As night approached, Sandra Cadiz wrapped her shivering 10-year-old daughter in a blanket. The displaced mother prayed for a ride up the frigid Colombian mountaintop known as “the icebox.”
Two days before, mother and daughter had fled Venezuela for a 2,700-mile trek through four countries to Peru. The pair joined more than 650 migrants who walk out each day because they cannot afford transportation. Cadiz knew not everyone survived the trip, but she feared staying in Venezuela as well. With conditions getting worse daily, staying would mean her already malnourished daughter going hungry—possibly to the point of death.
“I am doing this for her,” Cadiz, 51, said of her daughter Angelis.
Since 2015, almost two million people have fled poverty, hunger, and crime in Venezuela. It is one of the biggest migrations in the world. Almost 3,000 Venezuelan migrants have died in Colombia from illnesses such as malaria and malnutrition. The travel is difficult, weakening even those who start out in good health.
Cadiz has already lost two husbands and an adult child in Venezuela—two to violence and one to a motorcycle accident. As food became harder to find, Cadiz and Angelis slept outside supermarkets for quick access to any food that made it onto the usually empty shelves.
When the government announced a bonus in August to help Venezuelans transition to a new currency (see Venezuelan Currency Loses Five Zeros), Cadiz saw her chance. She would use the money to buy two bus tickets to the Colombian border. She offered Angelis a choice first, though: They could spend the money on new shoes, or they could reunite with Angelis’ brother, wife, and baby in Lima, Peru.
“Let’s go, mama,” Angelis told her. “I’ll walk in my broken shoes.”
At the border, Cadiz temporarily lost Angelis in the crowd—but spotted her on the other side. The child had somehow slipped through without identification—something she didn’t have anyway. Cadiz had hoped her own passport and a handwritten death certificate for Angelis’ father would secure the child’s crossing. It turns out, they didn’t even need that much.
The next day, they set off on foot toward the Colombian highlands. Temperatures there can drop to well below freezing. Cadiz feared for their survival, but they chose to try. More than five hours later, Alba Camacho, a 27-year-old teacher spotted them walking. She wrapped Angelis in her own thick coat for warmth and took the pair to a friend’s home for the night.
In her sleep, Angelis cried out, “I don’t want to walk anymore!” But they set off again early the next morning. They hitched rides when they could. They spent the night under the tin roof of a gas station shed. It was brutal and slow. Cadiz decided she had to change her approach.
She had about $82 in pesos from generous Colombians who wanted to help. Cadiz would use that bit of money to bargain for seats on a bus to get them closer to the Peru. They made it as far as Ecuador.
At the border, a man was buying Venezuelan bolivars. Cadiz pulled out all she had left of her life savings. The man offered her 50 cents. It would be another 25 hours before mother and daughter passed into Ecuador, negotiated another bus ride to Peru, and emerged on the other side, nauseated from hunger and exhaustion.
By the time they reached Lima, the capital city, they didn’t have a cent in their pockets. But they had made it. “I arrived by a miracle,” Cadiz says.