Connecting with nature through fun activities

The summer seems fake, it smells like roasted peppers” – Taraleshta

I have always dreamt about going camping with friends but have never actually gotten to it until now, the summer of 2022. I had just graduated and was exploring different job opportunities when I checked out a notification from an Erasmus Group on Facebook. It was exactly what I needed and unheard of – about 13 days you live in nature and move around three countries in tents! You are responsible to cook your own food, prepare your own place to sleep, live sustainably, engage in educational activities, and explore the local communities in Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece – all in their unique ways. I found in the info-pack of the project a list of possible fun activities that we’ll do during the project such as biking, kayaking, trekking, and hiking, that will allow us to connect with nature, all of these in an intercultural environment! I did not need to learn more than the fact that we will not starve and we will do our best to have fun!

I sign up, I am accepted, we meet online to prepare, I borrow a bag and an inflatable mattress, I order a sleeping bag online, pack some sporty clothes and leave for Romania.

I feel like I am in some old tale as I am kneeling by the river and washing red peppers with one of my new friends. We are laughing and having fun preparing the vegetables for dinner. Nevertheless, I wonder why I was ready to build tents around three countries with total strangers and even take a bath in a random Romanian river. We sit around in blankets and talk about different topics – what happened last month, would there be something interesting in the news while we are away with close to no connection, and what is coming next?

On one of the first days, during the lunch break, we trek to a functioning Orthodox monastery, called Robaia monastery, which according to folklore sources, seems to date from the first part of the 14th century, today being also an important historical monument in the area. The place is high up in the mountains and, of course, it was reconstructed and renovated over the years, but it kept up a vibe that makes you feel you are lost in time. The silence, cleanness, and the natural surrounding of the place, isolated from any other kind of civilisation, it’s just mesmerising. The women there are calm and positive. They spend their lives in a simple manner. The little they have is just enough to have decent lives. They share the story of the monastery with us while one of our Romanian friends translates for us. Soon we leave and can feel that we are close to our new home – the tents. Like any other trip there wasn’t all about the destination, but about the trip… walking near the forest, on a county road, full of stones and dust, together with your soon-to-be-called friends, being open to any adventure. On the road, the unexpected waited for us. We hear meowing and there is a small army of kittens that walks out of the forest. After some discussions, we decided to them with us back to the camp.

On the third day of the project we went to see a stone monastery, in Corbi village, Romania. Very close to that place, there is a local man who inherited his grandmother’s house next to a stone formation that used to be an essential baptism space. He shared with us the history of the place and showed us the household, where a dried-up river used to flow before and even where the pigs used to live, as well as a huge hall, which was used to baptize previous peoples on these lands. He was very passionate while telling the story and about all the cultural inheritance he received from his grandma. In order to keep her memory, he held her house intact, filled it with pictures of the family, and left it open for everyone to visit, for free. It does not feel natural to be back in civilization, to see the people moving on with their lives, unsuspecting how we sleep on a field in the forest, wash in the river, and have a campfire on a daily basis.

There we go to yet another unplanned but welcomed activity – feeding the cats, finding a suitable space for them and just caring for them. That night the games around the fire start getting more personal. It is not only about having fun but also about getting to know others better personally and discussing topics that are not “easy to say” during daylight.

We are traveling to Bulgaria and looking forward to going kayaking, which is a first for some of us. There are also pedal boats and bikes. Batak and its views seem like civilisation compared to the wilderness of Romania. There are bathrooms and better cooking conditions, which also means more time for planned and unplanned activities.

On the first day in Bulgaria, we decided to go biking. Our first idea was to go to the city and come back, which seemed like a lot but it is easy to accomplish, but as soon as we got on the road, we changed our minds and took another way. Someone suggested that we should make a full circle around the lake. We stopped to have a discussion and vote on it. Some time passes before we realize how unprepared we were for this adventure. We didn’t even have water since the trip was initially planned to last much less! Therefore, we stop by other campers and start begging for water before we meet the nicest people who offer us a huge bottle and some cups. Better hydrated and laughing about how we presented ourselves like a bunch of salvages, we continued our trip around the lake. We bike and we bike, but the lake seems more and more, appearing endless before us.

I have not been biking for 2 years and find it hard to keep steady. I ask the group to stop and rest. We go, we stop, we go again, we stop again… at some point, it is only uphill. The biking route seems to have gone far, far away from the lake and that makes our trip longer. I started pushing the bike and walking so some of my muscles could rest. I know there is a possibility to call a car at the camping, to come to pick us up but why give up now, why, why? Moreover, I will not disappoint my group! We are doing this together, we are there for each other, so we will succeed!

Soon enough the good times for our biking adventure come and we start going downhill and reach the camp intact. I lay on the grass and take a good rest, thinking about how much I overcome my limits and the trust in myself. I feel that I can do anything at this moment.

In Bulgaria, we have already managed to save time from daily routines such as cooking and cleaning and, on the second day we went to Batak for sightseeing, for interacting with and getting to know better the local community. There are a bunch of local museums and many information signs. We get to know some Bulgarian history and climb an old monument that oversees the city at sunrise. We feel like local teenagers eating sunflower seeds and trying to take the best photo in the tiny park.

My arms hurt from kayaking when we reached a small island in the middle of the artificial lake. The white flowers are unbelievably beautiful and birds fly above us going to their nests in the middle of the island. The group arrives in portions of some paddling, some kayaking, and a very few of us swimming. We start taking photos amongst the flowers, dancing, and feeling like a tribe before it is time to head back to the new lawn that has our tents on it. We split in groups depending on who wants to paddle, who would rather row, and who just prefers to ride in the back. Our arms hurt by the time we return to the camp and continue with other activities, since one of the tasks during our adventure on the lake was to make pictures to the plants, birds, insects, and other components of these amazing ecosystem. 

In Greece, we go to the beach as soon as we arrived. We swim and shared our stories from the trip and crossing the border. We explored the area, meet some locals, teach each other some tricks such as diving with goggles and we laugh endlessly. Our fun activities around a fire, this time more of an imaginary fire, since the risk of vegetation fire is very high in Greece, so we choose our spot on the beach, do a circle, and played the same old games while sharing stories. We notice how some of us have become more moderators, while some needed the floor to share and the rest to listen.

Besides all these activities that aimed to connect us with nature in a practical way, we have also done theoretical activities that thought us more about learning about biodiversity, water, climate change and environmental issues and raised our awareness about some of the challenges our planet is facing. We also had a first aid session suggested by one of the participants, which I found out very nice and informative. 

Saying goodbye is tough and I see that most people try to avoid it. One of our last activities was revealing our secret friends. We played this game each day. It was about gifts giving and connecting with other people. You pull a name out of a pile and have to surprise the person you pick up in an original way, to make them happy.

One blog is not enough to summarize all the fun activities that we had in the span of 13 days, but I did my best to cover some of them. Do I reach the port of trusting these people who have spent days and nights trying to have good times in harsh conditions? Yes, they become my good friends and I know I can count on them, no matter how far away we are right now… Of course, the fun part was not the only factor that formed the group but it definitely was a crucial one.

Ecoventure bit: “Just say yes and go, experience, and live the adventure!”

This article was a little bit long, so I will just say this – every person should embark on a one-of-a-kind experience such as this one. Just say yes and go, experience, and live the adventure!

The content for this post is part of our online blog called “Ecoventure” which aims to share our experience in the Erasmus+ Youth Exchange ”Ecotourism Ventures for Youth Environmental Education”. The project was financed with the support of the European Commission through Erasmus+ Programme. This blog reflects only the author’s views, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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