With his fluffy black dog, Gilberto Rodriguez left Venezuela two months ago on a perilous eight-country journey, mostly on foot, with the dream of a better life in the United States.
Leaving his wife and two children, aged six and eight, Rodriguez slept rough, starved, witnessed violence and bribed police.
But he smiles from ear to ear as he caresses his two-year-old loyal dog mate, whose name “Negro” means “black” in Spanish.
“He has gone through everything just like us, he eats the same food we eat, he is an immigrant,” he told AFP in the eastern Guatemalan town of Tekuman Uman, the sixth country stop on his northbound route.
Their journey so far has taken Rodriguez and Negro from Caracas through Colombia and the dangerous Darien Jungle to Panama.
There, they encountered some criminal gangs who preyed on immigrants fleeing poverty and political upheaval in their country.
“We were with some women and they raped them,” Rodriguez recalled. “For us, they stole our phones.”
The pair then traveled to Guatemala via Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, where they joined hundreds of other undocumented migrants, keeping an eye on their separating river from Mexico.
Like a few months ago, Guatemala has no crowds along the river.
Police stop and board buses to verify the identity documents of passengers in an operation to prevent the formation of migrant caravans.
Since January of this year, Guatemala has deported more than 500 immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.
To avoid identification, the migrants moved in small groups instead with plans to meet again in Mexico.
The final hurdle awaits there: in Rio Grande, which separates Mexico from the United States.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden seeks to end the implementation of Title 42, a public health order that allows the expulsion of immigrants during the Covid-19 crisis.
The move to lift the order sparked an uproar in the home, fearing it would increase the number of registered migrants by an average of five times more than the years before the coronavirus outbreak.
But Rodriguez and other immigrants made their way north, saying they hadn’t even heard of the 42 headlines.
Police ‘take our money’
Avoiding Guatemalan police is a more stressful concern – and not just to avoid arrest.
“The issue is with the cops who take our money,” Rodriguez said.
During their long journeys, the man and his best friend often had to rely on charity, sometimes sharing food.
When the shelter did not allow the animals, they slept on the street.
Why put yourself through this? “We had to flee,” Rodriguez said of his life in Venezuela.
“Salary is not enough, you buy everything in dollars and nothing they give you in Bolivar.”
Towards the end of his voyage, Rodriguez boarded a boat made of old tires and planks, a trip for which he paid more than 1.
He grabs the Negro by the arm when a man pushes a long wire along the riverbank and ten minutes later, they cross.
The dog, sitting quietly between its owner’s feet during the crossing, quickly jumped into the dry land, now in Mexico.
“We have crossed mountains, rivers, currents … we are not afraid of anything else,” said Moises Ayerdi, a 25-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant who made the same journey.
He said he left his home, wife and three-year-old daughter because he was the target of political persecution by the government of President Daniel Ortega.
“We have pain in our legs, we are sick here … we are used to it. We will continue. As we have crossed Honduras, Guatemala, we will cross Mexico,” he vowed.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)