SAO PAULO – Talk about commitment to your sports team.
A group of Argentine men has spent the last month traveling all over Brazil in a converted bus to follow their national soccer squad's progress during the World Cup.
The four pooled their money to buy the bus for $15,000, and saved up vacation time up over two years. The bus, formerly used for public transport, is outfitted for a long road tour with four single beds, an eating area, and cabinets for storing gear.
"A lot of people say we are sick for making this long journey, but I say this is love," said 28-year-old Elias Sarrouf.
After leaving Argentina on June 9, the group has followed the team as it played Bosnia and Herzegovina in Rio de Janerio, Iran in Belo Horizonte, Nigeria in Porto Alegre, Switzerland in Sao Paulo and Belgium in Brasilia. Now, the bus is back in Sao Paulo for Argentina's semifinal match with the Netherlands on Wednesday. They hope their team will win and go on to play the final match in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
They don't have tickets for the semifinal or the final, but they did get tickets for three of the earlier matches that Argentina played.
"We are fulfilling the dreams of many Argentines, and the truth is that we are having a great time here," said Jose Ribeti, 29.
They named the bus "Carnavalito," for a traditional South American dance,
During their more than five-week trip around Brazil, the men have parked the bus in areas provided for fans by the Brazilian government. When they aren't on the road and a game isn't being played, they often relax inside the bus, drinking the traditional regional tea, yerba mate. They sleep inside the bus at night, often eat at roadside cafes and clean up in gas station restrooms.
The bus broke down between Brasilia and Sao Paulo when some of the cables in the engine caught fire, stretching the trip out to 20 hours.
"The Brazilians are very hospitable. They've helped us a lot during the trip," said Ribeti. "We have to thank this country and its people for being so warm to us."
The group will have driven more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) by the time they return on July 19 to the Salta region in northern Argentina, where most of them live. All are unmarried, and several work for family companies.
"Dreams come true if you let them fly," said Sarrouf. "Years ago, our idea was to attend this World Cup in Brazil. Now, we are thinking about going with this bus to the World Cup in Russia in four years."