Intensive summer… and fall :)

As usual, these last months have been pretty intensive in Kuterevo bear refuge. From Spring till now, and especially during “crazy summer time”, many motivated volunteers have come to help the project, many visitors have come to see and learn about the bears , and so many things happened every day that we’ve not taken time to write some news on this blog 🙂 We’ll try now to sum up a bit 🙂

Spring was already busy with two international workcamps, many individual volunteers, and lot of work to do for the new enclosures for the bears. With summer came more and more people, especially scouts from Belgium and France. Most of July and August were spent working for the new enclosures, as much as weather allowed us to do so… If few weeks were nice and hot, this summer weather was unexpectedly rainy and cold, which is not normal here… Summer was not really summer, like last winter was not at all a winter… and more and more we can see that something is definitively wrong with the climate… or people?

Anyway, under the hot sun or with rain jackets, volunteers were digging hard, cutting branches and bushes, making the foundations for the the fence… And through weeks and weeks of work, we saw the new pool taking shape, as a den and tunnels for the bears 🙂 Latest in Spring, two bears from Split Zoo will be able to use the newest enclosure, which is being built thanks to volunteers and Foundation Vier Pfoten.

But volunteers do not come only for helping the bears. As always, and as one of the main idea of the project, people come here to learn, share, enjoy, discover… Thus, the summer was punctuated by many activities. Movie projections, games in the forest, story telling around the fire, hikes in National Parks, visits to local people…

And once again we celebrated “Karmenica”, Kuterevo village celebration, by joining the procession in the village and few evenings with local community, but as well with some special activities and workshops for volunteers 🙂 We had some very special moments, like a big gathering of volunteers around a big camp fire at Kopija for a bear story telling evening. We’ve been for few years trying to collect tales and legends about bears from all around the world, and with so many volunteers it was perfect opportunity to share some inspiring stories under the stars and to invite everyone to do so 🙂

Another great time was the cooking competition organized a rainy day, when all groups met the challenge to cook vegetarian meal only with local and seasonal vegetables and on open fire! That was a very nice experience for everyone, opportunity to reflect about food, where it comes from and what can we choose to eat or not… and we really enjoyed our meal 🙂

Part of the work this year was as well strongly related to education, with the preparation of a new educational trail (Following on the footsteps of European Brown Bear)* where visitors will soon be able to learn more about bears. Artistic volunteers worked as well on new murals and painting exhibitions, hoping to inspire visitors with their “bear art” 🙂

Summer ended, but not volunteer time and hard work 🙂 September, October and even now, the volunteer’s station has been full of life with many international volunteers joining us for short time and helping a lot. And even if we can see and feel more and more that winter in coming, we are still using all sunny days to try to finish the new enclosure as soon as possible!

Thanks to all 2014 Kuterevo volunteers, and hope that you will keep Kuterevo spirit with you!

Amélie

 

*Educational trail is supported by the Rufford Foundation

Workcamp “Land for the bears 2”

After the first workcamp Land for the bears, and with many other volunteers and scout groups newly arrived, our workcamp has been working hard to prepare a new bear enclosure in the refuge. Every morning bright and early our team stumbles out of bed to dig the foundations which will surround the enclosure. We use picks, shovels and spades to help us do this. The trenches have to be 1.7metres deep and are filled with cement which has to be rolled downhill in wheelbarrows and poured inside the holes.

Here are some pictures of us:

Although the work has been tough its very rewarding to know we are all contributing to such a special and meaningful project. The fact that at the end of the muscle pain, sun burn (and in one case sun stroke ) there will be a new home for bears who are in need of one keeps us all going.

Besides the work we have managed to have lots of fun during our first week in Kuterevo. On Sunday our workcamp leader organised a trip to Senj where we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was the city’s church which was really impressive. After that we visited the city castle where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the the islands surrounding Senj.
In the afternoon it was time to relax – beach, beers, a picnic and some swimming.

As part of our downtime we visited a lady in Kuterevo who makes the villages renowned ‘coklje’ – traditional slippers handcrafted using wool, recycled materials and fabrics as well as tyre for the soles.

A bit of Rakija (a traditional drink made in Kuterevo) and a box of biscuits later we were still listening to her stories with intrigue. She had us all laughing with her animated expressions and honest approach in telling some of us we were white and small and others that we would never get married due to the size of our feet (size 48). Despite the cutting honesty by the end of the visit we all wanted to to smuggle her back to the refuge with us.

Getting to know the eight bears in the refuge and caring for them has been a big part of our stay so far in kuterevo. Here are some pictures of us feeding them bear ice-cream (huge blocks of ice filled with fruit such as nectarines, peaches and apples) and other pictures of us making what are called ‘Enrichments’ tree stumps which have small holes drilled into them. The holes are filled with peanut butter, walnuts, corn and sunflower seeds for the bears to either claw or lick out.

Mary

1st workcamp “Land for the bears”

After almost 22 hours in the bus, from France to Croatia, I arrived in Otocac, the closest city to Kuterevo village. The first person I met was Ivan, arriving in his little red car and speaking to me in Croatian. I can’t say that I understood anything, but his words sounded good:  language was not necessary to share.

By seeing him, I already knew that I will live something unique.

We stopped many times, and on the way, I drank my first rakija (no no, it was not 10 am…..). Maybe better to relax me before meet my new team !


Arrival in Kuterevo

When I arrived in Kuterevo, the sun was present, and I could appreciate the beautiful landscape all around the place. First, I met a part of the group: Rose, a dutch girl; Hana, Czech girl; Michele, an Italian guy and Lukas, our Lithuanian workcamp’s boss. They looked nice and I already felt well with them.

After a presentation of our house, I met the eight bears and all the other animals, discovered the compost toilets (and the cold showers). A good lunch and it was time to work! We had to collect the grass that will be fed to the bears and made big piles of it: three hours there, physical work started.

Then, we met the others volunteers from Kuterevo, who are staying a longer time. We enjoyed a beer with all of them. At the end of my first day, I felt comfortable and was in a hurry to live the rest of this wonderful experience…

What we did

Pick the grass was not our only work… The second day, on Tuesday, we started to renovate an enclosure for the bears. Program: dig the ground and collect rocks. Hard work whit the hot sun but there is a good atmosphere among the team. Two French people arrived on the afternoon: Laura and Guillaume. The group was almost complete, we still missed Arsim, an Albanian guy who finally arrived Thursday night.
The days after, our mission was to put up a wall. We made concrete, most of the time with a machine and (when the machine didn’t want to work anymore) by hands. But concrete is not as easy as what we can expected… sometimes too dry, sometimes too liquid: at the end, Guillaume almost found the good recipe!

Unfortunately, we had to stop a lot of times because of the rain. Concrete would not hold well with it. We finally managed to finish the wall.

Community life

Workcamp is not only a “work camp”. It’s also the opportunity to meet people and to learn how to live in community.

  • The volunteer needs some rules, so we have eight rules to learn. Actually, one is really hard to respect: not to pet the animals… with something like three cats (more or less), four dogs, ducks and chicken everywhere, that’s not an easy one!
  • Make a schedule: who will cook ? Who will wash the dishes ? Who will find an activity for tonight? Necessary if you want a good understanding between people.

  • Learn different languages : each person write the translation of some words in his own language, and at the end of the workcamp, we make a little contest
  • Have fun : play (children’s) games, make a fire, play guitar and sing, go to the only restaurant in the village (who was actually really good, and plenty of drink), try rakija (and more than try for some of us), hike to Kopija, find some bear footprints and maybe wolf shit….. Make a contest with bears’ stories and win a little bear statue (having said that, I am the lucky one who won the bear, and I am really happy of it).
  • Learn about Kuterevo’s culture: go to meet a man who make an instrument called tamboritsa, watch a documentary about the refugee, listen Ivan and Lukas’ stories…
  • Visit the region: go to Plitvitcka, admirate the amazing waterfalls and lakes of the national park.

That is just an unfinished list. Our days were pretty full and we can say that we didn’t miss activities.

Last days

After one full week, people began to leave. The first was Hanna: she left on Wednesday. Then, it was the French couple. At that time, I felt already nostalgic… Our team has five volunteers and we could fell the end coming. For our last day, we made a totem with all our names (the most beautiful one  ). We also organized a presentation of our work on powerpoint and then, we shared our last dinner all together, with the Postaja team.

I’ve met some very nice people there, lived magic moments with the nature. It was so short. I wish I could come another time and enjoy a rakija in front of a bear. For all of that, I would like to thank Ivan and Helena! Also, thanks to Lukas for everything. It was an incredible time with all of you!

Camille, from France

Another workcamp, “Land for the bears 2” will take place in Kuterevo from the 25th of June until the 8th of July. More information on the camp and how to apply at this link.