The Balkans 3 & Workaway experiences

Welcome to the last blog post of this series. I invite you to take part in some of my experiences in Bulgaria and with the Workaway platform and its community of people. It’s been fascinating once more. White storks, the Danube river, Bulgaria’s multilayered societies, future prospects, and what seems to be my full exit out of the financial system. I hope you enjoy!


Bulgaria – the return to the Danube river whom I had already met in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. How much I love this stream, this gentle presence. After experiencing Lom’s busy Saturday market everyone else went to a café while I took off to explore the town’s centre with its pedestrian zone at the end of which lies the river, flowing quietly and marking the Bulgarian – Romanian border. I can tell that Lom has once been very beautiful. Today many houses are falling apart, some are overgrown, but I can still see the details in the architecture and the remnants of artistic carvings on the outside of the buildings. Just like the Danube river which has once been pristine and full of life. It is now polluted but I still see local people catching fish, and admired the dense forests along its shores on both sides. I got a sense of it’s memory, depth and profoundness. What is water?

I have spent most of my time in Bulgaria in the village of Kovachitsa, about 20 minutes from Lom by car. It is quiet, peaceful, with a lake in which we swam naked – yes, there may be scarcity in Bulgaria, but there is also freedom and there is a sense of self-sufficiency. Much food is grown here, by industries and in people’s gardens. I don’t think there is a single house in Kovachitsa which does not have a substantial garden that provides for a significant portion of the food that people eat. There are sheep, horses, donkeys and … storks. For the first time since my childhood did I see the huge nests that I remember so vividly, with young storks curiously sticking their heads over the edge, and their parents flying overhead. What a sight, what a joy. When I grew up stork nests were common across eastern Germany, on chimney tops, roofs and power poles in just about every village. I have not seen any since a very long time.

50% of Kovachitsa’s about 200 inhabitants are Gypsy, most of the rest identifies as Bulgarian, and then, sprinkled into the mix and across villages is an English expat community. One of the things that struck me the most is the isolation between these groups of people. There is so little mixing. Most expats hardly speak any Bulgarian, even after returning to this country – usually for 6 months at a time – for 10, or more years. Sadly, xenophobia and outright racism towards Gypsy people in particular, and people of colour in general are strong Bulgaria. Neo-nazi movements have gained momentum and show up openly, using Hitler greetings etc. Police violence towards Roma people, government-induced destruction of their homes, and the denial of basic rights are not uncommon.

Danube River

Yet, the greatest dark and the brightest light often coexist in close proximity. Within ethnicities community is alive in Bulgaria, esp. in the countryside of which there is a lot in this beautiful part of southeastern Europe. People come together for baths in the river, or at a local lake, exchange food, support each other. Animal husbandry, including goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, chicken, geese and more is common among Bulgarians and Gypsy alike, and is often peaceful, respectful and in deep connection to the land, its waters and the cultural webbing underlying human life here across time. Walks through the very green village of Kovachitsa have been rejuvenating and so enjoyable – stepping back in time in the best of ways. Powerful nature frequencies.

Lastly I would like to point you to what I feel is an incredible article about Gypsy life in an urban environment – Europe’s largest Gypsy ghetto, Stolipinovo, near the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. The piece was written by a different type of travel writer, Nate Robert, and reflects his honest experience in all its facets based on his own encounters with this unique place and its people. It is written as objectively as possible, pointing to the enjoyable as well as the somewhat disturbing realities of a people that has managed to maintain a lifestyle largely outside the institutional systems, even in this urban environment. Enjoy!!

Workaway experiences

Workaway – what an opportunity this is to live of almost no money. My minimalist engagement with the financial system has taken on a whole new level in the Balkans. Not only has my confidence to step out of this system completely increased exponentially, I also met the right people at the right time who told me exactly what I needed to hear to let go and fully surrender to nature’s principles in a healthy way when it comes to money. I just travelled five countries for close to three months on about 400 Euro total, and am now ready to take the last step and switch to free transport possibilities such as hitchhiking, crewing on sailboats etc. Today I have closed my only bank account. Eastern Europe with its recent history of scarcity induced by its communist regimes has not only brought me back to my childhood, my very roots and what I knew about money when I was very young, but has also nourished me with exactly the frequencies and wisdom I needed at this point in time. Coming full circle while moving on to a completely different level of independence and abundance than I have ever dreamed of, or experienced before.

As if that was not enough, I had the opportunity to support wonderful projects and people through the exchanges we had, got to know countries I had never seen before, and developed bonds with people who were like brothers and sisters to me during the time we shared. Esp. in Bulgaria I experienced incredible team work which is one of the facets of life that excite me the most. There is nothing more exhilarating to me than building something together in true and healthy collaboration, fully in the moment and immersed in this experience of joy that deep mutual understanding and shared values bring about.

Workawayers on break in Bulgaria

Workaway is also a great opportunity to connect deeply with local people and cultural structures by being part of, and contributing to their lives in practical, down to earth ways, experiencing local foods and markets, ways of living and organising the day. For me every one of the four Workaway experiences was completely different. There was such diversity of dynamics, group structure and focus. Sometimes it has been intense when personalities or world views clashed. At other times no words were needed and yet there was deep, peaceful communication and union.

Moving between Workaway projects and communities does require the ability to quickly adjust to new circumstances and situations. It requires a groundedness from the inside out, a rootedness within oneself because stability on the outside is limited. People come and go, tasks change often and local needs vary. But with that comes the opportunity to gain a lot of experience socially, culturally and with regards to the work that is carried out in a short period of time. It is life-changing, or at least it was for me.

How will it continue…

Back in remote Ireland I find myself diving deeper into issues I encountered throughout my travels and am researching, supporting, writing. Examples include the lack of organic farming in the Balkans, the strong need for bird protection in Greece, the logging industry in Romania – I saw so, so many cut down trees piled up in yards of logging and wood processing businesses on the train ride from Sibiu to Vidin. Gladly I also found environmental organisations which address this issue, one of which is EuroNature which you can now find on the ‘Reviving and protecting life’ page of this website. There are people who stand up to logging and wood processing corporations at the risk of their very lives, but also empowering movements of entire local communities. Things are changing.

There will also be research into the support of Roma people across the Balkans, the increasingly exclusive tourism industry in Montenegro and the wastewater system of Serbia. There may be collaborations with some of the local people I have bonded with, stories to share and poems to write. It has only just started.

Leaving the Balkans

I would like to end this series of blog posts with a very short video – having fun in the backyard of my Workaway host Oraya, in the village of Kovachitsa, northwestern Bulgaria, 6km from the beautiful Danube river.

At last I flew back to Ireland for the summer to retreat, process the rich experiences and let them unfold, to expand on the website of course, and to reconnect with dear friends I made here last year. Who knows what will come next – life a mystery…

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