Sunday, September 21, 2008

Salt From the Earth

The Incas were quite adept at channeling the water from mountain springs, and they used that skill to good advantage at Salinas. The Incas discovered a salt water spring in the mountains. Rather than dig up the mountain to get the salt, they let the spring bring it out for them.

They built hundreds of collection pools and connecting channels down the mountainside from the spring. They'd fill a pool, then redirect the water elsewhere. Then they just had to wait for the water to evaporate in the dry mountain air, leaving behind the salt. I've never worked a salt mine, but I've got to imagine it's a lot harder than that.

The area seems like an incongruity, an inexplicably snowy slope in the middle of an arid dry-season landscape. In reality everything is blanketed in a thick layer of blinding white salt crystals.


The pools are constructed with the signature Inca stone work. It rarely peeks through the layers of salt though.

The whole area is open for tourists. You can wander out among the pools, walking on the narrow pathways between them. It feels precarious, until you remember that the pools are only inches deep. Still, it's another reminder of how things are different than the USA. There's not a rope, guardrail, guard or personal injury lawyer in sight.

Despite the non-stop stream of tourists, Salinas is still a working industrial operation. Workers amble around the narrow walkways between pool tending to the operation. Some were breaking up the crust of salt on top of pools so evaporation could continue, others scraped dried salt into big bags.

The bags are hand carried from the pools up the hillside, where they are loaded on donkeys and carried away. The salt is eventually marketed worldwide as Peruvian Pink Salt. It's unsurprisingly pricey; $37/pound.



I've got more crystallized photos that go well with popcorn, check 'em out.


Tim Bailen said...

That's awesome!

BeaKeR said...