Digging in and digging deep: My experience at Ecosystem Restoration Camp Altiplano

Oct 2022

It was the height of summer, almost too hot to be travelling through the hot, semi arid landscape of Murcia in southern Spain. I had been hiking for a week through the Altiplano territory – at times a beautiful area of forests, lakes, waterfall springs and mountains; other times the scars of monoculture agriculture were painfully visible. A tiny dust tornado moved by in the distance and reminded me of why I had come to this place. I was on my way to Ecosystem Restoration Camp Altiplano.

For some time I had felt the need to go there. I had been following the ERC movement since its inception and became fascinated with the concept of ecosystem restoration ever since. Over the years my interest evolved into a strong support for the movement. And, above all, it provided me with a sense of hope in the face of global system collapse and climate breakdown. At some point it became clear to me that ecosystem restoration is an incredibly positive way for anyone to participate in addressing the problems we face today, and that this is of great importance to communities all around the world.

The Altiplano landscape

A shared response to a global crisis

I had fallen in love with the idea of people coming together to restore the earth while having a lot of fun doing so. What if those who could afford to take action spent some of their time restoring nature? I was keen to experience this for myself and, moreover, discover what ecosystem restoration could mean for my own path in life.

So as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted I took a bus to Spain and finally went to visit Camp Altiplano. During an online version of the Regenerative Culture course and the Ecosystem Restoration Design course, I had befriended another participant, and now we were backpacking together towards the Camp in anticipation of the real-life version of the course. On our final approach to Altiplano, I remember the balmy image of the encampment becoming visible on the horizon, and feeling excited about what was to come.

As we arrived at what seemed like an oasis in a desert, we were warmly welcomed by some of the early birds that had already made their way to the Camp. Over the course of the day the other participants would arrive and settle in, with everyone claiming their spot in the bunkhouse. There was even someone who’d cycled to Altiplano all the way from Germany! We came from all walks of life, ages, professions and intentions. But we all carried smiles on our faces.

Soil testing

Preparing to plant trees

Exploring regeneration for soil and soul

The following morning we kicked-off our Regenerative Culture week, a programme full of inspiration centred around the ecological and cultural aspects of ecosystem restoration. Fascinating and beautiful, heavy and deep, practical and spiritual – the experience had many sides to it, but mostly it was a lot of fun.

The course consisted of two parts. Silvia Quarta, the Camp Coordinator, presented one part of the course, focusing on the restoration practices and decisions that had been made in the past 4 years of the Camp’s existence. In addition to her passionate stories about the evolution of the landscape, there was time for us to get our own hands dirty with soil tests, earthworks, rainwater harvesting, microbiology, gardening and composting, to name a few. And of course tree-planting. A lot of tree-planting. It was incredibly satisfying to be working together with a bunch of like-minded people in service of the landscape. My friend, being a chemist with a sharp eye for detail, couldn’t stop coming up with ideas to expand and improve on the plan. Just one example that shows how every person has a unique role to play and contribution to make within a regenerative project.

Personally, I was more drawn to the broader themes of ecosystem restoration, its cultural significance and greater meaning. Lian Kasper was there to allow us to delve deeper into these subjects by facilitating a number of activities that all aimed to explore our worldviews and to reconnect with the natural world and our senses. This ranged from walking blindfolded and barefoot to the sound of a drum, to imagining what a regenerative society would look like and talking about climate anxiety.

The ‘Deep Time Walk’ stood out to me. This 4,6 km hike symbolised a journey through the geological timeline of Earth, in which every metre was equivalent to one million years. At certain points during the hike, Lian would talk about different stages of life at that moment in time. In this way it became clear that over time life on Earth grew more and more complex… leading all the way up to the very last centimetres of the hike where, finally, Homo Sapiens joined the family. The time since the industrial revolution was a mere millimetre. Since we are able to perceive life only on a human time scale, this physical experience of time triggered an existential feeling about our significance and role as the dominant species on the planet and what followed was a deep discussion on why we all had come to this place. What were we here to do?

Other surprises during the week included a beekeeper workshop and a trip to La Junquera’s organic farm to harvest fruit and vegetables. All the while we enjoyed the amazing cooking skills of Gabriel (from A Regenerar). I still remember those paellas, not to forget the arancini rice balls!

Group shot of our team of earth restorers 

Reflections of a transformative experience

To be honest, what stuck the most with me were the simple things. Eating and drinking together, conversing about life, playing music around the campfire and just being so immersed in the area. The whole experience gave a peek into another life. One that goes beyond just planting trees. A life of living in community and sharing all there is. A very localised life, that allows for complete immersion to a landscape. One that is better aligned to our evolutionary needs and behaviours, and more connected to life processes. It’s also a life of compost toilets, dirty clothes and almond cracking!

It’s a life that might seem distant compared to the modern systems most of us are used to, but one of my biggest takeaways from this experience is that it all made so much sense to me. It felt like we were doing exactly what we had to do.

It’s been almost a year since I spent time at Camp Altiplano, and I still reminisce about it often. If, for whatever reason, you’re considering taking a Regenerative Culture Course at Altiplano in the future or thinking of just visiting the Camp, I definitely recommend it. Even if, like me, you have no background in ecology and spend most of your day-to-day life sitting in front of a computer, who knows how the experience could open up your mind to new possibilities. For me personally, it has awakened the dream of one day devoting my life to the restoration of an ecosystem.

Author of this blog and enthusiastic ERC supporter, Stan Joosten

Insta: www.instagram.com/stan.joosten
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/stanjoosten
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stan.joosten.12/