A Canadian man who has been missing for five years has been found more than 10,460km away in the Amazon jungle.
Anton Pilipa (pic, left) trekked across two continents, walking mostly barefoot with just the clothes on his back, after he disappeared from his Vancouver home in 2012.
His family spent years desperately searching for the former humanitarian worker, who suffers from suspected schizophrenia, and had almost given up hope when they got a call out of the blue.
A Canadian-born Brazilian cop spotted Pilipa, who she initially mistook for a beggar, shuffling down a dirt track in bare feet, and dirty Bermuda shorts and a vest. He had no passport, and was without any form of identification.
Incredibly, with the help of several international agencies and embassies, she was able to track down his family who flew down to be reunited with their lost loved one.
“I was stunned,” Anton’s brother Stefan told the Daily Mail. “I told myself that he was dead. Because that was the only thing I could come up with that explained his absence.
“But in my heart of hearts, I didn’t think he could be.”
“I was really shocked,” added Stefan, who said he’d spent years asking himself the same question, ”Where is he? What happened to him?”
“I feel amazed that he’s alive and had made it that far.”
Anton, who has been put back on his schizophrenia medication, travelled through at least 10 countries from Canada, including the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil – all without a passport and with little more than the clothes on his back.
His brother said he had one bizarre mission; to get to the National Library of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Tragically, when he finally made it to the library, after walking thousands of miles, he was turned away because he didn’t have any identification. So he turned around and began his trek into Brazil where he would eventually be found.
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.
Yet, while he met some “bad people” on his incredible 10,000 mile journey, he said he had “received more generosity, especially in recent times.”
“I’ve never felt alone,’ he said. “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.”
Stefan said he was shocked by his brother’s appearance after his many years on the road.
“He looked pretty rough,” he said after flying out to Manaus last month to collect his brother. “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.”
The married dad said his brother’s health was starting to deteriorate in the Brazilian mental institute where he was being held waiting for his family to collect him.
“We got him just in time.”
“I know that I am very lucky to be alive,” Anton told the BBC. “I am very happy to be able to return to my family.”
While Anton walked most of the 10,000 mile trip, he would occasionally get a ride or stowaway in a truck.
But mostly, he kept to himself, barely speaking to another human being in five years. He still speaks almost no Spanish or Portuguese.
Anton, who was described as an individualist, was diagnosed with schizophrenia several years ago but his family say they struggled to find him the help he required in the two years before his disappearance.
Before his illness, he had worked all over Canada for humanitarian relief organisations.
In 2011, he finally began treatment for his mental illness but that same year, he was involved in an incident which resulted in him being charged with assault and weapons offences.
He fled the country in 2012 before he was due to appear in court.
And despite his incredible journey, he will still have to answer those charges. After he arrived back in Toronto on Monday he was arrested before being released on bail.
However Stefan says he doesn’t believe the court appearance was the reason for his brother’s disappearance.
“The timing is suspect,” he admitted. “But was he trying to avoid [the charges]?
“I don’t think so. He was restless. That is the major form of his mental illness.”
After he disappeared, Stefan said he and his family did everything in their power to try and find him. They contacted police, hospitals, jails and even checked the morgues – but there was no trace.
“When someone disappears you suddenly realise there isn’t a lot you can do,” said Stefan. “We hit a wall.”
The first they knew Anton was even alive was when Stefan got the call from the Brazilian police department shortly before Christmas.
Anton was first spotted at the end of November when he wandered on to a highway in the Brazilian state of Rondonia.
He was taken to a hospital in Porto Velho where police reached out on Twitter, and to local embassies to try and discover his identity.
Finally, officer Helenice Campos – the officer who found him wandering on the road, was able to get in touch with Anton’s family.
“I was really shocked … I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Stefan said.
The family began raising money to get their brother home, but then tragedy struck; Anton fled the hospital.
Thankfully Brazilian police were able to track him down again as he was heading into the dangerous northern Brazilian state of Amazonas.
“That is the area where we talk about huge predators like crocodiles and jungle cats,” Officer Helenice Campos, who said she quickly recognised that the tall, blonde and blue-eyed Pilipa could be a foreigner, told CBC.
“We truly were afraid he could be eaten by one of those animals.”