For centuries, indigenous people living near Mt. Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, have harvested ice from its glacial peaks. Like many traditional vocations, ice mining is disappearing due to a variety of modern influences. As it disappears, a unique way of life is being lost.
The short film, The Last Ice Merchant, documents Baltazar Ushca and his two brothers, Gregorio and Juan, all of whom have witnessed cultural change through different perspectives. In 2016, Baltazar was one of only a few remaining glacial ice miners continuing a centuries-old tradition at Mt. Chimborazo. With an elevation of just over 20,000 ft., Mt. Chimborazo, an inactive volcano, is the highest mountain in Ecuador. It provides drinking water to over half a million people in two provinces in surrounding areas. While its glacial peaks have been warmed by climate change, it remains a source of ice for those willing to engage in the arduous and uneconomical work of ice mining.
In years past, Baltazar was one of forty ice collectors in the region. At 67-years-old, he continues to hike for approximately 5 hours twice a week. The journey takes him up 16,000 feet to the glacial peaks, using a pickaxe to collect ice. He uses his donkeys as well as his own strength to transport the ice to market. His brothers retired from the ice mines of Chimborazo to find other work; Gregorio sells ice cream to the local communities and Juan works in construction. The Last Ice Merchant explores the culture of a Chimborazo indigenous community, inevitable change due to modernization, and the loss of an ancient vocation. The film explores the value and pride of one’s culture despite change.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.11-12.1.c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.6.9-12. Evaluate the impact of human settlement activities on the environmental and cultural characteristics of specific places and regions.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.2.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.