At 32, Venezuelan Victor Manuel Atencio had finally had it: The crisis roiling his country, he felt, had ruined all his hopes for the future.
So he made the difficult decision to emigrate to the United States — a grueling odyssey that ended up taking two months and covering some 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) marked both by calamity and kindness.
“It seemed endless, very exhausting,” he told AFP, choking with emotion, after finally crossing from Mexico to the Texas border town of Eagle Pass, where he first set foot on American soil.
“I had thought that the hardest part would be the jungle,” said Atencio, referring to the dangerous and debilitating hike through the Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama.
“But then I realized that the urban jungle was far worse,” with attacks and robberies commonplace along the way.
“Animals behave better than men,” he added.
Now, however, after fording the Rio Grande, with its capricious currents, he was in the United States.
Atencio began his journey on July 30, along with 31 countrymen from western Venezuela. Like him, they had become fed up with the government of Nicolas Maduro, whose rule has been marked by political turmoil and economic collapse.
During the exhausting trek through the Darien jungle, where a stream of migrants face both natural dangers and attacks by vicious criminal gangs, Atencio had gradually cast aside the few belongings he started the trip with, keeping only the barest of necessities: his identity papers and a cellphone with earbuds.
“It’s sad seeing the shape some people are in on this trail,” he said, describing the brutal conditions migrants face.
Things were particularly tense for him when he passed through Nicaragua and Guatemala, where he said he was repeatedly robbed.
Between bribes and extortion, Atencio said he lost $3,000.
But the journey was not entirely grim.
Some people “gave us food or clothes, and that’s how we were able to survive,” he said, flashing a rare smile.
Once he was finally standing on American soil, Atencio embraced a travel companion.
“We made it,” he said.
Atencio’s aim is to join cousins in Dallas — and to forge a life that will “provide hope” to family members still in Venezuela.