When Anton Pilipa disappeared in 2012, his family suspected the worst. Pilipa suffered from schizophrenia and his disappearance triggered years of searching that led to no closure. It was like he’d vanished into thin air. No one wanted to believe that the Vancouver resident was dead, but it seemed like the only possibility. Until Pilipa was found, 10,000 miles away and five years later. Most shocking? Pilipa had journeyed across two continents. He’d been barefoot for most of that time and was traveling without a passport. So how did he do it? And why?
According to The New Zealand Herald, there are a few reasons why Pilipa disappeared. The first, which is more practical, is that Pilipa was trying to flee a court hearing. In 2011, shortly after starting treatment for schizophrenia, he was arrested and charged with assault and weapons charges. But the man’s brother, who led the rescue efforts, claims that he doesn’t believe that Pilipa left due to having to face the courts. Instead, he believes that he fled because he was “restless,” which is a major symptom of the vanished man’s mental illness.
Another reason that Pilipa may have left his home without telling anyone? He was on a strange mission to visit The National Library Of Buenos Aires. To get there, he trekked through thousands of miles — through the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela — only to be turned away when he could not produce identification upon arrival. That’s when he changed course and headed into Brazil, facing hundreds of miles of dangerous jungle before he was found.
From The NZ Herald:
He described how he survived by picking fruits and berries, scrounging for food and clothes in the trash, and relying on the generosity of strangers.
But that’s not to say times weren’t tough. Anton started off with a small bag of belongings but was robbed of what little he did have on several occasions.
While walking 800km alone through the dangerous Amazon jungle, filled with poisonous spiders, snakes, caiman – which can grow up to 6m long – and jaguar, all his toenails dropped off.
Amazingly, Pilipa, who has never learned either Spanish or Portugese (and could therefore only communicate in the most rudimentary fashion for much of his journey) said that he 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,” he said.
The story of Pilipa’s rescue is uncanny, too. He was spotted in Brazil by a Canadian-born policewoman shortly before Christmas when he wandered onto the road. He was then taken into custody by the authorities, who believed him to be a homeless man. While officials tried to find out who he was and reach out to his family, Pilipa was placed in a mental health facility. Unfortunately, the stay was so traumatic that by the time the police had gotten in touch with Pilipa’s brother his health had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. So he fled yet again.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Police caught up with Pilipa as he was en route to the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, which The NZ Herald reports as being particularly dangerous and brought him back, just in time for his brother to collect him. A few days more and Pilipa could have suffered a terrible fate, as the area is known for predators such as crocodiles and jungle cats.
Pilipa will still have to face his 2011 charges now that he’s home, but his family reports that he’s much healthier since his return. He’s back on his medication and trying to put his life back together. And who knows, maybe once all his legal troubles are over he’ll write a book about his experiences. The man has no shortage of stories.
Here’s hoping that he stays put for the near future, though.