30 October 2012
Salt from deep, deep down in Salineras, Peru
I had always thought salt was being collected by evaporation from sea water, that is, in ponds near the sea, until I had seen pictures of incredible salt deserts in Argentina by Sakina Bennai – and now, the hundreds of salt ponds of Salineras, hidden in a small canyon, 3,000 metres above sea level, between the circular terraces of Moray a few kilometres away and the sacred Urubamba river.
It's a surprising sight to suddenly discover the myriad of salt ponds of different colours as I biked down the Sacred Valley, not without reminding me of the dyeing vats of tanners in Fes, Morocco. The colour of the ponds, varying from white to pink and brown, is apparently dependent on the skill of the harvester. Water flows from the top to the ponds through tiny channels and notches, only closed once water has evaporated enough and salt has started to precipitate on the floor and walls of the ponds. To get a sense of the scale, each pond is roughly 4 metres wide.
The ponds date back to pre-Inca times and are organised today as a cooperative: unused ones are in theory available to any person wishing to harvest salt. Interested?