I've given you a hint in the title of this post, so you probably already know what you're looking at in the photo above. They're not terraces of snow or white marble -- they're thousands of individual pools of salt in Peru's Urubamba River valley.
Years ago, I'd visited underground salt mines in Austria and felt claustrophobic riding down a wooden slide where the salt was mined. But that felt like child's play compared to the descent to the salt pans of Salineras, Peru. It was a little too close to the edge for most of the harrowing ride down the valley, but our driver assured me he had done it many times before.
The 6,000 individual salt pans of Salineras de Maras have been mined since Incan times.
Individual salt pans form cascading terraces along a hillside.
The pools are filled with heavily salted water from a natural spring. The water is diverted into the pans through a series of channels, which can be blocked off, controlling where the water flows.
Once the pan is filled with water, the sun does its job and helps evaporate the water in a few weeks, leaving layers of salt about one meter deep (about 40 inches).
At Salineras, they sell lots of different kinds of salts, including some flavored with herbs and spices.
I bought several bags, including one type of salt that's used for medicinal purposes -- very useful after my ankle injury on this trip.
I was sidelined at the edge, due to my injury, but my daughter explored, walking carefully along the paths between the salt pans.
When it's time to harvest the salt, families arrive with shovels and start filling bags with the salt.
It's also an area of many ancient Incan sites, all crowned by the magnificent backdrop of the Andes mountains.
The beetles are dried,
Artists and textile experts have long used the natural dye in their work, and it's also been used in food coloring for centuries as well as in cosmetics. It fell out of favor for a while, but after some synthetic red food colorings were found to be carcinogenic, the natural cochineal red is making a comeback.
Similarly, Italians produce a liqueur called alkermes, whose intense red color also comes from an insect. The liquid, infused with flavorings like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is widely used there in baking and as a digestivo.
The people we met were so friendly and warm, we were sorry we couldn't spend more time there. I hope you get a chance to visit too.
Hasta la vista.