Moray y Moras

The first half of the expedition to Moras was to a very interesting Incan site.  The same terraces are present.  However, instead of climbing up the side of a mountain they sit in a valley.  The terraces form concentric circles.

Circular Terraces

The first of the two sites was made by pre-Incan people.  They know this because the stones are not precisely cut and there are other technique differences.

The second of the two sites is visibly more refined and preserved.

Incan circular terraces

There have been many theories about the purpose of the circular pattern.  Anthropologists and archeologists have settled on the idea that this site was a laboratory.  The circular pattern provided two benefits.  First, every possible direction a mountain might face can be simulated with a position within the circle.  Second, as you descend to the lower levels of the terraces the temperature rises.  Our guide said that it rises 0.5 degrees Centigrade for each level.  However to us it felt significantly hotter than that.

In several positions around the circle there are steps built into each terrace.  These are not like traditional stairs.  They are massive stones built into the side of the wall.  The spacing of the steps varies widely.  Sometimes there are five steps to cover a 5 foot decent and other times there are only three.

One small step for Incans, one giant step for us

Stone steps in the side of the walls

The decent into the center was not trivial.  Each step down was a quad burner.

View down into the center

Not only did the Incans master wall and terrace building, but they also understood irrigation.  Cut down one side of the complex was an irrigation channel.

Irrigation channel

The ascent out was equally challenging.

Looking back after ascending

Our next stop was the salt mines of Moras.  However, on the way we encountered an “Andean traffic jam”.

Andean traffic jam

The salt mines are not like a conventional industrial mine.  Instead there are pools of water that are used to extract the salt.  As we approached the pools, the magnitude of the infrastructure was amazing.

Long view of salt pools

On our hike in, we encountered several burros being used to carry the salt out of the valley.

Burrow carrying mined salt

The pools are fed by a spring.  The source of the spring is not known, but it is passing through a large salt deposit.  The water absorbs the salt and carries it out the side of the mountain to these pools.

Salt pools

Each pool is maintained by a family in the near-by village.  To mine the salt they fill the pool.  After a couple of weeks the water evaporates leaving behind the salt.

To extract the salt from the pool they hit the ground with something that looks like a very dense pillow.  The impact causes the salt to separate from the dirt and settle to the top.  Then the top layer is scrapped off and harvested as salt.

Pounding the ground to help extract the salt

Scraping the salt from the surface

Collected salt from two pools

Bagged salt from one pool

Inside a sack of salt

This is very manual back-breaking work, but it is the way it’s been done for hundreds of years.

Like many things in the Andean culture, the salt mines are a communal resource.  Each family has a pool to harvest.  The salt that is produced is sold at market.  The proceeds go back to the village.  After the government takes a small portion, the proceeds are distributed among all of the families.  Three to four pools per year are added to accommodate new families in the village.

Like the Incan terraces the salt pools are built right into the hillside.  Hiking through them was a unique experience.

Hiking among the salt pools

The salt pools are not without their problems.  Several years ago there was a landslide.

Landslide and damaged pools

This wiped out many pools as well as the irrigation.  You can see the pipe is solving the problem of irrigation.

Conventional pipe replacing irrigation channels

For the families whose pools were lost in the landslide, they were given new pools at the bottom of the mountain.

We enjoyed a short two mile down the valley.

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