New Project: El Último Hielero

I’m very pleased to announce that we have started yet another project. I am in the beginning stages of shooting a short documentary called El Último Hielero, or The Last Ice Merchant.

To explore the rapid generational changes within indigenous communities, I’m following a man named Baltazar, who is known here as the last ice merchant. Twice a week for the last 55 years he has trekked over 10 km to the fossilized glaciers on Chimborazo—to an altitude of about 16,000 feet—with his donkeys. There he hacks away at ice, breaks it into blocks, wraps it in hay and brings it back down to store in a hole in the ground so that he can sell it at the Saturday market for $2.50 a piece.

I followed Baltazar for two days last week to shoot preliminary footage and am coordinating time to head over for an extended period. Following is a promo video to show what exactly he does as a hielero.



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Return to Urbina

It’s good to be back in Urbina. The air is thin and cool, the population is sparse, and the call of the donkeys rings like a reliable alarm clock early in the morning. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the llamas, alpacas, and those in between. We are staying at Rodrigo’s house that, at 3,600 meters (about 12,000 feet), sits at the highest point of the railroad. When the sky is clear, you can see Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador, sitting as a backdrop behind the farms that cover the land.

Llamas outside Rodrigo's house in Urbina.

Llamas outside Rodrigo's house in Urbina.

Unlike the standoffish llamas, the donkeys are quite social and friendly. I try to visit them in the morning and evening to greet them and rub their ears. As I approach, they know what is coming and prepare a stance accordingly.

A donkey bows to have his ears rubbed.

A donkey bows to have his ears rubbed.

Rodrigo always has many projects that he is juggling. It’s amazing that he even finds time to sleep. Here he is standing in front of a hut on which he is installing a new thatch roof. This hut will be a home once it is complete.

Rodrigo in front of his new hut.

Rodrigo in front of his new hut.

Inside Rodrigo's new hut.

Inside Rodrigo's new hut.

His goal is to always build as ecologically as possible. This roof is made from a quick-growing plant called paga that is cut only a stones throw away.

The roof is made from local, sustainable materials.

The roof is made from local, sustainable materials.

It only took one more day of work to finish. Upon completion, Rodrigo’s workers celebrated with a loud blow of a horn.

Fabian and Angel on top of the new roof.

Fabian and Angel on top of the new roof.

A celebratory blow of the horn upon completion.

A celebratory blow of the horn upon completion.

I tried to celebrate as well, but ended up with only tepid squeaks and a horn full of spit.

A failed attempt at blowing the horn.

A failed attempt at blowing the horn.

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Home again… but not for long!

Well, we are all home – Brooklyn, NY; Bethesda, MD; and Santa Monica, CA – but not for long! We already have plans to return to Ecuador.

But first comes the sorting of digital video, development/scanning of large- and medium-format photos, transcription of notes, and writing of follow-up emails.

We would like to take a moment to thank all the wonderful folks who helped make this expedition possible on the ground – especially team member Rodrigo Donoso, driver Juan Santos, and Rodrigo’s staff, Fabian, Delfin and Angel.

We met so many wonderful folks (like our double-trouble twins from Huigra in the top photo) who helped us along our way. Here are just a few…


Thank you, thank you, thank you all! We’ll see you again soon!

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