St. James’ Park is in the little village of Voditsa where not a lot appears to happen everyday except that people get their lives together in pretty much the same way that they’ve done for years. There are about 450 people living in this village and for most of them, life is about subsistence living – each family will typically have around an acre of land where they grow all the vegetables that they need for the year. Spring and Summer are about planting and tending the crops and Autumn is about preserving them for the long cold Winter. Few people have any additional income and it is difficult to generate any other business.
But this is not a poverty stricken village – the people in Voditsa have good land and they know how to use it – they are experts at recycling. Nothing is thrown away and things get reused in quite ingenious ways. I’ve been living here since August 2006 and I have learned so much and I now look at the things around me that I may once have called rubbish, and see their many different uses.
If you find our secret campsite, you can choose your own spot in the garden - in the shade under the apple tree, under the walnut tree near the fire circle, up on the hill near to the path that the wild boar use every night (they dont pay much attention to fences!) or in the glade under the acasia trees.
We’re not in a typical tourist area – we’re offering a different perspective on Bulgaria but its also different because we’re trying as much as possible to minimise our ecological footprint. We use compost toilets and the shower block was built from the old chicken shed by two local builders using mostly the materials that were available around the site. We use a wood burning shower but in summer, nobody really feels the need to heat up the water - a cold shower is the most delightful end to the day.
Everything produced on our land is organic and of course seasonal – so if you come at the end of September you’ll have peaches with everything. You can pick walnuts and apples from the trees and cook your own food if you wish - we’ll help you to build a fire.
We’re trying to be as ethical as possible with our investment which is as much about investing energy as money and hoping that this venture will have a positive effect on the local economy. We buy our eggs and milk from the farm down the road and meat from whoever has just killed a pig or a goat. This all provides valuable income for people who live a subsistence life – that includes drinking at the local bar!
Every morning at about 8am, a herd of goats go past the window on their way for their daily meander around the fields. You could just watch them and listen to the little bells around their necks or you could go off for the day with the shepherd and meander about the countryside yourself. The nearby spring is a great place to do your washing and chat with the women there. You could go for a ride in a horse and carotsa or you could have some typical Bulgarian snacks, Rakia and very good wine at the local bar.
You’d meet the neighbours and maybe help them if you want –pick a few potatoes, harvest the corn, milk the goats. The last thing is usually guaranteed to produce lots of laughs but they would certainly be glad of any help. You might make friends with local people and be invited into their homes – this usually involves more Rakia! You could also call in to the Pensioner’s Club in the village. These are really great people who have been so kind and friendly towards us ever since I moved in. They sometimes have a special meeting where they have guests from other Clubs - we usually get invited and we join them in drinking wine or Rakia, eating preserves, meat and bread and of course, dancing.
The village is quite spread out and you could spend a whole morning wandering about. This probably includes talking to people on the way and getting gifts of fruit of what ever is in season.
Breakfast could be banitsa – a typical Bulgarian dish made with cheese and eggs or honey from the village on locally made bread. The vegetables that you’ll eat will all be grown locally and the Rakia will all be locally produced. (Rakia is a spirit made from plums, grapes, pears….any fruit really - that is widely made around Eastern Europe – similar to Irish Potcheen but it tastes better).
There might be a local festival on and you’d get to watch traditional Bulgarian singing and dancing. A couple of kilometres up the road is a beautiful and very large oak forest – a lovely days walk maybe with sighting of deer, bears, wild boar…! You could swim in the local outdoor pool which is fed from a hot mineral spring or hire a car or a bike and explore the lovely national park a few miles north of Voditsa.
Or you could just relax and lounge around in the hammock or at the shady area under the vines in front of the old barn – and sit around the bonfire at night listening to the crickets and watching the fireflies.
It’s a bit different from your regular campsite!
We hope that you’ll come and visit us for a totally different experience of Bulgaria.