Mayan Black Salt – Don Max
There is a celebration in honor of the spirits that protect the salinas (salt sources) in Guatemala every year in May.
Don Max is one of the last people extracting salt in his village. This used to be a thriving industry with national tourists coming to acquire the precious salt – both for the flavor and the medicinal uses. Now, although the ground salt is sold packaged by the pound by the side of the road in the town, what with floods, long and intense labour in days when a much higher salary can be earned its less effort, the younger generation is not keen to follow in the family tradition. In fact, Don Max is currently the only person still in town following this trade.
Don Max learnt at the side of his father who learnt from his own father and so on. The house he prepares the salt in has been there as long as he can remember and, he told me, as long as his mother could remember. The soil he uses to strew over the salt flats has been recycled for the same amount of time.
It is as much of a ritual as it is salt production. The factors have to be just right.
The salt itself is drawn up through and into the layer on special soil laid on the salt flat by the heat of the sun. There are still a few small thermal pools along the stony shores of the river where the locals come to sit for health and therapeutic reasons. It is then collected and passed through his filter to extract only the saline. And then he prepares for the 10 hour cooking session where the water is evaporated over a wood fire in little clay pots that he makes himself. The fire and pots need tending to throughout the 10 hours until they are full of solid black salt.
His is a tedious job but it gives him pleasure and satisfaction to be carrying on the tradition and knowledge of this sacred mayan process. We invite you to look him up if you are ever in the area; everyone in town knows him. We buy the salt from him at rates above his market price in order to recognize his incredibly important role and want to support him in carrying on this tradition in a sustainable way.