The Balinese tradition of salt farming dates back almost a thousand years, but is only recently gaining appreciation by not only fascinated tourists, but also by salt connoisseurs. Both tourists and consumers are willing to pay for this inefficient and archaic method of harvesting salt to enjoy both the “naturally produced” salt, as well as the unique taste that is only possible due to Bali’s geographical location. The Eastern shore of Bali borders the Lombok Straight which brings cold water from the north and mixes with the warm Bali tropical water creating a salt that is mild and sweet in flavor. Early morning visitors to the black sand beaches of Kusamba in Eastern Bali will find salt farmers making their way to and from the ocean with wooden or leather buckets balanced on bamboo poles carried across their shoulders.
Slowly and with a defined rhythm, they splash seawater across the raked and pre-smoothened sand along their path.
Over the next several hours, the warm sun bakes the sand into flakes from which the salt is to be harvested. The thin flakes are gathered carefully and washed with fresh water in a series of wooden drums arranged like a miniature canal system to make pure saltwater brine. The brine is poured over split timber planks that are spread across several wooden frames for further evaporation under the sun, a process which can often take a few days. The salt grains are drained into bamboo-leaf cones before being packed into little plastic bags for sale.
Although the process is fascinating to visitors, the work is tedious, tiring, and painstakingly time consuming with a very small yield. Typically, two days of work usually produces about four-five bags of salt, each amounting to approximately 5kg. Since the drying is dependent on the sun, this process can only be done during the dry months.
The extremely demanding physical nature of the job and the low returns is gradually reducing the number of salt farmers. During my previous visit to Bali, I had visited a few older farmers and on this trip, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Wayan Roma who at 30 years of age was definitely an outlier in this profession. I asked Wayan why he wanted to do this work when he could get a job elsewhere and he replied “I used to work at a Hotel in Legian Beach but was getting frustrated by being bossed around and so I decided to start my own business.” He said that the work was hard but he could do it at his own pace and that he could control his own destiny.
Wayan is supported in his job by his wife and his parents and they live together in a modest hut on the beach. When talking to his family, one could not help but admire the family bonds and the family strength that allowed them to persevere under these difficult situations and that too with a big smile. They invited my wife and I into their home and offered us tea. I found them to be confident, proud, and without envy of the lifestyle that much of the rest of the world embraces. They were naturally curious as to what I found interesting in them and I told them that people all over the world are similar in that they work hard to support their family and to follow their dreams. Once again, I was reminded that people who seem to have nothing have the biggest hearts.