Two female officers came over, escorted her to a questioning area, and one of them threw the first salvo: “Are you carrying any banned object?” Dumbfounded, Cathy denied and explained that she was in the country to explore the famous Machu Picchu ruins. One of the officers went back, brought back both pieces of her luggage, and flew open to dump everything on a table. That’s when a white small statue appeared in the scene. One of the officers grabbed the statue and took it inside another room. Returning after half an hour, she announced that the identity of the material did not match to any forbidden chemical in their database!
Suddenly Cathy remembered. After finishing hiking on the ancient Inca Trail, she spent a few days exploring different Inca sites within the boundary of the Sacred Valley. One day, she ended up in the town of Maras known for its historic salineras (salt mines). High on a mountain slope, there were several thousands of tin pans that wonderfully glistened in bright sunlight. Each pan was a rectangular deep cut-out, dug right into the slope. There sat a natural spring at the top of the valley; its warm water, loaded with natural salt fed the pans with a steady stream of water.
Even in pre-Inca time, the civilization who had lived there developed a highly effective system to divert the downwards water into the pans. This was done by passing salted-water through numerous narrow channels created along the boundaries of the pans and controlling the amount of water that could get into a particular pan. As the water from a filled pan slowly evaporated from the heat of the sun-rays, the water became supersaturated and salt precipitated out as various shaped crystals. Remaining water in the pan was then allowed to dry naturally. Within a few days the keeper carefully scraped the dry salt from the sides and bottom and reopened the water-supply notch. Same practice has been continuing over past several centuries. Mineral samples from the site were being sold at local gift stores. From there, Cathy picked up that souvenir appearing more like an Inca God. She explained her account to the officers. To prove her point, Cathy even gently licked the statue.
Both Cathy and the officers heard her name being announced in the airport’s PA system, being the last passenger sought for a particular departing flight at that moment. Reluctantly, the officers allowed her to repack luggage, recollect the souvenir, and led her to the departing gate.