The Last Real Iceman of the Chimborazo

A Documentary by Therese Engels and Gernot Stadler

Documentation, 45 min, 2011
Written and directed by
Therese Engels and Gernot Stadler
Gernot Stadler
Emil Plonski
ORF Enterprise

For centuries, Indians have broken ice in the glaciers of Ecuadorian volcanoes and sold it for cooling in the markets of villages and cities. Today there is only 68-year-old Balthasar Ushka from the small village of Quarto Esquinas at the foot of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest volcano. Once a week he climbs to the ice mines to break ice blocks from the glacier at an altitude of almost 5,000 meters, which he then sells at the Riobamba market for four dollars a block. The film “The Last Real Iceman of the Chimborazo” portrays the last ice maker, accompanies him up to the ice mines, to the market and through everyday life with his family at the foot of the Chimborazo. The film also explores the question of what it means to live in the immediate vicinity of an active volcano. Only 70 kilometers from Balthazar’s village, the Egas family lives on the slopes of the active volcano Tungurahua. The soil is fertile, saturated with minerals, which the ash rain brings to the steep fields with each eruption. But farmers like Luis Egas and his parents also live with the constant fear of another outbreak. They tell of the nights when it rains glowing stones from the sky. The government has provided them with a new, small house outside the danger zone, but like many others, they prefer to stay in their village where they feel at home. The documentary shows, on the one hand, how destructive power and fertility go hand in hand and determine the lives of the people on the Tungurahua, and on the other hand, stretches the arc to the last iceman of the Chimborazo, whose arduous life has also been shaped by the volcano since childhood.