A weekend in Colchani

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

The weekend I spent mostly in Colchani. 25 kms from Uyuni, Colchani is a village (300 inhabitants) at the shore of the Salar, and all the jeep tours that visit the Salar pass through this village. Locals have some stands, selling small things made out of salt and the usual tourist-gift-stuff, but apart from that it’s a pretty deserted place. On my last trip I had already spent an afternoon here with David, my british friend who writes about the lithium project and the people that live on the Salar.

I decided to come back because I wanted to know more about the people that live in Colchani and their work. Most of the men work as “salt workers”, bringing tons of salt (directly “scratched” from the Salar’s surface) to the village. After a short process of drying and purification, the salt is then packed in small bags and sold as regular salt for cooking etc. I don’t know when this practice stopped, but until the late 20th century caravanes (with animals) brought the salt to cities like Tupiza where they traded the salt against other goods. Nowadays huge trucks transport the salt to various places in Bolivia, some is even for exportation.

In september I had photographed Carlos, a 20 year old who has been working in the salt for 5 years now. After asking a bunch of people, I found Carlos again and brougt him a copy of the photo I took of him. I spent the whole afternoon with him, and in an old old Nissan truck (must be from the 50’s or 60’s) we went out to the Salar. Days before, Carlos had prepared several, 1 meter high pyramids of salt. Like that, the (slightly wet) salt could dry quicker.   Carlos then shuffeled 4 of these “salt pyramids” on the truck, and as he finished after 1,5 hrs or so, I asked him how much salt that had been. He said appr. 5 tons are now on the truck. We drove back to the village and Carlos unloaded the salt at his companies courtyard. Three times a day he drives to the Salar and back, and when 5 tons is the correct number (sounds quite a lot to me), Carlos moves 30 tons of salt every day – with his own hands, no machines included! I tried to help him shuffling the salt on the truck, and I must admit it is damn hard labour, which most West-Europeans could never imagine.

Carlos shuffling salt on the truck.Here are the “pyramids” of salt.

On our way back to the village of Colchani we picked up this woman who is also a salt worker.
Survival of the fittest?!

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