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The Last Ice Merchant (El Último Hielero)

The life of Ecuador's last ice merchant tells a story of change and traditions.

10 – 15 | 2012 | Documentary | Ecuador | Live-Action | Man and Nature

Mount Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest peak. as well as the point on the Earth that’s closest to the sun. For decades, its icy summit has been a great resource for indigenous people who used to extract and sell the pure ice. Over the years, however, this trade was abandoned, and there’s only one ice merchants left: Baltazar Ushca, the protagonist of this documentary.

Baltazar is 67 years old and had been doing this job since he was 15: twice a week for more than half a century he has climbed the slopes of this dormant volcano. There used to be about forty people to do so, but he is now left alone, because the ice industry has taken over. His younger brothers used to go with him, but now they have other jobs and are disenchanted towards change, one says that it is not worth making such effort for the small revenue that it draws, and the other has resigned to the need to earn more – but not without a certain nostalgia.

This craft is more than a source of income: it is a tradition, a strong cultural symbol, a means of continuity with the ancestors. As our protagonist says, this work has never changed. We see him climb to the top with the donkeys that will help carry large blocks of ice (enclosed in pockets of straw to stop it from melting). It’s a tiring, hard work, the climatic conditions are often hostile and selling it in the markets of the city of Riobamba doesn’t bring serious revenues. However, Baltazar says he will continue to do so until he’s alive, being terrified that this noble tradition will die with him.

In a sense, this documentary is a story about change more than a portrait of one man, a tale about how modernity undermined the lives of indigenous people (as well as how the global climate change are making glaciers disappear). But it is also an immersion in a beautiful, wild landscape. The music was created specifically for the short by Ecuadorian band Andes Manta, and incorporates the traditional music of the place.

The Last Ice Merchant was created by American director Sandy Patch collaboration with Rodrigo Donoso, producer of the film and guide and well known climber in Ecuador. A participatory documentary in every way, given that both have lived together with the protagonists for the duration of the shoot.

Flavia Ferrucci

Flavia Ferrucci

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