After trying my hand at traditional salt making on the east coast of Bali, ‘add a pinch of salt’ has a whole new meaning.
I have to be truthful. I arrived with absolutely no idea what it takes to make sea salt. After an hour or so I was equally fascinated and humbled by the experience.
Komang introduces me to Pak Ketut, a softly spoken man, who moves with the steady gait of one who works physically hard all day. No rushing, this is a man who knows how to conserve his energy. He kindly shows me around his farm, explaining the various processes. In simple terms it’s a combination of salt water and black sand with various soaking and drying stages.
Within minutes I’m hot and bothered. The black sand is burning my feet, the sun is fierce, I’m a sweaty, salty mess and all I’ve done is shuffle around the farm. Everyone else is hauling sand or sea water with a calm grace, barely raising a sweat.
When I ask how they cope, they smile at me. It turns out that these baking hot conditions are perfect for salt making. They explain that cool, cloudy or rainy conditions equals ‘no work, no money’.
The first wave of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. hits me.
Determined to get over my personal sweat stress, I ask to have a go at collecting the salt water from the ocean and hauling it up to the prepared sand beds. With a laugh Pak Ketut loads the bamboo pole holding the water buckets across my shoulders and off I go.
I sprint through the burning sand to the water. The seas are nothing more than a gentle swell, and I’m loving the relief from the cool water. Pak Ketut taps me on the shoulder, indicating I should wait for the perfect depth wave and fill the buckets as the water recedes. That’s the theory. It took me three attempts and much laughter at my hopelessness before I got my buckets half filled.
As I trudge up the hot black sand, the bamboo pole balanced across my shoulders, feeling the moving weight of the water in my buckets, I’m thinking ‘this feels like a Bootcamp exercise’. But this is real life, every day, for these farmers. The goal is food production, rather than a leaner, meaner body.
The second wave of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. hits me.
Once I arrive at the top I do my best to sprinkle the water across the flattened sand beds. Pak Ketut made it look so easy, spraying arcs of water evenly across the sand. My jerky motions result in uneven gushes of water landing like miniature water bombs. I’m not sure who’s laughing the hardest by the time I’m done.
My ‘work’ complete, we chat in the shade of the hut for a while. I’m curious about how they have come to live this life. It turns out their parents were farmers. When I ask if their kids help out, they proudly tell me their kids not only attended school, but now have ‘good jobs’. The smiles on their weather beaten faces says it all.
I’m sure it won’t be long before this type of traditional salt making disappears. It’s hard work in brutally hot conditions, for little money.
In perfect sunny dry conditions it takes 5 days to make 15 kgs of salt. This is a process of patience.
A generation ago there were many farmers, now there are three, in this stretch of beach.
Drop by if you’re on the way to Candidasa, Tirtagangga or Amed. It’s 5 mins from Goa Lawah Temple, 7kms from Padangbai, 1 hour from Ubud.
Please, please, do buy some salt before you leave. It’s very inexpensive, and nothing beats buying direct from a hard working farmer. They don’t have the money or time to take their product to market. (Donate your salt to your hotel kitchen if you have no personal need for it).
PS. This beach area is important to the Balinese for cremations so there’s a good chance you will see a ceremony on the beach. (Please be respectful by wearing a sarong and covering your shoulders before getting up close to a ceremony)
If you need a driver, contact my good friend and driver Komang, he’ll introduce you to the farmers and translate for you as well as take you wherever else you need to go.
Need a hotel on your travels? I use Agoda.com.