To La Reunion and Back

Novinite Insider » DESTINATIONS | September 1, 2005, Thursday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
To La Reunion and Back The skies in the village of Zhelen, huddled in the Iskar gorge, may not be that exotic as that in La Reunion, but you may easily describe Filip's plans for its development as such. Photo by

There is no need to fly to the Indian Ocean to learn more about La Reunion, the exotic southernmost department of France, 500 miles of Madagascar. All you need is a forty-minute drive from the capital Sofia to the town of Svoge and then northward to the nearby village of Zhelen.

Milena Hristova takes the trip.

He is just 23, a real-life adventurer, who adores freedom and is allergic to the word "tourist". Here everyone is a guest. A guest to a very charming and interesting host, indeed!

Filip Kirilov may not look like a rugged mountain climber or explorer, but he is one of the two Bulgarians to have ever joined the association at the Ilet des Trois Salazes. Located in the northern part of the circus of Cilaos on La Reunion island, it is under the most exotic skies you can imagine! Once a huge volcano, the island offers spectacular and high-adrenaline hiking and jagged scenery that its glamorous neighbors - Mauritius and the Seychelles - find hard to beat.

The fame of "L'association des Trois Salazes" crossed the Indian Ocean after a publication in Le Monde in 2004. It was then that the world heard about Ian Winkless, the man who turned a virtually wasteland into a vegetable arch of Noah and attracted botanists, agronomists and culture scientists from all over the world to enthuse over the achieved results and lend a hand.

The skies in the village of Zhelen, huddled in the Iskar gorge, may not be that exotic as that in La Reunion, but you may easily describe Filip's plans for its development as such. (His bond to the village goes back to his granny, in whose house he welcomes his "guests").

The sense of freedom is one of the many things that Filip brought with him to Bulgaria after bidding goodbye to Reunion five months ago. His Irish-born "teacher" managed to revive the Ilet des Trois Salazes over the last ten years, turning it into a colourful artist' palette with hundreds of trees and flowers. Filip in his turn is determined to see the village of Zhelen and other unurbanised areas in Bulgaria blossom into a vegetation and hikers' paradise.

The goal is "to present environment-friendly lifestyle, preserve and restore natural resources, local crafts and traditions", says the site of the non-governmental non profit making association "Trinoga" that Filip initiated ( ) .

"Trinoga" translates into Bulgarian not only the name of "L'association des Trois Salazes" ("The Tripod Association" in English), but also its concept. The name comes from Madagascar and goes back to a fascinating legend about a sorceress.

"The sorceress' toes were so big that she used them as a tripod," Filip gives a clue.

In its work, however, the association does not rely on magic. Based on the work of volunteers, it is set to remind people what ecology is all about.

The recent floods, which devastated large swath of land and caused costly damages in Sofia district, only came to prove the need of urgent efficient and correct ecological activities.

"Woodlands clearing made the floods even more devastating," says Filip and explains that the organic matter in the real forest, marked by biodiversity and floor vegetation, serve as a sponge. "This organic matter consumes part of the falling water only to release it in portions later."

The locals are both amazed and exhilarated by Filip's plans.

"The people in the village often ask me whether I believe in what I am doing. I needn't believe in it because I know it works," he says.

It has nothing to do with what is becoming more and more fashionable - a classy camping that needn't mean letting standards slip. In the village of Zhelen one can witness what life was like 200 years ago and have a sip of an "elevating", curing herbal tea! Those who heartily embrace the project are hard working eco-friendly type of people - concerned about the environment, they thrive on outdoor activities, are much more likely to subscribe to "The National Geographic" than to "Fashion" magazine and would never say bugs are their bugbear.

It would be naive to expect however that all people Filip will contact in his work - from locals through NGOs to local authorities - will belong to that species. Yet he claims it has been just the opposite - his plans have been met with cooperation and willingness to help.

Apparently enough to show him that self-initiative is not a dirty word in Bulgaria.
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