Los Caminantes

Felipe Jacome

2019 - 2020

Colombia; Venezuela

Last summer, thousands of Venezuelan migrants began fleeing across South America every day. I was in my hometown in Ecuador, covering the arrival of the refugees, when a little girl who’d walked out of her country gave me an origami figure of a star made with Venezuelan money. Other Venezuelans were handing out their worthless, hyper-inflated bolivars as souvenirs in exchange for a few dollars, and many others had created bags, wallets and bracelets out of folded bills.

I held that origami figure in my hands and wondered what everyday life was like in a land where money had stopped being money and where a monthly wage can barely purchase a bag of rice. The colorful bolivars were, finally, the most tangible manifestation of an exodus that is nearly as big as the one from Syria, with more 4 million hitting the road. With these questions in mind I set out to the Venezuelan border to document their exodus. I found a road lined with packs of men, women, and children, their faces riddled with chagrin, fear, grieve, nostalgia, resignation, and above all uncertainty.

They call themselves “Caminantes,” loosely translated as Walkers or Wayfarers. I joined a group and trekked with them across a few hundred kilometers on the road leaving Venezuela. After the trip I decided to transfer the images of the Caminantes I had met on the road directly onto the defunct Bolivar currency by using a silver gelatin process. The light sensitive emulsion bonded the images of the migrants to the bills; the very symbol, cause, and consequence of the crisis. The faces on the currency of Bolivar, Miranda, Guicaipuro, Cáceres de Arismendi, Negro Primero… once proudly propping up the richness and success of Venezuela, now seem to look on to a generation ejected from their country by hunger and hopelessness. Similarly, the flora and fauna on the reverse side of the bills now speak of a lavish motherland abandoned by its people.

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  • Fernando Ruiz, 25, is from Valencia, Venezuela. He decided to leave the country soon after his first son was born. "We do anything for our children," he told me. This image was taken on the road leaving Cúcuta, Colombia.

  • Pedro Martínez migrated to Perú early 2018 but went back to Venezuela to bring his wife and child. His 8 nephews decided to tag along and join him in Perú in search for a better life.

  • Andreína and her daughter start walking from Cúcuta at 5am. They arrived from Venezuela 6 months before, but Andreína got involved in an abusive relationship with a Colombian man. They hope to find a new life in a different city in Colombia. While locals have become increasingly reticent to giving rides to Venezuelan migrants, many still try to help women and children like Andreína walking along the road.

  • Ender Perez, from Barquisimento, Venezuela had been walking for 5
    days before reaching the Berlin highlands. He works as a barber and is on his way to Peru.

  • A Venezuelan child pose for the camera along the migrant route crossing the Colombian Andes.

  • Jose Miguel Albuja begins walking at dawn, after a night at the shelter inBerlin. Berlin is the highest and coldest point of the highland between Cucuta and Bucaramanga. Many migrants have died of hypothermia since the mass exodus began some months ago.

  • Jairo (18) and Julia (15) rest on each other after walking for 20 kilometers on the road from Cucuta to Bucaramanga, the first stretch on the migrant route out of Venezuela.

  • Arlenis Mendez (12) is from Trujillo, Venezuela. She had been walking for 5 days when this photo was taken.

  • Lisette Silva, from Maracay, Venezuela hoped to reach Peru where her cousins are currently living. She left her 2 children with her mother in Venezuela. "We need to fight for those we left behind," she said.

  • A group of migrants walk at night on the highway crossing Colombia.

  • Diana María Gonzáles and her children are traveling to Ecuador to join her husband who had left 5 months before them. “He was sending us money regularly, but once converted to Bolívares it was not enough to buy food for the household,” she said.

  • Luis Silva (62) from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, left his home 3 months ago. “Seeing my grandchildren go to sleep feeling hungry broke my heart. That´s why I´m on the road,” he said.

  • Portrait of a migrant walking along the road of the Berlin highland, the highest and coldest point between Cucuta and Bucaramanga. Many migrants have died of hypothermia since the mass exodus began.