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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

The Road Less Traveled

Hello all,

As we are getting ready to depart from Urubamba I thought I’d share a cool story from our time here. Earlier this week, Hugh, Gabe and I took a trip to the local salt mines at Maras. After a frustratingly expensive and needlessly stressful combie (a form of public transport) ride that cost us 35 Soles, 20 more than it should have, we arrived at the salt mines (Salineras). After taking a few minutes to stroll through the stalls selling everything under the sun made of salt, from chocolate with the Maras salt to rock salt in the shape of a pyramid we made it to the salineras proper.

The salt mines at Maras are nothing like the Salar de Uyuni, in fact they are almost the opposite. Where the Salar is a flat expanse of salt many feet thick in places, the Maras salineras are pools of salt water in square salt pans on a hill side. The salt water flows from a subterranean stream in a nearby hill and is then channeled into the various pools where it is left to dry. Once the water evaporates, all that is left is salt which is then scraped out of the pools. The hill side is completely covered with these pools and an intricate system of channels brings water to all of them. After spending a bit of time there, we decided that we were going to hike down the hill to see some ruins and then take another combie back to Urubamba. The walk down was very cool and the whole hillside was littered with massive salt rocks. At one point the trail split into two, one which was clearly the official one and the other, which we ended up taking was definitely the road less traveled. As we were walking along I noticed something that I thought I would never see, a small pile of very bleached human bones simply lying on the side of the trail. We all stopped and looked at the bones and soon we discovered a jew bone, cracked skull and a host of other bones along with what looked like graves that had been built against a cliff wall next to the trail but had been destroyed and were now revealing their contents. We hung out for a bit and then moved on, slightly unnerved and a bit giddy with fear and excitement. From there we realized that we were not on a through trail and simply followed a small channel which was bringing water to a village below us. We followed the channel until we just decided to off road through someone’s property to get back onto the main trail.  Slipping and sliding our way through thick brush and mud, we emerged at the level of the community in a well manicured front yard. The gate in front of us was locked with a chain and so we ducked under a barbed wire fence and passed the entrails of a few slaughtered animals that were being eaten by dogs and whose blood was being noisily slurped up by two ducks. From there we hiked the rest of the way out to the main road where we caught a combie, that only cost us one sol each. We ended up making it back to the Hostal 15 minutes late for our group meeting.

Despite the fact that the hike down from the Salineras did not end with us seeing any ruins, the experience as a whole, from the first combie driver charging us an outrageous fee to the human remains to the ducks drinking blood was super cool and a lot of fun; not to mention a learning experience. I guess you never know what taking the road less traveled might show you.

Oh, the image is from google because I didn’t take any photos and a picture is worth a thousand words.

– Jackson Gould