Thursday, December 10, 2009
The salt harvest started this week. Final preparations were underway at the Cooperative’s salina. The socios were out laying down and patching up the nylons, perfecting barriers and even beginning to pump salt water onto the land.
Tuesday I had arranged to go to the salina with Jose Angel, one of my socios, to get a quick look at the operation before my 9 a.m. English class. I woke up at 5:30 and drank a cup of Folgers. Yes, Folgers, the staple American “wake up to Folgers in your cup” instant coffee we all know so well. Seño Lili’s sister shipped a Costco size jar of it from New Jersey. Why, you might ask, in a country known for growing some of the best coffee in the world, would people want to drink Folgers? Because all the good stuff is shipped to the United States. Let me be clear, Guatemalans love their coffee. They drink it like water. Probably because the coffee they are used to drinking, the coffee that is kept in the country for national consumption, kinda tastes like water. Like hot water and a LOT of sugar (they love their sugar as much as their coffee). Sadly, most Guatemalans don’t know what they are missing out on. So yes, as a "treat", I started my day with Folgers in my cup.
The plan was to meet Jose Angel at 6:00 in front of the Cooperative and we would bike to the Salina which is about 2 KM from town. I borrowed Mattihus’ bike and was at the Coop by 6. When 6:15 rolled around and there was no sign of Jose Angel, I thought to myself, “I should have known better than to expect him here at 6:00”. I guess my American punctuality hasn’t adjusted to Guatemalan time yet. At 6:30 Jose Angel showed up and we started our trip to the salina. Unfortunately, I didn’t get more than 10 yards before Mattihus’ bike started making odd rattling noises. Jose Angel turned to me with a concerned look on his face. At yard 40 the chain fell off the bike in the middle of the street. Jose Angel stopped his bike, ran back to me, flipped the bike on its handle bars and started to investigate. The commotion had grabbed the attention of two other men nearby- the owner of the furniture store and a tuk-tuk driver waiting on the street corner. They both ran over to help. The three men then stood around the bike fiddling with the tires and frame. When they agreed on the final diagnosis all three of them went running in different directions, grabbed tools from random stores on the street and ran back to the upside down bike. They quickly cranked the tire and frame back into place with a wrench and pliers. I was amazed at how the three of them happily and swiftly worked together to fix my bike. If I had been on Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica and my bike went bust, I guarantee no one would have stopped to help. I would have had to walk it back home, drive it in my car to a bike shop and pay someone to fix it. Not in Casas VIejas. My bike broke, strangers lent a hand and no more than ten minutes later Jose Angel and I were back en route to the Salina.
When we got to the Salina, I was amazed at how great it looked. I had seen the land on my site visit two months prior but the land was barren- just a skeleton of a salina. At that time I had to really use my imagination to picture how anyone could harvest salt off the plot. Tuesday was another story. The nylons were laid perfectly, the barriers were up and the salt water was already flowing.
To give a quick overview of how harvesting salt works... Big black nylons or tarps are laid down over the land in a windy switchback formation- think a line at Disneyland or airport security (back and forth, back and forth). Little barriers of pushed up dirt line the sides of the nylons- think bowling alley bumper lanes. At the end of the windy line of nylons are “patios” or square plots also covered in nylons- my Cooperative has 17 of these patios. Harvest season starts five weeks or so after the rainy season stops. This is when the workers take a big motor and pump salt water from an underground well onto the starting point of the windy nylon. As water is pumped it slowly winds its way through the nylon maze all the way to the end- evaporating in the heat of the day as it goes along. At the end of the line of windy nylons what is left is a little water and a lot of salt. The very salty water is then pumped into the patios. It sits in the evaporating even more sun on the patio until the patio is full of sea salt. The salt is then swept up into piles and is ready to be packed-up.
I watched as Jose Angel swept up all 17 patios full of sea salt. 8 a.m. came quickly thereafter and I had to leave to teach English. I’m glad I finally got my first taste of the salt harvest. The process was fascinating and I’ve already told all the socios I want to go back soon to sweep up some salt on my own. This, of course, has given them much amusement because salt harvesting is a “man’s” job. I’m looking forward to showing them that a woman is just as capable.