The Last Ice Merchant is the story of Baltazar Ushca – a 67-year-old, 5-foot-tall man who has been harvesting glacial ice from Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo for over 50 years with little more than his hands, some hay, and a small pack of donkeys.
Ushca lives a life of toil, and for very little pay. That the glaciar atop Chimborazo has receded in recent years means he must travel greater distances, and climb to higher elevations, to get at good ice. Meanwhile, ice has become readily available in Ecuador by industrialized means; and other ice merchants – Ushca's brothers, included – have long since moved on to other lines of work. Why does Ushca persist at his Sisyphean task?
"Changes aren't bad, they're good," says Juan, Uscha's youngest brother, who retired from ice-harvesting more than a decade ago to work in construction – a more leisurely mode of employment. "But our culture and the work of our ancestors... I don't want to forget it, I don't want to lose our culture."
The captivating mini-documentary, directed by Sandy Patch, is well worth the watch, and a thought-provoking exploration of how humans can struggle to maintain cultural identity in the face of societal transformation.