Pilgrim’s Spirit

In Kuterevo, we used to receive visitors and volunteers all the year, some of them are travellers. It is everytime interesting to exchange words with them. The stories are often different but in the same time similar. The following story will be about a French family, came to Kuterevo to visit us and see the bears.

Thierry and Natacha Castan, respectively 41 and 40 years old, and their two little cute girls. Thierry is a realtor so he can continue to work on his laptop during the trip, Natacha was a teacher but stopped before to leave. Romane is 6 years old and she wants to be a cook, or a market gardener, and Elyse is 10 years old and would like to take care of animals. They are from Mongaillard, a town between Bordeaux and Toulouse.

This family is traveling all around the Europe with a school bus. They bought this huge bus to be comfortable for a one-year trip. The bus was previously used for an athletic sports teams so everything is done to spend a lot of time inside.

The story is…

They both wanted to travel together, they first think about a trip they will be retired. Thierry told us “If we wait to be really ready for this kind of trip, we will never leave”, and who knows what can happen in few days, months, years? So they decided, in February, to realise their dream now. They really wanted to live something else, to see different culture and to share with different people. Natacha was teacher but wanted to stop, and for Thierry it was easy to keep his job as he could work on his laptop. For the girls they found a solution for the school. Romane, the youngest, receives some lessons from her mother every morning and Elyse is learning from a school which send to the family the different lessons for her, step by step. Every morning, Thierry is working while Natacha teaching Romane and Elyse. They keep the rest of the days to visit and discover.

When we met them in Kuterevo, the first thing that we saw was their smiles! A real happy family who really wants to talk, to learn about the bears and to know how we live here. In Kuterevo we can often meet this kind of people. They travel, sometimes without knowing where they will go and how long they will be traveling. They all have different reasons to travel, sometimes to escape their routine, to discover other cultures, other way to live, open their mind, find some human and nature contact, exchange.

Before this long experience, the Castan family needed to find the good vehicle. They finally found this bus three weeks before to start to travel. Natacha stopped to work, Thierry organized everything with his colleagues, the little girls started to dream!

The 21st of July 2018 the bus left Mongaillard. The family with a nice southern accent crossed the France from the South West to the East, and then they discovered the Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia and now in Croatia.

They spend about one month in Croatia, enjoyed the welcoming inhabitant and the many beautiful places. Speaking with another couple who stayed one night and helped us the day after, they discovered Kuterevo and came right after.

They really enjoyed being here, to feel the strong spirit in this village and in the refuge. They bought some coklje as well, the typical shoes make by the villagers. They were so happy to bring a part of this place. They told us they will remember this place for a long time. Their eyes didn’t lie. They left the 24th to continue their trip with a lot of good vibes and they hope they will enjoy the other countries like this one. They plan to go to Greece for Christmas, travelling through Montenegro and Albania. The South of Europe is more comfortable in van/bus for the winter as the weather stay temperate. They planned after the New Year to visit the Baltic countries, followed by Finland, Sweden, and Norway, reach the North Cape and go back to France through Denmark, Netherland and Belgium.

When you come to Kuterevo you can feel and understand the special Kuterevo’s Spirit. When the Pilgrim’s Spirit meet the Kuterevo’s Spirit we can call that a symbiosis.

Aurélien and Delphine

Bears forest energy

Have you ever seen a stranger pretending to be a bear? That will be the first thing you will see if you go to Kuterevo. The man we are talking about is Ivan, the founder of Velebit Association Kuterevo, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Nowadays the association´s aim is mainly to protect orphan bears of Croatia, offering them a shelter, and learning about natural and cultural heritage through different perspectives. Each year more than 200 volunteers travel the world to Kuterevo to support the project. We were part of them for ten days living in the middle of the forest 2,5km from the village in a place entirely designed and built by volunteers called Kopija.

Since we were living in the forest, the lifestyle required ability to start a fire for cooking, hearing wild pigs during the night and even having to deal with scorpions in your sleeping bag.

As the food was vegetarian we were supplied with local products such as cheese, cherry jam, ajvar and rakija. Even if you don’t drink, like some of us in the camp, rakija is traditional drink  that you have to try.

Our mission consisted of different tasks such as building ponds for wild animals, clearing up paths, decorating the place and, occasionally, going to the village to help other volunteers with their jobs.

Indeed, all the decisions were made collectively, this way we did not experience any conflict between us.    On top of that the timetable was flexible and could be adjusted according to our wish as well as the weather.

We also took part in the local community by visiting people from the village working with them, learning about their skills and experiences. For instance, we visited Dragica who makes coklje, traditional shoes made of recycled materials, hand-knitted and unique.

Đurđica, in the other hand, who has been a volunteer for many years, came to discuss the concept of peace on different levels as well as teaching us about SCI origins.

We enjoyed the simple style of living which strengthened our group relationship and the peace during our stay (we even found a common language with foresters working around our camp).

But these were not the only opportunities we had to meet with locals because lots of them were also part of the volunteers. We also cooked and had lunch with them.

However, the workcamp was not only about hard work but also about creativity and cultural exchange. Indeed, Kuterevo Volunteers Station and Kopija are covered with different pieces of art from all the previous volunteers and workcamps. For example, our group did a bear shape totem and painted the water collector in which we kept out food to prevent the wild animals from coming to the camp. Nevertheless, we occasionally had some guests such as a squirrel, dormice, bats, a wild pig, all types of insects and even something which sounded like a bear.

These experiences gave us a chance to share our cultural differences and discuss about it. As you probably know Croatia is well-known for its coast so that is where we spent our day off. Although our original idea was to hike in the Northern Velebit National Park  we spent only few hours there and we went to the beach because the weather was dangerous for hiking (very strong wind and no visibility because of the clouds + temperature of 5 degrees Celsius).

Our last day, we took part into a ceremony during which Ivan made us promise that we would behave according to Kuterevo spirit in our own countries devoting at least four days per year to volunteering, but also to gather more people in our everyday life and inspire them to become more active members of society.

Kuterevo spirit aims to create a global community in which people just help each other without any personal gain in order to build a peaceful world. Now it is our responsibility to spread it.

Claudia, from Spain

Bear Art Workcamp #3

For some people 20th of August was just another ordinary day but for us, 9 volunteers
who had the opportunity to be a part of Bear Art 3 Work-camp, that day was the beginning ofnew experiences, adventures and friendships.

Our work was a lot different from the work of other volunteers because it was focused
on art connected with bears. We came as “artists” so everyone had different ideas about what we should do, but we managed to make a compromise surprisingly easy. Instead of one big project we decided to do a few smaller ones depending on each person’s interest and we helped each other out.

For example, we made a few signs that were not yet there and a wooden book about
Kuterevo village and bears in the refuge. Photo-place was a real success because people were intrigued by colorful bears even when the project was not even finished yet! And prints of bear paws on the road turned out to be really helpful; both for tourists, who didn’t know where to go and for volunteers working at info-station, because their work became a lot easier with saying “just follow the bear steps” to visitors.

But we weren’t just drawing and painting, we also had a chance to feed the bears,
explore the village and for example meet a lady who makes special traditional shoes typical for Kuterevo, we also had a little tour through the village and learn a lot of information about nature in that part of Croatia. We also learned stories of bears and some of them are really touching. We tried to spend as much time as we could admiring and observing these magnificent animals and we were having fun guessing which bear is which.

For one day we also went to camping place Kopija where we proudly became
Kuterevo volunteers and had a little party for ourselves, baking potatoes, exchanging funny
stories, making fun of our accents and there were a lot of failed attempts of singing but
even the youngest among our group was enjoying himself.

We also quickly adapted to the simple living conditions and realized that you really
don’t need much to be happy – we probably did break a few records in taking the quickest
showers ever because of the cold water and every day was full of surprises, especially when it came to cooking. Gordon Ramsay probably wouldn’t be impressed, but hey, we are artists, not cooks 😉

And then came that day of goodbye’s, handshakes, hugs and even some tears. We
were all a little sad because it was already over and it seems that time really flies when you are enjoying yourself. So, we were people of different ages coming from different parts of the world, we had different backgrounds, spoke different languages (thank you Google translate), and had different personalities, but nevertheless, we all came with the same purpose to volunteer and at the end we left Kuterevo as friends with beautiful memories.

Bear Art team