Jump to Navigation
0808 250 7442
Freephone

Ecuador's last remaining ice man

At an age when many of us are planning our retirement, an amazing 68 year old man in Ecuador spends hours trekking up a mountain in the Andes to cut away ice to sell. He is the last practitioner of an ancient trade.

It takes Baltazar Ushca five hours to walk to the ice mine on Mount Chimorazo. The highest mountain in Ecuador has fed him and his family for generations. The path is steep and the elements are strong, but Ushca, Ecuador's last hielero, or iceman, has made the trip at least once a week since he was 15. 

Ushca and his son-in-law Juan begin their journey at 7am and reach the ice mine, called Los Hieleros, around midday. It is a part of the glacier covered by rocks, connected to the main glacier, which is at least another 500m (1,640ft) up. Ushca uses a pick to break off blocks of ice and then sculpts the block into cubes and wraps them in straw to transport them on the mule. It is 4pm by the time he arrives home.

Before fridges, natural ice was used to refrigerate food. These days ice from the mountain is used to make traditional fruit juices or ice creams as people claim it has natural healing properties.

All the other hieleros have passed away or found easier and better-paying jobs. But Ushca's reputation as the "last iceman" has brought him fame and has turned his work into a more lucrative business.