A crew of Venezuelans push and carry their belongings along a highway in Ecuador during the pandemic, determined to get home, even if they have to walk.
When 53-year-old Orlando Pimentel left his native Venezuela for Ecuador last September, he joined the largest modern exodus from any Latin American nation. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country's deepening economic crisis.
But Orlando's plans to earn a better living abroad came to an abrupt halt this March as the coronavirus spread across Latin America. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, Orlando watched the sky fill with vultures, as hospitals and cemeteries were overwhelmed with the surge in infections and desperate families dragged their dead into the streets. The city went into lockdown, and like many of his fellow countrymen, Orlando was without a job, running out of money, and with no one to help him if he got sick. He felt it was time to go home. But how would he get there? And how could he help hundreds of Venezuelans get home, too?
If setting off from Venezuela was hard enough, this group of travelers would discover that the journey home, in a pandemic, with borders closed and people wary of infection, would be a totally different kind of test.
This week on Rough Translation, we bring you a story first reported for El Hilo, a weekly Spanish-language news podcast from the makers of NPR's Radio Ambulante. It's an odyssey spanning 1,300 miles and three countries, down long sunbaked stretches of highway and through dangerous mountain passes, with moments of betrayal and camaraderie, recorded in real-time on WhatsApp messages sent from the road.