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Men of Salt

When salt is your whole life

Men of Salt is a documentary about a community in Bolivia, which for generations lived off working on a salt flat, extracting salt, building houses and even making art pieces.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It covers 11,000 square kilometres at an elevation of 3,600 metres. Locals call it ‘God’s Mirror’. The place used to be a lake 40,000 years ago, but now water covers the salt for just two months during the rainy season. There’s a scientific and a local theory about how God’s Mirror was formed. Legend has it that the mountains surrounding Uyuni used to be people.

One of the volcanoes was a man named Kusku, and the other was his wife, Tunupa. Kusku had an affair with another mountain, and an angry Tunupa went away. Her children, the streams, ran down crying for their mother. She saw they were hungry and drained her breasts, and all turned white, forming the salt flat.

The people who gather salt here are called ‘saleros’. Saleros’ work used to be of great importance due to a massive demand for salt. The salero’s work is arduous and is a health hazard. If they work without a mask, the face starts burning, so it is impossible to sleep by the evening. The skin peels off the face, and it hurts. Besides, salt causes sinusitis because it’s very aggressive in the air.

What does a salero’s routine look like, and why wouldn’t people leave this job?