Magazine

Mar 8, 2018

Journey on a caravan of misery

Journey on a caravan of misery

Poorer by the day, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have concluded that escape is their only option. With the country's currency virtually worthless and air travel beyond the reach of all but elites, buses have become Venezuela's caravans of misery, rolling day and night to its borders and returning largely empty to begin the process all over again. For nine days, a reporter and a photographer from Reuters accompanied the migrants as they headed for what they hoped were better days in Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

For nearly 5,000 miles, they rolled through some of South America's most spectacular landscapes, including the vertiginous Andean mountain range and the world's driest desert in Chile. But even though the Venezuelans were awed by the views whizzing by their window, their minds were mostly on the land they had left behind - and the uncertainty facing them in the lands ahead.

Journey on a caravan of misery
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Madelein Rosal (L) speaks with another passenger while she travels by bus from Caracas to Guayaquil near Barinas, Venezuela, November 7, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Karelys Betancourt (C) looks at men pushing a cart loaded with luggage which belongs to people traveling by bus from Caracas to Ecuador in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, November 8, 2017. Since 2015, vehicular traffic between Venezuela and Colombia has been restricted, so the first stage of the trip ends in the Venezuelan border city of San Antonio de Tachira. There, travelers have to leave the first bus and carry all their luggage as they cross by feet to the Colombian side, after going through several customs checkpoints and getting their passport stamped. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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David Vargas (R), 12, cries as he sits next to his aunt after saying goodbye to relatives while he waits to board a bus to travel from Caracas to Guayaquil, at the Rutas de America's bus station in Caracas, Venezuela, November 7, 2017. The moment before getting on the bus was very sad, filled with silence, tension, hugs and tears. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "It was very hard to see the disconsolate way David was crying, once he said goodbye to his loved ones and realized that he was about to start the journey to Chile". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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A bus from the Rutas de America (2nd R) company stops to fill its tank next to other buses at a gas station in Tocuyito, Venezuela, November 7, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Carlos Rivero (L) and Adrian Naveda (C), traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, look out of the window while they drive through Zorritos, Peru, November 11, 2017. "I think we waited too long to leave" said Carlos Rivero, 31, a former security operator for the Caracas metro. The road the bus travels along in northern Peru goes through through tiny villages near the seashore. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Abrahan Bastidas, 26, an I.T. specialist, looks through the window while he travels by bus from Caracas to Chile in Pamplona, Colombia, November 8, 2017. For Abrahan, the trigger to leave came mid-year when his employer, a Caracas hotel, decided it could no longer provide him with breakfast and dinner. Suddenly, all his income was going towards food. "As a professional it was impossible to continue like that" he said. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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People traveling by bus from Caracas to Ecuador wait in line to stamp their passports at the migration control office in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, November 8, 2017. After more than twelve hours traveling, crossing into Colombia was for many on the bus the first time they had left Venezuela. When they arrived at the migration office, it was temporarily closed because the computers were down. Travelers had to wait in line about three hours to get their documents stamped. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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A gas station worker pumps fuel into a Rutas de America bus as a chicken looks for food, near Pamplona, Colombia, November 8, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "We stopped to refuel the bus and although the passengers did not get off except those who urgently needed to use the restrooms, I had agreed with the driver that I would get off at every opportunity to take pictures. This time, there was a chicken pecking at the gas station floor in search of food and creating a peculiar scene, almost something out of the Latin American magic realism". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Federico Urquiola (2nd R), 27, a worker in a construction business who is traveling by bus from Caracas to Peru, exchanges money in Cucuta, Colombia, November 8, 2017. Federico said he struggled to get contracts for his construction business and was often paid late for work, when the money had already depreciated. He hoped his wife could join him in Peru. After crossing into Colombia the first thing the travelers had to do was to change their Venezuelan bolivar notes - Cucuta was the last point on the road where they would be accepted. The exchange operations were quite informal and very fast: a cash counting machine and a calculator on a desk. The tension among the travelers was evident - they wanted the best rate possible, but didn't have many options. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda (C) and Natacha Rodriguez, who are traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, sleep sitting on the floor while they wait in line to have their passport stamped at the binational border service centre in Huaquillas, Ecuador, November 11, 2017. After four days of traveling, the fatigue among the passengers was evident. Having boarded the last bus in Guayaquil after midnight and travelled approximately four hours to the border between Ecuador and Peru, many fell asleep on the floor while queuing to get their passports stamped. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez, who is traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, puts her passport on a desk while she waits in line to stamp it at the binational border service centre in Huaquillas, Ecuador, November 11, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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A truck drives past a Rutas de America bus traveling the route between Cucuta and Guayaquil near Bucaramanga, Colombia, November 8, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "Much of the journey through Colombia is on busy narrow roads in the Andean mountains, full of sharp curves. It was shocking to see how close the trucks pass by. On several occasions when we reached a curve, we had to stop and wait for another vehicle to pass before the bus could keep going". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Josmer Rivas, 7, traveling by bus from Caracas to Guayaquil with his mother, embraces his father upon arrival at the bus station in Guayaquil, Ecuador, November 10, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "Josmer's mother, Genesis Corro, told me that her husband would be waiting for them at the Guayaquil bus terminal and that her son was very excited to see his father, who moved there from Venezuela four months ago. As soon as we arrived, I hurriedly got off the bus so I could witness their reunion. Josmer ran out and jumped into his arms, happiness was overflowing from his eyes, undoubtedly one of the most emotional moments during the journey". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Karelys Betancourt (L), who is traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, smiles after seeing a man urinate next to the bus in Huarmey, Peru, November 12, 2017. Karelys, 25, who dreams of launching a chocolate business, packed sweet moulds into her suitcase. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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The shoes of Alvaro Betancourt, who is traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, are seen through a hole in a door while he takes a shower at a bus station in Tumbes, Peru, November 11, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "At the bus terminal in Tumbes the bathroom was in a bad state of repair; the toilets were dirty and didn't work properly, the floor and walls of the showers were covered in fungus, to the point that someone placed a piece of wood on the floor so they could stand under the water without touching the floor. But after several days without bathing, the conditions of the bathroom were not so important, so one by one, most of the travelers took a shower before continuing on the road". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Natacha Rodriguez (C), traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, talks with fellow travelers while they wait to board at the bus station in Tumbes, Peru, November 11, 2017. In Tumbes, the first stop after crossing from Ecuador to Peru, passengers had to transport their luggage by three-wheel moto taxis from the arrival point to another bus station, as each company has its own terminal. When they got there, they realized that the only way to buy the tickets to continue the journey was with Peruvian soles. So they talked and agreed that one group would go to an exchange house several blocks away, carrying everyone's cash, while others waited and took care of the luggage. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda, Alejandra Rodriguez and her nephew David Vargas (R-L), traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, smile after crossing the border between Peru and Chile at the migration office in Arica, Chile, November 13, 2017. Getting to Chile was the goal, but everyone was a little worried, because they knew this was the border where the authorities could ask them tricky questions. As they walked out of the migration office in Arica, happiness and a mood of "We made it!" took over, even though they still had two more days on the road ahead of them. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez (R) talks to her sister Natacha Rodriguez (2nd L), while she, her son David Vargas (L) and Adrian Naveda, have a meal with the food they brought from Caracas route to Chile, at a restaurant in Supe Puerto, Peru, November 12, 2017. Most of the migrants were very short of money and unsure how much they would need to settle in their new homes, so they tried to save as much as possible. At rest stops some could afford to buy hot food but others had to continue eating the sandwiches and canned food they brought from Caracas. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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The road winds around the side of a hill in Atico, Peru, November 13, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "The view from the first row of seats on the top floor of the bus was amazing. At moments there was a feeling of emptiness as the road disappeared around a bend and mist descended and blurred the horizon. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Karelys Betancourt, traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, drinks a cup of tea while she recovers from motion sickness in Ocona, Peru, November 13, 2017. At this stage of the trip the group of Venezuelan migrants were traveling on the top floor of the bus, because it was cheaper, but the motion was stronger. When Karelys started to get sick, the bus hostess gave her tea without sugar and recommended that she should go and sit on the stairs in front of the bathroom to recover. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda compares the data on passports and bus tickets ahead of his trip to Chile, at his home in Caracas, Venezuela, November 1, 2017. Naveda, 23, car battery salesman, had been pondering whether to leave Venezuela for a while, but only decided to go when his school friend Alejandra Rodriguez told him she was emigrating too. "I sold my two motorbikes to fund the trip" Naveda said. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Wilder Perez uses his hand to shade himself from the setting sun as he drives a Rutas de America bus through Valencia, Venezuela, November 7, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Madelein Rosal cries while she talks on the phone before boarding a bus to travel from Caracas to Guayaquil, at the Rutas de America's bus station in Caracas, Venezuela, November 7, 2017. Rosal, 28, a hotel worker, decided to emigrate after the ruling Socialist Party won the October 2017 gubernatorial elections, leaving the opposition in disarray. "I'm leaving heartbroken" said Rosal, who entrusted her 8-year-old son to the care of her mother. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda, traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, records voice messages to send at the next free internet spot while he waits to board the bus at a customs point in Quillagua, Chile, November 14, 2017. Not being able to keep in touch with loved ones, was one of the things that most worried the travelers during the journey, so they were always trying to connect to the internet. Adrian said several times that he missed his mother and his girlfriend, so he decided to record messages for them despite not being able to send them or receive an answer, until the next free wifi network. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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A barren landscape is seen from the bathroom window of a bus on the road near Antofagasta, Chile, November 14, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez, traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, sleeps while she rides on the bus in Iquique, Chile, November 14, 2017. After traveling by bus for seven days through five countries, everyone either had found a comfortable position to sleep in their seats or were so tired that it did not matter how they slept. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Natacha Rodriguez (L), traveling by bus from Caracas to Chile, smokes a cigarette as she stands by her son David Vargas and her sister Alejandra Rodriguez while they wait to board the bus at a road services complex in Copiapo, Chile, November 14, 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins: "After seven days traveling by bus, getting out for a few minutes to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom, even if you didn't need to, was the best way to break the monotony". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda (R), who travelled by bus from Venezuela to Chile, carries a package of dry dog food during his first day working in a pet shop in Concon, Chile, November 16, 2017. Adrian went out to look for work the day after arriving in Chile and a couple of hours after distributing his resume got a call from a pet shop at a commercial area near where he was staying. He started to work that same day. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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An emergency exit sign is lit up inside a bus in Chimbote, Peru, November 12, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Carlos Rivero (C), who travelled by bus from Venezuela to Chile, looks at the display of products in the counter of a shop in Santiago, Chile, November 18, 2017. Due to the Venezuelan economic crisis the variety and availability of basic products has dramatically reduced in recent years. For the newly arrived migrants to see the variety of cheeses and sausages available in a butcher's shop, or walk along the aisles of a fully stocked supermarket to make their first purchases, could be an overwhelming experience. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez (C) and her sister Natacha Rodriguez (R), who travelled by bus from Venezuela to Chile, talk with their housemates as they prepare to sleep at their house in Concon, Chile, November 20, 2017. Natacha, her son David, her sister Alejandra and Adrian (a family friend), arrived at the small apartment rented by a group of Venezuelan friends. Even though they were already living in cramped conditions, they happily offered the newcomers a place to stay while they got on their feet. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez, who travelled by bus from Venezuela to Chile, uses her cellphone to speak with her boyfriend who lives in Venezuela, as she sits at a bench of a shopping mall near her house to take advantage of a free internet connection in Concon, Chile, November 20, 2017. Alejandra walked several blocks during the night to a shopping mall and sat for hours in front of the closed stores, to use the free internet network and chat with her loved ones in Venezuela. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda (L) looks at his cellphone as he travels by bus from Caracas to Chile, in Tulcan, Ecuador, November 10, 2017. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Adrian Naveda (C) talks on the phone, as he stands next to his girlfriend Glenys Reyes, before he travels by bus to Chile, at their home in Caracas, Venezuela, November 2, 2017. The night before the bus was due to leave, Naveda received several calls from friends to invite him for a drink and farewell party, but he preferred to stay at home with his girlfriend. The atmosphere was melancholic. In the end the bus did not leave the next day, because the road was blocked by protests in Colombia. He had to wait four more days to start his journey to Chile. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Josmer Rivas (L) eats a Venezuelan arepa for breakfast as he and his family wait for the bus to travel from Caracas to Ecuador at the Rutas de America's bus station in Caracas, Venezuela, November 3, 2017. Protests about land reform in Colombia led to the Pan-American highway being blocked so the bus was cancelled that day and Rivas left a few days later. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Houses are seen in Caracas, Venezuela, January 12, 2018. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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Alejandra Rodriguez packs her belongings before traveling by bus to Chile, at her home in Caracas, Venezuela, November 2, 2017. Alejandra Rodriguez, 23, accountant at an import company, said she had never wanted to leave Venezuela, and especially not on a bus, "I had never even thought of Chile in my entire life! But because of the situation I had to". CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

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