Samuel Mendoza is a native Aymara man who lives with his family in El Alto, next to the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. Being the only remaining employee of the Club Andino Boliviano, the national ski club, Samuel guards the rickety mountain refuge on top of the Chacaltaya.
Nearly every day, he walks from his home in El Alto to the Chacaltaya. Walking over 15 kilometers, with an altitude difference of 1300 meters. There and back. Through rain and wind, under the burning sun.
When he was little, Samuel had one big dream: Skiing, learning how to ski. Little Samuel could see the top of the Chacaltaya, the mountain where his father worked, standing on tiptoe behind his bedroom window. The snowy peak always immaculately white.
His father operated the primitive ski lift. He worked from morning before daybreak till late at night, helping tourists and the well-off families of La Paz up the mountain to ski. They even organized regional championships, gathering the best skiers from Argentina, Chili, or Colombia, on the highest ski slope in the world.
His whole life, Samuel worked where his father died. He became ‘the man of the ski lift’. But the heyday has passed. From 2009 onwards, the snow has completely disappeared. The wheel stopped turning, the motor wasted away. Now, Samuel dedicates his days to the maintenance of the buildings and sporadically receiving a handful of tourists.
Samuel has a spiritual bond with the mountain. Both the Aymara and Samuel think of the mountain tops as ‘Achachillas’, Wise Grandfathers, ancient spirits who belong to Mother Earth and protect their children. They fertilize the soil with the meltwater from the white peaks and they need to be propitiated with offerings in exchange for prosperity.
Samuel continues to hope for the snow to return.