Chilean caravan on footballing pilgrimage

Chilean caravan on footballing pilgrimage

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 task of organising the logistics.

“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.