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. (Felipe Jácome)

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

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 3.5 million hitting the road.

With this realization I set out to the Venezuelan border and joined a group of “caminantes” — walkers, or wayfarers — as they crossed into Colombia and trekked across the Andes. The faces along this path were covered by fear, grief, nostalgia, resignation and, above all, uncertainty. Some of them were on the way to join a friend or a family member who had already migrated; most seemed to be adrift, walking for hundreds of kilometers until they reached a town where they could find jobs and begin sending money back to Venezuela.

After the trip I transferred the images of the caminantes I took there onto the defunct bolivars using a silver gelatin process. The light-sensitive emulsion bonded the images of the migrants to the bills that were the very cause, and consequence, of the crisis. The faces of Venezuelan heroes printed on the paper gaze upon a generation ejected from their country by hunger and hopelessness. The flora and fauna on the reverse side speak to a lavish motherland abandoned by its people. The irony and tragedy are obvious, just as they are for the people.


Arlenis Mendez (12) is from Trujillo, Venezuela. She had been walking for 5 days with her parents before reaching the Berlin tundra, the highest and coldest point on the road from Cucuta to Bucaramanga. (Felipe Jácome)

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. (Felipe Jácome)

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. (Felipe Jácome)

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. (Felipe Jácome)

Jose Miguel Albuja begins walking at dawn, after a night at the shelter in Berlin. 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. (Felipe Jácome)

Andreina and her daughter start walking from Cucuta at 5am. They arrived from Venezuela 6 months before, but Andreina 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 Andreina walking along the road. (Felipe Jácome)

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