Wondrous Healing Salts of Maras Peru
by Kathy Doore
Perched high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the salt mined from the ponds of Maras have been highly sought for their healing attributes, rated in the top 10 finest therapeutic salts in the world by Town and Country Magazine. Due to economics, the local population prefer to quarry the salt solely for consumption, thus removing the healing mineral content. It is still quite possible to obtain unprocessed, raw, mineral salt directly from the salt pans. We often visit the site in order to purchase a bag of mineral salts (pink or beige in color), for use in salt baths. The salts provide wonderful remedy for aching sore muscles after a long trek.
Since pre-Inca times, this salt has been obtained by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds.
Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond.
The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier.
As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker.
Travelers report a refined essence emanating from the cleansing salt of the site.