It’s Tuesday and we’re already more than halfway through our two week workcamp ”Understanding Bears”. Since the first days the time has really been flying! We are a group of twelve from Spain, Poland, Finland, Ireland and the Czech Republic, not to forget our Bulgarian camp coordinator, Neli, and Helena, who is organising our work.
Our first task was to get to know those who the refuge exists for – the bears. Each of us watched one of the eight bears for an hour and read their personal histories. Afterwards we shared with each other what we had learned about them, and observed from their behaviour.
After the introduction day our daily routine was established. Each morning starts with medotation (‘medo’ being Croatian for ‘bear’) when we can concentrate on watching the bears, reading bear books, writing our diary or just having a quiet moment for ourselves. After having breakfast – usually with lots of bread and ajvar – the daily work starts.
We are divided into four teams. The fence team is cutting branches, cutting the leaves from them, feeding the leaves to the bears and building a stick fence that will mark the route of the educational trail, which will be established close to the bear enclosures. All of this involves a lot of physical work, but luckily the members of the other teams have been helping out.
The drawing team has been looking for bear myths. The stories are giving the team inspiration for rock paintings that will ignite the visitors’ imagination and help them to grasp the importance that bears have had, and continue to have in the human culture of many areas of the world.
The herbarium team is responsible for establishing a bear botanical garden that displays various plants that are part of the bear’s diet or named after the bear. Their work involves a lot of research on different plants and their names in different languages – and naturally finding those plants and planting them in the garden.
The signs team is cutting bear shaped signs and writing the plants’ names on them in Croatian, English, German, French and Latin. They are also painting some other new signs to catch the visitors’ attention. These include a welcome sign, signs for the souvenir shop and a sign for the medotation spot.
Freetime on the Mountains
The camp is not only about work, though. We have also had presentations about bears, watched films, played cards and explored the surroundings. On our days off we spent the night in Kopija, which is a beautiful spot in the mountains. There are some wild bears on the mountains too, but sadly – or luckily! – we were only able to see their footprints in the mud.
By the campfire in Kopija we also got our bear necklaces that mark us as Kuterevo volunteers. There was a whole ceremony organised by Ivan, the founder of the bear refuge. We enjoyed the warmth of the campfire and the baked potatoes despite the stubborn rain that has haunted us for the past four days. The sound of the rain only added to the atmosphere when we played the werewolves game in the candlelight in the tiny mountain cottage.
The weather has changed dramatically during the camp. The first few days were full of sunshine and heat that almost wore the northernmost participants out. Now the weather resembles the usual Irish or Finnish summer with chilly temperature and rain that occasionally keeps us away from our usual gardens and fence worksites and threatens to messup our rock paintings. By the weekend we’ll probably be sunbathing again.
We have also had time to explore some of the local cultural charasteristics, and this has not been restricted to just drinking rakija. Yesterday we visited a man who makes tamburica, a little stringed instrument that resembles a banjo. The instrument is also called kuterevka due to its importance to the local music tradition. Our coordinator Neli told us that the local school children have a really good tamburica band. Unfortunately they are on holidays right now so there’s no opportunity to hear them play.
Tonight is going to be the international night when we are going to play games and share the food and drinks we brought from home – at least those that haven’t been consumed yet. Later in the week there’s also going to be a bear story night where all of us are invited to share a traditional story from our countries or a story written by ourselves. Before that there’s still a lot of work to be done. By the end of the week the numerous visitors of the refuge will hopefully be able to admire a brand new fence, signs and rock paintings and to learn about bear related herbology.