Building an eco-friendly campsite

In the following article, we’ll walk you through the building process for our eco-friendly campsite. We have completed two super comfy and easy-to-service compost toilets aka “the temple of poo”, two “yin-yang” shaped outdoor showers, a spacious washing station, and a social “chill-out space”. It is eco-friendly because every drop of water is being put back into the cycle and re-used. It all turned out quite as we envisioned it and – even after a year – we’re still very happy with the outcome.

When we decided to organize the “natural building workshop” in September 2020 we knew that we had a few weeks of hard work ahead of us to build a comfortable camping area to accommodate the needs of 12-15 students. It was quite a challenge, having to build all that within the hot month of August!

And we had to start from scratch: There were only olive trees, a small meadow, and a ruin.

But with the help of our volunteers, especially René, Markus, and Nina, we started to transform the area quickly into something else. First, we installed a small outdoor carpentry from where we’d build all the components for the dry toilets, the showers, and the washing station.

View of our temporary working station on the small meadow.

Compost toilets aka “Temple of Poo”

Our first priority for the compost toilets was durability and comfort. We wanted to create a structure that would last over time and could comfortably accommodate two people at the same time (in different compartments, of course 🙂 ).

Also, it should be easy to service and clean in an efficient manner.

The location we chose for the compost toilet would have to contribute to this latest aspect. We found a perfect spot that was close enough to the tent space and offered two different altitude levels.

The reason for building the structure across two levels is that on the upper level you’ll have convenient access to the toilet spaces while on the lower level you’ll get easy access to the maintenance area with all the bins and containers. This way, comfortable usage is guaranteed for both the visitors of the toilets and the maintenance crew (us 🙂 ) to do the weekly cleaning routine.

In this image, we can see the two levels under construction. The bottom part is the space for the bins and containers. The upper part holds the two toilets and entrance.

As soon as the site was chosen, we started with the foundations for the main pillars. In this case, we used a cement / gravel mix mainly because our focus was on durability and also because there is a high risk of erosion around a terraced ground that consists mainly of sandy soil.

Chris fixing the wooden pillars on the concrete foundation.

After the foundations had dried, we started constructing the wooden structure and raised the nine main pillars.

View of the main structure set on 9 point foundations. The two wooden steps leading up to the toilets from ground level are already in place.
First “test-drive” of the sitting platform 🙂
View of the wooden structure with the first separating wall.
Frontal view of the two cabins with lateral walls finished.
We recycled 2 old green windows. They grant a beautiful view of the village and bring personality to the building.
Mario helping with calculating the roof angle.
Cutting the pieces for making a super comfy toilet seat.
Frontal view of the building without the roof.
Chris using the chainsaw to cut the roof support at the right angle.
A proper tool for each task will save a lot of time.
Frontal view of the building with the roof.
View of the back with the two green windows at the top and the “maintenance area” at the bottom. The urine containers are still missing.

Luckily, we were able to reclaim both doors and windows from a derelict house which are giving the building a unique touch. In the end, we oiled the whole wooden structure (Douglas fir) with linseed oil to protect it better from rain.

One of the main reasons why the compost toilet works so well without generating unpleasant odours was the separation of liquids and solids in the toilet. A urine separator ensures that the faeces do not get the excess moisture and can therefore dry quickly without generating unpleasant odours. Another huge plus is that we can safely compost the precious “humanure” (feces) and use the urine diluted with water as a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer for our olive trees.

For its size, lasting materials, and efficiency we decided to call it The Temple of Poo 🙂

Yin & Yang Showers

One of our first ideas was to build two intertwined outdoor showers in the shape of a drop or the Yin and Yang symbol (which can only be seen from a bird’s perspective).

However, we soon realised that some modifications had to be made to the original shape to make it functional and to be able to enter and leave the “maze”.

Following the permaculture principle, “Each element performs many functions” (at least three), we had set our minds to a solution that would allow us to reuse the greywater from the showers and circulate it through our land as long as possible. From a permaculture perspective, the showers are not only cleaning our guests, they also inspire us with their beauty and most importantly, they’re also helping us to irrigate our citrus trees.

We knew that this would require some sort of cleaning process before we could use it for irrigation. Read on and discover the step-by-step process of constructing the showers and the reed bed to filter the water until the moment when we finally could wash the sweat and dust off of our happy faces when the showers were finished.

It all started with a hole of about 4m in diameter.

René helped us in making the hole. We can see the mix of sandy and clay soil found in that spot.
View of the future shower area.

In the middle of the two showers, we installed a drainage system and a pipe that would transport the greywater towards the reed bed.

René covers the pipe which connects the showers with the reed bed. The wooden boards were used as an independent base for the walls.

We laid out a 4x4m pond liner (black waterproof plastic) to collect all the water from the two showers. Then we topped it up with gravel until the ground level was reached.

View of the hole covered with the pond liner.
We added gravel onto the pond liner.
In the middle you can see the drainage box for collecting the water.
View of the support structure for the poles. The water input pipes can also be seen in the middle.

Once the water collection system was almost done, we proceeded with the installation of posts to support the walls of the showers. Since the pond liner couldn’t be pierced or damaged, we had to construct a stand-alone wooden structure where the walls could be attached to.

After the structure was finished we covered the boards with gravel.

For the shower walls, we chose the local variety of cane, as it grows abundantly in this area and is available freely all year round. Each of the canes was cut to a certain height (around 2m) and a couple of holes were drilled in the ends of the cane. 

Then, a wire rope was inserted through the holes to give consistency to the wall and to join cane to cane.

Working station for creating the cane panels.
View of the first meters of wall installed.
We included a line of stones where the canes could be rested upon.
Just one missing panel…!

Once the walls were done, the only thing left to do was to connect the shower heads with the pipes coming from the ground. For usability and comfort, Nina has built a small wooden bench for each of the shower compartments.

Detail of the shower.
Done! For more comfort and beauty we’ve hand-picked some smooth stones from the beach
Bird’s eye perspective:
A slightly opened Yin-Yang shape allowing to access both showers independently.
View of the “Temple of Poo” and the showers

Washing station & Laundry

Last but not least, we also needed a place for our guests to wash their clothes, brush their teeth, and, basically, have access to water.

From reclaimed local chestnut wood, Nina built a beautiful wooden table with a double sink. On the extension to the left, we managed to integrate an old washstand that we had found in the trash. 

View of the wooden table with the sinks still under construction.
View of the completed washing station with the old concrete washstand.

Of course, we also connected the greywater pipe from the washing station with the reed bed.

We didn’t want to waste a drop of our precious water!

Chill-out area

Creating a space for people to relax and socialise after work was the last of the tasks. We thought that our ruin, a halfway collapsed former farm building, would serve that purpose.

So we started to clean the inside from all the wild vines, brambles and leveled the ground. The half-open walls protect the interior just enough from wind gusts, creating a nice comfy space which we’ve completed by adding a couple of tables and wooden benches.

We’ve also included a light chain for late-night sessions and, most importantly, a power socket for the students to charge their devices.

Finally, we included a sun sail to create some shade for the rare occasion of rest during the day.

View of the “chill-out” space inside the ruin

Luckily, everybody was as excited as we were about our new campsite facilities! We didn’t have to wait long before we’ve got some positive comments from our guests.

Among many others, we remember the happy face of a student exiting the showers. He came out with a broad smile from ear to ear saying:

“This shower experience has been amazing, I simply love the natural vibe of it”.

But not only us humans enjoy the benefits of a well-designed campsite. Remember: From a permaculture perspective, each element should have multiple functions. In this case, our trees and gardens also benefit indirectly from these facilities as the faeces and urine, generously produced by our guests, are being used as fertilizers.

In the case of urine, we get a ready-to-use, nitrogen-rich fertilizer (diluted 1:10 with water) while we prefer to let the faeces aka “humanure” decompose for at least a year before we use them as an amendment / organic matter for our trees.

We feel proud of managing our campsite in a sustainable way and hope that all our future guests will be equally happy knowing that the water they use or their “left-behinds” in the compost toilet will eventually be reused and put back in the big cycle of life.