RIO DE JANEIRO—When the World Cup began last month, Copacabana's Atlantica Avenue filled up with old cars, campers, and buses full of fans from Chile and Argentina. These were the serious sports fans— thousands of people who had driven their jalopies for the better part of a week, in some cases over the world's second-highest mountain range. These were people who had used vacation days or had even quit their jobs and thrown their cares to the wind to go on an epic road trip, on the faith that their team would make it to the tournament's last day. For a week, the street was filled with happy fans barbecuing, drinking wine, posing for photos with tourists, waving their flags from the top of their roofs, playing guitar and singing, and generally making Copacabana a better place.
Then Rio's clown mayor, Eduardo Paes, stepped in. During the middle of the night, the city removed everyone and relocated them to a huge parking lot and show venue called the Terreirão de Samba, located in the wasteland between the Central Station and the Sambadromo stadium where the carnaval parades take place. Here, next to a notorious housing project building nicknamed "wobbles but doesn't fall," the Argentinean fans have been living in tents and trailers ever since. It looks like the refugee camp in the sci-fi movie District 9, except that instead of alien "prawns," it's full of soccer fans.
As the date of the finals approached, the gossip in the local papers built. There were drunken brawls going on at all hours of the night and, god forbid, people were smoking marijuana. Some people, they said, didn't even have enough money to go back to Argentina. Would this turn into a permanent ghetto of illegal immigrants? As 70,000 more Argentineans poured into the city for the finals and the tent city spread into the samba stadium, the mayor announced that on Wednesday, the military police and municipal guard are going to clear the place out.
I decided to ride my bike over there and see what was going on. I locked up out front, walked in past a group of armed guards into another world, full of people with long hair or dreadlocks juggling and playing musical instruments and drinking caiperinhas. The rain had stopped and laundry was airing out everywhere. There were a handful of new cars, but 30-or-40 year-old buses and jalopies were everywhere. As a bus drove by on the overpass above, a Brazilian guy stuck his head out of the window and heckled the crowd. A group of people yelled back, "7 - 1!"
Argentina and Brazil are neighbors but there are some big cultural differences. In Brazil they prefer beer, and in Argentina, wine. In Italianized Argentina, long hair for men never seems to go out of style, whereas Brazilian teenagers change their hairstyles as frequently as Neymar does. But both countries are full of each other's immigrants. Everyone I know down here has friends from Argentina and I noticed a lot of Brazilians mixed in with the crowd, laughing and drinking with their buddies. I took a few photos and walked up to an Argentinean woman with three male friends who had driven up from Buenos Aires. They were drinking beer with a Brazilian guy who told me he was from Manaus and barbecuing a pizza. They told me they weren't completely satisfied with how the pizza turned out, but invited me to try a slice. It was quite good.
"How have the Brazilians been treating you," I asked.
"The people have been great," she said, "this rivalry is just on the soccer pitch. It's not like Germany and France, for example, who have fought terrible wars with each other. Our real rival is Chile. I rooted for Brazil against Germany. Some Brazilians are telling us they are rooting for Argentina and others are saying they want Germany to win. Of course everyone is teasing us but we just say '7-1' to them now."
I walked around taking a few photos, sat down in front of a kiosk at the edge of the camp and ordered a beer. I struck up a conversation with the cook, a middle-aged Brazilian woman named Solange.
"We aren't making much money off these people," she said. "Boy are they cheap. The Chileans were great but they're mostly gone now." As if to prove her point, a man came up and asked if she could boil some water for his yerba mate as a favor.
"Are they teasing you much?"
She laughed. "It's terrible. But I don't think they are going to win. Germany has a strong team and they are acting just like we did—completely overconfident."
I finished my beer and walked around a bit more, as the sun began to come out, and stopped in front of a tent where a tough looking red-haired man sat, mixing an entire bottle of cheap vodka into a caiperoska. He refused to let me take his photo, but offered me a drink.