MEXICO — Carlos Gomez took a break on a potholed road in southern Mexico littered with abandoned shoes and empty water bottles. The journey’s toll is etched across his face.
“I am feeling some chills — I have had a fever for a few days,” Gomez said.
The 52-year-old is among thousands of Central American migrants who entered Mexico from Guatemala last week and are still inching north despite threats and pleas from the US and Mexican governments to turn back and the mounting stresses of their long march.
As they continue their nearly 1,000-mile trek to the US border, here is a glimpse into the lives of those who left everything behind to join the caravan.
They are traveling in search of jobs
Few people in the caravan appeared to have any funds and some would have gone hungry days ago if not for the generous Mexicans and municipalities that offered them tamales and pineapple juice along the route.
Many are wearing flip-flops, rubber clogs or sneakers that are falling apart.
Like many of the migrants, Gomez has faced the grueling heat and torrential rains. At night, the caravan members sleep on sidewalks and the floors of the town plaza before waking each morning to depart again for their daily marathon.
Despite his failing health, Gomez, an out-of-work farmhand from Honduras, says he has no choice. He left behind eight children back home and the only way to earn enough to feed them, he said, is to keep moving forward and reach the United States.
“There is no work anymore. The government took our lands,” he said.
President Donald Trump has railed against the caravan and described it as an organized effort by dark forces to introduce criminals and possibly terrorists into the United States through the nation’s lax immigration laws.
But after a week traveling with the caravan, CNN witnessed little, if any, organization.
People joined and left the group at will. Exhausted by the journey, many decided to return home.
The Mexican government says the caravan has been reduced to about 3,600 migrants from more than 7,000. Caravan organizers claim their numbers are growing.
They are escaping hate and persecution
Many of the migrants said they joined the caravan at the last moment, having seen a message on social media or local news story in Honduras that inspired them to leave behind a homeland where they had long ago given up on having a future.
On a road full of migrants carrying blue and white Honduran flags, the rainbow flag that Chantal Alejo and her friend, Stefani Rodriguez, carry stands out.
Alejo is from Honduras, Rodriguez from El Salvador. Both are 27 and identify as transgender, making them part of a community that faces high rates of violence and persecution in many Latin American countries.
Chantal said a posting she saw on Facebook about the caravan made her immediately pack a bag for the journey.
“There’s a lot of persecution and no work,” she said of her country. She and Rodriguez are hopeful they can make it to Dallas, where they have read about trans women like them receiving hormone treatments.
They were separated from family in the US
Many migrants in the caravan learned everything they know about America through movies and TV shows but not Bryan Colindres.
Colindres was 6 years old when he and his mother moved from Honduras to the United States after his father’s murder. He said he was never able to gain citizenship but grew up more American than Honduran.
Nearly 20 years later, Colindres’ American life was interrupted by an immigration raid on the construction site where he worked. When he was deported, he left behind his wife and a 3-year-old daughter who is a US citizen.
As soon as he arrived in Honduras, Colindres headed back north, eager to reunite with his daughter.
“She’s the one who needs me the most and I don’t want her to go without me,” he said. “I know what it’s like to not have a dad.”
Colindres joined the caravan in Guatemala and, when Mexican police blocked the bridge that connects the two countries, he and other migrants paid about $1.25 to be taken across the Suchiate river by raft.
He has since left the caravan. Colindres took a bus to Guadalajara, where his perfect English helped him find a job at a call center providing customer service to the country he considered home.
Colindres said he hopes to earn enough money to eventually rejoin his family in the US.
They are traveling with children
Resting on a shady spot on the road to Arriaga, Mexico, Iris and her group hoped that a car would stop and give them a ride.
Iris’ younger brother, Freddy, appeared to be fast asleep in the sweltering heat, using his backpack for a pillow. Her nieces and nephews played with dirty stuffed animals by the side of the road.
“The journey has been hot, and walking under the sun is the toughest thing,” Iris, who did not want to give her last name, said, looking at the children, who were clearly exhausted.
The 21-year-old was confident they would be OK if they made it to New Jersey.
“I will do whatever comes up, I will take the first job that’s available,” she said.
When asked whether she knew how many miles they still have to travel, Iris gave a weary sigh.