The Last Ice Merchant

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January 4, 2014

After a day at Hacienda La Cinega, we started moving towards Chimborazo. On our way, we stayed at the Alta Montana, a retreat run by Rodrigo. Rodrigo is a very interesting Ecuadorian, having spent much of his life in the mountains and traveling. Several years back, he was the producer of a documentary on The Last Ice Merchant of Chimborazo, which has won awards at many international festivals.

The Alta Montana has a prime location: situated in the shadow of Chimborazo, it is across the street from a picturesque tourism-driven railroad station. This makes for some spectacular views, with sunset falling behind the mountain even if the peak is covered by clouds. This also happens to be the station from which the Ice Merchant, Baltazar, climbs to nearly 5000 meters (~16,400 feet) on the slopes of Chimborazo to break ice off the glacier. He then wraps this ice in straw, loads it on mules and brings it down the mountain. Once a common way to get ice in Ecuador, it has been replaced with more modern techniques like refrigeration. Baltazar is the last ice merchant and is famous in Ecuador for keeping the tradition. Most of his ice is used to cool drinks in the market or to make ice cream (as his brother now does with Baltazar's ice, having given up the ice merchant trade).

As luck would have it, today was one of the days that Baltazar was taking the train with his ice. Rodrigo introduced us to him and told us some of his stories (like Baltazar's first trip to a big city, when he went to Quito to fly to New York City for a film festival, and much of the fun had on that journey). A very nice surprise and an interesting perspective on the mountain we were about to climb. Hopefully some of Baltazar's dedication will rub off on us and we'll be able to successfully summit the peak.

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