“Barrio Mainit: The Hamlet Where Hot Springs Abound
By Gus Saboy,
Philippine News Service, The Mountaineer, ca. 1966
Ensconced up on the roof tops of the subprovinces of Bontoc some 18 kilometers north of the provincial capital town is the bustling, misty-covered mountain hamlet of Mainit. Here in this sequestered ancient Igorot village are found hundreds of spurting thermal springs exuding blanketing vapor clouds over the area.
The hot springs are found everywhere – sandwiched between mushrooms of thatched-roof houses, along banks of brooklets and streams, and on the crannies of rocky hillsides. In the heart of the village is the “mother” of all hot springs in the region emitting snarling bubbles of hot water – so hot that it can instantly scald to death any living creature plunged into the hellish pool.
Around this mother hot spring are found smaller springs carefully impounded by natives into puddles some of which are made into bathing pools. But less know among these smaller pools of natural hot water are the salt beds from which are produced what has long been known in the region as the “Mainit Salt.” These are sheltered hot spring puddles where one finds table salt growing on stones!
Mainit’s primitive salt industry is as old as the history of the village. Old folk in the barrio recall that their ancestors have been engaged in this unique home industry “since time immemorial.” Even the far-flung highland barrios of Abra and Kalinga were supplied with the “Mainit Salt,” they averred. During the dark days of the Japanese Occupation when table salt was as precious as gold and silver to the mountaineers. Mainit was the supplier of salt. Many of the villagers made good money out of the salt business during the period.
Today, even with abundant commercial salt sold in the markets, the village primitive salt industry is still thriving as in integral part of the people’s occupation. Many of the natives claim that the salt they produce is superior in quality and taste over that of those sold commercially, especially for preserving meat.
But does salt grow on stones? The statement sounds hyperbolic but here’s how the Mainit tribesmen grow them on stones.
In the preparation of their salt-bed, the villagers first select from among the hundreds of hot springs a moderately warm spring. When a suitable one is found, a space is cleared around the hot spring and is excavated into a small puddles. The area is then secured from dirt and mud and leveled to allow the hot spring water to spread evenly over the water pool.
Small stones are then gathered and are evenly laid on the surface of the pool with their top parts exposed to the air above the water level. Pebbles are selected and placed between the rock banks to serve as “valves” for the small spillways to regulate the flow of the hot spring water.
A conical shelter is then constructed over the salt bed with its eaves extended down to the ground level of the water. An opening is left on the ground edge of the shelter to allow the circulation of free air inside the sheltered pond.
With the hot spring pond adequately covered, a water vapor cycle takes place inside. Through the natural process of condensation, salt elements carried by the hot water streams settle on the exposed dry tops of the stones laid on the water. Salt accumulated on the stones thicken as the cycle continues for a period of 10 to 15 days, depending upon the temperature of the salt bed.
When the accumulated snow-white salt grains thickens to about an inch on the stones, the salt is ready for “harvesting.” This task is done by the womenfolk. The salt-capped stones are picked one by one as they are dipped into a vatful of fresh water to dissolve the salt grains. The salt grains on the stones may otherwise be simply scraped off with a bladed stick into the vat. The salt solution in the grains are again extracted through the process of evaporation.
The villagers say that the salt which accumulate on the stone tops can be gathered for use in the kitchen. The boiling process is only done to prepare the salt for long storage.
The salt on the vat is ladled into prepared runo blades for wrapping. Wrapped into rectangular cakes, they are “baked” over live charcoals for hardening. The salt cakes are now ready for long storage and the market.