All of my worries, problems and rushing thoughts started to melt away as the bus was climbing up into Velebit mountain, passing through the clouds (yes, bus, not a plane), with a sudden drop of temperature that gave me chills. Although I was completely unrested and sleepy, I was struggling to keep my eyes wide open, so I could catch as much of the beautiful Karst landscape , patiently carved by river Gacka as I could. The dominance of Nature power over the man made objects was completely undoubtable. Compared to Dinaric mountains, all the megalomaniac architectural “wonders” of mankind seem like a child’s play. My daydreaming was interrupted by a phone call from our EVS coordinator, Guacimara, who talked to me in a surprisingly good Croatian language, even though her native language is Spanish. She called to inform me that I will have to wait few hours in Otočac, where I will meet two other volunteers, and then we all will be picked up by someone from Kuterevo.
The bus arrived to Otočac, and, I decided to spend my free time sightseeing (and taking a nap in a park) around this cute little city. Previously mentioned power of nature was strongly present and respected here as well. The whole city was patiently placed in a valley, surrounded by the mountains that look like they could swallow the city, just if they felt like it.
I had a prejudice that people who are coming to work in Kuterevo Bear refuge must be a little bit “crazy”, or just different, taken from the perspective of a common, modern society. And my prejudice was not far from the truth: Dejvi from Catalonia, and Irene from Spain had that “special vibe”, so it wasn’t that hard to recognize them among all the other people who came out of the bus. Those two cuties were the two EVS volunteers that I was waiting for, I guessed it from a first try. And talking about that “special vibe”, there are no words that could describe the next person entering our lives, few minutes later. The old dude approaching us, putting his hands in a gesture as he is taking picture of us with non existing camera, speaking in riddles, with the wisdom falling out of the pockets of his pullover. It was Ivan, the “pappa smurf”, one of the founders of Kuterevo Bear sanctuary. The ride from Otočac to Kuterevo was completely overwhelming. It was a struggle between enjoying the breathtaking view, and listening to Ivan’s stories and jokes”
We made one short stop for a welcoming rakija shot, and in a brief moment we found ourselves in the Kuterevo village. Apart from the fact that there are a lot of signs with drawn bears, and things named after bears (e.g. “Medo Bar”), Kuterevo seems like a typical mountain village of this area; Not overly exploited by tourism, even though the potential for making significant profit out of incoming tourists is not in doubt, it seems like here in Kuterevo they found a perfect balance between opening themselves to the world, and keeping the area as wild and original as it is.
As soon as we came to Postaja (the central station of Bear sanctuary), more of the people carrying that “special vibe” started appearing. Joela from Germany and Tea and Marketa, from Czech republic, were collecting grass for the bear’s dinner, and even though it can be hard and boring kind of work, they were doing it with ease and passion. So impatient to see the bears, we needed to wait a little bit more, because the young ones, who are situated closest to Postaja were hiding themselves from the Sun and high temperature. We used that time to get to know each other playing some team building games in wonderful environment around the Postaja.
During the game session few stars showed their brightness. Firstly, Tamara, from Macedonia, broke all the layers of ice with her charisma and energy, than two silent and humble slovenian girls, Sabina and Petra dominated the small competition we made among ourselves, while Alper from Turkey put the right jokes at the right place. With a little bit more of unconditional good mood brought by Juan from Catalonia, filled with constant laughter from Basque Ilaskina and Laura from Spain, so needed manpower from Viktor from Macedonia, and little bit more of a girl power, spiced up with a little sarcasm from Milica and Ivana, from Serbia, we started feeling like a team ready to answer to all the challenges that will be put on our one month long path.
Finishing our team building games just in time of feeding of the bears transformed the atmosphere from euphoric laughter filled rhapsody, to completely silent more than one hour long meditation, while observing three youngest bears, Mlada Gora, Mladi Dol, and the star of the refuge, Marko Kralj carelessly playing and eating their dinner at the same time. That “strange vibe” started kicking in again, but this time i knew how to explain it. That vibe is called “Kuterevo Spirit”, and it is what makes us feel that we are just in the right place to be. It is what makes us feel needed and useful. It is the reason why we smile and even laugh out loud every now and then. And it is just a beginning.
Written by Ilija Nanić, Kuterevo Bear Refuge ,August 2016.
Photo credits: Milica Knežević, Sabina Šajher
Ilija, Tamara, Viktor, Ivana, Milica, Alper, Petra, Sabina, Juan, Irene and Deyvi are participating in an short-term EVS project in Kuterevo. They will volunteer with Velebit Association Kuterevo for 1 month thanks to the Erasmus+ program.