WC road trippers survive on their wits
Rio de Janeiro - They've driven for days to live their dream of seeing the World Cup in Brazil, but once they arrive, the fans have to survive on their wits and carefully rationed beer.
A row of cars and camper vans lines the avenue along Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach, most with Argentine or Chilean plates and plastered with stickers such as “The pride of being Chilean” and “Viva Chile mierda!”
Some of the vehicles look like they are on their last legs, but they have fulfilled their mission and brought their occupants here, to this beachfront real estate that costs just the price of a parking space to rent.
Chilean Diego Figueroa and six friends are crowded into the camper van they drove 5 000 kilometres from Santiago to Rio.
They are ecstatic to be here, despite some snags along the way.
“When we left, the passage through the Andes between Santiago and Mendoza was closed because of snow. So we had to go all the way to San Pedro de Atacama (1 000 kilometres to the north) to take the Jama pass,” said Figueroa, a 28-year-old engineer.
Their first destination was Cuiaba, where they watched Chile beat Australia 3-1.
Then Rio, where their team stunned reigning champions Spain 2-0 and qualified for the second round.
“Next we're heading to Sao Paulo for the last group match against the Netherlands,” said Figueroa's friend Matias Munoz as he does the dishes in a tub of rainwater they collected overnight.
“There are seven of us sleeping in here. It's not super comfortable, but it's OK,” he said, before trying to clear a path through the chaos of the vehicle's interior.
Argentine Gaston Gimenez had a complicated trip too.
“Barely six hours into the trip our transmission broke,” said the 32-year-old delivery driver.
“It cost us 8 000 pesos (about R6 500) and put a dent in our budget.”
Now he and his three friends are struggling to make ends meet and sleeping under the stars.
“We were in a youth hostel, but we couldn't sleep with all the noise the partiers were making. Now we're broke to boot, so we're sleeping on the beach,” he said.
While camping out on legendary Copacabana may seem like a dream to some, they say it has not been easy.
“Yesterday we pitched our tents after a night of partying, but the police woke us up at 5am and told us to leave,” he said, his face still puffy from the night's festivities.
They are also feeling the pinch of the Argentine government's controls on foreign spending, which aim to shore up the troubled peso.
They face limits on bank withdrawals and a 30-percent tax on purchases, which rises to 50 percent for anything over $300.
“We have to pay attention to expenses for fuel, food and drinks,” he said, pointing to a disembowelled pack of beer on the back seat of the car.
Bathing, on the other hand, is easy.
“We just go to the lifeguards' station. It costs three reais for a shower,” he says.
A little way up the beach, another Argentine fan is showing signs of fatigue.
“It's true this is the most beautiful view in the world, but everything's expensive here, and we've been eating nothing but bread for the past four days,” he said.
Keeping their World Cup dreams alive takes improvisation and grit.
One car advertises the services of a “mechanic for all vehicles.”
Near another camper van, a worn-out bicycle is parked beneath a handwritten sign: “For rent, 10 reais.”