December 15, 2011
The Salt of the Incas’ Earth
A good friend of mine, a professional-level amateur photographer, once told me that the biggest mistake a photographer can make is to forget his/her camera when going to the bathroom. He shared with me this nugget of wisdom in Kamchatka in 2006. He’d been the first to rise in the morning and had left the hut to get to the outside bathroom, only to be greeted by a great grizzly bear… and he’d left his camera back in the hut. (Fair enough, I say – hardly convenient having your camera with you for such an operation; besides – I think the last thing I’d be thinking about would be taking a photo – how about getting the heck away from that massive killer-beast first?! Oh well – each to their own).
But I guess in a way he was right: sometimes you get such amazing moments – and speed is what you need to capture them. The time to pull out that little black device from your bag’s pocket and press “masterpiece” needs to be as minimal as possible as it is. So leaving your little black device in the hut… yep – a bit of a non-starter.
Why am I recalling that incident five years ago in Kamchatka? Well, as we flew into Lima, Peru I had the same trouble – no camera to hand when it was really needed.
On the passenger walkway tunnel thingy from the plane to the terminal there was an advert for HSBC. The ad shows a man in an armchair for some reason trying his hardest to come across as well-to-do while reading a newspaper. Nothing too surprising there for an advert… But it turns out that the newspaper is actually Russia’s very own “Izvestia”, in its full Russian-language, Cyrillic glory! On the walkway-tunnel thingamajig from the airplane to the terminal. In Lima. Peru. South America. Yee-ha!
[Here I think there should be a photo]
So yep – my pal was right: ALWAYS have your camera to hand – you never know what you’ll come across that you just HAVE to snap. And, er, if anyone is popping down to Lima in the near future, and sees the Izvestiya ad – please direct your lens towards it and press the button! Really want that pic!
But that’s all by the by. The main thing I want to tell you here in this post is about our last day in and around Cuzco. There’s a unique place there – the salt valley of Maras on the banks of the Urubamba River.
Salt is extracted here in the old fashioned way – the pre-Inca way: they divide a small saline spring source into several hundred ponds, evaporate the water in the sun, and then collect the salt that’s left in the ponds into bags. From one such pond up to 15 kilograms (~33 pounds) of the white spice can be farmed per season. And it’s all done by hand – from plugging the channels into the ponds, to harvesting and transporting the product. The season ends in December when the rains come. The first rain washes away the ponds’ walls.
How the salt farming is organized is interesting – and also somewhat old-fashioned and unspoiled: Anyone can rent a salt pond from the local cooperative for a small commission and then extract the product for themselves. But locals say that of late there isn’t much demand for pond rentals, so many baths lie idle a lot of the time.
Below are some other interesting photos summing up the day.
The rest of the photos are here.
A day in Cuzco, which is some 3500 meters (~11,500 feet) above sea-level – if you don’t run about so as to not lose your breath (the air gets very thin up there) – is a day well spent. Recommended.
As an aside, I’m proud to say that I secured a +1 to the countries of the world I’ve visited, since this was my first time in Peru. Well, I’d had two fleeting visits to Lima before, but only got to see the airport both times – they were just connecting flights. Now my “been there” list totals 67 countries. Not that many compared to the number achievable with a more aggressive globetrotting policy, but still – not bad.
On the way back we did an extended intercontinental leap across the globe on the Cuzco-Lima-Amsterdam-Moscow route. It turned out to be quite a drag, as follows:
- Cuzco – Lima: one-hour flight, seven hours wait until the next flight;
- Lima – Amsterdam: 12-hour flight, five hours wait in ‘dam;
- Amsterdam – Moscow: three hours flying;
- Sheremetyevo to home and bed – ASAP!
The whole trip came to something like 30 hours traveling. One of my companions then had to continue on further and fly to Kaliningrad – my sympathies.