The Magic of the Maras Salt Mines
Travel, Science, History, Culture, and Cultivation all in one stop!
The Maras Salt Mines are one of the most unique ruins sites in all of Peru. They are not about the fancy palaces of past lords, tragedy of war, or anything of the like. Although they DO come from the times of the Inca Rule…possibly even before!
My favorite part of this attraction is one teeny, tiny detail that I find absolutely astounding: they are still in use!! The plan and structure of this salt cultivation method is so great that it has been sustainable for more than 500 years.
Hundreds of small, shallow pools make terraces that run up the mountainside in the valleys near Urubamba. They are filled by an intricate network of underground ravines that allow water to slowly seep into the ponds. The natural water supply has a salinity content of 90%.
The pond workers carefully monitor the water levels everyday to determine when to cut off the stream access. When the levels are just right, the entry points are closed off. From that point, the pools are left to the device of the wine and sun….and the natural evaporation process. Eventually, all of the water dissolves, leaving the salt sediment to be harvested.
The monitoring and collecting of the salt is both an independent and universal effort. Each pond is “owned” by a different family in the community. Each family is responsible for maintaining the water and salt levels of their own pond, as well curating and protecting the soil walls and floors of their own pool.
Since the pools are designed to trickle down to neighboring pools, the maintenance or lack there of can result in the success or destruction of those adjacent to it.
New families in the community can petition to gain access to an abandoned pond, but they must accept the lot that is farthest from the village as well as the steepest, longest walk from convenience.
Most of the families collect the salt for their own use, but a few are approved to sell their salts in the community markets and at tourists stands. In ancient times, some families harvested the salt for mummification purposes.
This system of hierarchy and collaboration has been effective for five centuries.
The whole experience was such a great opportunity for family learning. The kids were just as curious and fascinated as we were. And no one frowned upon them for wanting to touch the salt water or for scraping the salt off the dirt and licking it. J
I love the mentality of the South America people. How can we teach the next generation if we don’t allow them to investigate their own curiosity? The way to a sustainable future is not to slap little hands for touching, to shush little mouths for asking, or to cover their eyes from seeing!
Instead of stifling their innate desire to learn, why not ignite it?! And this is undeniable power of worldschooling.
In these experiences we see first-hand, the methods of other, older and wiser cultures. And it seems so painfully obvious that we’ve had it all backwards for so many decades already. So, this my plea for a revolution: Free the children and give them back the power to learn!