I’ve travelled a bit but I’ve never stepped in guano. Till now…
The town Guano next to Riobamba is called “the craft capital of Ecuador” because of leather and tinted textile production. Where does this… smelly name come from? Well, from the river Guano, which has its sources on the slopes of Chimborazo volcano. I failed to find the origin of this name. I have a theory, though. Volcano, brimestone, smelly water… If I had been born in Guano, it would have been my first question. But the local people I asked didn’t know.
Guano, accumulated bird excrements, was widely used in XIX century as a fertilizer. Currently in comes back because of popularity of organic farming. the biggest guano producers are Peru and Chile. It used to be so in XIX century as well. In 1879 the war called the Saltpeter War started. It was caused by the conflict over exploitation of saltpeter and… guano. The war between Chile and allied Bolivia and Peru caused Ernest Malinowski, Polish engineer, the constructor of famous Andean railway and the hero of battle of Callao to seek shelter in neighbouring Ecuador. There, he continued building railway. This time not so far from Riobamba, in Simbe and Chimbo. It means, he was few dozens kilometres from Guano – it’s not impossible that he even visited it.
The traces of Malinowski in Ecuador are forgotten, but it’s known that he spent here few years, to go back to Peru in 1886. If not for guano, he probably wouldn’t ever get here.
Guano is situated at the bottom of Chimborazo. The pick of this volcano is the closest point to the Sun on the Earth. On its slopes works Baltazar Uscha, called the last hielero (ice miner). In fact, he’s not the last – his son in law decided to continue the tradition. Twice a week Baltazar Uscha walks over 20 km with his three donkeys called after his fallen companions and for few hours cuts plants to make ropes, cuts the cubes of ice that weight almost 50 kg and transport them down to his house, where they wait for Saturday buried in the ground. On Saturday he transports the ice to Riobamba, where at the market it’s used to prepare fruit cocktails and desserts.
So, what do ice, war, Polish railway engineer and bird excrements have in common? Guano.