A dash to Cusco over Christmas was just the thing to set me up for a great new year. No Machu Picchu on the agenda this time; I had my sights set on different goals. Cusco, we learned, is open for tourism every single day of the year, and Christmas is no different.
We chose to drive to the Salineras de Maras in the sacred valley. My interest had been piqued by a nice gift hamper containing a jar of Sal de Maras con aji (chilies) and I was ready to discover more.
I tend to label all things in the Sacred Valley as Inca-built, unless corrected by a more knowledgeable person. While some websites and guides suggest it exists from pre-Inca times, Maras certainly has the characteristics of an organised society – cooperative effort, simple elegant planning, and respect for the environment.
A natural salty stream is the source of this industry. As it emerges from the mountain, it gets channeled into a neat system of supply to every plot, and the owners have to maintain their ponds and harvest the salt. Every plot has a mechanism to open and close the water supply, operated by the owner, and nature does most of the work.
Crusty salt gathered at the edges of plots makes for interesting photos.
It is a spectacular feat of organisation, with thousands of salt pans perfectly arranged in the mountainside:
The little shops at the entrance of the mines have an exciting array of salty delights: canchitas, chocolate and inexpensive packs of salt. I’ve come away with a collection; now to get cooking.