Salt of the earth
15th December, 2005
Half way between Cusco and the lost city of Machu Picchu lies the ancient artery of Inca trade and production - the salt terraces. For over 1,000 years little has changed for the salt farmers of Maras. Now, thanks to a clumsy, unnecessary and potentially dangerous attempt at mass medication, this traditional livelihood is at risk. By James Frankham.
It looks like a vast marble staircase; 4550 terraces of salt, tumbling down the hillside to the town below. As the mineral-rich water runs from one evaporation pool to the next, it colours each differently, from subtle greens to ochres and greys. Some glisten white like snow, first-grade salt ready to be harvested. Others are tawny puddles still being warmed by the sun. It is also the only place on the planet where salt is harvested on terraces rather than evaporated from sea-water pans.
For centuries the farmers sold the salt in the towns and villages throughout the valley. Until recently they were making 12 soles (£2) a bag. Then in 2002 the government decreed that all salt must be iodised, and the farmers were required to sell their stock to Sal Yodada Marasal, ‘The Company’, for processing. Now they receive between 3.50 and 6 soles for 50 kilograms – less than £1 for each sack.
It’s a meagre income, even in Peru.
Camilo and Jose have tended their baños several times in the last month; adding water, harvesting...
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