit better. Together, they conspire an assault on the inhabitants of the place. One bear plans to act nice, speak human language and drink with the people. After getting their victims drunk, the animals want to take over their houses and live in prosperity until the end of their lives. The plan failed, but at least the bears managed to behave so funny that the house-owners offered them food for their home “Volonterska Postaja”.

Very happy and well-fed with local specialties, the bear falls into his bed, still wondering, where his friends went and if he should pick up the guitar again tomorrow. While sleeping, confusing dreams sneak into his head (probably produced by his immense happiness). Pictures of him, being deeply in love with a volunteer and the volunteer with him. Waking up, quite thirsty, he realizes that he was dreaming of reality.

Lukas

SVI / Itinéraire International Team in Kuterevo

Hi there, blog readers

We are group of 6 frenchies coming to Kuterevo to live an experience with bears: Nicoline, Linda, Maud, Clement, Leti and Adama. We come from Nantes, a lovely city in the west side of the pentagone. No we don’t have no Effeil tower but we have nice people and some delicious biscuits 😉

So our group is composed of 4 girls and 2 boys (unfortuaned for us), we meet on September , in order to prepare the trip. We arrived 9 days ago in Zagreb and we were amazed by the architecture of the city.

We slept in a youth hostel not basic „noisy, I-can-barelly-sleep“ hostel. THE Youth Hostel with comfy sofa in front of the TV, hot chocolate and awesome hosts telling stories about the people coming here . We only slept one night but it was a hearth-breaking leaving. Our sorrows were soon forgotten thanks to the amazing view of the Velebit mountains. Once arrived we met Ivan, the Croatian Santa Claus, foundator of the refuge and savior of bear. With him we met Amelie, our awesome French/ Croatian translator and responsible of the volonteers.

I bet you all want to know the 1st thing we did when we arrived to Postaja, the volonteers HQ. No? Oh don t try to hide your obvious curiosity, I will tell you. Well, the 1st thing we did was asking for the WIFI ! What a twist, huh?

No, we met the others volonteers before that .
Leo, the Belgian rasta-music lover (the only thing he smokes is cigarettes though).
Lukas, our German mascot that goes crazy-potatoes at the sight of French cheeze.
Later in the week end we were joined by two older volonteers; Aniol and Lilli our catalan and Finn representers.

After that, our charmig little team was ready to meet our furry friends in the enclosure near Postaja. We were so happy to see the bears we almost forgot to use our eyes to watch them instead of our cameras. Once the introduction over we helped the volonteers gathering carrots, cooking bread and yogurt (for us, not the bears).

Oh, and we dont sleep in Postaja like the other volonteers. No, our French skin cannot stand the cold of the night , so we actually lives in a house 300 feet away. With running hot water, comfy beds, big 3D screen with surrouding HQ sound (ok, it might be a lie). Anyway, its way more comfortable than Postaja.

After one night of sleep , we went to our first day of work. I know you will say „By work you mean feeding the bears and stuff, right ?“ – No dude, this is entertainment¸ Im talking about real, hardcore, bones-breaking work: Building an enclosure (Ta ta taaaam !!). So basically, 6 out of 10 days we are working on the enclosure with Ivan and Josa if the weather is cool. By the way, Josa is a worker from the village that totally looks like Hank in the breaking bad serie (I call him Hank but he doesn’t get it). The work is hard (lifting heavy stuff, basically) but its rewarded by something great at the end of the day! Soup! Yeah! Everybody loves Soup, right?

About the activites in the village, theres that fabulous place called the mini-market, where you can buy something to eat that’s not vegetables (God bless this place). Besides that, we did a lot of things like going early in the morning to Miča and Marica’s place to get milk. Marica is the grandma of every volonteer, she’s the nice old lady every village needs. In certains evenings, Maja comes to teach the Croatian for those who seek knowledge. No, I’m not making any jokes on this one, eh!

After work at 5pm, we can do whatever we want (even gangsta-bad things, like not flushing the toilets, Thug Life!). Anyways, we are having great times here in Kuterevo and I am not promoting the place or something but if you loves bears, beers, and working with bare hands, you should come ASAP.

Au revoir ! – Team Frenchies

Spring!

Spring came and with it Kuterevo bears have started eating many herbs, visitors are becoming more numerous and new volunteers are joining the work, that is also increasing. Jordi from Nancy (France), volunteering in Vukovar this year, Caroline and Eve from Toulouse (France), Maja and Vesna from Zagreb, Juliette from Paris, Jean from Bretagne (France as well) and Elija from Lithuania came for few days, or few weeks to help in the new season. And to enjoy the every day Postaja life and newly arrived little ducks and geese.

We are working the first enclosure of the refuge, which after 12 years of honorable career needs a full renovation. We took away the old fence, we are putting a new one, and we are building a new giant pool. All these would not be possible without the supervision of our Kuterevo majstor Milan (for us “Wikič”) .

The weather is perfect for work in the gardens, we are preparing the soil and starting to planting garlic, onions, winter salads, and some new trees in the bear botanical garden.

Last week was also the Week of Action for the SCI campain Create a Climate for Peace Here I let you a link on SCI website if you are interesting in what was done, or on Kuterevo volunteers’ blog 🙂

 

For the bears, we collect a lot of herbs that they like like, Taraxacum off., Sanguisorba of., Plantago major, Nasturtium officinalis. From Zagreb arrived a truck with a ton of carrots and 800 kg of apples. In addition we bought 250 kg of walnuts. In the nature, the bears expend most of their time and energy looking for food. So, for keeping our bears more active, we try to make enrichments for them: we give them some big rotten wood from the forest so they can find insects inside, ice cubes filled with fruits so they spend good time playing and refreshing themselves… and we are preparing some more toys, making holes in pieces of wood and filling them with peanut butter, sun seeds, herbs and fruits.

The volunteer group from the Otoćac High school chose its name: “medvjedi dobrog srca” (bears whit good heart). They came to the refuge to spend a day with us, planting in the garden, making souvenirs and working on the enclosure under reconstruction. We also gave to the bears the herbs they collected the day before in the city.

 

Ah… I was forgetting… a donation of 200 teddy bears arrived from our friends in Germany with the Kuterevo Bear Refuge logo 🙂 It is possible to buy them when visiting the refuge to support our campaign Land for the Bears aiming to renovate old enclosures and build new ones. We are ready for your visits!

Guaci

Snow!

For a bit more than one week, snow really came back to Kuterevo and volunteers have enjoyed the beauty of the village covered with white, the morning cleaning of few paths to be able to go to get some wood or just to go to the toilets (forget about showers, we just stay smelly!), and of course they’ve been delighted to go back to childhood, sledding in the streets and making giant snowmen/bears 🙂

//

Insulating Postaja

Last week the temperature dropped to – 20°C. We then noticed that we use a lot of wood for heating each day, while Postaja still stays a bit cold, so we decided to improve the insulation. This is what we have done so far:

Window

As one of the windows is old and doesn’t close properly anymore, we decided to add some extra insulation. We built a wooden frame and as ‘glass’ we nailed a piece of an old, transparent plastic bag to it. Then we fitted it on the windowsill and stuffed hemp fiber in the gaps around to create an air-insulation.

Old stove pipe

We still have an open pipe from an old oven, which is in ceiling above the place where now our new oven is. Unfortunately, it leads the warm rising air directly under the uninsulated roof where it can escape easily. As we were losing a lot of warmth through it, we stuffed it from both sides with paper and covered it with a cloth and carton to stop the warm air from flowing.

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Attic

The wooden slide door to the attic let through a lot of our generated warmth, so we nailed sheets of carton to it from above, which makes a noticeable difference. We are anyway still losing heat through the ceiling to the attic, and the attic is very badly insulated. We started to close some of the biggest holes in the attic, to keep some more warm air there.

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Doors

Cold air from outside was coming in from under the doors, so we fixed some old bags which contained corn for the bears under the doors, to close the gaps.

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Curtains and shutters

A very simple way of insulating windows is to simply put up curtains. We made some nice curtains for the Postaja bedroom, and we will probably soon make curtains for the big room as well.

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Floor

At the moment we are attaching planks to the beams at the bottom side of the floor (from the ceiling of the basement) and filling bags with wool. Later we will put them in the space between the floor beams and the planks to make the floor warmer.

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Although the techniques we used are primitive and used materials are all recycled, I think that it makes quite a difference and that we will all profit from these few, easy measures when the temperatures get colder again – and the environment as well.

Dominik

Preparing for Winter (Food, Wood, Booze and Bears)

As Marco has already told you in colorful details, winter has arrived in Kuterevo. In the Netherlands, winter just slowly comes and life goes on as usual. We simply wear some more clothes and sometimes clean the streets from a few centimeters of snow. But in Kuterevo, you have to prepare yourself for winter. Actually, we have been preparing ourselves for winter all through autumn. In this article I will give you some examples of what we have been doing to make sure that we and the bears will have a happy, healthy and warm winter.

Food

During winter, we cannot grow our own vegetables. We do not want to buy too many products that are shipped from far-away countries, so we have to preserve food that we harvest or collect in autumn. This year, we´ve collected and dried wild mushrooms, we made jam from healthy sour dren berries, we´ve conserved paprika in oil, vinegar and in a very tasty spread called ´ajvar´, and we’ve dried herbs and berries for healthy teas during cold winter days in Postaja.

Drenjula jam

One bigger ´food conservation project´ was making sour cabbage. Sour cabbage is easy to prepare, it can be kept for a long time, and it is very healthy! Did you know that when Columbus went on long expeditions, he filled half of his ship with sour cabbage, so that his men would stay healthy during the travel?

We bought about one hundred cabbages from a farmer in the next village, and on one evening when we had a lot of guests (helpers) from another EVS project in Croatia, we invited two experienced ladies from the village (Teta Dragica and Teta Kaja) to Postaja, where they helped us with preparing the cabbage.

Cabbage evening

We cleaned the cabbages and we grated them with a special big cabbage grater (which had to be done with two people together). We put the grated cabbage in huge barrels, together with water, salt and spices, and we crushed them with a big wooden tool. Now, some weeks later, we have an almost infinite amount of healthy and tasty ´kiseli kupus´!

Wood

We don´t have gas or central heating in Postaja, so we cook and heat the house with a wood stove. And wood does not come through pipelines… We did not cut any trees ourselves, but we did move a lot of wood around, with tractors, wheelbarrows and our hands, and we´ve been chopping wood into smaller pieces and into fire starters. Eventually we stacked big amounts of wood neatly around Postaja.

Wood

Having a wood stove makes you very aware of what you use to create heat. When you have a central heating system, you are very far away from your real energy source, and your energy consumption can only be expressed in abstract numbers. When you heat with wood, all day long you put pieces of trees from the forest around you into a stove, where you see them burn and feel their warmth… It has to be said that burning wood is not the most environmentally friendly way of heating, but I hope that it is also helping me and the other volunteers to become a bit more aware of the fact that we are using energy sources all the time, and that we are thereby having an influence on the rest of the world.

Booze

In Kuterevo, making ´rakija´ seems to be almost as essential as preparing wood and food for winter. Rakija is a liquor made from fermented plums or other fruits, and it is very popular in Croatia. Every autumn, many families in the village prepare their own rakija from their own fruits. We have been present at a few rakija making evenings, where we learned about making rakija from people in the village. Basically, after letting the fruits ferment in barrels for some weeks, they are boiled in a pot and the steam is guided through a pipe. This pipe is cooled on one end, and this makes the steam condensate into drops, which flow down into a bucket. This condensed ´fruit steam´ is rakija. We also made some rakija from our own fruits, so now we have a small supply for the coming year.

On prepare la rakja, eau de vie locale

Bears

Bears don´t have to plan things to prepare for winter, they just follow their instinct. In autumn, their instinct tells them to eat as much as they can! We´ve been feeding the bears in the refuge a lot of energy-rich food in the past months, so that they could store enough fat for the cold winter, when they hibernate. Our youngest bear Marko is now almost completely round, very fat and fluffy, and also very cute. 😉

Furthermore, we gave the bears some bales of straw that they could use to build nests from for the winter. The bears seemed to really appreciate these gifts, playing with and even hugging the straw…!

Hugging straw

So now it is winter. We have worked hard and now we have food, wood, booze and fat bears, and I feel well prepared. At the moment, we are preparing ourselves even more against the winter cold by insulating Postaja better, to lose less warmth. You can read more about this in Dominik´s article, which will be posted on this website soon.

Kim from the Netherlands

Snow is here

Although we had a little bit of snow at the end of October, now snow really came to Kuterevo. Before coming here, I (Marco) heard a lot about how cold the winter is in Kuterevo. During all my life I have been living in the hot city of Murcia, southeast of Spain, and I had only seen the snow in postcards and on the internet. Also, as you know, I like meteorology, and low temperatures and snow are for me an awaited event. Finally a couple of weeks ago, after checking the weather forecast every day, I could see my dream made reality: Snow is here! Snow started to fall on 30th of November and it keeps up more or less on the ground until now. But the maximum of snow was last weekend when we had half a meter, and after that, at the beginning of this week, we had about -15 ºC.

kuterevo

But, how is the daily life in these conditions? Snow creates a beautiful landscape and also funny moments. For example snow fights while you are trying to go to the compost toilet, even if you don´t want to, and of course making snow men. However, it is also hard work and uncomfortable moments. You have to clean the snow early in the morning and try to take breakfast with your frozen hands. When it is very cold we don´t have drinkable water and we need to carry water in bottles from our neighbors. I especially love the moment of going to the toilet. You really enjoy that moment, you can feel how the fresh air goes from down in your back to your legs. In that way you really appreciate having a toilet inside your house. Also you need to be careful on the way to the toilet, because while you are walking on the icy path, you can slide and fall down. We don´t recommend using coklije, even though it is a traditional kind of shoes and really warm, but when walking in the frozen snow, sooner or later you will fall.

marcowendy

And, how are the bears living the beginning of the winter? They are now going to their winter dream. We started to give them the straw for preparing their beds before the snow came. Although they reduce their activity during winter, they don´t sleep all the day and when they wake up they sometimes walk a little around the den. They don´t eat during their hibernation, so we need to stop giving them food. Before that we gave them a lot of food full of energy like nuts, corn and fruits, because they need to get fat to survive all the winter.At first we stopped feeding the adult bears. Four out of six have already been sleeping for a while (but have woken up again now), like Vlado Mir and Hu Bear. A week ago we stopped feeding Mladi Dol and Mlada Gora, but they are still awake. We still feed Marko Kralj every day and he is enjoying the snow playing with his friend, a dog called Doci.

bena

Marco