A Forgotten Beach Resort
By Douglas Langley
The forgotten village of Cuyutlan on the Pacific Coast was the playground for wealthy people from Guadalajara who rode the train to enjoy the volcanic sand beach lined with colourful umbrellas and restaurants offering fresh camarones.
Today Cuyutlan is deserted during the week; however, thousands of Mexicans flood the quiet town on weekends and during Christmas and Easter holidays to enjoy sunsets as spectacular as any on the Pacific. Gringos have recently discovered the sleepy town attracted by its atmosphere of days gone by and its affordability. Beautiful villas line the beach road on the way to Tortugario, a turtle refuge. Cuyutlan is also the home of the Green Wave (Ola Verde) where surfers delight in the challenge of monumental waves, green before the wave breaks, back-lit by the setting sun.
Cuyutlan is legendary for its 99.99% pure sea salt. The Museo de la Sal (sponsored by the University of Colima) describes the 500 year history of the salt industry dating back to pre Hispanic times. Dioramas and pictorials illustrate the labour intensive process where salt is harvested during the spring from salt lagoons northwest of the village. Several weathered wood storage sheds near the train tracks store the salt before it is bagged and shipped. I purchased a kilo bag for 10 pesos at the museum. Cuyutlan salt is coarse and has been produced for five centuries. I tasted some and noticed the flavor was strong without being harsh. Industrial salt tends to be harsh and sometimes metallic with a narrow flavour compared to sea salt. Years ago during the Spanish colonization of Mexico Cuyutlan was the main salt supplier for the Guanajuato silver mines.
We travelled to the salt flats where Gustavo showed how sea salt is manually harvested. The salt ponds are unique as they provide a product plus a space for wildlife and migratory birds. Solar salt flats are efficient converters of sun energy and require less energy than processes dependent on fossil fuel.
Annual global salt production from primitive solar evaporation to advanced multi-stage evaporation in salt refineries exceeds 200 million tons from 100 countries and North America produces more than one-quarter. Mexico produces most of its salt from the world’s largest solar factory in Guerrero Negro in Baja California. While we think of salt as a food product, 60% is used in the chemical industry. Bird watchers driving in jeeps through solar salt works may not realize that the vast water fields hosting sea birds are not only beautiful but salt harvesting is ecologically sustainable.
We followed Gustavo and his seven member family in his beat-up cube truck. The one lane path was rough, filled with pot holes and many unmarked turns. (Don’t try driving there without a guide). Gustavo proudly explained that his son began harvesting salt when he was eight. Workers arrive late in the afternoon and rake salt into small mounds late into the evening using lanterns. Gustavo said it takes eight days for the salt to evaporate. It is then shoveled into a wheelbarrow and dumped at a ten foot salt mound that looked like an arctic igloo. He explained that the co-operative pays workers 150 pesos per harvested tonne.
The atmosphere was silent, serene and spiritual. We saw workers close to nature enjoying their family?mother, father, son, daughter and grandchild. They appeared healthy and content with their chosen life as they laughed and sang together earning less in a day than most expect to earn in an hour up north.
Tip: We stayed at Quinta Cuyutlan, a charming five room bed and breakfast on the beach owned by Roberto Snyder of Roberto’s restaurant in Ajijic (cell: 313-122-4619). Roberto arranged our visit to the salt flats.