(CNN) —  

Carlos Gomez took a break last month on a potholed road in southern Mexico littered with abandoned shoes and empty water bottles. The journey’s toll was etched across his face.

“I am feeling some chills – I have had a fever for a few days,” Gomez said.

The 52-year-old was among thousands of Central American migrants who entered Mexico from Guatemala last month. They’ve trudged along for weeks despite exhaustion and threats from the US and Mexican governments to turn back.

Here’s a glimpse into the lives of those who left everything behind to make this trek to America.

They’re traveling in search of jobs

Few of them have any money. Some would have gone hungry long 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 others, Gomez has faced grueling heat and torrential rains. At night, the group members slept on sidewalks before waking each morning to depart again for their daily marathon.

Carlos Gomez takes a break on the road north near Arriaga, Mexico.
Carlos Gomez takes a break on the road north near Arriaga, Mexico.
PHOTO: Patrick Oppmann/CNN

Despite his failing health, Gomez, an out-of-work farmhand from Honduras, said he had 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 at will. Exhausted by the effort, many decided to return home.

Last month, the Mexican government said the caravan had shrunk from more than 7,000 migrants to about 3,600. But organizers claimed 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 a local news story in Honduras that inspired them to leave behind a homeland where they had 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.

In the migrant caravan, the lucky ones manage to hitchhike. Others have to walk a marathon or more each day as they head to the United States.
In the migrant caravan, the lucky ones manage to hitchhike. Others have to walk a marathon or more each day as they head to the United States.
PHOTO: Patrick Oppmann/CNN

Alejo is from Honduras, and Rodriguez is 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 themselves receiving hormone treatments.

They were separated from family in the US

Many migrants in the caravan learned everything they know about the United States 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. Colindres 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.

Bryan Colindres joined the migrant caravan hoping to reunite with the wife and daughter he was forced to leave behind in America.
Bryan Colindres joined the migrant caravan hoping to reunite with the wife and daughter he was forced to leave behind in America.
PHOTO: Patrick Oppmann/CNN

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 group 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. 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,” said Iris, who did not want to give her last name.

The 21-year-old said she was confident they would be OK if they made it to New Jersey.

Iris, who did not want to give her last name, sits holding her head as her family collapses in exhaustion on the road to Arriaga, Mexico.
Iris, who did not want to give her last name, sits holding her head as her family collapses in exhaustion on the road to Arriaga, Mexico.
PHOTO: Patrick Oppmann/CNN

“I will do whatever comes up. I will take the first job that’s available,” she said.

“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.

“Muchos (many).”

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann and Natalie Gallón reported and wrote from Arriaga, Mexico; Nicole Chavez wrote and edited in Atlanta.