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MARAS

The town of salt


    Two travelers met when they came back to Cusco. Both have a story to tell about. One speaks about some wonderful salt pools, the other men described his thoughts and anxiety after taking the wrong way. This chronic was born from that conversation. The background: the ancient houses and the full pools of whiteness in Maras. Maras: a town and a salt pool situated in the province of Urubamba less than 50 kilometers far from the capital of the Incas.


    Sitting on a stone, a woman looks without noticing the sheep that eat the yellow long lock of the dry grass to cheat their hunger. Next to her, a group of old dogs pretending to be savage bend their backs and bark to the wind, to the loneliness to the hunger or maybe to the bad spirits or souls in pain of the Andean legends.

    Very close to that place, someone stops to admire the horizon of very distant hills and dark clouds about becoming rain. Am I near? Wonders the person before deciding to give up resting or continue walking by the uncertain path, almost inexistent, through which he pretends to get to the salt pools.
 
 
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    The woman is still sitting in the stone, looking without looking the sheep indifferent to the tumult of the dogs that now are barking louder showing their canine fags and trembling by their instinctive fury. They do not frighten the loneliness anymore nor even a soul in pain but to a sweaty man with scared face and the doubtful step of someone who thinks is lost.

    Where are the salt pools? Asked the man with a difficult breath. Salt , the salt? Repeated insistently maybe anxiously. The woman seemed to be waking up from her dream with open eyes, turned and looked at him. She stammered some words in Quechua that the man did not understand, words that confused with the though bark of the dogs.

    The man understood nothing. He gave up asking and just said: thanks , thanks while going down slowly to avoid annoying the dogs. Then he went back walking towards the "other world", "to the bottom" as people in the town suggested him after he refused, with an indignant voice, the offer of a taxi driver who proposed him a round trip to the salt pools.

    "Going by car?. do not even suggest that!, never again!!! Alone and on foot", he roared at the beginning of his adventure when it has just appeared, with winner air and the smile of insensible wanderer, in the desolated streets of Maras: a community located less than 50 kilometers to the west of Cusco at more than 3,000 m.a.s.l.

    It was 11 in the morning and the sky was dropping slight rain. He did not care about it. He was in a hurry and he was so anxious to get to the salt pools that he hardly wandered by the town founded in the colony by Pedro Ortiz de Orué, he hardly admired its lovely adobe church with its amazing granite cross. He did not discover that inside the church there were precious paintings of the Academy of Cusco.

    What it really called his attention was the coat of arms "carved" in the stone entrances of the old houses. A heritage of the noble Spaniards that lived in Maras when the town was a compulsory stop along the route of the people carrying coca and other products from the warm valleys of the jungle to the main markets of the viceroy ship.

    If he would have decided to stay there longer, someone had probably told him that the first Maras were part of the panaca (family) of the prince Ayar Kachi: the lord of the salt who along with his three brothers decided to leave the Tampu T'oqo: a mountain in the Province of Paruro in Cusco, in order to settle the foundation of the Inca Civilization.

    In the road, according to the Legend of the Ayar brothers, the prince Kachi turned into a mountain sheltering a great mine of salt inside. It is also believed that a stream of water coming from its entrails is what formed the impressive salt pools similar to huge steps going down towards the Valley of Urubamba: the Sacred River of the Incas.

    Due to the hurry, the man now walking to the salt pools by an uncertain route (of not more than 6 kilometers) missed a great story. Now in Maras, there are not travelers with a winning smile and suspicious gesture any more. There is only a taxi driver and the clouds that continue stuttering drops of water.

Ravine of Salt
    He did not hear any dogs. Now he only listens to the soft "beat" of his tired steps leading him to the…well, he is not sure about where they are taking him to. However he hopes someday he will arrive at the brilliant whiteness of those three thousand salt pools of five meters each that are displayed in different terraces in the dark ravine of Qaqawiñay. Will he really get to the rich deposit of five thousand meters square or will he give up? If he would get to it, he could see the same descendant of the prince Kachi taking the salt out with the same method used by the Incas. They used to store underground water, with a high quantity of sodium chloride, in the pools.

    The next step was waiting water evaporates. This process takes about 10 days. When this happens, the pools are covered with a salt layer of about 10 centimeters high which is then granulated, ionized and bagged. This is one of the most important income source in the area.

    "I should be near" guessed the traveler. "It has been one hour walking" he figured out. "They told me it was quite near" he encouraged himself by remembering the phrase they repeated more than once, those people showing him the way. But what he ignored, he would just discover it in the bus back to Cusco, is that in Peru nothing is far, everything is near, quite near… And he continued. Every time he goes further. He does not listen to my shouts, he does not understand my signs. What a pity, he thinks he is going towards the salt pools but he is wrong. Even if we see the snowy peaks, the Veronica and the Chikon, or leave our tiredness in this ravine where the ancient men used to make offers to the land, he would not get to the salt pools, he is going by the wrong way.

    Perhaps he should have accepted the offer of the taxi driver. He may have walked more around the town of Maras. If so we would have met in the Square. We would have walked together. Today, he did not see the salt pools. For this reason I talked about them to him in the bus back to Cusco, and so he talked about his lost steps in the historic land of the descendants of Ayar Kachi.



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