Chile`s World Cup caravan heads for Rio
An 800-strong caravan of strangers in cars, vans and trucks drawn together by Facebook has wound its intrepid way through snow blizzards in the Andes to get to Brazil to follow Chile at the World Cup.
After a 4,500 kilometre (2,800 mile) trek, the red white and blue-bedecked convoy headed first for Cuiaba, venue for Chile`s first game against Australia on Friday.
Setting up base in a giant camp outside the city, the 3,200 supporters were rewarded for their pioneering spirit with the Alexis Sanchez-inspired 3-1 defeat of the Socceroos.
The `chilenos` painted Cuiaba red after the win, then began packing up and checking fuel levels and tyre pressures for the long drive to Rio de Janeiro, and Wednesday`s date with Spain, the wounded world champions reeling from a 5-1 mauling by Holland.
Chile`s second goal was scored by Jorge Valdivia, whose brother is taking part in the World Cup odyssey.
"I was surprised when he told me he was joining the group with my nephew and camping," the Brazil-based forward said.
"It`s an unusual way to get here but I think it`s a cool thing to do.
"He told me one night he ended up having to sleep in a bath."
The convoy was the inspiration of Alberto Schmidt, who with his wife embarked on the monumental task of organising the logistics with military precision.
"The caravan began as a family initiative to make a safe and entertaining trip to the World Cup," Schmidt recounted.
"Since its inception, it has slowly grown into the World Cup`s largest convoy in Brazil."
They initially set up a Facebook page, hoping to persuade a handful of friends to join them.
But Schmidt`s idea caught the imagination of Chilean fans from all corners of the country. His convoy took on Dakar Rally proportions.
He established an official website, made a couple of trips to Brazil to check campsites in all the World Cup cities, and mapped out the route.
World Cups are expensive affairs for fans, but such was the compulsion to watch the football feast on their own continent many of the `ruteros` threw fiscal caution to the wind.
According to Schmidt: "There are people who have $20 to their name, but they`re going to the World Cup anyway."
Despite all his best endeavours one aspect out of Schmidt`s control was the weather, and heavy snow blizzards made crossing the Andes hazardous, with some drivers opting instead to bypass the mountain range and head for the Atacama desert.
Thousands of kilometers and five days later, Schmidt and his band of Facebook strangers joined the masses of other chilenos who had opted for more conventional travel at Cuaiba`s Arena Pantanal to watch their team take the first step in escaping from a mighty tough Group B.
"We`ve come to qualify, I have faith in our players, We`re here because we are Chile`s biggest fans," said Herman Moliona, who made the drive with three friends from Osorno in southern Chile.
Hugo Mendez, who drove from Santiago with his son, added: "We were around 20,000 fans for Australia, it was like a home game for Chile."
"The tickets are very expensive, around 800,000 pesos ($1,600) but it wasn`t important, this was my life`s dream to see my team in a World Cup," added Carla Jimenez, who arrived in Cuiaba with her brother Marcelo.
On Saturday the automated Chilean village beeped goodbye to Cuiaba to embark on the arduous second leg of their World Cup adventure, the 24-hour journey to Rio to see Spain.
"I want to see Rio and the Copacabana....and all the girls," said Herman, triggering laughter amongst his fellow travellers.