For those of us who have seen the classic film often screened at labor organizing events, Salt of the Earth, a visit to Maras Peru can be nicknamed with this title and with double meaning.
One approaches Maras through a scenic landscape—cloud-capped mountains in the distance, with hills and valleys emerging as you make turns on the dirt road. We took one of the Sacred Valley tour buses out of Cusco to this site, and the excitement of our bilingual tour guide, Erik, about the Maras miracle was contagious.
As is often the way on such tours, the first stop was a commercial outpost where one could purchase the three types of Maras salt: brown, said to be good for arthritis; pink, recommended to accompany fish or meat; and the top tier white, recommended as your daily staple.
Erik’s voice picked up speed as he excitedly elaborated on even more health benefits, and the extremely reasonable prices. (28 Soles--or about US$8--for a kilo, e.g.)
Maras Salt Production Pre-Dates Incas
From this small commercial outpost, the bus wends its way to an overlook to see the salinas. An array of white rectangle and other polygonal flat tiles below are at first difficult to decipher. What you are looking at are the remnants of where 4500 pounds of salty water from springs below washed over these plots and were allowed to evaporate before the salt crop was harvested in cycles from June to October. The underground springs that feed these salt flats are said to be a saline as the Dead Sea. It takes about 30 days for the salt to evaporate, leaving the three layers (brown, pink, white).
You are looking also at the workings of a pre-Inca cooperative labor system. Yes, there may be vestiges of guilds in Western Europe that can trace back to the middle ages, but these economic cooperatives are ALIVE today. During Inca times, Maras was THE source of iodine for the empire. Families’ plot size was related to the number of family members. Today, it is also based on Morais land tenure. A similar cooperative labor system, we learn, is at work among Peru’s strawberry, cherry, and peach farmers, among others.
Above all this is a scenic destination. Be prepared to watch your fellow tourists perch precariously on overlook ledges for selfie moments, advertising how this is a tragic fall waiting to happen.
For more information contact Erik, firstname.lastname@example.org