Man wanders for four years and ends up 6,500 miles from home
Anton Pilipa had last been seen by his family and friends in Vancouver in 2012. The young humanitarian worker had been struggling with schizophrenia for years and his family had not been able to convince him that he needed treatment. His condition had caused some serious problems and even led to him being charged for assault and weapons offences in 2011. But then one day he simply vanished.
Anton's family contacted the police and everyone began searching. Days went by, then weeks and then months and still there was no trace of him. It was like he had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Anton and his brother Stefan had always been very close, so his brother was not going to give up the search until he found him. He refused to believe that Anton was dead, but when years went by, he started to lose hope. Stefan slowly began to accept the fact that he would probably never see his brother again.
But in December 2016, Stefan got a very shocking phone call. "I was stunned," he said. And for good reason: the person he was talking to on the phone told him that Anton had been found alive! "I told myself that he was dead. Because that was the only thing I could come up with that explained his absence," recalled Stefan. He could never have imagined the incredible truth behind his brother's disappearance.
One of the strangest aspects of the whole story is where Anton was found. He had somehow managed to stray well beyond Vancouver and had ended up 6,500 miles away in Brazil! And how he got there was even more incredible.
When Helenice Campos, a Brazilian police officer, first set eyes on Anton, she thought he was a vagrant. He was wearing shabby clothes, had no personal belongings and no documents. She took him into custody and, with the help of several embassies, was able to identify him. It was only much later that they found out about the extraordinary journey that had brought him to the heart of the Amazon.
When he decided to leave Vancouver in 2012, Anton had a very precise and slightly bizarre idea: he wanted to go to the National Library of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He had simply set out then and there with the clothes on his back and the few belongings he had in his pockets. Along the way he was fortunate enough to receive some help from strangers who gave him food and clothing.
Anton's journey took him through ten countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. And all this on foot and without any official documents! His schizophrenia has made it difficult for him to talk about the trip, so all of the details are still not clear. For four years he had lived almost completely cut off from the world with minimal human contact.
When he arrived at the National Library of Buenos Aires, he could not get in. The reason was simple: he had no ID! So he decided to retrace his steps and went through the Amazon jungle, walking more than 500 miles among snakes, poisonous spiders, jaguars and caimans that could grow up to 12 feet long! By the end of the journey all of his toenails had fallen off.
When he was found, Anton was barefoot and wearing bermuda shorts. Stefan started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay the expenses of bringing his brother home to Canada. He set the target amount at $8,000 and has already received nearly double that amount!
After all these years, the brothers were finally reunited. "I feel amazed that he's alive and had made it that far," Stephan said, still feeling emotional. But he had to admit something: "The rigours of his journey took a toll on his body and face. And he had a lot more hair than last time I saw him."
Stefan also explained that his brother had been found "just in time." His health had started to drastically worsen while he was in the hospital waiting for his family to come and get him.
Anton is aware of just how fortunate he is. "I know that I am very lucky to be alive. I am very happy to be able to return to my family," he said. But when he talks about his adventure, he also says: "I've never felt alone. It’s been a lot of thinking for years, sleeping in the open. It's very simple to live, we do not need many things."
Anton is now living with his brother and stepsister in Vancouver and awaiting trial for the charges he received in 2011.
You can watch a video of his story here:
Anton's journey is both unique and incredible. The last few years were probably not easy for him. Let's hope that he gets the treatment he needs for his schizophrenia and is able to reintegrate into society and live a healthy and happy life surrounded by his family and friends.