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Latin Americans journey to Brazil World Cup

The USA's Chances In 'The Group Of Death'


By LUIS ANDRES HENAO and EVA VERGARA
Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Planes, trains and automobiles? That's not all. With Latin American soccer fans eager to witness the sport's biggest event in their home hemisphere, travelers are taking to bikes, buses, boats and at least one homebuilt trailer.

Held every four years, the World Cup hasn't been in the Americas since 1994, when the United States played host. After Brazil, the games go to the other side of the globe, to Russia and then Qatar. For many, this is a once in a lifetime chance to cheer their national teams in person.

Cristian Uribarri and four friends are traveling from Chile in a wood-framed, aluminum-sided trailer he built from scratch.

"Going to Brazil is such a unique opportunity," said Uribarri, 35. "Russia would be impossible. Besides, it's too cold. And Qatar is one of the most expensive places on Earth. My wife is putting up with all of this because it's my only chance."

The shiny contraption they call their "Lunar Vehicle" has air conditioning, a stove, an LCD TV, a Playstation and a queen-sized mattress. The group pooled $3,200 in savings between them, and will take turns driving the pick-up that pulls the trailer. Using the mini-home on wheels will save them on lodging and meals. Everything else will be charged on their credit cards.

Some travelers hope they don't bust their budget before they even reach the games in Brazil.

Juan Luis Sube, an environmental engineer from Mexico, is making his way south by bicycle, having left Guadalajara with two friends in early December.

"We left home carrying $3,500 dollars each and we're already running out of money," the 29-year-old Sube said as he pedaled near the majestic Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil.

Sube, Angel Martinez, 26, and Hector Lujan, 25, quit their jobs to make the 5,900-mile (9,500-kilometer) journey through 14 countries. They're hoping to reach Sao Paulo to pick up some donated tickets, and then make it to Recife in time to see Mexico play Croatia.

"We're driven by the desire to be a part of this `fiesta futbolera' and by our pride in our Mexico team," Sube said. "We want to show that Mexicans can do great things."

Edwis Perez of Colombia says his journey to the World Cup will allow him to check off two of the 100 items he put on a bucket list some 20 years ago.

"In that list I had: `Attend a World Cup' and `Get to see the Amazon jungle.' I'm doing both now," said Perez, a 40-year-old engineer. He plans to fly to the Colombian city of Leticia, take boats to the riverside host city of Manaus, and then catch another plane to Belo Horizonte to watch Colombia play Greece on June 14.

Brazilian fans are claiming the most tickets to the monthlong tournament, scoring more than a million in FIFA's allocation. U.S. fans are next with 187,063 tickets, followed by Germany with 56,885 and England at 56,219. Argentina comes in fifth with 55,524 treasured tickets.

Many Argentines complained their country, neighboring Brazil, deserved a larger share. But even without tickets, tens of thousands of Argentines are expected to journey to Rio de Janeiro to either find tickets on site or, at least, join other fans before a big TV screen on Copacabana Beach.

One Argentine family, the Bianchis of Entre Rios, will squeeze into a 1971 convertible Mercedes motorhome, covered with large white and blue national flags and an image of their beloved Argentine pope. Whether or not they find tickets is beside the point.

"Obviously the tournament is very important, but sometimes the pre-party and everything that goes along with uniting so many countries can be much more important still," said Fabian Bianchi, 50, a public administrator traveling with his brother and three children. "I'm really excited, even more so because we're doing it as a family."

The World Cup transcends all ages, nationalities and cultural and geographical barriers. For Chilean Cecilia Aguilar, a 64-year-old human resources specialist, it's a way to honor her son, who died in a car accident two years ago.

"My son was a huge fan of `La Roja,' (Chile's national team). And I want to be there for him," said Aguilar, who jumped at the chance to travel with her colleagues in a rented recreational vehicle. "I'm going to Brazil and my son's soul is coming with me."

"I know my son is in heaven having a great laugh at this crazy old woman," she added. "And it gives me a huge boost. I feel young and full of energy for this adventure."

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