With his son Santiago always at his side, Juan arrived in Colombia in late October and immediately begun looking for any kind of menial task to survive. After the searing heat of the Cucuta border town, the pair would walk miles of dizzyingly zigzagging roads, through the cold, rainy town of Pamplona, along sheer mountain passes and lush green valleys before luckily being given a ride across the freezing Paramo de Berlin – the most challenging section of the road to Bucaramanga.
Juan tells us: “Back in Valencia, I was a bus driver but, in the end, what I was making just wasn’t enough. I didn’t own the bus and when it broke down, it sometimes took a week or more to get repaired as there is a scarcity of parts. During that time, I wouldn’t be paid, and those periods became progressively longer.”
“We arrived in Colombia on October 31st, my birthday. Santiago had fever and we were not in a good way. I never thought I would ever walk so much. I picked up aluminium cans on the streets of Cucuta to sell for recycling for a few days to get some money, and I had to bring Santiago along with me as there was nowhere else to put him. With this money I managed to rent a room sharing with three other people.”
“We were travelling in a group for safety, but it’s also difficult– people have different speeds and sometimes not everyone gets a ride which splits up the group. It’s hard to stay together. Luckily, we got a ride across the Paramo. I heard that people die up there from the cold.
“One friend saw me carrying Santiago and offered to help me with my suitcase. But then I got a ride and he didn’t so now he has my bag with our clothes and the most valuable thing – my passport.”
“At one point, a truck pulled up and the driver said only women and children, so I handed Santiago to a woman and we met up later. Later I became a bit nervous. You hear rumours about children getting kidnapped here, but in the end he was safe. He asks for his mother a lot, who he hasn’t seen in two months.”
“I miss home too, the food, the culture, the temperature. But I know I have to get used to this, as we are probably going to be away for a long time.”
“Back in Venezuela I was working from early in the morning until late at night, so I didn’t see much of my son. Now, despite these adverse conditions, I’m still happy we can spend some time together. For Santiago it’s a big adventure, he even started to learn how to ask for rides on the road. He was my reason for leaving, and my motivation to continue.”