Venezuelan ‘walkers’ flee crisis one step at a time

Carlos, Anthony and Danny*  —  who have been walking for six days straight  —  are not even halfway through their 640-kilometer journey to Medellín, Colombia, where they’re hoping a family friend can get them work.

In central Venezuela, they were neighbors. Carlos worked as a mechanic, Anthony as a banker, and 17-year-old Danny aspired to be a barber.

But their lives were put on hold as they watched their city fall apart, a casualty of Venezuela’s deteriorating economic crisis.

Man in cap and T-shirt sitting on grassy area (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)
Anthony used to be a banker in Venezuela but left his life behind to find work in neighboring Colombia. (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)

“Everything is a mess. Now, instead of buses, they have old trucks that barely run to take you to work. At the markets, people get in fights over the last 2 kilos of flour,” Anthony said. “That’s why we’re here in Colombia. Everyone is leaving because of the cruel reality in Venezuela.”

The final straw, Carlos said, was the night they watched a family eat what has become the neighborhood’s new plato típico: wet paper napkins. During this crisis, eating paper products has become the option of last resort for too many families.

That night, they decided to leave Venezuela for good and booked the next bus to the border.

Two portraits of Venezuelan men (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)
Danny (left) and Carlos (right) take a break in Bucaramanga, Colombia, after walking from the Venezuelan border. (Alison Harding/USAID/OFDA)

Once in Colombia, Carlos, Anthony and Danny headed for the mountains, joining the hundreds of Venezuelan caminantes — or walkers — already fleeing their country’s crisis on foot. For 20 hours a day, the trio trudged across Colombia.

As they pressed on through the treacherous Andean terrain, they watched with sadness as their fellow “walkers” turned back, defeated by the harsh elements. They mourned the mother and child who froze to death trying to cross a frigid mountain pass. They found compassion in the truck driver giving rides to the next town.

They didn’t stop until they reached Bucaramanga, La Ciudad de Los Parques, about 160 kilometers from the border with Venezuela. The city is famous for its beautiful parks, but has more recently become known as a popular stop where caminantes can take a rest. By the time the men arrived, they were so thirsty that they didn’t think twice before guzzling water from a gardener’s hose, despite his warning that the water was treated with fertilizer.

People holding bags walking along a road in Colombia (Schneyder Menodza/AFP/Getty Images)
With the few possessions they can carry, Venezuelan “caminantes” walk along a road in Colombia. (© Schneyder Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images)

They have no money, and no place to stay, so the gardener’s water would have to do.

Today, the city’s famed parks will provide a short rest for their tired feet. Tomorrow, Carlos, Anthony and Danny will set off toward the mountains once again, all too aware of the dangerous road that lies ahead.

“Maybe we will die when we are doing this,” Anthony said. “But we are looking for a future for our kids, for our women, for our families. We just hope that people have the conscience to give us some help, to support us when they see us in the street.”

* Names changed for their safety.

This story originally appeared on USAID’s website.