Arriaga, Mexico – The pair have been inseparable since they met. Werner Guzman and Paulo Wilmer Martinez bubbled with energy, setting out hours before dawn on Saturday near the front of the group making its way from Central America to the US.
“I am from Guatemala. He is from El Salvador,” Guzman told Al Jazeera while walking in the moonlight, after setting out shortly after 3am (08:00 GMT) from Arriaga, a town in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
A 23-year-old mechanic from the northern Guatemalan department of San Marcos, Guzman does not want to live in the US permanently. He wants to send money home to his family and save some up to head back home.
“It is my dream to make it to the US to work,” Guzman told Al Jazeera.
Thousands of migrants and refugees are making their way north through Mexico. More than 1,000 people initially set out from Honduras more than two weeks ago, and the number has now grown to well over 7,000, with some estimates surpassing 10,000.
The overwhelming majority of the migrants and refugees travelling in what was dubbed a migrant caravan are from Honduras, but people from other Latin American countries, especially other Central Americans, have been joining.
There is now a smattering of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Mexicans among the crowd on the road. Guzman told Al Jazeera he has also met a few people from other Central and South American countries.
Most of the migrants and refugees are fleeing violence and unemployment. The per capita homicide rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are among the highest in the world outside of active war zones. More than half of the population in all three countries lives in poverty.
US President Donald Trump has been urging the Central Americans to turn around and head home and has threatened to cut US aid to their governments. He has also promised to send active-duty troops to the border, and US media outlets reported an executive order to prevent the group from entering and seeking asylum is being considered.
Despite Trump’s threats and the arduous journey north, walking dozens of kilometres a day and often sleeping out in the open in town plazas, there are bursts of collective joy and laughter along the way every day.
“Slow down. Speed bump!” someone joked as the group walked out of Arriaga. Minutes later, a whole little section of the crowd erupted in laughter when someone passed gas loudly, prompting jokes about duck and frog noises.
Another roughly eight kilometres into the day’s 45km walk, the crowd halted. Mexican federal police in riot gear were blocking the highway up ahead, declaring they would not let the group pass.
More than two hours of dialogue ensued, with human rights workers serving as intermediaries between police and the migrants and refugees. Police said the Mexican government had already offered the group what they wanted, referring to a plan announced on Friday to offer the Central Americans refuge, temporary jobs, schooling for children and medical attention if they settled in southern Mexico.
At roughly 8am (13:00 GMT), police received orders to clear out, allowing the caravan to continue with the understanding that dialogue with the government would continue in the coming days after they crossed the state line from Chiapas into Oaxaca.
Guzman and many others hope to be able to continue north through Mexico and make it into the US to find work to support their families.
He wants to work for four years to send money home to his partner and their young son and to save up enough to build a small house for the family upon returning to his community in the municipality of El Tumbador, just 37km by road to the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing into Mexico.
“I came now so that immigration [agents] would not get me and because I do not have the money. A smuggler from Guatemala to the US costs between [$7,700 and 9,000],” he said.
Guzman travelled alone and rafted across the Suchiate River into Mexico, joining the thousands of other migrants and refugees Thursday. That is when he met Martinez.
Martinez, 26, is from Zacatecoluca, a town 60km southwest of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Like Guzman, he hopes to make it to the US and work to send home to his family. He is father to a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
“I joined on Monday, just [six] days ago. I came alone,” Martinez told Al Jazeera while trekking along the highway in an ad hoc affinity group with Guzman and two young Honduran men, also in their 20s.
Martinez has been working at a local bakery in Zacatecoluca but has wanted to flee El Salvador for a while due to gang violence.
“El Salvador is very dangerous. If anyone sees an opportunity to get out, they take it,” he said.
Group departs from El Salvador
Aside from Martinez, there are currently a few other Salvadorans travelling north into Mexico with the massive crowd of mostly Hondurans. But many more Salvadorans may soon be joining them.
Approximately 200 migrants and refugees set out Sunday morning from San Salvador. They hope to travel north through Guatemala and up into Mexico and beyond. Another Salvadoran caravan, likely a larger group, plans to leave Wednesday from San Salvador.
In a statement on Friday, Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren urged the country’s population not to engage in irregular migration and stated that the government would enforce its immigration regulations, particularly to ensure any children leaving the country can only do so with the required documentation.
El Salvador is very dangerous. If anyone sees an opportunity to get out, they take it.
At the same time, the government “is respectful of the freedom of transit and movement, as well as the rights of migrants, and so we also respect the freedom to express solidarity with people who make that decision”, according to the statement.
The Salvadoran groups are likely to face major obstacles along the route north through Guatemala and Mexico. Hundreds of migrants and refugees gathered on Sunday morning on the Guatemalan side of the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing, but security forces, including Mexican federal police, blocked their entrance to Mexico.
As groups continue to attempt to cross into Mexico and catch up with the thousands of people now in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Martinez and Guzman push on with the group. They both hope to make it to the US but know the situation is uncertain.
“You never know whether it will be possible to stay or if you will be kicked out. You have to be prepared for anything, but the goal is to work,” said Martinez.