Orcas circle the bay in search of unsuspecting sea lion pups, two trawler wrecks cling precariously to the rocky shore, and the cemetery's tombstones are engraved with German and Nordic surnames.
Welcome to Cabo Raso, Argentina—elephant seal population in its hundreds, human population: two. Sitting on the Atlantic coast of Patagonia, the village was once a disembarkation point for 19th century German migrants, before becoming a weapons-testing site during the Cold War. But given its remote location—47 dirt-track miles from the village of Camarones and 101 miles from Provincial capital Rason—"El Cabo" fell into a state of permanent ruin when its last resident died in 1987.
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The intervening years saw fishermen and surfers gather to make use of its natural resources, including Sal de Aquí co-owner Martín Moroni.
"It was an abandoned village but a lot of people went fishing. I'd go surfing as there were good waves," Moroni tells me. "And, as it's so remote, we used to stay at El Cabo for a few nights. That's how we found salt. While you're waiting for waves, there's not much going on so we'd fish, catch octopus, and collect salt from the puddles. It was so far away and no one was living there. Everything had fallen down and fishermen would use the cottages' wooden floor boards for fires."
Regardless, Moroni and his Sal de Aquí co-founders Eduardo Russa, Veronica Sincosky, and Natalia Suarez saw the potential to produce sea salt from El Cabo. They set about establishing Argentina's first and only sea salt business.
"We started out filling drums with sea water about eight years ago, then the second time we filled a truck, the third with a bigger truck," Moroni explains. "It took several years to learn how evaporate the water and separate the salt, then another two years to receive a green light to sell it commercially. We had to undertake studies in Buenos Aires so that the Chubut authorities understood you could take salt from the sea, which seems ridiculous! But no one understood that in Argentina."
Around this time, Eliane Fernández Peña and Eduardo 'El Gitano' González moved to Cabo Raso with the intention of breathing new life into a village left to ruin for the best past part of a decade. The couple and their two youngest children moved into a single room in the village's most habitable cottage. From there, they worked to clean up the land and restore houses using only original materials like tin and stone.
Their efforts seem to have paid off as Cabo Raso now has six houses and dorms for visitors to rent.
"According to my mum, the biggest challenge is to have done everything they do with their own resources, which aren't many," explains Peña's daughter Lucía Peréa Catán. "To try and adhere to a certain lifestyle and offer the most sustainable tourism possible takes a lot of work—plus it's expensive. We barely have any permanent staff, it's very isolated, and a lot of people don't understand what we're doing."
When it comes to salt production, things are similarly complicated.
"We go with a lorry filled with 20,000 litres of drinking water and leave it for Eliane and El Gitano, then refill it with sea water," adds Moroni. "The outlet has broken a lot of times, we depend on the tides, and it's harder in winter as it's dark by 4 PM, then you have to drive for three hours back to Trelew. There's no communication so if the truck breaks down and he doesn't turn up for a day, we send out a search party!"
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Though some have criticised Sal de Aquí for not harvesting the in-demand fleur de sel variety of salt, top Buenos Aires chefs like El Baqueano's Fernando Rivarola and La Mar Cebichería's Anthony Vasquez swear by their product. The quartet have branched out to make wakame and smoked flavours, too.
Besides being Sal de Aquí's water source, Cabo Raso also hosts the annual Fiesta de la Sal Marina party, organised by the sea salt's producers.
"It started out as a casual gathering with around 35 friends and the fiesta is now in its fifth year," explains Moroni. "In February, we invited some chefs from Buenos Aires and spit-roast Sal de Aquí-salted pork and made a curanto—an underground dirt-pit oven where ingredients like mussels, scallops, and potatoes are wrapped in leaves then covered with hot stones and buried."