Author: durangatang

Eveworlds-ugliest-dog-trophyry year, in Petaluma California, a contest is held.  It receives extensive media coverage, and over the years has even featured scandal related to hacking and vote tampering.  What, you may ask, is so important that it drives contestants to such skullduggery?  This coveted trophy, awarded to the “World’s Ugliest Dog.”  


In recent years, this contest has been dominated by the Chinese Crested breed.  These hideous little monsters are often hairless except for the top of their heads, their paws, and their tails. 

But while the Chinese Crested has been getting all of the repugnance accolades, Peru boasts a breed that can give it a run for its money.


I give you the Peruvian Hairless!


The Peruvian Hairless is one of three breeds of hairless dogs that are internationally recognized as such, the other two being the Chinese Crested, and the Xoloitzcuintli, or Mexican Hairless, to us non-Nahuatl speakers.


I don’t know who sits on the International Board of Guys who Decide whether or not to Recognize a Dog Breed (actually, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale), but the criteria are actually pretty simple. The breed has to have a dominant hairless gene.  Thus, while there are some other dogs that can be bred to be hairless, like the American Hairless Terrier, these three lucky breeds are the only ones that can be that ugly all by themselves.


Interestingly, though, they all have a recessive “furry” gene.  In the case of the Peruvian Hairless, each litter usually contains a 2:1 ration of hairless vs. coated puppies.  Here’s what a coated one looks like – proudly flaunting his hair and general overall good looks:


The genetic combination resulting in hairlessness also often results in missing teeth.  While the puppies are born with a complete mouthfull of teeth, they often don’t get all of their adult teeth.  Maybe this has something to do with why they’re often seen with their tongues hanging out of the side of their mouths:

Miley Cyrus

Oops!  Wrong picture!


Not having hair, they’re also liable to get sunburned.  In Peru’s Sacred Valley and the surrounding area, at only 13° south, and 10,000-14,000 feet elevation, this is a real issue.  And when you don’t have any fur, you get cold.  Thus most Peruvian Hairless owners in the Sacred Valley region make or buy little sweaters to help their pets stay warm.


Of course, it’s not who we are on the outside, but on the inside that counts, right?  The Peruvian Hairless is all about inner beauty.  They are friendly and affectionate with their owners, but wary of strangers.  They are especially protective of women and children.  And they’re smart.   So at least they’ve got something going for them.


Apparently, Peruvians are not shallow people, because the Hairless has been a popular pet for many hundreds of years.  Prior to the Inca, the Peruvian Hairless was common among cultures located along the Peruvian coast (where it’s warmer).  For them, it was a pet as well as a source of meat.  Once the Inca empire got rolling, the Peruvian Hairless was one of the most popular dog breeds, although only as a pet; the Inca prohibited eating them.


And honestly, can you blame them?  Who would want to eat such a cuddly critter?


Salt versus Gold

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted fun fact: “Back in ancient times, salt was worth its weight in gold!”


But is it true?


The answer is a definite “maybe,” but only in very specific places under very specific circumstances.


Regardless of how true this claim is or isn’t, though, the history associated with it is pretty interesting.


Here goes.


In the early middle ages, trade started to develop in west Africa through the Ghana empire. Plenty of commodities changed hands, but the most important were salt and gold.  Don’t let the name fool you, the present day nation of Ghana is a ways off from where the Ghana empire was.


The map below shows the pertinent places we’re talking about.

Gold Salt Trade


So if you were to head north from the Ghana empire, you’d soon find yourself in the middle of this:

Sahara Desert

Not much to see here.


But, in certain places in the Sahara, like Taghaza or Taoudenni, if you dug through a couple feet of sand, you’d hit halite deposits (salt).  So traders from north of the Sahara started crossing the desert to trade with the people south of the Sahara.  Among other things, they were interested in gold.


Conveniently, the people from Bambuk region, west of the Ghana empire, as well as the people from the Wangara region, south of the Ghana empire, had lots of gold.  But wouldn’t you know it, they were a little short on salt.  You see where this is going.


Pretty soon, Arab traders set up salt mining operations in Taghaza and Taoudenni.  They brought in slaves, and left them there to get blocks of salt ready to load on their caravans when they rolled in from the north.  Since there was literally nothing in these places except for salt, water, and sand, they brought in all the food for the slaves on these caravans.  They lived on dates, camel meat, millet, and of course, all the salt they could eat.  Once the caravan left, there was no need to worry about the slaves running away, they had the only food and water for many miles in any direction.  They even built their houses out of salt because there was nothing else to build with. 


The Ghana empire ran a tight ship when it came to commerce.  They policed their travel routes to provide traders a safe strip though their territory (in exchange, of course, for some hefty duties levied and everything going in and out of their borders.)  So if the Arabs traders could make it through the Sahara, it was then smooth sailing to get to the Bambuk and Wangara regions where the gold was.


But once they got there, instead of meeting face to face and haggling, they engaged in silent barter, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Nobody says anything, and often the parties don’t even see each other.


It often went more or less like this:  The Arab traders show up at a designated trading location.  They lay out the salt they want to trade.  Then they beat on some drums so that the Wangarians know they’re ready to trade, and they withdraw back to wherever they’re camped out, a fair distance away, but within earshot of drumbeats.  The Wangarians show up, take a look at the salt, and then put a pile of gold next to it that they think is a fair price.  They then beat on some drums and withdraw from the trading location.  The Arab traders come back, check out how much gold the Wangarians have left, and decide whether or not it’s enough.  If they’re satisfied, they take the gold, leave the salt, beat on their drums, and leave.  If they want a higher price, they leave everything, beat on their drums, and head back to camp, so as to give the Wangarians a chance to offer more.  The process continues until a deal is reached.


This process sounds a little strange, but it served a couple of purposes.  First, language differences were no barrier because speech simply wasn’t used.  Perhaps more importantly, it ensured that no trade secrets slipped out.  For example, the Wangarians traders kept the locations of the gold mines strictly secret to prevent the Arabs from simply bypassing them and going straight to the gold.  It is said that if a miner was captured by traders, he would die before revealing the location of the gold mines.  One story holds that a miner was captured and killed in an effort to discover the location of the mines, and when the Wangarians found out about it, they refused to trade for 3 years as retaliation.  When you are that serious about keeping something secret, the less direct human interaction the better.


So this brings us to our original question.  Was salt traded, pound for pound, for gold?  Wikipedia thinks so.  Under the topic “Silent Trade,” it says:


Also in West Africa, gold mined south of the Sahel was traded, pound for pound, for salt mined in the desert.


This sounds doubtful, given that salt was so plentiful in Taghaza that they used blocks of it to build houses, whereas the Wangarians had to work hard to obtain relatively small quantities of gold. (They certainly weren’t making solid gold cinder blocks.)  Also, while salt wasn’t plentiful in the Wangara and Bambuk regions, it did exist there.

On the other hand, shipping and handling fees on a 200lb block of salt all the way from Taghaza were steep.  One traveler from the late middle ages noted that the price of salt quadrupled between the northern edge of the Ghana empire and an area just north of the Wangara region.  And that was the easy part of the trip.  The other half of the journey was through the Sahara. 


Still, I tend to agree with Mark Kurlansky, the author of Salt: A World History.  His take:


It was said that in the markets to the south of Taghaza salt was exchanged for its weight in gold, which was an exaggeration.  The misconception comes from the West African style of silent barter… From this it was reported in Europe that salt was exchanged in Africa for its weight in gold.  But it is probable that the final agreed-upon two piles were never of equal weight.

Only two things that money can’t buy…

that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes. – Guy Clark

So it’s August.  In Peru, it’s the dead of winter.  But for the 88 percent of the world’s population that lives north of the equator, we’re in the dog days of summer.

Seeing as the entire world hasn’t been getting any cooler, most of us are doing a lot of sweating.  This means we need to hydrate and replace lost electrolytes, particularly sodium, but also potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

The following recipe is a great snack when you’ve been working and sweating in the summer heat.  I use the term “recipe” very loosely.  The recipe consists of the following steps:

  • Take a tomato.
  • Slice a wedge out of it.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of finishing salt on the wedge.
  • Eat the wedge.

Heirloom Tomato with Salt

So, yes, I’ve told you nothing that you didn’t already know.  We all know this simple combination hits the spot when we’ve been sweating.  But here are a few points you may find interesting:

Obviously, everyone is different, and the weather plays a huge factor.  But in hot weather, an athlete can often lose 2-4 lbs of sweat/hr (roughly 1-2 quarts).

The primary electrolyte that we get from food is sodium, and this is also the primary electrolyte lost through sweat.  As a rough average, sweat contains 500 mg of sodium per pound, so our athlete is losing 1-2 grams of salt per hour.  If he or she keeps it up for, say, 2 hours, then 2-4 grams of sodium need to be replaced.

Hopefully our athlete has continued to take in fluids while exercising, so most of the 1/2 to 1 gallon of lost water has already been replenished.

A typical good-sized tomato might weigh 1/3 of a pound (~150 grams).  Tomatoes are usually around 94-95% water – so just eating the tomato itself provides about 2/3 cup of water.  Eating lots of hydrating foods after exercising is important.

A pinch of salt (~400 mg) will contain around 160 mg of sodium.  So, let’s say you’ve sliced your tomato in 6 wedges, and added a pinch to each one.  You’ve regained nearly a gram of lost sodium. (The tomato itself don’t contain much sodium).

In addition to sodium, potassium is a vital electrolyte.  Here Sacred Valley Salt is a great option as your finishing salt (aside from the great flavor and texture) since it also contains potassium.  But the lions’s share is of potassium comes from the tomato itself, which will likely provide around 300 mg. Sacred Valley Salt and tomatoes both also contain calcium and magnesium (other necessary electrolytes)  but in smaller quantities.

Bottom line – if you’ve been working and sweating, salt and tomatoes complement each other very nicely, from the standpoint of both flavor and nutrition.  I, of course, highly recommend Sacred Valley Salt. And if you can get your hands on some high-quality heirloom tomatoes, you won’t be disappointed.