Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Last Iceman

The night before the big trip to Chimborazo, I could barely sleep. My room was right on the street and it was loud until 3 am. The bed was uncomfortable and the pillow was a rock. For some reason I woke up in the middle of the night unable to breath, and every time I went back under I would come to again, unable to breath. And of course, I was excited and nervous for the trek. But when the alarm went off at 5:30 am, I was ready to go and enthusiastic.

I'm not going to get into the complexity of the story or the trip because I'm going to write an article for Matador Travel about the whole experience. I took a lot of great photos and video, and I think the entire piece will come together nicely. But I will say this:

We were lucky with a great day for the hike. Chimborazo, which stands at about 20,500 feet, is the highest peak in Ecuador. It's an extinct volcano and is permanently snow capped. We went up on horses to make sure we could finish the hike with Baltazar Uscha, an indigenous man who speaks little Spanish and mostly Quichua. Uscha is the last iceman of Chimborazo. For centuries, people have been climbing up Chimborazo to chop out blocks of ice from the glacier and sell at the market, but because of the invention of the refrigerator, it is now an obsolete job.

Uscha climbs up to about 16,000 feet twice a week to chop out 6 blocks of ice to sell at the market, and since his children don't want to continue the tradition, when he dies there will be no one left to continue it, and that part of the culture will be lost forever. The majority of the information will appear in the article, so that's all you'll see for now.

The hike was a success, and though we came back later and Sarah missed her class, it was a good day. Later that night I met up with another Riobamba volunteer, Annie, for dinner. The next morning I took the long 6 hour bus ride back to Cuenca. I rested up for a bit and waited for my friend Becky to arrive from Loja for a Thanksgiving feast on Saturday night.

Above: Baltazar Uscha working on the ice, in the field, and with his donkey

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