Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico
A couple dozen people pile into a van meant for 13 people. They crossed a river on a makeshift raft and hope to travel approximately 20 miles to reach their next stop. But soon the van stops and everyone has to get out.
The passengers – children and their parents, older couples and single adults – have paid to get from Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico, a small town on the border with Guatemala, to Tapachula, the nearest city.
But they entered Mexico without permission or documents, so the truck driver tells them to avoid a checkpoint and have him or another vehicle pick them up on the other side.
The families grab their belongings and head down a paved road as we join them, the tall grass mostly hiding them from view of the road and Mexican officials.
It is no secret that this is happening, just as everyone knows about the rafts that transport people across the Suchiate River and the international border.
From time to time, Mexican officials shout across the grass at walkers and tell them to return to the main road.
Nobody notifies the officials. The migrants simply keep marching, sometimes signaling to each other to duck lower to stay out of sight.
We did not see any officials bothering to chase them as they walked along the unofficial migrant route, a few meters from National Route 200 that runs from the border to the north.
This static game of cat and mouse will be repeated several times passing various checkpoints on the route. Each stop involves a 20 or 30 minute walk and nerves to know if the promised transportation will be on the other side.
Immigrants CNN spoke to said this was just another hurdle on their long road, another set of hurdles that will likely make what is usually an hour-long trip last all day.
In Tapachula, they said they planned to apply for asylum or permission to transit legally through Mexico in hopes of reaching the United States.
Two families from Venezuela said it would be their first contact with officials since fleeing their troubled country. They say they have traveled through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.
‘The trip has been like going through hell’: Migrants arrive in southern Mexico
“It’s like dealing with the mafia,” said Yeimiler Rodríguez, who told CNN her family had paid about $1,000 per person so far on their 18-day odyssey.
At sunset they arrive in Tapachula, their stop for the night. They may be in the city for several days, but none of them expect to stay forever.
Their eyes are on the United States: “the country of opportunity,” they say.
Tears flow from a woman as she sits in a van after successfully navigating a checkpoint. A fellow traveler tells her to cheer up. “Didn’t you want the American dream?” he shouts. “Hold on to that.”