Photo: AP retrieved

It was an already outrageous story—and I didn’t know the half of it. The subject came to my attention during a CC editorial meeting where I was a bit sleepy, and our CEO Raúl Stolk brought the world again into sharp focus speaking about this guy who’s currently in the southernmost point of South America, at the Argentinian resort town of Ushuaia, making all the way from his native Táchira, Venezuela, on foot.

And I mean it literally. One foot.

That’s the quest of 57-year-old Yeslie “Pepe” Aranda. As portrayed by an AP piece you should absolutely read, they guy is living evidence of willpower: On August 27th, 2013, he was driving a long distance bus sitting next to his daughter in Barinas, Venezuela, when a truck driving the opposite way crashed into them. Yeslie spent 15 days in a coma and lost his left leg; his daughter Paola lost her right leg, and the left one was badly damaged.

By walking I just wanted to show (Paola) that we must keep moving forward despite the hardships we face in life.

The accident, and the fact that he got a prosthetic but his daughter hasn’t been as lucky (she’s in a wheelchair now,) is the fire burning inside his chest. At first, his trips were peregrinations to holy shrines in Venezuela: “By walking I just wanted to show (Paola) that we must keep moving forward despite the hardships we face in life.”

But then the ambitions grew louder, despite limitations that would discourage anyone else in his position. He scraped about $30 from his savings, got a new aluminum leg and a shoemaker gave him custom sneakers with the colors of our Venezuelan flag. That was the sum of his resources when he began the trek last summer, slow but unstoppable on an obviously difficult path.

“Being a Venezuelan is not the most attractive thing right now,” Aranda says to AP, “and some countries look down on us. But there are still many people out there who want to do good things for others.”

He’s speaking about his original plans regarding Chile; when he began the trip, Venezuelans could enter the South American nation without much hassle, and Aranda meant to cross part of it on his way to Tierra del Fuego. New requirements have come up since, and given that he couldn’t prove to Chilean authorities that he was a passerby, his visa was denied several times.

The kindness of strangers rescued him: a truck driver who previously helped Aranda (he’s gotten help to cross some of the more treacherous parts of the road) paid for his plane ride to Rio Grande, on the Argentinian side of the Chilean border, making the dream still possible.

When he began the trip, Venezuelans could enter the South American nation without much hassle, and Aranda meant to cross part of it on his way to Tierra del Fuego. 

“I wanted to show people that they can achieve their goals despite their current conditions. There are many people out there who have forgotten to dream big, even if they have no disabilities.”

I don’t want to spoil the whole piece for you, but Manuel Rueda and Lujan Agusti wrote a really uplifting portrait of a man who’s already inspiring. Head over to the AP site if you want to check on a hell of a story.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.