When we first arrived in Paje, my eyes were drawn to the neat rows and columns of sturdy sticks in the shallow water right off of the beach. At first I paid them no mind, but I soon realized that they had been strategically placed to collect seaweed. Seaweed is a big name in Paje. Hundreds of women have harvested and sold seaweed for years, but historically, they’ve earned very little for their work, often harvesting small amounts and exporting the raw goods at extremely low prices. The nearby Seaweed Center, which just opened in 2011, hires several dozen women who are able to earn a regular wage. And I’m pretty sure the Seaweed Center is a cooperative.
After I explored the expanse of sandbar, rock, and shallow waters exposed at low tide, I visited the Seaweed Center with my friends Christina and Wendi. It took us a while to find it. We walked up the beach for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, asked a couple women for directions, and were finally directed inland, crossing through plots of grassy land with unfinished houses, between hostels, and across dirt roads white with sand.
One of the women working there greeted us outside the shop and gave us a small tour of the facilities. She showed us where the seaweed is first stored and dried after they collect it from the ocean and she even gave us a little to taste. It was crunchy and plain, with a slight flavor of sea salt. After the taste test, she took us inside and briefly walked us through the process of making the soaps. It takes multiple days to make a batch of soap, but it seemed to be well worth it. She told us that they sell quite a bit to local hotels and shops. There are even business people over in the U.S. that will come and buy their soap in bulk and take it back to sell in boutiques. Tourism is bringing in an increasing amount of revenue.
After showing us the heaps and packed shelves of seaweed beauty products in their storeroom, she led us back into the shop. They have an array of scents: lemongrass, turmeric, lime, clove, and coffee-clove. I bought one for myself and then I went a little overboard and stocked up on the soaps as token Christmas gifts.