After we pass Montserrat the main color is yellow. Sunburnt country. The hills before the Pyrenees are green. We stop at Cardona.
“What language do we speak here?”
Lorena is six. She has asked me this question many times this summer. Every time the car stopped in a new town.
“Spanish or Catalan. Whichever you prefer.”
“The fence is from the 12th century. The frescos have been removed, you can see them at MNAC.”
It is cold in the crypt. I sit on the stone and watch my children run around the crypt and the church. We are the only visitors here. The kids are playing horses. The guard, who opened us the church door and is standing next to it, smiles at me. The church is cool and empty. After the hot August sun the air inside is like water.
“The white mountains?”
“Yes. We call them Las Montañas de Nieve. What you see from this window is salt.”
We buy a card and a book from the guard and leave.
The entrance hall is empty. We are the only visitors again. We are charged 28 Euros to be taken inside the salt mine. The kids are excited. We board on a 4×4 and drive to the mine. The road is made of salt. Then we walk on salt.
“All the mountain is salt. There is no rock or other elements inside of it. It consists of three types of salt, potassium, magnesium and the regular salt. Magnesium salt is mostly orange.
It breaks easily. Miners hated it,” Monica, the guide, is taking us on a walking tour inside the salt mountains.
“Can I lick the wall?”
Both kids are licking the walls with enthusiasm.
“Umm. I love salt.”
It is cold inside the mountain.
“We are 46 meters deep now, the temperature is stable at 17C here.”
“Was the temperature an obstacle to the mining?”
“It was, but not here. The mines go up to 1300 meters deep inside the mountain. It is all salt. The miners were only interested in potasa (potassium). It was used for gunpowder. In this mine about 30% of the salt is potasa. Every time there would be no more left, miners would go deeper into the ground. At 1300 meters the temperature of the earth is 50C. Miners worked at these conditions with ventilation installations. Also, the ground waters were dripping non stop and it required a lot of machinery and human labor to keep the mine dry and in working conditions. In 1990s the mine was closed as the operating costs surpassed the profits. Ten years ago it was opened for tourism.”
I ask Monica how did the city life changed with the mine closure.
“I think it is good that the mining was terminated here. Otherwise in 50 years there would be no mountain left. We would have lost all the resources and the scenery.”
“How do the people live here now?”
“Does it give enough?”
“Not yet. Tourism is a longterm investment. We are very young in this sense. We have the castle (Cardona Fortress) and the mines. In 20 years from now it will be better. It will give us profit while conserving the heritage.”
Living off the heritage. I fall silent. I look at the mines. They are beautiful and motionless. The quietness of not living. My eyes see people working. The effort and excellence of human mind and body created kilometers of tunnels, clogging the salt rock with the machinery noise and dust. You must be good! You must be damn good at what you do in order to do it! Otherwise you would not touch this mountain.
While we are waiting for the 4×4 Lorena talks to Monica in Catalan. I can’t hear her. I am surrounded by the absence of sound that comes from inside of the mountain. I can see Lorena hugging and kissing Monica on the cheek.
“I have seven horses. Come to visit me and you can ride there. I live close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. There is a swamp called La Llosa de Cavall. You will find me there. There is only one house along the swamp, this is where I live. And I have a 10 year old daughter. Come over for a visit.”
“Can we visit Monica?”
In the car I write down the name of the town and the place.
“You do not need my phone number. If I am not at home, go to the town and ask for Monica de las Casas, this is how they call me here. You will find me.”
“We will. We will come over next Saturday, will you be there?”
“Mom, I love Monica. What color do you think are her horses? Will she have white ones? I do not like white horses.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. This is why I do not like them too. They are awful, right?”
I look at her and laugh.
“Nope. Some of the white ones must be fine. It is just the one that I rode was bad-tempered. Almost broke my hands once. Others must be good. Do not be afraid to ride white horses.”
“I am not.”
We drive in silence. Then kids start talking about the salt mountain. They want to go there again.
“Are you tired?”
It is close to midnight when we get on B-20 towards Barcelona.
Cardona Fortress.San Vicente church within the castle.The view from the castle.The Salt Mountains, CardonaInside the Salt Mines, Cardona.Salt Mountains.Inscription on the floor of San Vicente Church within the Cardona Fortress: Valer o Morir.